Leather holsters and pouches for pliers need conditioning at least to keep them in good shape for a longer period. It does not matter if the sheath is new or old. They all need a retouch with some leather conditioner to keep the leather from drying up and eventually developing cracks.
Another reason for treating a leather sheath for your pliers is to soften it up so that it can conform to the shape of the tool. This allows your tool to fit more snugly leaving no extra space for jostling out. I like to do this with my leather holsters for pruning pliers to improve the fit. After treating the holsters, they fit the pliers like a glove, making it hard to lose them while working overhead or climbing up the ladder. If you are an angler, you will find the trick of custom molding leather sheaths quite useful because it makes your angling pliers fit more securely so you won’t lose them in the water.
Other reasons for treating a leather tool pouch are to tan it, repair surface scratches, and/or make it smell nice. For example, many people like to tan light-brown holsters to a rich dark color. Others treat their leather plier holsters with fragrant oil to make them smell nice. In a nutshell, there are many reasons for conditioning leather pouches besides preventing them from aging badly.
How do you condition leather pouches?
Conditioning or treating leather pouches is a very simple exercise. It simply involves applying a leather conditioner to prolong the life of the leather sheath and improve its appearance as well. The process involves the following easy steps:
1. Clean the pouch
If you are conditioning an old pliers pouch, start by cleaning it with lukewarm water and saddle soap to remove dirt and grease. You can use a soft brush or lint-free cloth to scrub it but be gentle. If you do not have leather soap, you can also use regular soap but be sure to rinse it off thoroughly.
Once the sheath is clean, let it sit overnight to dry. Do not expose it direct heat or sunlight as that might accelerate cracking and deterioration.
If you want to remold the sheath so that your tool can fit better, do not let it dry completely after soaking in water. Instead, just let the excess water drain off for about 10 minutes before you start molding the sheath. This type of molding leather when it is wet is called wet molding.
2. Wet mold the pliers holster to shape
To mold the holster to the shape of your tool, simply insert the tool into the holster while it is wet but after draining off excess water. You can wrap the pliers or whatever tool with cling film to protect them from absorbing any stains from the wet leather.
Once you have the tool inside the wet holster, press the edges to mold the holster to its shape. You can use your fingers or the back of a spoon to trace the contours of the tool and bring them out nicely on the holster. Alternatively, use anything you can think of that will press the wet holster against the pliers to create a nice wet mold.
After molding, let the holster sit overnight to dry then follow the instructions in step 3 to treat the leather. Again, avoid exposing the wet sheath to heat or direct sunlight.
3. Apply leather conditioner
Transfer a liberal amount of leather conditioning oil or lotion to lint-free cloth or wool dauber and apply it to the leather holster. Then rub the applicator cloth or dauber gently in a circular motion to spread the leather protector evenly. You can apply two or three coats of the leather conditioner but do not drench the leather such that the conditioner comes out from the inside. Some of the oils you can use to treat leather holsters include:
- Mink oil
- Tanning or leather oil e.g Obenauf’s Leather Oil
- 3-in-1 oil
- Walnut oil (favorite)
- Baseball glove oil
- Automotive grade leather conditioner
My favorite is walnut stain because it makes the leather smell fresh and adds color to the “raw” sheaths. I also like to apply some beeswax-based sealant to waterproof the leather and to keep the stain from bleeding into my clothes or skin. Again, my favorite product for waterproofing leather sheaths and boots is Sno-seal Beeswax Waterproofing. It keeps the leather from soaking up water especially when it is rained on. I then use a soft bristle brush to raise the nap on the leather, especially if the pouch is made of suede.
Because most pliers leather holders have a rough suede finish on the inside that causes friction when drawing out the tool, you can apply a silicone-based protectant. Silicone smoothens the rough texture to minimize friction so that you can draw or deposit the tool more easily.
When choosing the oil to use on your leather pouch, be careful not to use oils that go rancid when applied to leather because they may cause your pouch to have an unpleasant smell.
Also, some oils such as olive oil seem like a good option for treating leather because they soak up very well. But the truth is that they actually accelerate deterioration because they don’t repel moisture. So, be careful when choosing the right oil to condition your leather holster. If you are not sure what to use, just pick from my list above.
4. Let the treated holster sit to dry
After saturating the holster with conditioner oil, let it dry in a cool place for a few days. This will allow the product to seep into the leather to seal open spores and repair surface scratches. A good leather conditioner also keeps additional moisture from getting into the leather, which is what destroys leather products over time.
While waiting for the holster to dry, do not be tempted to expose it to heat or direct sunlight as that might affect the quality of the final product.
5. The conditioning is complete
After a few days, your leather holster will be ready for use. The leather conditioner will protect the flexibility and suppleness of the leather while creating a protective seal against moisture. and your pliers will be fit more snugly. If the pouch has metallic rivets, the oil will protect them from rusting well.