The way we care for the things we own says a lot about ourselves, and caring for leather goods is more that just a routine, it's a ritual. The process itself can be quite calming, and it is incredibly satisfying to see how such a simple act can rejuvenate the leather and breathe a whole new life back into it. If you have purchased any one of my leather goods, you're going to want to know just how to take care of it.
A wallet or a belt will not see the abuse that a pair of boots will see throughout its lifetime, but a good leather care routine is important nonetheless. It will help the leather to last longer, to prevent it from cracking where it bends and folds, and to aid in darkening the leather to that perfect state of patina that we all dream about... or is that just me?
All of my natural vegetable tanned leather products should be conditioned right out of the box, or at least after the first few weeks of use. Natural vegetable tanned leather has very little oil content, because it is left completely natural after tanning. English Bridle and Harness leather is treated with waxes and tallows during the tanning process, so it can be used for a long time before you need to think about applying anything to the leather. But exactly what should you apply, how should it be applied, and just how often?
I would only recommend using all natural leather conditioners; nothing synthetic, petroleum based, or anything that doesn't have the ingredients listed on the tin. Many leather conditioners out there blend mink oil and beeswax, which do a good job of preserving the leather and protecting it from moisture. A coat of neatsfoot oil will darken the leather significantly and also condition it well enough. Although, neatsfoot oil is easy to overapply, plus the smell can be unpleasant and linger for a few weeks before it fades.
It has become difficult for me to recommend anything other than Smith's Leather Balm after using it on my own leather goods. It absorbs into the leather instantly, does a great job of taking care of scuffs and scratches on my boots, and has softened the leather in my wallet. What sets it apart from other leather conditioners is that it contains no animal fats or synthetic compounds. It is made from just three simple ingredients: cocoa butter, almond oil and beeswax. It's so safe that you can eat it, which is hard not to do when it smells like chocolate, but which means you can apply it with your fingers and massage the excess into your skin when you're done. A little goes a long way, but it's almost impossible to accidentally apply too much, which makes it a great choice for someone who may be new to conditioning their leather goods.
Whatever you choose to use, a maintenance routine should be performed at least once a year, more if you think the leather needs it, or if you just want to darken the leather up a bit. You should always start by cleaning away any dirt or debris, with a soft dry brush or cloth. Apply using your fingers or a soft cloth (depending on your conditioner of choice), and start with a small amount in an inconspicuous spot to test how it will change the appearance of the leather. Once satisfied, continue to coat the entire item, but only on the grain (smooth) side of the leather. Start by applying a little evenly over the whole surface, adding more if required. Don't worry too much if it initially darkens the leather in an uneven way. As it soaks in and dries, the unevenness should disappear and the leather should lighten a little bit.
Smith's Leather Balm is handmade in Maine by Shane and Mandy Smith. They started their leather balm business in the kitchen in their home, melting all three ingredients on their stove top and pouring each individual tin by hand. The ingredients of their balm are printed on the bottom of every tin, which they have received criticism for because they're giving away their secret. But their honesty and transparency is the true secret of their business, and is the reason I can recommend their product, because I know exactly what is in it.
One day I hope to become a stockist for Shane and Mandy's wonderful product, but until then you can head to their website to pick up a tin or two.