All about burnishing leather. What does it mean to burnish leather and why do we do it? What types of leather work best for burnishing? What supplies should you use?
The Why & How of Burnishing Leather
There are many ways to burnish leather, but it takes time, effort, and careful technique.
For people who know leather, one of the first things to look for when purchasing any finished leather good is how well the edges are done. What was used and how smooth is it? If the piece has a really good edge burnish, it is a good indication that the rest of the piece is also put together well.
The main premise behind burnishing the edges of your leather is to preserve it. It’s a very simple practice that goes a long way and when done right it will not only extend the life of the leather piece, but it will also make it look very attractive when you are finished.
When you burnish the edges of leather you are essentially guarding and preventing moisture from getting into the leather. It is a practice that all leather crafters and saddlers do.
Unless you have a burnishing machine you can expect to use a lot of elbow grease. It is common to spend up to 30 minutes to get a very nicely polished piece of leather
See how to burnish the edge of a leather strap using burnishing gum and an edge slicker.
WHAT LEATHER AND PRODUCTS ARE BEST FOR BURNISHING?
Vegetable tanned leathers are best for burnishing because of their natural ingredients. To prevent the leather from burning, you will have to add a burnishing agent to reduce friction. We recommend Leather Burnishing Gum, but you can also use beeswax, gum trag, saddle soap, or water for veg tan leathers. If you do not already have burnishing tools, we do provide a Leather Burnishing Starter Kit that will get you started right away.
CAN YOU BURNISH CHROME TANNED LEATHER?
Chrome tanned leathers are harder to burnish, but you can with the right ingredients. For chrome tanned leathers it is best to use a burnishing gum like Seiwa Tokonole because it has ingredients in it that makes burnishing chrome leather possible.
Tokonole is a handy workbench companion because it works well for burnishing all kinds of leather.
FIRST STEP TO BURNISHING LEATHER: CUTTING
The first step to getting a good edge is the trimming. Generally when you start out you have already glued your two pieces together. The cut is important and should be done with one pass. If you end up going through that cut with multiple passes you increase the chance of getting a cut that is “off track” and then you're going to have to sand it out. Which takes up more time.
NEXT STEP TO BURNISHING LEATHER: EDGING
Once you have made your cut the next step in the process is edging your leather. By edging you are taking that hard corner and rounding it out. You can use a variety of edge tools for this, such as a beveler or common edger. Using a superior quality, sharp edger ads to the already smooth cut. You can edge when the leather has been “cased” by adding water to it or dry.
THE LAST STEP TO BURNISHING LEATHER: ELBOW GREASE
Once you have that edge silky smooth … like butter, it’s time to get your burnishing agent out and heavy canvas or a wooden burnishing tool to start your burnishing.
The actual burnishing is accomplished by briskly rubbing the canvas or tool against the edge of the leather until the edge is smooth. This process in done over and over and over again. Use some elbow grease…you will feel the heat from the friction. It’s in the heat that you start darkening the leather. Too much though will result in a rough edge. To prevent this make sure to keep the canvas moistened with your burnishing agent.
Like we said earlier, burnishing can be pretty time consuming. So put on a good movie and before you know it you should have a “glass like” edge on your leather that shows your leather products are built with care and build to last.