Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tack Tips--smooth edges

I love looking at tack made by other tack makers. There are so many talented leather crafters working in the model horse hobby right now. Seeing what other people can do often leaves me feeling both inspired and challenged... Other times, though, I also feel really frustrated. One of my pet peeves is seeing an absolutely beautiful saddle that has unfinished, fuzzy edges. Close up pictures intended to showcase fabulous detail work, only make those bad edges more obvious. Finishing edges properly is neither hard nor time consuming if you know the secret. I do and I'm going to share it with you!

That offending, fuzzy edge is clearly visible on this strip of leather.
The next picture shows the same strap with most of the fuzzies trimmed off of it. I did this by holding my shears at an angle to the leather, and cutting as close as possible to the edge without actually cutting into it. This has already improved the edge's appearance significantly.
The next step is to smooth the edge with gum tragacanth. Although you may have never heard of it, gum tragacanth is the secret weapon for taming leather fuzzies.

And what exactly is gum tragacanth? Here is part of Wikipedia's definition:

Gum tragacanth is a viscous, odorless, tasteless, water-soluble mixture of polysaccharides obtained from sap which is drained from the root of the plant and dried. The gum seeps from the plant in twisted ribbons or flakes which can be powdered. When added to water, tragacanth absorbs water and becomes a gel which can be stirred into a paste. The gum is used used in veg-tanned leatherworking as an edge slicking and burnishing compound and is occasionally used as a stiffener in textiles.

You can buy gum tragacanth at either Tandy or the Leather Factory. A small bottle costs less than $5 and will last a long time. Because I make such a large volume of tack, I buy nearly everything in bulk and refill my small bottles as necessary.
I apply the gum tragacanth by dipping my finger into the bottle and then rubbing it along the edge. In mere seconds, the edge looks smooth and polished. Although you could call it good now, I prefer dark edges on my tack. For years I used paint markers on the edges because that was what Carol Williams recommended in her saddle kit. That didn't work particularly well for me, though, so I started looking for something better. This is what I use now.Edge Kote is another inexpensive product you can buy at Tandy or the Leather Factory. It is made specifically for darkening leather edges and comes in both black and brown. I like it because it's easy to apply and clean up and will not bleed into the leather.

Before I treat the edges, I seal the leather with either Satin Shene or Super Shene. I allow that to dry completely, then I carefully dip a Q-tip into the Edge Kote. I do not want a lot of Edge Kote on the Q-tip because that's how things get messy. I run the Q-tip along the edge of the leather until I get my nice, dark edge.Despite my best efforts, sometimes I paint more than just the edge with the Edge Kote. I keep a paper towel on hand for just that reason. I've found that it cleans up easily as long as you don't wait too long.
Here's a quick picture showing the original fuzzy strap, a strap that's been trimmed and treated with gum tragacanth and a finished, sealed strap with dark edges. Each step has darkened the leather a bit, but I don't use products sparingly. If I wanted to preserve the original ultra-light leather color, I would have been a lot less heavy handed with both the gum tragacanth and the sealer.
Hope this is helpful to someone, and now that you know how easy it is, there's really no excuse for leaving your edges fuzzy!


  1. This is VERY helpful, even though I rarely work in leather. I did use real leather for a pair of chaps recently and your hints helped them turn out much better and more professional looking than they would have otherwise.

  2. I read this and immediately had to go make sure I don't have any fuzzy tack still posted anywhere, LOL! I used to have a lot of troubles with fuzz, but I have a process that is essentially the same as yours, except minus the gum, and plus acrylic paint and acrylic gloss sealer. I should add the gum, though - I was just at Tandy on Tuesday, looking at it, thinking "I know I need this for something..."

    Thanks for another super informative post! :-D

  3. Good tip! Another thing that works really well for me (particularly on straight edges) is to cut it with a fabric rotary cutter- the kind that quilters use and can be purchased at most any fabric store. It uses a round blade (essentially a razor blade) and is best used against a straight-edge as a cutting guide. It gives crisp, clean cuts with NO fuzzys. For curves, I use a *very* sharp pair of shears. The sharper, the cleaner. And I also use edge-kote. It REALLY makes a difference to have clean, finished edges!


  4. Good stuff the edge kote. I use micro brushes - they are easy to use even on skiver edges. I do sm tack and the little micro brushes are best. I just clean it with fingernail polish remover and use the brush again. Here's site to see the micro brush

  5. Thanks Kim. That is really good information. I will have to try the microbrushes. I've been having trouble with my Q-tips lately. I bought a cheaper brand and they are less dense and therefore harder to control... I'm definitely ready for a change!

  6. This is super helpful- I've been dealing with fuzzy edges for a while and have yet to find a good way to kill them, until now! Thanks for the awesome tip!

  7. Thank you so much for the the Gum tragacanth tip! I'm new in the leather world, but use the same edge kote as you. What really annoys me, is that the edge dont get soft and glossy but mat and rough.
    I was close to buy the Gum t, at "Le Prevo" (they sell cheaper than tandy, and it's mostly the same products) but the man I talked to said I didn't need it.
    Thanks to your post I'll definitely try it!
    Oh one question though, you put the Satin Shene on the edge and not on the sites of the leather, right? :)

  8. Why not use leather dye for the edges? Is edge kote better or is it just preference? Thank you very much!

  9. Leather dye is designed to penetrate the leather. Edge Kote stays on the surface. If you want the edges to be dark, but not the area around them, Edge Kote is a much better choice.