Rejuvenating a Leather Shearling Jacket

Of the many possessions my brother’s godfather owned that were handed down when he passed-on several years ago, one thing that really stood out had to be an old sheepskin shearling jacket. You can tell a lot about a man (or woman) about the clothes he (or she) wears. He had an eye for quality, he spent a pretty penny to acquire the best he could get, and he took care of his kit.

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This is the jacket, and as you can see the leather is worn, dry, and in need of reconditioning after sitting in the basement for nearly a decade. I could not see any brand label embossing on the leather or inside the jacket, but a tag on the neck read “Made in Turkey, size M”… I presume the “M” stands for medium. There was also a leather label inside on the left pocket.

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As far as I can tell, this inner lining doesn’t appear to be real fleece, but rather a “Sherpa” style of artificial synthetic fleece. But I could be wrong, as I don’t have any real fleece to compare it to.

So, for rejuvenating leather, I prefer a simple beeswax and lanolin oil cream. I would avoid the conditioners used on fancy dress shoes, because those leathers are typically made from cow hide. Sheepskin is more delicate than cow hide, and as such, requires a more mild approach. I use LL Bean Boot Guard, it does the job just fine.

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Starting with the collar. The darkened bit is the reconditioned leather.

Using bare hands, take some of the cream onto your fingers and rub it briskly into the leather. The heat from your hand combined with friction will help the conditioner soak in better. Apply liberally to particularly dry areas and stress points (shoulder, under arm, and elbow). Do this over all the leather surfaces, including any straps or pockets.

When the entire surface is completed, let it sit for about half an hour. If there are any dry spots left, repeat the process on those areas. Then go over everything with a clean, soft bristle brush or a rag to wipe away any excess conditioner and to bring a light sheen to the leather.

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And here we are, all finished :). Notice how much darker the leather is now that it has been reconditioned. This is what the jacket would have looked like brand new. Compare this photo to the first one in the post, and you can see tiny dark spots that reveal the colour it used to be ;).

That said, the jacket is a bit roomy across the chest, but otherwise a great fit for me. It won’t be waterproof, so I would need an outer shell for protection from precipitation.This jacket will of course need continuous care and maintenance – depending on the level of activity, I would recondition the leather twice a year, once at the beginning of the cold months, and again before you put it away for next winter, or once a month during winter. Be mindful of abrasives and sharp things coming in contact with the leather, and steer clear of thorns. Store your leather clothing (including boots) in a cool place with relative humidity, not too dry nor too humid. Like all quality kit, if you take care of it, it will last a lifetime and possibly more, perhaps becoming a “hand-me-down” or heirloom for the next generation :).

There is much talk and popularity of “old-fashioned” canvas and leather gear for Bushcraft, but the fact remains that these materials are outclassed today by modern synthetics which are arguably stronger, more weather resistant, and certainly lighter. Weighing-in at about 5 pounds/2.3 kg, this is not something I would take with me for backpacking. Even my wool sweater weighs less and isn’t nearly as bulky. I could achieve the same insulation value with my fleece pullover and my cycling jacket, which would weigh less than half as much, and take up half the space in my pack. Just something to consider.

But for chores around the house and short day hikes, it will suit me well when the mercury falls.

 

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