Comparing Leather Finishes




About: I like to build neat stuff. So far that's been a lightweight hiking stove, a literature-inspired puzzle clock, a simple shipping app, and nice little wallet.

My friend Mat and I have been making leather stitching kits for a few months. We use untreated, full-grain aniline dyed goatskin leather. We love the look and feel, but know it's less stain-resistant than treated leather. So we tested out some common leather finishes to see if we could keep the leather's original character but provide some degree of protection.

The kits we make are at

It's hard to tell what kind of finish you're going to get before you try a treatment, so we thought we'd share our results.

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Step 1: Natural Patina

The sample on the left is our untreated control sample.

We used a buffing wheel on a Dremel tool on the sample on the right to simulate the natural patina the leather develops over time. Just the contact and rubbing the leather gets with use seem to close its pores and make it less susceptible to minor stains. This is how our kits go out now and we still like it.

Step 2: Acrylic: Satin Shene by Eco-FLo

The sample on the left is again our untreated control sample.

We used Satin Shene by Eco-Flo on the sample on the right. Like all acrylics, it creates a thin layer of plastic over the leather to protect it. It darkened the leather a small amount (the least of the finishes tested) and added a relatively high degree of shine. It's probably the best protected of all the samples, but also feels the most like cheaper semi-aniline or non-aniline leathers.

Step 3: Oil: Jojoba Oil

The sample on the left is again our untreated control sample.

We used 100% Jojoba oil on the other two samples. Like all oils, it sinks into the leather and conditions it. We chose Jojoba because it had a reputation for being less smelly and not darkening the leather as much as Mink or Neatsfoot oil. But we still found that it darkened the leather significantly. It was also hard to get an even application without saturating the leather - that's why we tried it on two samples.

Step 4: Natural Wax: Fiebing's Leather Balm With Atom Wax

The sample on the left is again our untreated control sample.

We used Fiebing's Leather Balm with Atom Wax on the sample on the right. Waxes sit on top of the leather like an acrylic, but form a thinner, softer shell and are more commonly used on high-end leather. It darkened the leather more than the acrylic, less than the oil. The finish was somewhat glossy, and this depends a lot on whether you buff the leather after application. Shoe polishes, for instance, are wax-based.

Note: We called this "natural wax" in the video, but "conventional wax" is probably more appropriate. It's likely a petroleum product, but we wanted to differentiate it from the next treatment which is called a wax, but is really a polymer.

Step 5: Synthetic Wax: Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather

The sample on the left is again our untreated control sample.

We used Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather on the sample on the right. We call this "synthetic wax" but it seems to be a durable water resistant (DWR) polymer that's specially formulated not to dry out leather like some silicon or fluorocarbon-based treatments do. It's often used for shoes and I think they use the word "wax" out of convention - Nikwax is pretty tight-lipped about what exactly it is.

In any case, it darkened the leather about the same amount as the natural wax - so more than the acrylic, less than the oil. Its finish was the most matte, and its hand was most like the untreated and natural patina samples. Incidentally, it smells like a new pair of sneakers.

Step 6: Conclusion

Our tests were specifically intended to find a leather finish that provided some level of protection for our leather with as little compromise to its initial look and feel as possible.

On those criteria, the acrylic was most true to the original color. The synthetic wax was most true to the original feel. We liked the natural wax finish as well. The only treatment we didn't like was the oil, because of how much it darkened the leather and the difficulty of getting an even application.

We also still like the untreated leather and the somewhat protective patina it develops on it own over time.

Thanks for reading, and we hope this saved you from having to test these all yourself!

- Devin & Mat

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7 Discussions


1 year ago

THANKS! This provided a clear path out of the woods. You've done a valuable service!


2 years ago

Great info. I am making engraved & inked guitar straps and this is the last piece of the puzzle. I have used resolene (too glossy) and Satin Shene (better, but still more gloss than I would like). I will definitely give the Nikwax a try next. I would have never even considered it before reading this. I had no idea it was so hard to find a product that would give a matte finish.


3 years ago

Thanks for great info!!


3 years ago

Very helpful :)



4 years ago on Introduction

This was absolutely fantastic. So incredibly helpful. Could you do more of comparing various techniques/ products on leather. Right now I am trying to figure out how to stiffen oil tanned leather, I am making a steampunk witches had and want it to have some body but still be flexable and not stiff