When learning about what finishes to apply to your product, there is no formal way to learn. Most people learn from experience, and that is the best way to learn. In this post, I will explain leather finishes in a way I hope someone would have explained to me when I first started out. Hope this helps!

In this post, we will cover the topic of leather finishes as below:

What are Leather Finishes?

Leather finishes are products that are applied to the surface or edges of leather to provide water resistance, general protection, and to make it look more professional. Finishing is the final phase of the leathercraft process, thus the name “finish”.

Not to be confused with the finishes done at the tannery. In this post, we are referring to the finishes that you can apply to your project or product.

There are also products such as conditioners, cleaners, oil and soaps which are leather care products but are commonly used as a finish as well.

Types of Leather Finishes

There are a lot of different types of finishes available in the market. Depending on your preference and what kind of finishing you would like to achieve, different types of finishes will have different effects on your project.

To make it simple, i believe common types of leather finishes can be categorized into:


Acrylic is considered a topcoat finish. What it does is basically creating a thin layer of plastic over your leather surface to protect it. It is a great option to provide water resistance to the leather surface. Typically applied in light coats or even mixed with water to not build up excessively. Acrylic finishes are meant to be water resistance instead of water proof.

As a topcoat finish, acrylic based finishes are like a sealant which is the final product being applied onto the leather. Any conditioning or oiling should be done before applying the acrylic. You may want to let the conditioning sit for a day or two before sealing it with the acrylic.

Common acrylic finishes that you can easily source are Fiebing’s Resolene and Satin Sheen (by Tandy Eco-Flo or Angelus).

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Fiebing’s Acrylic Resolene – Best Deal on Amazon!

Fiebing’s Resolene are water based. I would recommend a 50/50 Resolene-water mix. It doesn’t work too ideally without diluting (just a personal preference). If you want to use it without diluting, its best to buff it to avoid a streaky mess after it dries. Diluting it will make it more manageable to get a thin flat film to achieve a smooth glossy surface.

it has a slight blue tinge when applied but it will be clear as it dries. Once it is dry, you will get a nice glossy finish.


The difference of oil compared to other types of finishes is that it actually sinks into the leather and conditions it more than just sitting on the top. In my opinion, oil is primarily a conditioner used to restore oil in leather. If you are looking to form a nice patina, oil would be one of the treatments that will work for this. For undyed veg tan leather, commonly oil is applied and allowed to sink into the leather then placed in the sun for probably half a day to get a gorgeous sun tanned finish.

Do note that oil tends to darken the leather a lot more compared to the other treatments.

If your project involves wet molding whereby the leather has been soaked in water and stretched to take a certain shape or form. This will cause the leather to lose some of the natural oils, thus an oil finish will be ideal as it will replenish and restore the natural oils in the leather which have been lost during the wet molding process.

Dyeing the leather will also draw out some of the nutrients in the leather causing the leather to be stiffer. In this case, oiling the leather helps restore the lost oils that were “dried out” during the dyeing process. Some people oil before dyeing and some prefer to oil after dyeing before applying the sealant/top coat. However, do note that oils such as neatsfoot oil darkens the leather by quite a lot and may affect your desired color of the leather.

The common products that you can easily source are neatsfoot oil, mink oil, walnut oil or even olive oil to name a few.

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Wikipedia: Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet (but not the hooves) of cattle. “Neat” in the oil’s name comes from an Old English word for cattle. Neatsfoot oil is used as a conditioning, softening and preservative agent for leather.


For this category, i’m actually referring to wax, balm, conditioners, and creams that you can apply to leather. FYI, i’m using wax as a general representative term. Wax typically provides a nice smell and beautiful sheen finish to your leather. The nice thing about wax is that they don’t provide a plastic surface like the acrylics but they provide better surface protection than oil. Most wax-based products are meant for smooth leather and not suede type.

In my opinion, most products under this category is considered leather care which are conditioners. Same like oil based products, it can be used to moisturize the leather so that it doesn’t dry out and crack. Wax-based finishes tend to give a more natural feel and look but less water protection. You will need to re-apply on a regular basis. Although it does not waterproof the leather, it does provide protection and a natural glow to your leather.

Some common products in this category are beeswax, Fiebing’s Leather Balm with Atom Wax, Carnauba Creme, NeatLac, Aussie, Sno-Seal etc

Fiebing’s Carnauba Creme imparts a natural wax finish that resists finger prints and scuff marks and can be used on natural vegetable tanned leather as well as leather goods. It is easy to apply and comes as a liquid cream that can be rubbed into the leather.

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Carnauba Creme is a popular protective wax finish used by many leathercrafters. Apply into the leather, polish it off with a cloth and you will get a nice sheen finish.

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Fiebing’s Leather Balm with Atom Wax is a specially formulated liquid wax finish for coloring, softening and polishing articles of smooth leather. Can be buffed to a rich, soft, velvety luster. Leather Balm with Atom Wax is not a water resistant top finish. Perfect for natural mellow finish.

What finishes should I use as a beginner?

There is no right answer for this. As a beginner you will need to test out what works best for your project.

That being said, I would recommend you pick up a product in each of the categories I mentioned above.

  • Acrylic : Used a top coat / sealant
  • Oil : Used to restore the natural oils of leather
  • Wax : Used as a conditioner

Resolene, Neatsfoot Oil, Carnauba cream or any type of leather balm. This three will work well in most projects. Most of the common products I highlighted in the post are considered a safe choice.

Experiment with different finishes and you will develop your own routine. The products could be incorporated into your routine such as:-

  • Natural Look : Dye > Oil > Finish with Wax
  • Water resistance : Dye > Oil > Top coat finish with Resolene

In the next chapter, we will discuss on leathercraft techniques!

Leathercraft Basics – Table of Content

Chapter 1: Leathercraft Basics Introduction
Chapter 2: Understanding the Leathercraft Process
Chapter 3: Tools Needed for Leathercraft
Chapter 4: Leather Explained – Choosing The Right Leather
Chapter 5: Leather Dye
Chapter 6: Burnishing Agents
Chapter 7: Adhesive / Glue
Chapter 8: Leather Finishes (You are here)
Chapter 9: Leathercraft Techniques (Coming Soon)
Chapter 10: Machinery used in Leathercraft (Coming Soon)