How to burnish leather

Burnishing leather edges means polishing them off for a neat look

When you are making a leather bag or accessory using vegetable tanned leather, you should burnish the leather edges for a neat and professional looking finish. Of course, if you are going for a more rugged look then you can leave the leather edges raw. However, burnishing the edges will protect them and will keep them looking better longer.

Burnishing essentially means that you are polishing the edge. This is done by rubbing the edge in order to create heat which presses down the leather fibres. To burnish your leather edges, you first need to bevel them using an edge bevelling tool. This cuts the ‘sharp’ edge off and creates a chamfer. You then sand the bevelled edge to soften it. Use either a sanding block or sand paper and you can even try different grit to see what gives you the best results. Once the leather edge is bevelled and sanded, you can apply a burnishing agent to moisten the edge. For this, use either Gum Tragacanth or Tokonole, but if you do not have either, you can use a bit of water instead. 

Do not soak the edge but apply enough of the burnishing agent so that it is moist. Use a wooden edge slicker to burnish the edge. Place the edge slicker on the edge and rub it back and forth in a rapid movement. This creates the heat that presses down the fibres on the edge. You do not need to put a lot of pressure on the leather edge itself, but make sure to keep the leather taught. You should be able to hear a tacky sound and the edge should be smooth and glossy which means that the edge is burnished.For best results, after you have burnished the edge once, you can sand it again, moisten it and burnish two or three times. You can also apply beeswax on the edge to protect it and add more shine. To do this, rub a beeswax block on the edge and use a cloth to rub it in. Do note that you cannot burnish the edges on chrome tanned leather. If you are using chrome leather, you can apply an edge paint to finish the edges.

Edge slicker for leather
Burnishing leather edges