Leather and Razors: What You Need to Know
Most people probably don’t know that they need to take care in selecting leather products for their razors. Most leather in the world is tanned and/or dyed with materials containing chromium salts because they allow hides to transform into leather that is ready to sell in one day, vs 4-6 weeks using traditional methods. Chromium salts remain in the leather and promote corrosion in steel and possibly other metals when the leather is close to the metal over time.
Leather production utilizing chromium salts produces a lot of toxic waste water, thus manufacturing has moved to countries that don’t provide significant oversight. There is no telling what kind of cocktail of chemicals may be used in the tanning process.
Hazaribagh Tannery District in Bangladesh - The Sixth Most Polluted Place on Earth.
Vegetable tanning, called veg tanning, has been used for several thousand years using tannins from tree bark to cure the leather. Unlike chromium-based tanning, this method takes both skill and time.
We believe that cases/covers for safety razors, straight razors and other products such as knives should be made from veg tanned leather that is dyed and finished with products that don’t contain chrome salts.
Veg tanned leather makers offer a softened version of their leather. This product, called milled leather, is made by taking their product and putting it an industrial sized tumbler with rocks. This process softens the leather and creates an interesting pattern, as opposed to the flat smooth surface of the original product. The sheaths at the back of the picture below show the difference between milled and regular leather.
We believe that safety-razor covers should be made from milled leather. The outer surface on many of the vintage razors is very thin. They often have a pot metal core, thus the outer coating should be respected. We have concern that stiffer leather might act like very fine sand paper.
Straight razor sheaths can be either milled or stiff. A stiff sheath would provide more protection. Though, if care is used when packing for travel, the owner could choose based on which look they prefer.
Leather covers and sheaths need to be treated with a conditioner quarterly, perhaps more often if a razor will stay in the sheath all the time. Long term storage of metal objects in leather isn’t a good idea. Razors that are part of a rotation will be fine as long as the leather is properly conditioned and the user monitors the razor for beginning signs of rust or corrosion.
We strongly believe in Bickmore leather care products and have no financial interest in their products. Their Bick 4 leather conditioner and their Pure Neetsfoot Oil are our preferred products. We believe that pure Neetsfoot Oil is best, though it will darken leather and feel oily. Bick 4 addresses both concerns. Neetsfoot Oil is tallow that comes from the lower leg bones of cattle, though not the hoof. It is liquid at room temperature and is used as a lubricant in metal working industries.
Now you have the information needed for using leather products with your shaving equipment.
Here’s to a great shave,