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how to restore dried leather
Old 05-24-2007, 04:22 AM   #1
Zeller
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Default how to restore dried leather

I got a ground dug helmet recently and it still have the leather lining(partial) and the chin strap. Unfortunately the leather is dry and cannot be bent.

I cleaned the helmet shell with a bath of REMOX and water for a couple of hours, then washed it in another bowl of water and sodium bicarbonate and then washed again with water. During the process i brushed it with a brass tool.
The final touch is a light hand of Rustoil (a french product). I tested this way succesfully before, but i always restored shells only and now i'm stuck with the leather.

I tried to use liquid vaseline,which was well absorbed, and also paraffine wax, but it's still crispy.

Any solution?

Thanks
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Old 05-24-2007, 07:30 AM   #2
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Once the leather had gone hard it's beyond hope and I don't think you will be able to soften it up again.
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Old 05-24-2007, 12:25 PM   #3
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If the leather is dry already, then there is no point in trying to treat it. The only good reason to treat leather on a ground dug helmet, is if the helmet is fresh from the ground, and the leather hasnt shrunk yet, rapid treatment can prevent it from shrinking and cracking.
Once it has shrunk and cracked, you cant reverse that, and you may as well leave it as found. Treating it will just make it souple for a while, but will do damage on the long term, and give the leather a "messed with" look.

By the description of the way you cleaned your helmet, it sounds to me like you probably ruined it, but that is just my opinion. A relic is a relic, and it shouldnt be ruined as an attempt to make it a mint helmet again.

JL
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Old 05-24-2007, 12:37 PM   #4
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Hello Jean-Loup,

even if relic and ground dug, it has to be preserved and cleaned. Unless you like to keep rusty stuff falling apart day after day.
I do not use massive restorations, I simply stop the rust process and give a general clean.
Here's the result (don't mind the shiny/wet effect: its just because it was freshly sprayed with WD-40)




You can see now traces of the original paint plus white paint.

and here's the same helmet before



Then it's up to personal taste how you like to keep your pieces,I guess.

However, I restored cracky and crispy leather belts before,so I won't give up on the leather strap
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Old 05-24-2007, 02:56 PM   #5
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I have had relic helmets for years. I never treat them in any way, and nothing has ever fallen appart. Contrarly to what I often hear, rust isnt some kind of cancer that will keep spreading unless taken away. If you take the helmet out of the environmental conditions that made it rust, and put it in good conditions, the rust will no longer spread.
But it is true that on a helmet like the one you showed, in the first period after the helmet was dug up, lots of pieces of rust will fall off, but then the helmet will reach a stable point.
The thing I dont like with your treatment is the rust-oil part. I find it realy ugly, as it makes the helmet so shiny. But like you said, ca depends des gouts.

JL
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Old 05-24-2007, 03:01 PM   #6
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jean-loup,

you're right about Rustoil. But maybe i forgot to mention that I developed my own method: once i have laid a light film of rustoil, I use a cloth to dry it and remove the exceeding. In this way, the helmet will look natural and won't shine.
You have to leave the product for a couple of minutes so that it will be absorbed,then you apply the cloth.
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Old 05-24-2007, 08:16 PM   #7
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Well, I beg to differ.... I have softened many pieces of leather that were American Civil War period.... most of it stored in barns for over 100 years. A friend of mine found two shoes under a house pouch that was over 250 years old. The shoes were from the late 1700's based on their construction. Trust me they looked horrible, completely dry and stiff as a board. He was able to soften them and they are in pristine condition now.... unbelievable. There are many products on the market.... and a lot of them work... leather can be softened.

Last edited by 101combatvet; 05-24-2007 at 09:41 PM.
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Old 05-24-2007, 08:57 PM   #8
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I don't know if this may help, as it sounds like your strap may be beyond this product, but I have an original RAF leather Bomber jacket that I frequently treat with Meguiars' Gold Class leather wipes. Keeps the leather soft and it doesn't dry out and crack. The product is predominantly used for car interiors, but I find that it does me well.
Just a thought
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Old 05-25-2007, 12:17 AM   #9
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Hi Combat Vet, could you share your techniques?
Thanks
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Old 05-25-2007, 11:57 AM   #10
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Long-term studies by museum professionals have proven that although the application of leather dressings can temorarily make the leather more supple, they invariably cause irreversible damage to the item over a period of years.
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Old 05-25-2007, 11:57 AM   #11
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There are many leather preservative/restorers out there Goggle for them and you will find many. It seems many were produced for book bindings. Try to stay away from using petroleum based products like vaseline. Use as directed... for me it has taken weeks, sometimes months to restore an item. So be patient.... it is a slow and sometimes fragile process carefully working the preservatives into the leather.

Yes, there are two schools of thought here..... for me the proof is in the pudding.

Last edited by 101combatvet; 05-25-2007 at 12:02 PM.
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Old 05-25-2007, 12:54 PM   #12
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The problem with the military guys on the forum is that they are so used to having nicely greased and polished boots, that they want all other leather things to be as souple and shiny. But like Chris sais: "Long-term studies by museum professionals have proven that although the application of leather dressings can temorarily make the leather more supple, they invariably cause irreversible damage to the item over a period of years."

You may make the leather nice and souple for a few years, and then make it souple again when it starts hardening again, but on the long term, the piece will end up being ruined. Why do you want the leather to be souple anyways? Its not like your going be wearing the things...
Helmets with threated leather are worth less money, and are harder to sell then a helmet with hardened leather. Thats a fact, and advanced collecotrs usualy dont even want a helmet with treated leather in their collection.

JL
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Old 05-25-2007, 01:15 PM   #13
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well, i don't think i'll sell the piece and anyway it's hard for me to consider it as an investment which i may resell, so I'll give the airborne guy method a try

Oh well, off the records, I am parachute qualified too
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Old 05-25-2007, 01:29 PM   #14
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http://www.petervernon.co.uk/renwax.htm

http://antiquearmoury.co.uk/_wsn/page7.html
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Old 05-25-2007, 06:07 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 101combatvet View Post
Well, I beg to differ.... I have softened many pieces of leather that were American Civil War period.... most of it stored in barns for over 100 years. A friend of mine found two shoes under a house pouch that was over 250 years old. The shoes were from the late 1700's based on their construction. Trust me they looked horrible, completely dry and stiff as a board. He was able to soften them and they are in pristine condition now.... unbelievable. There are many products on the market.... and a lot of them work... leather can be softened.
I collected Civil war leather for over 40 years and Revolutionary too. I can assure you few serious collectors will buy treated leather , it is considered to be ruined, done, finished. Over this period I have seen great pieces destroyed by those insist everything should look nice and supple, which it does for a while , until it starts to fall apart.
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