Leather Quality and Properties

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by VegTan, Jul 8, 2013.

  1. jd13jd13

    jd13jd13 Senior member

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    I'm curoius.
    Glenjay, I'm not questioning your knowledge, I was just wondering how you know what you know about leather and such.
     
  2. glenjay

    glenjay Senior member

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    I would like to say I have spent years in a tannery, but that takes too much work. I would like to say I have made shoes like DW, but that takes too much talent (and work). The reality of it is that I am a professional technical business analyst (and a very good one). And, I have done this type of work for a few decades, under one title or another.

    Being a technical business analyst requires me to be able to do extensive research on a given topic, product, process, structure or market (depending on the contract). I then have to take whatever is being analyzed and do in-depth gap analysis against what the client has existing.

    I then have to document, disseminate and present this information in an understandable format so that a solution can be created to address the needs, wants or concerns of the client. These solutions run in the millions of dollar to create and implement so my ability to assimilate and comprehend complex information is critical. In this role I am expected to become the SME (Subject Matter Expert) for the client.

    Since I have always had a strong interest in shoes I inherently applied these skills, to the extent that I have an extensive shoe collection that includes leathers in calf, buffalo, cordovan shell, alligator, lizard ostrich, and elephant. These shoes include a wide range of manufactures from Alden to Frommer (Bespoke). And, I have an extensive collection of shoe care products to include pastes and creams from most shoe polish manufactures, as well as weather conditioning product from heavy oils to thick wax; all of which I study and experiment with.

    I have also read extensively over the years about tanning processes and leathers, as well as the history and manufacture of shoes. And, I try to listen to experts with hands on experience whenever I have the opportunity. I communicate with Johnson & Johnson when I have questions about their Kiwi or Meltonian products, and they are good about answering. I have also found DW, Ron Rider, and other experts to be very generous with their knowledge for those that are willing to listen.

    Some of my professional technical business analysis work has also exposed me to some aspects of chemistry which has come in handy.

    My background, and my propensity to find a better solution, is what drove me to create my own shoe polish line. And, it drives me to share what I have learned with others.
     
  3. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    I posted this question on the shoe page but didn't get an answer. Perhaps this is the better page for it.

    Dr Marten's Wonder Balm contains coconut oil, lanolin and beeswax. Nothing else is listed. Is this a good combination to use on your shoes? I have used it on some Dr Marten's shoes but wonder what the consequences would be of using it on some other' shoes. I continue to be on the lookout for shoe products without turpentine.
     
  4. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    i think I'd be careful of using the lanolin or lanolin based products on dress shoes. It won't harm the leather, mind you, but as Glenjay's post suggests it can be greasy and could probably stain light coloured leathers if it was used too often or too exuberantly. I have several quarts in my shop and while it can be almost a liquid (what do they use to solve or liquify it?), in its natural form, it's more like stiff axle grease.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2013
  5. dbhdnhdbh

    dbhdnhdbh Senior member

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    I have been using lanolin a lot on a variety of leather. I love the natural nature of it, as in "using it will not kill you". It does darken lighter colored leather. I have used it on things for which this color change was fine, but I would be careful if something was light colored and you wanted to keep it that way.

    For leather that is dark enough to use lanolin, it seems to work great as a conditioner. With mild heat it soaks into the surface. If you get too much on then the leather gets tacky until it soaks in or wears off. So I use a little, use mild heat to soak it in, then finish the surface with something harder.

    Lanolin is not a single substance, but a collection of material made by sheep. So its exact composition can vary. One can buy a "lanolin oil" that includes the oily, but not waxy, components of lanolin. Since, in general, it melts around body temperature- depending on the particular mix of oil and wax- you might find pure lanolin in liquid or waxy states. It will also depend on temperature, being thinner at high room temperature and thicker at low room temperature.

    Glenjay,

    You had cautioned against paraffin for leather. Why is that? It had passed my "will not kill you, used forever" test, and I know that it is included in some hot stuffing recipes. It also seemed to have a high enough melting point to avoid the tackiness one can get from lanolin.

    Thanks
     
  6. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    Thank you, gents. As always, thought provoking and useful replies.
     
  7. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Good info on the lanolin. One thing I learned from my master (and many others in the Trade) was that you wanted to avoid leaving stick residues on shoes...simply because they will collect dirt and other abrasive fines and contribute (may be the number one contributor) to cracking.

    I can't answer for Glenjay and in fact I defer to his expertise, but for me, any petroleum based product is to be avoided. part of that is undoubtedly an abhorrence for the petro-chemical industry especially as it applies to replacing Traditional waxes that naturally come without the environmental degradation associated with processing. We also tend to get dependent on these products...arguably not a good thing. But the other part of my objection is simply experience---i don't see any benefit over Traditional materials and many time a real and quantifiable downside.

    BTW, paraffin was never used in any Traditional hot stuffing recipes that I am aware of.
     
  8. dbhdnhdbh

    dbhdnhdbh Senior member

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    And of course I defer to DW on how leather was made in the past (as well at on anything else remotely related to leather, shoemaking....)

    I got my idea about paraffin from the belief that it has been around for a long time; that it is quite inert, so unlikely to undergo reactions that would be dangerous to my leather, or to me; that people used it for a variety of purposes back when you used what you had on leather, and anything else; and this one quote from an interview with Nick Horween:


    Quote: http://www.bestleather.org/all-about-shell-cordovan-with-horween-leather-co/

    Naturally, he does not elaborate on just how the hot stuffing is done, their sources for the waxes, the proportions, or any other information that would be helpful to a competing tannery. For all I know their formula might be a gram of paraffin per ton of lanolin. I have no intention of making my own leather, so I was simply interested in what waxes he said they used. My take away was that these four compounds, having been used in the manufacture, probably were not automatically harmful to leather. Perhaps an oversimplification on my part. What is use to make shell need not be the optimal wax/oil to treat it afterwards.
     
  9. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Well, paraffin hasn't been around that long...depending on how you define "long"...candles used in the 18th and for most of the 19th century were beeswax and tallow or something similar. Paraffin wasn't even extracted from naturally occurring petroleum until late in the first quarter of the 19th century. It may have been very similar to mineral oil at that stage of its development. In fact, paraffin is another name for mineral oil and vice versa.

    Hot stuffing goes way back and the famous waxed calf of the mid to late 19th century was stuffed by hand one hide at a time with beeswax, lanolin and cod or sperm whale oil. No paraffin.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2013
  10. glenjay

    glenjay Senior member

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    Paraffins sit in the middle of the hydrocarbon group which ranges from tar to highly volatile gas, all of which is highly hydrophobic, and therefore a barrier to water. This is true of all paraffins from wax to mineral oil. It is also why it is difficult to emulsify in water (hence the hot stuffing).

    The purpose of using paraffins, whether in hot stuffing or Venetian shoe cream, is to add additional resistance to water penetration. This is a two edged sword however (cuts both ways so to speak), because it also restricts water evaporation which is necessary in shoe leather.

    Another downside to paraffins is that they are hydrocarbons and therefore oxidize through hydrogen loss rather than oxygen gain. This is important because the volatility (and toxicity) of a hydrocarbon is determined by the number of atoms in the molecule (less atoms = more volatile). This process can take many years to happen, but can be accelerated by heat, light, and other factors.

    When the hydrocarbon naphtha (which is outside the paraffin range) is used in shoe polish it is intended to evaporated rather quickly and not remain in or on the shoe leather. Paraffins range from wax to oil and therefore will penetrate the leather to the degree they are liquefied.

    It is interesting to note that throughout the entire Kiwi and Meltonian shoe polish lines only three products include mineral oil, and two of those are suede cleaners (this according to Johnson & Johnson). I also doubt that you will find mineral oil in any of the Saphir products.

    As a side note: the FDA considers one of the uses of mineral oil to be “As a float on fermentation fluids in the manufacture of vinegar and wine to prevent or retard access of air, evaporation, and wild yeast contamination during fermentation”.

    Mineral oil is not the sword of Damocles (to stick with the metaphor above), but it can be detrimental to shoe leather in the long run.
     
  11. JermynStreet

    JermynStreet Senior member

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    Two questions:

    What is involved in the process of hotstuffing? When you say by hand, DW, what does that mean?

    Second, and completely unrelated to the conversation: when did shoes start getting "nice" (i.e. the type of craftsmanship that we see coming from the early 19th century through today)? I have seen some of the moccasin looking things you have posted before, but the craft you now so skillfully practice cannot always have been the standard? Are you familiar with any examples of truly premium foot ware (by today's standards) from long, long ago?
     
  12. dbhdnhdbh

    dbhdnhdbh Senior member

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    Good point. I am used to thinking of anything that happened before 1990 as a relic of the early Bronze Age.

    So paraffin loses its "used forever" status.
     
  13. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I followed a fairly authentic (100% authentic, AFAIK) 19th century (?) recipe and it involved heating and mixing the lanolin, the beeswax, and the cod oil and then painting it on the leather. Traditionally, the mix was heated in a cauldron in the maker's fireplace and painted on...perhaps over a couple of days...until the leather could absorb no more. Then the leather was stored in a warm place --like the attic above the workshop--until the maker had near forgotten about it. The stuffing would oxidize, becoming wonderfully sweet smelling and the consistency of a jelly. The only way that was revealed was to pinch the leather firmly such that the jelly would slowly exude from the leather.

    I am not certain what "moccasin looking" things you're talking about but I've never made moccasins.

    As for when shoes really got good...if that's the question you're asking...the real question is when did they become mundane. Some of the women's work from the 17th & 18th century has no parallel in either men's or women's work of today or anytime in the last 100 years. Some of the men's work of 200 years ago would make even the best contemporary bespoke makers feel a bit diminished. Of course you're looking at a somewhat different sensibility and taste with regard to fashion and aesthetics. but I'm speaking mostly to workmanship here.

    June Swann's book Shoes has some nice examples but there are so many books that show the extraordinary workmanship from the 17th through the 19th century that I've never catalogued them or committed their titles to memory.

    Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of creative and careful makers working today but when you can make a pair of womens high heel shoes without using any nails...even to hold the heel on...it's worth remarking. And 64 stitches to the inch is not anything to be sneezed at, either...esp. since it was done with exacting precision not to mention all by hand.

    --
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2013
  14. JermynStreet

    JermynStreet Senior member

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    As always, thank you, D.W.
     
  15. VegTan

    VegTan Senior member

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    I could find "The flexibility of finishing", but unfortunately this was not a straight/proper answer.
    http://www.tfl.com/web/eng/thema-1_33648.aspx

    My hypothesis is like this. A black calf is usually a box calf which is glazed/heavily pressed with a glazing jack, so it has a tight/hard grain. On the other hand, a brown calf is usually unglazed burnished/milled calf, so it has a soft grain. A tight/hard grain might be fragile compared to a soft grain. Besides, hard carnauba wax with dusts/pigments in creases might cause more abrasion than soft beeswax might do.



    Here are photos of hot stuffing. Some are done by hand, some with a tank of hot grease, and some with a hot stuffing drum.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-14442109
    [​IMG]

    http://www.handmadeleatherbelts.co.uk/tanning.html
    [​IMG]

    http://www.wickett-craig.com/index.php/photo-gallery
    [​IMG]

     

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