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making leather stiff?

topic posted Sat, March 4, 2006 - 6:16 PM by  ALEXANDROS
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Is there any product that can be applied topically to leather to stiffen it up after it becomes soft. The product that I wish to do this to is an renactor leather breast plate. I just don't want to go through the whole process of boiling it. Forgive me of my ignorance and thank you for any help.
posted by:
ALEXANDROS
Washington
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  • Unsu...
     
    Never heard of fiberglassing leather. Thats interesting and sounds like it could have it's uses. I am going to have to read up on that.
    • Unsu...
       
      A lot of the fiberglass charachteristics are determined by the way you cure it. A lot also depends on the impact it's gonna get put through afterwards. Personally I'd rather remake the thing and water harden it right the first time. But that might not be an option. I dunno. I've rehardened leather before, but with the water method .
      • I've used both wax and water methods. Water hardening is (IMNHO) better for forming the leather than wax is. Once boiled its almost like certain plastics. Wax hardening is easier, you heat the leather up, pour and spread the wax till it absorbs, then repeat till hard. Of the 2 water is better but wax is more durable.
  • Try beeswax or a combonation of beeswax and parafin.

    Melt the wax in a double boiler and brush the hot wax onto the item you are trying to stiffen. You may need to repeat the process a number of times before you get the desired stiffness. Experiment first with a piece that is not important to you.

    There are some good sources for bulk beeswax ( one pound or more ) on eBay.
    • Unsu...
       
      Yah, and when your body heat or the heat of the day begins to soften that wax you're left with the same problem you started out with. Even if you mix it with that dripless stuff, the stuff I cant remember the name of right, oh wait! Stiric Acid! Yay! It came to me while I was... hey, I dont have to type this. Anyway, wax is a lubricant not a hardener.
      • <Anyway, wax is a lubricant not a hardener>

        Funny - I guess the Anciant Romans didn't know your not suposed to use beeswax on leather.
        • Unsu...
           
          You can use beeswax on your leather if you want to. I'll soak mine, form it in my dishing stump, or over my ball stake, whatever. I'll get compound curves that hold their shape after baking them. See, not only are you activating tannins in the leather you're also compressing the fibers of the leather when you work it with the hammer. Wax will soften in heat. That's a fact. My stuff wont.
          As for waxed Roman armor I'd like you to cite your source on that one. It's new to me. I'd like to read about it.
  • Wax can be used to harden leather just like boiling it in oil or water, but you have to boil it… The temperature is the important part not what you boil it in. I have had great success boiling in both normal water and wax. Baking it is also an option. You could melt wax and brush it on or wet it down and bake it. I've not had mush experience with baking though. Were I to make it I would likely boil it in water.

    The important part about boiling in water is to not actually BOIL it. The water should not be actually at boiling temp… just below it... a few small bubbles should form but not a hard boil. Maintaining the temp can be tricky (especially on an electric stove), and you normally need to soak it for a good 5-6 minutes as well.

    I imagine how you re-harden it depends on how it was hardened in the first place.
  • I do not know of any topically applied substance to do what you're describing. I suspect any adhesive would do the job, perhaps a thinned white glue? But you won't be satisfied. The problem is your leather has broken down.
    Remember that leather used to be skin. Skin has three layers. 1) the dead cells of the epidermis, which keeps the dirt out, is variable in thickness and somewhat flexible. It's what we call top grain on leather. 2) the Derma, is the layer of live cells that produce the epidermis. The Derma is thin, flexible and tough and it acts as barrier to keep the body's fluids in. It's what gets split to make Suede. 3) then there's the sub-cutanious (spelled?), it's made up of fiberous connective tissues that hold the upper layers of skin to the body and stores fat. It's what makes up the rough backside of most hides. It's spongy and not very tough.
    Skin is flexible because all the layers are soft and the cells can slide past each other (they're lubricated by oils and moisture). When leather is cured all the oils and fluids are removed from the leather. This makes it stiffer bacause the cells no longer slide past each other, and it shrinks because all the cells give up their moisture, it's alot like bacon frying.
    If your leather breast plate was stiff and has now become soft, it's because the cells and fibers of the leather have broken down - or something is lubricating them.
    If it's the first one then you're fighting a losing battle. Have you considered adding a stiffener to the inside, say sheetmetal or plastic?
    I doubt it's the second - unless your friends are sneeking in and oiling your leather when you're not home.
  • Let me start by saying, I have never made armor. But I've made paddles with hardened leather and they last fine. But they don't get hit with sticks.

    I have had good luck hardening leather with beeswax. I didn't melt the wax though. I baked the leather and repeatedly rubbed it with a block of beeswax. It takes several cycles of bake and rub before the leather finally soaks up no more wax. Then if it breaks down, just give it another bake and let it harden in the proper shape. You need 150 to 170 degrees. Parafin melts at a much lower temperature so it's not good.

    As for beeswax melting in the hot sun or from your body heat, that's just silly talk. It might melt if left in your car in the sun with the windows rolled up. But if you blend it with a lower temp wax such as parafin, it will melt at a lower temperature.

    Finally, a word of warning. Because the melting point of beeswax is so high, molten beeswax will burn you bad if you get it on your skin.
    • Unsu...
       
      if you stiffen armor leather with beeswax it will soften in sunlight. It will soften due to the heat generated by your body during combat. It will dramatically soften if you leave it in your car on a hot day. Or out in the sun. It will lose some of it's stiffness and protective value. To me that defeats the purpose of hardening it in the first place. Y'all are totally welcome to do whatever it is you think is right, but when I make leather armor I start with sole bend and shape it, harden it with the water method and my stuff is hard as a rock and stays that way.
      • Animal, can you describe the water hardening process that you're using? I've been experimenting with wax hardening for some time now and gotten fairly good results - but it does indeed soften up noticably on the battlefield, no doubt about that.

        It sounds like you're using the hot water method combined with hammering. Do you hammer before water hardening it or after it comes out of the water?
    • What kind of paddles and for what use?

      The method your describing works fine for most wax hardening as it does open the pores to allow the wax in.

      Guess what I HAVE had beeswax melt in the hard sun. I have had my old armor soften on me and go limp. It was hardened with beeswax. It is not silly it is climatic conditions. Some of those under which we play can be quite extreme and combine that with shedding body heat can cause it to soften.
      • Did you use pure beeswax? Or was it blended with a much softer wax? Beeswax does melt quite a bit hotter than most other waxes. Like I said, I don't do armor, so I could be off base. It does seem somewhat reasonable that if leather can be successfully hardened with plain old water, that that would have often been the prefered hardening method in way back olden times. Water is significantly less expensive than beeswax, as I'm sure it was even back before rampant inflation.

        Oh, and the paddles I've made are for kinky sex use. I'm not into the SCA stuff. I am primarily a braider and knot tyer. Mostly, I make whips.
        • Yes, I used pure beeswax. It comes from continual heat that causes the softening.

          Kink paddles with beeswax? Hmmmm ..............Never tried that one! Send me a pic when you have the chance. Mind working now
          • It's gonna be a while. I have a lead sap design I'm focusing on when I'm not busy with floggers. But the leather paddles are approaching the top of my project list. I'll post pictures as soon as I get some finished.
  • Quick question from a noob to the tribe...

    So I have a fair bit of experience with leather (mainly costume stuff and grips for poi and fire staff), but I have not hardened any as fo yet. So I'm making a costume for Burning Man (bit of a tight deadline), part of it is basically the pauldrons from a set of lorcia segmentada (with two rows of girdle belts)... I made a mock up in posterboard, and cut the leather (12 oz veg tan). So I feel like it might look better with a bit more stiffness to it, but it is not an armor piece, so this is just asthetic, and I'm wary or shrinkage.

    Would I get much stiffening with cold water hardening, and what kind or shrinkage am I looking at? I overshot on size a bit, so I can take maybe 5-10% and still get a good fit, but there may be firespinning in the set, so fit and mobility are an issue. Also, any tips on how to strap it together, or should I just go with the standard SCA action, since they seem to need flex in the shoulders as well.

    Thanks...
    • Cold water will have little to no permanent effect. 12 oz. veg tan is very firm temper anyway. Since it is just for a costume I am wondering why you want to harden it anyway. I personally would cover the thing with some tooling design and try to make an absolutely awesome suit of costume armor.
  • There is a trick that nobody seems to have heard about. Use baking soda. It removes fat known as a lubricant and softener for leather. But be careful with it. If you remove too much fat the leather gets brittle an cracks. Presuming we are talking about vegetable tanned leather of course. This trick is sometimes used by scandinavian knie sheath makers.

    Other method: Do exactly what you should never do with wet shoes, get the leather really wet, shape it, then dry it near a heat source or place it in the hot summer sun, if any is available :O). If you have done thins once with leather shoes you will know what I mean. The key is to never get wet lether hotter than 150°F (70°C) because it is the critical point where the leather fibers will shrink once they cool down, similar to a sweater washed at too high temperature.

    As to Waxing leather, I doubt bees wax alone is of any great help, your armour could look quite sloppy on hot summer days. You may have to mix it with pitch or colophane (that stuff violin players use) to get a higher melting point and add a bit of stiffness to it.

    If all else fails, line it with some fabric, sandwiched between a second lether lining, glue it completely with either contact cement or any acrylic based glue. The principle is likewise to plywood. Two thin layer glued against each other are stonger than a single board twice as thick and it will create tensions that help to keep up the shape.

    As to a miracle product to harden it : tell me if you find some :O). linseed oil might be used to laquer your leather, it wil probably stiffen it but has the disadvantage to take a very long time to dry and it may crackel.

    good luck

    bigfoot
  • I AM SUPRISED THAT NO ONE HAS THOUGHT OF THIS. THE REASON LEATHER GOES SOFT WHEN HANDLED IS THAT IT NOT ONLY STARTS TO BREAK DOWN BUT IT ABSORBS OIL AND OIL SOFTENS. SECRET INGREDIENT SOLVENT. ACETONE AND A RAG WILL REMOVE THE OIL OFF THE SURFACE AND DELUTE IT SOMEWHAT BELOW THE SURFACE. A SAFE METHOD AND LESS DAMAGING IS DOVE DISHWATER DETERGENT. USE A RAG WITH DETERGENT IN IT THEN USE SEVERAL WET RAGS TO PULL THE SOAP OUT. RINSE IT AND WALA IT WILL STIFFEN. THE REASON HOT WATER WORKS SO GOOD IS IT BREAKS DOWN THE OIL IN THE LEATHER. WAX WILL STIFFEN IT BUT IT WILL ALSO MAKE IT SOMEWHAT WATER REPELLENT BUT IT ALSO WILL FILL THE POURS WITH WAX WHICH DOES NOT STIFFEN. FIBERGLASS IS A BAD CHOICE. UNLESS THE LEATHER IS ABSENT OF OIL. OIL WILL KEEP THE LEATHER FROM ABSORBING IT. ONE SURE WAY TO STIFFIN A SMALL PIECE IS SUPERGLUE. I BELIEVE HIDE GLUE WOULD BE A SAFE CHOICE BECAUSE IT IS NATURAL TO LEATHER AND IT WILL STAND HEAT MUCH BETTER THAN WAX. HIDE GLUE IS ALSO A WATERBASE GLUE AND IS EASY TO CLEAN UP AND DOES NOT DAMAGE ANY DECOR IN THE VEST. HOPE SOME OF THESE SUGGESTIONS HELP. OH BY THE WAY I AM A LUTHIER AND I MAKE LEATHER PICKGUARDS AND I HAVE TO STIFFEN THEM SO SOME OF THIS I DISCOVERED BY TRIAL AND ERROR. ACETONE TAKES OUT INK STAINS. SIO SOES FINGERNAIL POLISH REMOVER.
  • to stiffen leather bottles when I make them I take an equal mix of bee's wax and Pitch (you should be able to look it up online and buy).
    In the case of the bottles you just pour it in and pour it out..
    with the leather say breastplate I would paint it on. No it will not turn the leather black... but various shades of brown or whatever the leather is tanned.

    Now important (VERY VERY VERY Important) wear thick leather gloves when messing with this mixture long pants and long sleeves ...

    you mix it all in a pan and slowly melt it all togther... DO NOT GET THIS ON YOUR skin as it can give you 3rd degree burns very easily..
    and it doesnt come off very easy either... (I still have scars on my fingers where I got some on it when I was in a rush and poured it back into its melting pot with no gloves on....

    Chris
  • i have seen someone dip leather in boiling water mixed with (an unknown measurement) of ammonia to create masks. He would then put the mask on to let it mold to his face while it dried and stiffened. The result was really neat, and you can cut out little horns and twist them while it dries for some cool effects!
  • For a true period way besides boiling us varnish. A good resin varnish is period and will give it a stiffness that will flex without breaking. If the piece was gone with wax originally this method will not work.
  • One method of making hardened leather in the Orient was to paint it with shellac or varnish. I've done this with a monkey's fist knot tied with leather thongs around a steel rail-road car wheel bearing to make a replica of a Sailor's mace. The hardened leather thongs of the mace head left their marks a half inch deep into the boards I made test strikes against.

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