How to Burnish Leather Edges




Introduction: How to Burnish Leather Edges

About: I work at instructables by day, and turn into a stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @jessyratfink to see what i'm working on! ^_^

Burnishing leather edges is a great way to make a leather project look AMAZING. If you're unfamiliar with the term, burnishing is basically polishing the rough edges of the leather.

Burnishing can be a pretty time consuming technique, but the way it finishes a project is well worth it. In this instructable I'll show the simplest way of burnishing - manual labor and a slicker! If you're planning on burnishing a giant leather project, it might be a good idea to look into more automated methods, like attaching the slicker to a Dremel. :D

To see a great example of an automated method, check out PowellMade's automated burnisher build!

Check out my other leather ibles for more leatherworking basics:

Step 1: What You'll Need:

  • gum tragacanth
  • a slicker
  • something to condition the leather - I'm using jojoba oil
  • paper towels
  • fine grit sandpaper

Slickers come in plastic, glass and wood - any of those will do the trick!

Keep in mind that burnishing an edge with gum tragacanth will essentially seal the edge, so if you're going to dye the leather, do it before you burnish.

Step 2: Sanding

I find that I get the best results when I sand the edges nice and flat - this isn't as necessary if you're working with a single piece of leather. When you have two+ pieces, it ensures they're nice and flush.

This can also help you soften your corners a bit!

Step 3: Apply the Gum and Let Get Tacky

Shake the gum well and use a piece of paper towel to apply a small amount to the very edge. Let this sit for 30-60 seconds. You want the gum to dry just a little bit - if it's too wet you won't get any friction while slicking.

Step 4: Use the Slicker and Repeat!

Use a decent amount of pressure to push the slicker up against the edge and bring it rapidly up and down the edge. (You should feel slight friction while doing this. If you don't let the gum dry a little longer.) Keep going until you can tell the gum has dried out a bit.

Once that happens, apply more gum and let it get tacky before repeating. :)

Burnishing an edge to a mirror finish can take up to 30-45 minutes sometimes - definitely not fast! I worked on this one about that long. But it's a nice thing to do in front of the TV!

If you find that you aren't getting significant results after the first couple cycles of gumming/slicking, your edges might be too dry! This means they're sucking up all the gum and not allowing it to sit properly on the surface.

To fix the dryness, apply a tiny amount of jojoba oil to the edges - just until they darken slightly. Then apply more gum and keep going!



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    23 Discussions

    The slicker looks like it could be mounted on a base and then the piece rubbed against it having only one item moving back and forth, and sparing the hand holding the slicker. As for the slicker as you call it, I can see a wheel from ao screen door or a pulley wheel! Cool instructable to finish workmanship.

    ooh! (sorry i'm just thinking about tips I've learned in the last couple of weeks) you can burnish multiple times, so it's common to burnish once with a bit of water, sand it even smoother, and burnish it again with trag or wax it can really help to get nicer edges. While it is important to dye it before hand, you may need to redye the edges between sanding and burnishing again after the water step, once it's water proofed the dye won't take well

    you can. I recommend heating it by using a small metal spatula or something to spread on, I use some clay tools, heat with a candle, dip into the wax and spread it on, then you can burnish the same

    excuse the fingers, but this is a watch strap i made that was burnished using this method using melted beeswax. it's actually a strip folded over and glued so there are 2 peices of leather in that one strap. A bit of sanding, some wax, and a rounded burnisher was able to do that. This is a bout 3 weeks on and the burnish is holding up quite well. With wax it generally stays on so you can just reshine it up fairly easily with some buffing.


    The leather you use looks chrome tanned? I'm not sure. If it can be burnished, i'm sure you can also polish the wood edge as well, I feel like beeswax on wood buffed would probably at least smooth it if not create a decent polish

    It's worth noting you can burnish edges with water only, and almost anything can be used as a slicker. Just a piece of canvas is a common practice as well. The gum or other slicking agent is just to help it last longer and weatherproof it

    I use mostly pre dyed soft leather, not veg tan like you have here. Is there any diferance in how you would burnish it?

    2 replies

    As far as I know, you actually can't burnish most of the softer leathers. Most folks tend to paint the edges instead!

    If it's chrome tan or oil tanned leather it won't burnish (that's what the soft stuff is). There is specific edge paint for that, it's usually got some give to it so you can bend it without cracking or delaminating

    Hi yeah I'd like to know if this only works on veg tan leather too.

    1 reply

    I needed to burnish the edges on the leather part of a kydex-leather holster and didn't have any of these things so I improvised. I put a little drum sanding attachment on my Dremel and removed the sandpaper piece leaving just the rubber cylinder shaped part. I then put a little spit on the edge of the leather and used the Dremel at about 25,000 RPM. It was pretty fast and it made edge of the leather super slick and made the edges nice and dark, just like in her pic. Before I did this I cleaned up the edge of the leather with some 220 grit sandpaper first. After I was done I sprayed some Ballistol oil on everything and rubbed it in to seal it up. I think the Ballistol is made from mineral oil.

    Don't use too much pressure with the Dremel and keep moving and keep doing it at different angles to keep the edge nicely rounded off. If you don't have the proper burnishing chemical [gum tragacanth] you can't use water, it has to be spit.

    Do you burnish your edges before or after applying the leather finish to the face of the leather? Do gum tragacanth and leather finish interact at all in a funny way?

    Thanks for making this! I'm new to leather and I've found that instructables like yours are so much better than buying a full book on the subject. Thanks for making this available to all us people! You're a wonderful person :)

    1 reply

    Before is best when it comes to any kind of dying - the gum tragacanth will inhibit the finish from penetrating. The only difference I found is that it tends to darken the color, but I've heard horror stories of smudging. Though smudging only seems to occur if the finish is very thick or isn't dry.

    If you're doing a waterproofing or other wax based finish, you can apply it after burnishing.

    As a note, if you don't have gum tragacanth, saliva works almost as well in a pinch. The enzymes in saliva break down the fibers of the leather just enough to allow it to be slicked down. I've used this method myself and it looks funny (om nom leather mmm) but works beautifully.

    thanks... nice and simple. I was wondering what the stuff was that industry uses to buff the edges with

    Nice job, this definitely adds class and a proffesional look to any leather project!