Conditioning Sweat-Stiffened Leather

A problem with fencing gloves is that we sweat in them, and leather doesn't like that at all.  Over time, leather fencing gloves will get really stiff and uncomfortable to wear.  If you ever have leather that gets like this - don't give up on it yet!  In order to clean sweat-stiffened leather, do this:
  1. Soak the leather in a tub of water.  Part of the problem is that the leather has been soaked in sweat, which is salty.  You want to get the salt out of the leather before you recondition it.  I usually leave the leather gloves soaking in my sink for several hours/overnight.
  2. Let the leather completely air dry.  The leather might actually feel even stiffer after this step - don't panic!  The leather might just have lost even more of the oils that keep it soft.  Don't worry about this, because step three is...
  3. Oil the leather thoroughly, only on the skin side (the smooth side, not the flesh side, which is like suede - don't oil suede!).  There are lots of debates that I've heard on leather oils.  Here are my thoughts:
  4. Let the leather dry for a day.
  5. If the leather is still stiff, oil the leather thoroughly again, and let dry for another day.
  6. If you don't see an improvement by now, the leather might be toast.  Otherwise, repeat #5 until the leather is really soft again!
I just reconditioned a pair of gloves that I thought might be goners.  They were so stiff that they were highly uncomfortable to wear; they scraped my hands and crackled and pinched when I tried to make a fist in them.  It took two thorough oilings, and they feel pretty darn soft now - not as soft as butter, like some leather is, but definitely comfortable to wear.  They were in the loaner fencing gear for my local group, and had seen a lot of sweat and no repairing for a long time.  Now they are ready to be used again!  I'm amazed at how well this works.

I've also done this on my own fencing gloves several times, pictured above.  I made my own fencing gloves from leather scraps 3 years ago - they are the first piece of fencing gear I made!  I adore my gloves.  They fit so well that it takes me a minute to wiggle them off after I've been fencing, because the sweat makes them stick to my hands.  About once a year, my gloves get noticeably stiffer and uncomfortable.  I follow the above steps to desalinate and re-oil my gloves, and then they return to being super duper soft again every time.

So don't give up on old leather yet!  Hope that helps.  ~Kelly/Birke

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