Back in 2009, Pedro Pedrini and I spent some time with veteran saddler/leatherworker Jean Luc Parisot in France. One of the most interesting things I learned from him was the traditional method of edge finishing using beeswax and an edge iron. Jean Luc softened a cake of wax with a small propane burner, and then carefully applied it to the edges of the leather. He then used an iron that was made by the Jos. Dixon tool company (Great Britain) by heating it with the same burner to a temperature that would melt the wax, rendering it into the leather. I realized that this was different than any other edge finishing I had seen before because the wax was actually soaking into the fibers of the leather rather than just a topical treatment. As I experimented with this method back home, I began to see the advantages…the wax would seal off the edges protecting stitches and also preventing oils from escaping on the cut edge. I especially like to do this on the horn as it tends to ‘bind’ the three layers together into a smooth finish. The wax finish is not a hard finish, as it can scuff up with use, but one thing is certain: the wax will not stop doing it’s job as the years of use accumulate. The baked-in wax will remain co-mingled with the oils on the edges for the life of the saddle.
Unfortunately, the edge iron that I bought from the Jos. Dixon company is no longer being made. There are individuals that have been experimenting with different designs that could be available commercially at some point. I have three different irons that I use for different applications, two of which are one-off designs that were made for me. I will let folks know if I hear of any good irons available for sale.
Here’s a short video clip demonstrating the use of a custom made iron I have.
If you’d like a comprehensive tutorial on this process, we have a DVD that is available at www.schwarzproductions.com along with other learning opportunities as well. Look for the discs titled Leather Shop Techniques.