In recent visits with the current CEO Shep Hermann at Hermann Oak Leather , the saddlemakers of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association have discussed recommendations on care and maintenance of saddles. Shep recommends neatsfoot oil…the best of which is available through Weaver Leather under the “Shep’s” label. (It is a coincidence that the outfit making the neatsfoot bears the same name as Shep Hermann.) I’ve heard for years about the lack of a standard formula for neatsfoot, and that it will ‘rot the stitching’, or that it darkens the leather too much. I would make the case that any thin oil that is similar to neatsfoot in its properties will exhibit very similar results as 100% neatsfoot with regard to darkening. (Olive oil or peanut oil come to mind.) Our trade is full of anecdotal information that rarely has any hard science to back it up. That’s why it is a great thing to hear this recommendation from the man whose family has tanned Hermann Oak Leather since the 1880s. Hermann Oak Leather Company is in close touch with the chemistry involved in the making of leather and how best to care for it. Incidentally, there is a laboratory in Cincinnati that specializes in the chemistry of tanning that is a regular consultant to tanneries throughout North America…Hermann Oak of course being one of them.
Good neatsfoot oil will gel at around 50 degrees, and it is recommended that it be heated to 110 degrees for maximum penetration before applying to the leather. Heating oil before application will avoid what is referred to as ‘spew’ later on. Spew is that whitish residue that sometimes appears on leather after neatsfoot has been used. Heating reduces the size of the oil molecules and therefore allows for adequate penetration. I have a single burner hot plate on my work bench that I use to heat neatsfoot oil. I turn the burner on a few minutes before I need to apply oil to leather, whether old or new. A slow cooker (Crock Pot) makes an excellent heater for oil on the work bench. Oil placed in direct sunlight on a warm day will certainly accomplish the task as well. Take care not to over heat the oil if you are using a kitchen range.