What Is Oil-Stuffed Leather?
Hot oil-stuffed leather is a method of making leather, an extra step in the tanning process. The end result is typically a softer, more pliable leather that retains strength.
It's sometimes called "oil tanned leather" though that isn't correct, as the leather is already tanned by the time it gets the hot oil bath.
It's a popular treatment process for work boots as well as heritage boots due to the effects that it has. It's also the finishing process used for our 1964 leather boots.
So, what's so great about it?
How Oil-Stuffed Leather Is Made
Oil-stuffed aka "oil tanned leather" is made by taking tanned and dyed leather and giving a bath in a vat of hot oils. As it sits, the oils permeate it, infusing the leather with the blend of oils.
What happens is the hot oil essentially creates a coating around the molecules in the leather itself. It's kind of like seasoning a cast iron pan, coating it and then baking it in an oven to give it that coating and sheen.
Contrary to popular belief - and what other boot makers use in their marketing materials - there is no such thing as "oil tanning." There are tanning methods that use various oils (birch oil was used for Russian leather, which is no longer made) but there is no such thing as oil tanning.
The oil bath is actually the finishing process rather than the tanning process, sort of like how some vegetable tanned leathers are finished with special waxes.
The leather is already tanned when it goes into the oil bath. Most so-called "oil tanned leather" is actually a chrome-tanned leather that's given an oil treatment.
So, that's what it is.
But what does that do?
The Benefits Of Oil-Stuffed Leather
Oil-stuffed - or "oil tanned," which as we mentioned isn't true, but people say it anyway - leather is known for two distinct properties that come from the finishing process.
It's known for being a lot more supple than vegetable tanned leather, which is usually used for light duty work boots , as the oils make the leather softer, a little bit more flexible, and a lot more pleasant to wear. It feels softer when you wear it, which makes it very popular for casual wear.
That also makes the break-in process faster and a lot less painful. A pair of boots might feel broken-in at the heel and the vamp in a week or less with oil stuffed leather, but may take a month or longer with vegetable-tanned leathers.
The other desirable trait is the pull-up effect.
Oil-Stuffed Leather Is A Pull-Up Leather
Pull-up leather has a very distinctive look when you pinch or stretch it. It becomes lighter in color as the oils inside the leather move around. When you release it, it goes right back to normal color.
As pull-up leather ages, your boots develop a beautiful and unique wear pattern. If you've ever heard people ranting and raving about vintage Doc Martens and their appearance, that's what they're talking about.
Pull-up leather that's had a few years of wear has a look all its own that some people absolutely love. Your boots will develop that distinctive look over time, whether it's a well-worn pair of work boots or heritage boots.
There are some additional benefits that are worth mentioning.
Easier To Wear, Easier To Care For
"Oil-tanned" leather is also easier to maintain.
Oil-stuffed leather CAN be polished, but the done thing is typically to avoid polishing and just using an appropriate conditioner and buffing it to a dull shine. You can put a shine on them without having to build up layer after layer of Kiwi or what have you.
You can also buff out scuffs easily for the same reason.
You will have to use boot grease them a little more often, and they will absorb a lot of conditioner when you use it. Heavy working use will usually require you to saddle soap and oil your boots on a more regular basis.
Another excellent benefit is for work boots. When the leather is the same thickness - say 7 to 8 oz - it's just as strong as vegetable-tanned leather. Your boots are softer to wear and easier to break in, but just as durable.
That's why certain work boot brands that use "oil tanned leather" (such as Thorogood or Carolina brand boots) are often thought of as being incredibly comfortable despite being a working boot rather than a fashion boot.
If you love the look and feel of boots with this kind of leather, it's the best of all possible worlds.