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Why Neatsfoot oil?

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  • Why Neatsfoot oil?

    As I sit here oiling my new-ish and still occasionally squeaky saddle, it dawns on me . . . why is neatsfoot oil the "best" kind for tack? Or is it, in the 21st century?

    I didn't know it was made from cows' feet.
    Click here before you buy.

  • #2
    I don't use Neatsfoot oil anymore. Never did like the feel of the leather afterward or the neatsfoot oil itself, while rubbing it into the leather.

    You do have to read the labels, to see if it is Neatsfoot Oil or Neatsfoot Compound, which is even worse for the leather.

    Some of the modern issues are synthetic thread, which can be affected over time, unlike linen thread used by leather workers of times past. Mixing chemicals and synthetics often creates problems. This is where what worked "in the good old days" is not going to work now. Too many changes in the materials.

    I firstly don't like how Neatsfoot feels on my hands, which are skin like leather is. Feels like a petroleum product, more like 3-in-one Oil to me. It can overfill the leather fibers, making them weaker with stretching. Especially bad if applied warm or hot, which happens most commonly with harness, which is often dipped into the Neatsfoot Oil and left to absorb the oil. Oil then oozes from the harness FOREVER, staining horse and everything harness touches. Letting harness stand in heat of the sun, only works a bit. Oil comes off on your clothes, does NOT wash out, whatever stain remover you try. Darkens the harness to black looking after oiling. Real bad if leather is russet or light colored.

    I use Lexol cleaner and conditioner on my saddle leather these days. I don't use saddle soap, which leaves the leather greasy to collect dirt and stain clothing. SS leaves build-up in the carving of Western equipment, unless you really work to remove it during the cleaning. I REALLY tried hard to get SS to work, it is ALWAYS recommended by "experts", but never was happy with the results. I did try a LOT of methods with SS, none were as satisfactory as the Lexol was for me. Lexol cleaner is SO MUCH easier and does a better job in my experience.

    I also use Harness Honey, new name Leather Honey, for conditioning leather. It is a newer product that really does a GREAT job in softening and making leather flexible, pretty waterproof. It WILL darken light leather, so you need to be aware of it before use. For harness that is usually black, it is an EXCELLENT product. I usually only need one coat on both sides of the leather, which is an advantage over Lexol Conditioner that needs several coats. Saves me a LOT of time needing only one coating, in preparing the VAST amounts of harness we need for Driving competitions.

    If you don't care if leather darkens, have dark old tack, I would go with the Harness Honey. I apply with my hands, rub it in, let the stuff sit for 24 to 48 hours and soak into the leather. After that time I rub off any that has not soaked in, and put my leather-goods to work. Just that easy. My reins are soft but not limp. Sheds water pretty well if caught in the rain. Sweat is not absorbed into the harness as easily.

    I would NOT use the Harness Honey/Leather Honey on shiny Patent Leather, any synthetic fabrics or synthetic material used for tack. HH is a chemical mixture, so could affect synthetics badly. Husband prefers the HH to Lexol, because the HH does NOT remove the callus on his hands after harness applications. You will want a bit of dishsoap to wash it off hands when you finish, since it is kind of sticky like it's honey namesake. Drips or stains also washes out of clothing with warm water, for me.

    If you DO want soft hands, use the Lexol, it is AMAZING for hand softening, great on the skin. I like that kind of stuff, nice on me, also great on leather items.

    I know there are other modern products which I haven't tried. I have been very happy with the Lexol products for a lot of years, no ill effects. Still using a lot of that tack, all in great shape. I tried the HH on the advice of a LOT of Driving folks who also clean plenty of harness. I have been happy with it too, in certain conditions. Brought a couple older saddles back to life, so they were safe, soft and flexible, nice looking again and I sold them on.

    I have not been happy with other products for leather, often the one-step type cleaner-conditioner stuff. Trying to save time again! One use of it left leather sticky, nasty feeling, came off on my clothes, and I passed them on to friend who said how wonderful it was!

    You may want to turn saddle upside down, sprinkle baby powder down into the places leather rubs together, for the squeaks. That works for those squeaks on my saddles.


    • Original Poster

      See, all of the "conditioner" products made the squeaking worse. Another COTHer told me that using those on a new saddle is like giving it a milkshake when what it needed was Gatorade.

      I don't mind the feel of neatsfoot (I only use the pure) and I use it very sparingly. I guess I was wondering about some of the history--I'm like a 3 year old kid . . . WHY is the compound bad? WHY this and not mineral oil or vegetable oil? WHY WHY WHY? I can't stand old-fashioned doctrines that come with a "just because it's always been done that way" explanation.

      Oil at about 7-10 day intervals appears to quiet the squeaks on this saddle. I hate to use "dry" (like powder) if "wet" (like oil) is what the saddle "wants".
      Click here before you buy.


      • #4
        I can't answer the why, it's just one of those things that I have done for so long I don't remember when I started using it. That said, I only use it when breaking it in when I first get it or when rescuing severely dried out old tack. I always use it as hot as possible and use it liberally and then I am done. I just got a new bridle Monday. It was stiff and somewhat orangey, it is now a beautiful dark brown and soft as butter. After the initial oiling, I use this stuff. Love it! http://shop.fiebing.com/c/leather-bo...er-conditioner
        McDowell Racing Stables

        Home Away From Home


        • #5
          I used to use Neatsfoot Oil (ew! I am an ignoramus! Cow's feet?? ), now use Hydrophane to soften up brand new leather. I guess I should now go find out what's in THAT!
          "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

          "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!" (Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own")


          • #6
            I, too, only learned a few years ago that neatsfoot oil is from the hooves/lower leg bones of cows, and it grossed me out--like, I am soaking this cow's skin in oil from its own bones. Ew. I started using olive oil and it works really well. Never looked back.
            Topline Leather -- Bespoke, handwoven browbands & accessories customized with Swarovski crystals, gemstones, & glass seed beads. The original crystal braid & crystal spike browbands!


            • #7
              I use olive oil. That's what the saddle maker recommended.


              • #8
                deltawave, the compound is adulterated with some other oil, generally unspecified, but you can assume it to be mineral oil or another petroleum based oil.

                As I understand it, one of the factors in the oils you choose and how it will affect your leather is what will happen when it oxidizes. Products like Lexol and other manufactured conditioners are supposed to be stabilized against that and thus better for tack.

                It's an interesting question, though, to go back to the properties of mineral oil, because as far as I'm aware it's extremely unlikely to oxidize. It may be that the objections are that it doesn't bind with the leather properly or perhaps that a relatively impure oil is used, and low grade mineral oils can contain nasty contaminants.
                If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                • #9
                  Just for general knowledge: Lexol is made of the finest emulsified tanning oils.

                  Well, apparently the best|finest emulsified oils are made from animal brains.

                  There is no list of 'ingredient' on the lexol product.

                  Just sayin'
                  ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

                  Originally posted by LauraKY
                  I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
                  HORSING mobile training app


                  • #10
                    I was always told the additional ingredients in the neatsfoot compound will eventually damage your stitching.

                    Could be true, could be not true, I haven't seen the peer reviewed study on tha tone yet, but I was always fine forking out the extra few bucks for oil, not compound so it's all good.

                    in the 70's to early 80's I used Neatfoot oil and liked it.
                    In the mid 80's to 2005ish I used hydrophane oil and loved it
                    From 2005ish to 2010 I used the fancy schmancy (expensive) lederbalsam conditioner (oil) and liked it.

                    At all times I've experimented with various conditioning oils and generally disliked them intensely (lexol leading the list) but I've always thought hydrophane was the very best of all of them, so I'm back to hydrophane.

                    I keep trying to get fancy with my tack care, but somehow I always come back to hydrophane oil maybe 2-3 times a year (mostly the underparts of the saddle, the bridles maybe 1xyear and the halters 2-3 times) and my much loved homemade bar of feibing glycerine bar/lexol conditioner for weekly/daily cleaning.

                    It's working for me, I've got 25 year old reins on my work bridles and other assorted ancient tack that I finally put in storage because I had to have something new damn it. Well excuse me, I HAD a pair of much loved 25 year old reins on the bridle until a certain then barely 5 year old thug delaced them when he "forgot" he knew how to ground tie. Much to his eternal regret (and a 30 foor lunge line, it's possible he had 1 or 20 refresher courses). Now I have a 25 year old pair of delaced reins sitting in the closet waiting to be relaced. Ass
                    Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.


                    • Original Poster

                      Well, apparently the best|finest emulsified oils are made from animal brains.
                      Click here before you buy.


                      • #12
                        Brains are the best thing for leather; it's the best thing to tan with. Part of that whole perfect picture.

                        That said, I often use olive oil on our leather but we got a few gallons of neatsfoot at an auction for very cheap so we end up using a lot of it too. I heard the deal about the stitching but my leather guy said he had never heard it and he used neatsfoot all the time so I don't worry about it much. I can't see any problems with our tack from it.
                        “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


                        • Original Poster

                          Didn't I read somewhere that the size of an animal's brain happened to be the perfect proportion of "material" for tanning its own hide?

                          Some deep contemplative heavy thoughs in THAT direction, man.
                          Click here before you buy.


                          • #14
                            this vegetarian that uses lexol didn't need to read this thread


                            • #15
                              That's how the Native Americans "tanned" buffalo hides. Rubbed the buffalo's brain into the hide and there you go!


                              • #16
                                I have used Hydrophane or Flexalan, which is the same thing for almost 50 years. I dunk my bit in cold water, along with my frequently gooey reins daily. When I used a flash, the drop got dunked too. An occasional meeting with a bar of Ivory soap keeps everything in good shape.

                                I usually apply the Hydophane with a paintbrush, one that lives in my tack box.
                                Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                                Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                                • #17
                                  I believe the additives in compound are petroleum based, hence the incompatibility with animal skin--just a cheap way to extend the product. Why that affects stitching is beyond me.

                                  I think leather tanning processes have "evolved" to where leather care is different than it was back in the dark ages when my favorite past-time was slathering neatsfoot oil on that old saddle that lived in the garage ...

                                  I know the Europeans think we destroy our leather by oiling it, and the last couple of bridles I've bought that were probably made in Europe don't need that type of conditioning--more just cleaning and something like lederbalsam or a thin coat of oil, just very occasionally. JMHO, but if the leather appears to "need" oil (e.g., soaks it up reasonably well) then it's probably not harmful. But if it doesn't, either it's been ruined by a cheap preparation (like some of the less expensive saddles these days) or was conditioned enough in its preparation that it just doesn't need it.

                                  What kind of squeak is it? Does it sound like a big old western saddle (dry leather) or is it more, umm, mechanical? Might it be something in the tree, rather than the leather?
                                  "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

                                  Spay and neuter. Please.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    The squeak is where the stirrup leathers lie across the flaps. It goes away with oil and comes back about 10 days later, but this is a new saddle, less than a month old. It does feel better after oiling so I do think it is just somewhat "thirsty".
                                    Click here before you buy.


                                    • #19
                                      Well, here in the desert, a little oiling now and then is a GOOD thing. I know folks in more humid climes have trouble with mold attacking their tack. Not a problem here!

                                      We use a home-made concoction that uses glycerine soap, milk, Lexol and Effax for the daily conditioning. Every six months or so I'll use Lederbalsam or something similar.

                                      BTW, do NOT oil your billet straps too often. They'll stretch and the holes will weaken and tear.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        No, I only give the billet straps a sparing amount. The stirrup leathers get more--I don't care if they stretch; when the saddle breaks in more I will switch to the fancy and more expensive kind that don't stretch.
                                        Click here before you buy.