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Andy Holder

How to make leather stiff?

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Hi all. I'm restoring a very early Wheatstone EC which has one cream coloured leather baffle in place. I would like to replace the one that's missing and I have some thin cream leather. However, the existing one is quite stiff, whether through age I don't know. My new leather is much more floppy. Is there a way of perhaps starching a piece or dipping it in something and drying it out? Any ideas?

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The stiffest cream leather I have is very thin - it's an old banjo head!

 

It spent 25 years on a banjo, having been wetted to make it pliable and then dried slowly after fitting. It's vellum rather than leather, and only 0.5 mm thick, but it is flat and (given a piece the size of a concertina end) stiff. Might be hard to find, even if you know a few banjo players. Most of us use plastic heads nowadays, and even vellum heads don't split and get thrown out that often!

 

Another way to make leather stiff is to boil it. As a schoolboy, I read that in the Middle Ages they had armour made of cuir bouilli (literally "boiled leather") as a cheaper, easier alternative to steel, and I experimented with it . The leather cames out of the saucepan as hard as wood, if I remember correctly - or maybe it only hardened when it dried. At any rate, it was a bit warped, so to get a flat piece, you'd have to press it or tension it somehow.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

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The stiffest cream leather I have is very thin - it's an old banjo head!

 

It spent 25 years on a banjo, having been wetted to make it pliable and then dried slowly after fitting. It's vellum rather than leather, and only 0.5 mm thick, but it is flat and (given a piece the size of a concertina end) stiff. Might be hard to find, even if you know a few banjo players. Most of us use plastic heads nowadays, and even vellum heads don't split and get thrown out that often!

 

Another way to make leather stiff is to boil it. As a schoolboy, I read that in the Middle Ages they had armour made of cuir bouilli (literally "boiled leather") as a cheaper, easier alternative to steel, and I experimented with it . The leather cames out of the saucepan as hard as wood, if I remember correctly - or maybe it only hardened when it dried. At any rate, it was a bit warped, so to get a flat piece, you'd have to press it or tension it somehow.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

 

Thanks John,

The problem there is that when you boil it, it shrinks like crazy and, of course, as it shrinks it gets thicker! However, your suggestion was a good one because I've tried using a steam iron. I routinely smooth leather with a dry iron, which is fine, but if you use steam on a medium heat it does seem to add stiffness to some types of leather. Steam on a high heat on some leather makes it go rock hard, I guess it's something to do with the particular tanning process .

Cheers, interesting new knowledge!

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Andy,

 

A steam iron sounds like a good idea!

 

I wonder how the mediaeval armourers did it. :blink:

 

Cheers,

John

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Hi all. I'm restoring a very early Wheatstone EC which has one cream coloured leather baffle in place. I would like to replace the one that's missing and I have some thin cream leather. However, the existing one is quite stiff, whether through age I don't know. My new leather is much more floppy. Is there a way of perhaps starching a piece or dipping it in something and drying it out? Any ideas?

How about soaking it in a solution of Viagra?

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On a slightly more serious note it might be worth considering using sodium silicate solution (water glass) I believe this is used as a fabric stiffener, so might work with leather.

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While I haven't done this, I found it an interesting topic. I note the baffles on my Wheatstone are not super stiff, but retain some flexibility. That is, just stiffened enough to hold the shape.

 

The boiling method seems a bit tricky, and is generally applied to undyed leather from what I read. Apparently a commonly used method for knife sheaths and cigar holder boxes etc.

 

I did come across some interesting suggestions from a fellow who says he is a luthier about alternative methods. The simplest one being to use a plain dishwashing soap and water applied with a rag and allowed to soak in, followed by damp rags to draw out the soap, and with it the oils that keep leather supple. When satisfied (trial and error) that enough oil has been removed/rinsed out, the leather is stretched over a frame to dry. Seems to be the reverse of making leather more supple with shoe cream. This method might be worth a try on some scrap to see if it achieves the correct stiffness. Apparently, this is the method that this luthier uses to make leather pick guards.

 

Doug

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why make it hot? It will not shrink a lot in cold water.

 

I had an unwanted experience with stiffening leather.

It (not intended) got wetter than wet can be and it stiffened badly after drying.

In the end I threw away this leather coat.

 

So I'ld try the following

 

keep the leather long enough in cold water until it's soaken wet

put the wet leather on a flat surface - i.e. a glass plate

avoid wrinkles and folds

put a heavy glas plate or flat stone on top

leave it there for a long time (until the leather has fully dried)

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