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Leather – Edge Burnishing

Posted by is9582 on May 23, 2016 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , ,

For those that follow me on my other social media, I mentioned I’d write an article describing how I am burnishing the edges of my leather projects, as it is relatively simple and doesn’t require much “elbow grease”! So let’s get after it and I hope this may make it easier for anyone that is trying.

I’ve been making some leather sheaths for knives and some other items for a few months now, and have a basic background with working leather as a young kid, but it was focused more towards putting together pre-created pieces together or carving basic enhancements. My current projects are getting better in all aspects, as I’m fine tuning little by little. The edges on all of my recent items were left “raw”, as in the same surface texture as the cutting device transferred. I’ve looked at a number of professional leather pieces and almost all have edges that are what I’d best describe as “finished”.

 

The glue up of this sheath takes a couple of times through applying contact cement and allowing to dry. This is due to having the white piece of leather between the two outer pieces, in the area near the sharp blade, for extra protection. Working this as sections works best for me.

The glue up of this sheath takes a couple of times through applying contact cement and allowing to dry. This is due to having the white piece of leather between the two outer pieces, in the area near the sharp blade, for extra protection. Working this as sections works best for me.

 

Just after completing the hand stitching, the edge is still raw leather.

Just after completing the hand stitching, the edge is still raw leather.

 

I don’t recall ever see anyone finish the edges like that when I was young, at least not on the things we were making, but I really do appreciate this look. With that in mind, I decided to try a number of things in the attempt to create a similar look on my edges. I started off with some sand paper, and depending on how consistent the flow of the lines were, started at 100-grit or 150-grit, followed by some 220-grit. I read where some were using different types of waxes, during the burnishing stage, and others used oils. I decided to go with a blend, by using Jojoba oil, which is a waxy oil. After applying a coating to the edge, I tried a number of different smooth/hard items, but nothing really seemed to occur.

 

Here is the sheath after applying the oil and then wax, but before meeting the maple burnisher.

Here is the sheath after applying the oil and then wax, but before meeting the maple burnisher.

 

I decided to apply a light coat of Liberon Black Bison wax to the edges, and left it to dry. This time I tried using my Dremel with one of the felt wheels, to see if I could cause some friction action, and get the look I was after. This still left it a long way from my target look.

Next I put a 12″ length of hard maple onto my Teknatool Nova XP wood lathe, and using a gouge, created a groove a little bit wider than the widest width on my current pieces. The gouge left a very smooth surface in the groove, and I applied some wax all the way around the shaft, so the groove was ready to do the work for me. (or at least I hoped so)

 

Here is the maple burnisher installed on my wood lathe. The small darkened section at the far right end of the wood, is the portion I use for this burnishing.

Here is the maple burnisher installed on my wood lathe. The small darkened section at the far right end of the wood, is the portion I use for this burnishing.

 

I turned on my lathe and brought the speed up to 1800 rpm, moved the rest out of the way, and then brought the edge of my sheath under the groove. I raised the sheath enough so it was touching the rotating groove, and started working the sheath slowly along so that all of the edge received the results of the spinning groove.

The results were nothing short of surprising! The mix of wax, oil and the friction provided by the spinning piece of maple, provided a nice sealed surface to the edge and raised the overall level of the sheath.

I brought two other recent sheaths out to test to see if this was a fluke, or if I could repeat it at will. I decided to again apply the Jojoba Oil, followed by Black Bison wax, and the maple shaft did the rest. Both of the test sheaths looked equally as nice as did the first sheath.

 

Here are the most recent sheaths I've made, with the one underneath the other sheath, and towards the front, is the current sheath I've shown throughout this article.

Here are the most recent sheaths I’ve made, with the one underneath the other sheath, and towards the front, is the current sheath I’ve shown throughout this article.

 

I will keep this maple shaft for any future leather projects, and mount it on the lathe whenever it is needed, so it won’t take up any real space in the shop in between uses.

I hope you enjoyed this article and it helps you improve your projects. As always, please make sure to let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Lee Laird

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