The question of “how to burnish leather edges” seems to come up on the various message boards almost daily. There’s tons of ways to do it and some are better than others, some faster, some easier, etc. This is how I burnish my leather edges and it seems to work well for me. Watch the video, or keep reading for more info…
Basically, I begin by sanding the edges flush on my drill press. I use small sanding drums I picked up at the local hardware store. Once flush, I dampen the edges (and faces too, since I hammer my stitches flat at this point), then bevel the edges. If necessary, I quickly dampen the edges again, then sand the edges (in one direction) with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a foam sanding pad (which helps the sandpaper to conform to the shape of the edge). You should be able to tell when you’ve sanded all the edges as they’ll already begin to look more smooth.
From here, I move to 400 grit Wet/Dry sandpaper and I sand in both directions (left, right, and even diagonally). Keep rotating to fresh pieces of sandpaper so the grit doesn’t get clogged up. One sheet of sandpaper should last a very long time – at least a dozen items. I think one sheet probably handled 50+ holster related items. When you’re done sanding, rinse the paper off and let it dry to use on another project.
Your edges should now be smooth enough to take dye very easily. I like to “cut in” my edges with a permanent marker. This helps get nice, clean black edges. Once the edges are cut in, I fill in the rest of the edge with a wool dauber. The marker doesn’t penetrate very deeply, or I’d use it on the entire edge. Be very careful in this step, as the dye can very easily get on your fingers and transfer to your piece. I will usually dye one half of my piece, then move onto another item while the dye dries – in assembly line fashion.
Once the dye has completely dried, I dampen the edge again and apply a 50/50 mixture of beeswax and paraffin to the edge, then heat burnish the edge with my wooden burnisher (from Pro Edge Burnishers). I don’t know off-hand what speed my drill press is running at, but it’s running fast enough to build up heat in the leather, but not so fast that it instantly burns the leather.
Buff the edge with a canvas cloth to remove the excess wax, polish the edge, and remove any excess pigment from the surface. If necessary, touch up any spots by either repeating the previous step, or with your hand burnisher. If any areas on the edge are showing un-dyed leather, I find the permanent marker works best at this point. Then buff the spot and the color should blend right in with its surrounding.
That pretty much sums it up!