Being a natural material, leather can have a lot of quirks to it. One of those quirks that get brought up often by leatherworkers that reach out to us, is the appearance of the backside of the leather. The back side of leather can sometimes have a longer nap, with what some describe as an almost fuzzy appearance. Folks that are making belts or even jewelry, may prefer to see a nice smooth back to their finished project as opposed to that fuzzy nap.
Smoothing the leather is something that can happen over time with use, or you can burnish the edge of the leather yourself by hand. The burnishing process recreates that smoothed, aged look that comes with time and wear. This process can be done with a number of tools as well as a handy product known by the awkward to pronounce name of Gum Tragacanth. Seriously, try to say it three times fast. We just call it "Gum" around here to sidestep the weird noises you may make while trying to say the second half.
Traditionally, Gum is used with a burnishing tool on the edges of leather products, like belts or wallets. It's how craftsmen make those softly rounded edges on their products that look all glossy and smooth. However, as leather jewelry (particularly leather earrings) grows in popularity, we have recommended this as a great product to seal and finish the backs and edges of jewelry so they have a smooth finish and create a higher-end look. Now that's not to say that the natural nap of the leather isn't lovely too! Some may really love the fuzzy, more natural look of the leather. This is really a point of preference as opposed to the correct way of doing something. But long story short, if you want that smooth look, applying Gum to the backside and edges of your leather will do just that!
You can apply Gum to wrangle in some of those little flyaway pieces that come up when you've cut your leather and give you lovely smooth edges. This can be done with a paintbrush or a fingertip for just a light coating. If you wanted a bit of shine over the whole backside of your earring or piece, you could use apply Gum then rub it down with a wooden dowel, slicker, or bone folder as well.
If you're working with thicker leather, you can use a burnishing wheel or burnishing tool along with the Gum, to create a soft rounded edge to your piece. Just note that thinner, softer tempered leather edges don't take to be being burnished as thicker, stiffer temper leather does. Those softer leathers would be the kind you simply apply Gum to on its own for smoothing, and not applying pressure to the edges.
Burnishing leather also keeps the edges smooth for a long period of time. If you were to apply gum to the edges of a purse strap, and not burnish it, eventually the gum can wear away leaving that fuzzy edge once again. For jewelry, however, a coating should do the trick, especially since you aren't getting the same kind of wear with an earring that you do from a purse strap.
Do you burnish or prefer that natural look? Let us know! Have a finished project you’d like to share with us? Tag us on social media with #theleatherguymn.