I don't think there's a more beautiful material than leather. It's one of the reasons that pulled me into this field and it's certainly why I continue to be excited about it. I am often asked about my leather care regimen and it's ridiculous that I haven't shared my thoughts on the Journal before this post.
Truth is, it's pretty damn simple and a little effort goes a long way. Quality leather ages in amazing ways, but it will eventually dry and stiffen. This leads to cracking and failure and no one wants that. Here's a few methods that I use with my own items to keep them working great longer. Not to say that this is the be-all and end-all of methods, but they've been working nicely for a while.
There's three options that I turn to the most, and each have their own strengths. Also, you should know that I'm not receiving any compensation from these brands, these are just what works best with Wood&Faulk products and most other similar applications. If you've got some super dry antique leathers, or deerskin, or other special applications, there might be a better solution not mentioned here. Also, always test the methods mentioned here in an inconspicuous place so you can judge it it works for you.
In this comparison image, leathers were slightly scratched and then only treated on the left side. The right side of each sample had no finish applied.
Fiebing's Saddle Soap
Probably every saddlemaker's favorite, the history of this product is extensive. It gained popularity with the U.S. Calvary in Fort Riley, Kansas and that's a pretty damn good endorsement too. Saddle soap is probably the first thing I turn too. It can be wiped on with a soft dry cloth and buffed out for a simple protective coat, or lathered a little with a damp rag for a deeper cleaning. This is probably the lightest touch of the three listed, but a great touch-up and preventative measure.
As shown in the test image, it doesn't do very well with serious scratch removal, but protects while keeping the natural wear look intact. Good news about lighter leathers shown... It doesn't darken them much at all.
My most common use is to use a soft cloth, and apply in a swirl to cover the area. Overlap your swirls and polish with a clean soft cloth to remove extra amounts. If you want a deeper clean, dampen your soft cloth and lather it up in the container before applying to your leather. Wipe to remove extra soap with a soft cloth, and then wait a few hours and buff slightly with lambswool or a horsehair bush.
Redwing Shoes All Natural Leather Conditioner
This is my choice when I need more care, or when I've neglected the leather beyond a simple touch up. It's all natural and uses waxes and oils for a much more fluid formula. Our bags use leather from Redwing's own tannery, so it's also a great choice being well suited to our current bag materials.
You can see in the test image that it removed all scratches in the darker leather. I'm always surprised how well this conditioner performs on beat-up pieces. One thing to consider on lighter leathers – since it's more liquid state and because of the included oils, it does tend to darken them. After 24 hours, it does lighten back to near normal, but it might be scary to see your leather get real dark on the initial dressing. As you can see on our lightest leather, it didn't remove the deep scratches, but darkened them some.
I most often reach for this conditioner when I want to remove the appearance of scratches, when I need to restore and soften leather, or when I want deeper water resistance. Works well on a beat-in bag and great on boots. Apply with a soft, dry cloth and let cure for a short bit before wiping excess with a new clean cloth. Buff with lambswool to finish.
Otter Wax Saddle Soap
This company is a local favorite, and has been making material care products since I started W&F. Chris is a great dude and makes an excellent range of products for a number of applications.
Their saddle soap works very similarly to Fiebing's and is made in Portland. There's very few ingredients, and most likely a more natural product when compared to Fiebings. That being said, we've noticed it has a shorter shelf-life too.
This product works like a more powerful saddle soap, I presume the formula is a little more beeswax forward. I'd recommend it for a deeper protection than regular saddle soaps, it seems to give a more waxy feel on application. It also does take a little more buff to shine too.
Hopefully these recommendations can help when you're looking for leather care answers! Always feel free to drop me a note with your own recommendations and questions, you can direct them to our contact page here.