Leather very stiff and hard to work with. Storage problem?

Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
Since my leather working skills aren't very good I purchased some leather bellies from Tandy awhile back to practice with. Our humidity around here is usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% sometimes less. Especially during the summer.

I've literally have had to dip the leather in water to work with it at all. If I don't it's not only very hard to cut but leaves ragged ends and edges even with the sharpest of tools.
I know some people case their leather by soaking it in water and then putting it in a bag overnight.

Is that the best solution? Or is there a way to store larger pieces of leather that will keep it from getting so dry and stiff without soaking? Or do I just need better leather?

Thanks
 

Dennis Morland

KNIFE MAKER
Sean - Lots of stuff going on in your problem. It will make it difficult to give a great answer. I will give you my thoughts. First, bellies are the most difficult part of the hide to consistently turn to good/usable leather. Sometimes, you can get decent leather from a belly. Sometimes, not so much. So your problem may have some issue because of the leather(bellies). Next, Who/where the leather was made may have something to do with it. Different leather makers use different processes and chemicals. Harsh chemicals! That may have lead to your issues. Next, leather will lose its softness over time. It dries out. Not necessarily a moisture issue but a loss of makeup of the leather building processes. You can wet leather to make it pliable/bendable but as soon as it dries, it becomes nonbendable (usually worse than before). A tip, I like to set my small cut pieces in the warm sunshine to loosen stiff leather. Just an hour or so. It tends to help. Casing leather/dampening leather is used every time that I stamp, carve or attempt to make any type of indention in the face of the leather.
 

Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
Sean - Lots of stuff going on in your problem. It will make it difficult to give a great answer. I will give you my thoughts. First, bellies are the most difficult part of the hide to consistently turn to good/usable leather. Sometimes, you can get decent leather from a belly. Sometimes, not so much. So your problem may have some issue because of the leather(bellies). Next, Who/where the leather was made may have something to do with it. Different leather makers use different processes and chemicals. Harsh chemicals! That may have lead to your issues. Next, leather will lose its softness over time. It dries out. Not necessarily a moisture issue but a loss of makeup of the leather building processes. You can wet leather to make it pliable/bendable but as soon as it dries, it becomes nonbendable (usually worse than before). A tip, I like to set my small cut pieces in the warm sunshine to loosen stiff leather. Just an hour or so. It tends to help. Casing leather/dampening leather is used every time that I stamp, carve or attempt to make any type of indention in the face of the leather.
Thanks for the reply Dennis.

As far as I know the leather is vegetable tanned. So hopefully harsh chemicals aren't part of the problem.

I'm half tempted to chuck 'em and start over with better leather. I did finally manage to get a good piece for the back and the welt. However when I went to glue on the front piece it was so stiff it simply wouldn't sit down correctly on the other pieces. So I'm starting over on the front panel for the fifth? time (I'm losing track)

I'll try your trick with setting them in the sun...it's certainly warm enough for that!
 

opaul

Well-Known Member
Good advise from Dennis. If you are having that kind of trouble I think you hit the nail on the head - get some other leather. If it’s stif. You might could continue to use it for welts.
 

Dennis Morland

KNIFE MAKER
Sean - After warming in the sun just roll the leather in all direction. Don’t bend it but roll it. It will loosen up. Sort of like wet mounding without being wet.
 
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