What is a leather patina and how is it made?

What is a leather patina and how it is made

If you have ever been around leather or read up on leather products you will usually hear about a patina. But what is a Patina and how is it made? Well today we are going to go over everything you need to know about leather patinas.

What is a leather patina?

Many natural items have an aging process to them that can significantly change the look of the item.

This is the case with leather as it is made from the hide of animal. Just as your skin will tan under sunlight, create marks and wrinkles, leather does the same. And this is what is called a Patina.

Patinas add some interesting characteristics to your leather products that will make it look that much cooler. If your leather is starting to grow a patina, this is a good thing.

Patina On Natural Leather – Photo Courtesy of Theresa at Flickr

Patina’s only really start to acquire on very high quality leathers that have been naturally processed/tanned. Since there are different tanning processes, this affects the structure of the leather.

Other items like wood and metal will go through similar processes while aging as the color will start to change. When you have leather that has been used, it will start to show the abuse it has gone through.

How does leather patina?

Patinas are created from abuse to the leather. The natural life of your leather item will start to take on different colors, scratch and stretch marks.

This will add some badass looking features to your leather item. So just by using your item, it will start develop a nice patina.

Let’s say you have a wallet, you are constantly sliding it in and out of your pocket, your skin oils are soaking into the leather when you touch it. Sunlight will start to lighten the color, water and other liquids will spill onto it and create darker spots on it.

Everything you do with your leather wallet will slowly add to it growing a patina.

Now some people want to speed up this process and we have a few ways to help age your leather here. But if you want a very natural patina look, it is best to just use your item and allow time to pass by. If you want to speed up the process but don’t want to take sandpaper or rubbing alcohol to it, force the natural growth.

handmade aged leather
This is an example of an aged leather by hand that came out very good.

Let your item sit in the sun while you are home (not for too long though as it can dry out very quick); bang it up against items (not too hard, we don’t want you to rip your item). You can drop it on on the ground and kick it around a bit. The basic idea behind aging your leather is to beat it up a bit.

Or just allow the natural life of your product to go through some regular abuse.

What type of leather patinas?

Every type of leather will start to patina, but not every patina is created equal.

Since leather is made from different animal hides, there are many different types of leather. But most, if not all of these leathers will start to patina, even crocodile hide.

Most “genuine leather” and other low quality leathers like bonded or bicast will not patina or create a not so good patina. This is because these leathers are made from leather remnants. Usually glue has been applied to the top coat to create a leather look. So the natural leather age will hardly show up.

Chrome tanned leather and other chemical based tanned leather will eventually grow a patina, but it isn’t as acquired. Most of the chemicals used for leather is made so the leather lasts a long and constant look. This is why you see in a lot of high end fashion you will see this type of leather used. It creates very nice colors and will stay the same for many years.

But patinas on leather are a characteristic people look for when purchasing leather items. They want the leather to age, as aging leather looks very cool and unique.

Comparison of a new and aged leather iPhone Case – Photo Courtesy of Reddit Poster

You can have two wallets made, dyed and finished the same, but after a year they will look different than each other. Plus the higher quality leather, the better the patina will look.

This is why many leather crafters use top or full-grain veg-tanned leather. As this leather can be tooled, shaped, molded, colored, and carved while maintaining great durability and look. It is ideal for any leather crafter and is used in high end leather items.

There are some nicer style leathers like Cordovan leather which is veg tanned-leather. The difference is the animal and the area of the hide it came from. This leather will create probably the best looking patina, but natural veg-tanned will compete very similarly. All for a cheaper price too.

Leather Finishes and Patina

Leather sealant and finishers will have an effect on the time it takes the leather to patina.

If the leather has been dyed (which is 99% of the case) the crafter must put on a finish. This allows the leather to be used without the dye coming off on the customer’s hands and clothes.

Some sealants can make the leather look very glossy and can add an extra hard protection. Leather that has been finished like this will take a bit more time to patina.

Other finishers can look almost non-existent and soften the leather. These are usually not as durable so the patina will start to happen a bit quicker.

So if you are buying a leather item, it will most likely always have some type of sealant on it. This is why when you try to age the leather yourself you will tend to have to rub away this sealant (and the dye) to speed up the aging.

There are also waterproofing and UV resistant ointments that can be applied to leather. This will help the leather keep its constant look for much longer time. If these are added you can expect to wait a decent amount of time before your leather starts to break in.

If you desire a patina for your leather, don’t forget the leather still needs care. Leather can dry out and start to crack and that will not look good.

So if you plan to leave your item out in the sun for a month to get a patina, don’t forget to apply some saddle soap or conditioner. Having your leather go from a patina to a dried up mess will make the leather look very unappealing.

An example of how leather can start to look when it has not been cared for.

Does a patina mean the leather is going bad?

No way, this is a natural hide that has lasted many years before you got it and will last many years after. It is just a natural course of time and will not affect the structure of your item.

When the hide was on the animal, it had hair for protection and oils to keep it moist. Afterward the leather had been tanned which keeps the leather alive without rotting. Leather will last an extremely long time regardless of how it looks.

Now that being sad, yes the leather is fine, but if it is not cared for then you might have issues. Like I said, if the leather is drying out it will start to crack or come apart. So keep good care of your leather and watch it age to a nice patina. You’ll be happy with the results!

Hope this helped you better understand what is a leather patina and how it is made!