How To Soften And Stiffen Leather
When working with leather, it is important that the artisan have the ability to mold and shape the leather as he or she sees fit. The leather should not control the artist but the artist should control the leather. As such, whether you are a novice or a seasoned hobbyist looking to go professional, you need to understand how to soften and stiffen leather.
How to soften leather
To soften your leather you need to clean the pores of the leather or expand the pores of the skin. Think about your own skin. When it is moisturized, you have more flexibility. However, when the skin is dry and cracked movement is limited. There are a few options which will open up the leather pores for you. Wiki suggest using rubbing alcohol. And while this may clean out the pores, I would be adverse to using such on quality leather. Instead, use a top quality cleaner and conditioner. The leather will look and certainly smell better. To make the leather soften use a petroleum jelly ensuring that you let the jelly seep into the pores and that you cover the surface evenly. Once that is completed, wipe down the belt and apply additional cleaner and leather conditioner if needed.
Another method for softening leather would be to use coconut oil. To do so, take your coconut oil and a cotton swab to apply a level coat over the entire leather surface. As you apply the coating you will see a substantial darkening of the oil. The oil does not give the leather an oily feel once it dries. Keep in mind, the more oil you add, the darker the leather will ultimately appear. Once the oil dries the leather will be harder. Again, the more oil that you apply the harder the leather will become. You can try to warm up the oil and brush it on if you do not want to apply it from the typical hard form. It is not advised that you use olive oil or another type of scented oil on your leather as most people do not want to have their leather smelling like an Italian restaurant.
How to stiffen Leather
If leather gets a bit soft, you can stiffen up the leather in a few ways. An artisan may find that leathers which are soft and inexpensive. Hard leathers are a bit more expensive and harder to come by. To harden the leather you will need to have some beeswax. You do want to ensure that you do not have any coloring to the wax as this could discolor the leather. Melt the wax down and then add the leather to it. You do want to keep the coat consistent. Once the leather is completely saturated, pull it out and and shape it how you want. When it hardens it will be stiff and will not be too easy to mold. Keep in mind that the leather will darken due to the wax.
Should you not want to use wax you can use water in an iron skillet/ cauldron. Bring the water to abou 180 degrees. Do not boil the water as it will burn the leather. Drop the leather into the water. It will roll up as it hardens. The material will start to unwind as it gets harder. It will also get darker and thicker. When you first pull out the leather it will be pliable and rubbery. When you get this done use a clamp to squeeze the leather between two pieces of wood. This will push out some of the water. Let it sit for a few days. This cauldron and press method produces leather which is flat and somewhat like cardboard. It can be cut and sanded. Additionally, should you want to shape the leather to a specific shape, you could press it onto a curved or specialty mold.
What you should not do
Do not put your leather in the oven. While the leather will shrink up and it can get hard, you are cooking the leather and exposing the material to fire. It is a bad combination for many reason, but the primary reason on why this is not how to stiffen leather is simple. If you burn the leather, it is useless.
Need some help? Get advice
Leather is a bit fickle to get mastered and it does require that you take a level of practice and trial and error. To understand the best methods for softening or stiffening leather, go and observe a professional leather artisan. Keep in mind that various leathers have different ways in which they are softened and stiffened. You would not want to kettle boil nubuck leather.