Here is a closeup of the two used Case XX hunting knives I picked up recently. They are a Case XX 316-5 Skinning Knife, and a Case XX 366 Hunting Knife. Both are in good shape, nearly new condition. But I want to make sure I properly care for the stacked leather knife handles. The handles are clean and tight fitting, and I want them to stay that way. Many leather handles on older knives dry out and shrink. This causes gaps to form between the layers of leather, and the whole handle gets loose and wobbly.
How to Care for Leather Handles and Sheaths
In my search for answers, I came across many recommended treatments for leather handles. Here are some of them:
- Peccard’s leather dressing – unknown ingredients
- Sno-Seal – it looks like Sno-Seal is bee’s wax mixed with silicone, though the website doesn’t say.
- neatsfoot oil – “Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet (but not the hooves) of cattle.” – Wikipedia
- atom wax – unknown ingredients. Maybe it has atoms?
- Kiwi neutral shoe polish – unknown, but smells potent
- Lexol – unknown
- bee’s wax – wax from bees
- mink oil – made from mink fat
- Aquaseal – silicone oil
The best advice I came across was posted on BladeForums.
When I was in England a long time ago, I took the opportunity to tour the British Museum in London on several occasions. ( Can’t see it all in one day!)
I had the chance to talk with one of the curators when I was looking at some leather buckets from the 1600’s that were in perfect shape. I asked him what did they put on the leather to waterproof it and preserve it under those conditions. He told me that bee’s wax was used, and that they still use bee’s wax to preserve leather goods. Oils soften and break down the leather too much. It was after that trip that I started to use the Snow Seal on all my leather stuff, since it’s mainly bee’s wax.
If it was good enough for the British Museum, it’s good enough for me!
This makes sense to me. My only concern is that Sno-Seal is not what the British Museum was using, they were using bee’s wax. I believe Sno-Seal is bee’s was mixed with silicone. If you know the actual ingredients of Sno-Seal, please let me know.
So sticking with the advice of the British Museum, and many knife enthusiasts who posted on the subject, it seems that bee’s wax is the best and safest treatment for leather knife handles.
To apply the bee’s wax, knead a bit in your hands to warm it up and soften it. Then rub it on the surface to be treated. Then you can warm it with a hair drier (watch out for dripping wax), or you can heat it on very low in the oven. Let the wax soak in. Then let it cool and remove the excess and buff the surface. Considering the 400 year old buckets at the British Museum, this should help your leather knife handle last just about forever.
The only time when it seems like it might be a good idea to use something other than bee’s wax is when the leather is already dried and shriveled like jerky. If your knife handle is dried out and shrunken, it is useless as is, and anything that gives it some life is better than leaving it useless. I have read that soaking dried up leather in neatsfoot oil or Lexol will revive a dried out leather handle and put it back into useful condition.
If anyone knows of any other ways to restore very damaged leather knife handles, send the info my way. Also let me know if you have used any of the other treatments with good results.
Here is a link to a forum post that gives a Q & A with a representative of Lexol. He doesn’t say exactly what Lexol is, but he does say this:
How is Lexol Leather Conditioner different from other leather conditioners?
First, it contains no petroleum solvents or silicones. It is an aqueous emulsion that quickly penetrates into the hide where it is absorbed and retained by the leather’s fibres. Lexol Leather Conditioner provides long lasting lubrication (within the industry, we call this lubrication nourishment) without migration or surface seepage. Unlike most organic conditioning oils, Lexol Leather Conditioner is non-flammable, odourless, non-toxic and
non-sensitising to the skin. It does not impart a greasy or tacky feel to the surface of the leather (unless overused). While there are many fine leather conditioners in the marketplace, we know of no other
manufacturer in the world that has been able to match our technology in controlling greasiness or oil migration.
No, I am not selling Lexol. But it is good to know this stuff. After reading the whole Q & A, it seems like good stuff. Let me know if you have used it on stacked leather handles, sheaths, or any related items.
Next article in the Leather Care series:
Stacked Leather Knife Handle Care – Part 2