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Re: [RC] Protection of leather saddle in bad weather - Sisu West Ranch

I've heard that about Neat's-foot oil also in the past, and have never received an authoritative answer as to why this would happen.

I just looked on a package of super duper expensive leather stuff I was given by the guy that sold me my custom made boots and found that it contained oils and waxes.

Now Neat's-foot oil is derived from animal sources and thus is touted as being more "natural" and thus better than Neat's-foot Compound which also contains some oils from petroleum sources. When leather is made it comes from the tanning process with no oils in it to lubricate the leather fibers. It would be extremely hard and dry. Before they tanner dries it he puts "fat liquor" into the drum. This is an emulsion of fats (that is animal or plant oils) and waxes (longer chain hydrocarbons or longer chain animal or vegetable fats). The leather is then dried, and worked (bent and pummeled) until it is as soft as the tanner wants.

Now a saddle, shoe, or baseball glove is stitched together using thread. The thread would be sinew (primitive people) or cotton or linen (flax) or today nylon. The thread is usually heavily waxed to help it sew properly.

Both cotton and linen are mostly cellulose. Nylon is of course a synthetic, unnatural, and man made polymer made from petroleum in large factories.

Oily stuff (Motor oil, Neat's-foot oil, corn oil, beeswax) does not attack cellulose. It is possible that a thread if saturated with oil, and in an environment damp enough for the growth of bacteria, molds etc. could grown a colony of bugs that in addition to attacking the leather, would attack the cellulose. The result would be a weak thread. (please note this is an unproven theory)

Nylon is also impervious to oil, in addition to not being a food for bacteria molds etc. so it should not be affected.

The saddle horn on my first saddle had the stitching split soon after I got it. I sewed it up with Nylon thread and it has held fine for 30 years of oiling. In this case I think that the stitching had worn through before the seam parted.

Farmers, and carriage houses used to have big tanks where they soaked the harness in oil. Apparently, the stitching didn't rot on that harness.

I do have a theory as to where this idea started. Modern leather working glues the leather pieces together with contact adhesive before stitching. In the old days I suspect that hide glue was used. The gluing process helps hold the pieces together during the sewing. and also provides some strength to the article. Hide glue is protein, and is pretty much water, but not oil, soluble. I suspect that a harness glued with hide glue would not be weakened by oil. Modern contact adhesives are more oil soluble. If wear and abrasion has weakened or broken a thread so that it really is not holding the seam together and oil partly dissolves the glue, the seam could fail. Since the thread can now be seen as broken, the observer concludes that the oil "rotted" the thread.

In any event some oil content is required for leather to be strong and supple. Waxes on, or oil in a leather item also help keep water out. If a leather item has been soaked, and especially if a soap or detergent was used to get some of the dirt off, some of the oil have been removed. That needs to be replaced. Traditionally Neat's-foot oil, and Dubbing (a solid waxy, fatty concoction often applied hot) were used. There are now a whole bunch of leather conditioners being sold. I am quite certain, that they do their work by replacing the lost oil in the leather. Perhaps, their high cost prevents enough of them being used to soak the leather enough to weaken the glue. Or perhaps they are special and magical.


Ed & Wendy Hauser
2994 Mittower Road
Victor, MT 59875

(406) 642-9640



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RE: [RC] Protection of leather saddle in bad weather, Rae Callaway