Q: “Have you ever had a problem with leather cracking?”
Several people asked me this at a recent show, and truthfully the answer is no. After eight years of making leather goods, and many more of using them, I’ve never had a problem. But I do live in a relatively humid environment, and leather doesn’t tend to dry out in this environment. That, of course, isn’t a very helpful answer so here’s a better one:
Vegetable Tanned Leather: This is the kind of leather I use, exclusively. Some say that vegetable tanned leather is a superior leather, and I agree! The gentle tanning process (taking up to 60 days) produces a leather that doesn’t crack or harden over time. This may be why my answer is a solid “no” when people ask me if I’ve had trouble with leather cracking. If you do live in a dry environment or you’d like to try to soften up your leather, a vegetable tanned leather piece can benefit from some oil (and even cleaning if you like, but I prefer the broken-in look) from time to time. I use Lexol Neatsfoot Oil – you can get it online – but Fiebings also makes some great products for the care of vegetable tanned leather. Just go easy on the oil – put it on a cloth and wipe it on lightly, starting with a test patch. You can always add more later!
Chrome Tanned Leather: This is a totally different beast. When I took shoe making classes last year I could barely cut this stuff – it stretches, and vegetable tanned leather doesn’t. A lot of furniture and leather goods are made from pigment coated leather, which actually needs to be cleaned so that it can be kept free of dirt and body oils, which can cause it to crack. Surprise! So basically, unless you’re buying vegetable tanned leather, normal use will cause your leather to crack (another culprit may be a manufacturing defect, but there’s not much you can do about that). There are some methods for repairing cracked leather if it has gone that far, but proper cleaning for the chrome tanned leathers are definitely your best bet towards prevention.
So, how do you prevent leather from cracking? Buy vegetable tanned leather! In all seriousness, chrome tanned leather requires cleaning and de-greasing, some say once a month, where vegetable tanned leather may benefit from the occasional rub-down with some oil, if you’re in super dry environment. Otherwise, well, just enjoy it and trust it will last for years to come!
Off to clean and de-grease the seats on my car…. Why can’t I just make them out of vegetable tanned leather? They could have flowers….