When I was in high school, my father gave me a great gift: a leather vest.
I wore the snot out of that thing. I wore it when I dated my future wife in college. I wore it when Steve Shanesy interviewed me for my job here at Popular Woodworking. I have – quite literally – worn the buttons off the thing.
Last year, I realized that my beloved cow covering was a catastrophe. Frayed. A bit smelly. Unusually soiled.
So after 20 years of faithful service, I retired that vest and decided to buy myself a new one. My new vest is well made, but it’s shiny and stiff. I am neither.
So I sought out some way to age the finish on the vest. I found a lot of advice out there: Drag it behind my car. Put it in the clothes dryer with some rocks. Sand it. Wad it up, stuff it under the bed and sleep on it over and over.
As I considered all this advice I noticed something about the givers. None of these advisers had actually done this to their precious skin-based garments. They were just repeating things they had heard or were making up things that “should work.”
So I dug deeper until I found the stagehands. According to these people, they used denatured alcohol to age leather costumes for plays about pirates, bikers and S&M-loving citizens. Their instructions were specific and consistent: Put alcohol in a spray bottle. Spray a large surface and then wipe it down. Instant age.
It sounded like wood finishing advice, so I was instantly skeptical. So I decided to do what any wary woodworker would do: I tried it on a hidden area of a non-essential garment.
It worked. So I went to town on my new vest with a squirt bottle and a rag.
Now I have a vest I’m more comfortable in, and a new appreciation for how-to information. You see, whenever I write something about woodworking, I strive never to repeat things as gospel that I haven’t tried. If my name is on it, I’ve done it. Or I’m quoting someone I trust.
This isn’t always the case in any journalism (including knitting journalism and ferret-training journalism). I have read enough garbage in my lifetime to know that some people just repeat other people’s garbage because it has been repeated enough times that it has to be true.
This is the long way of saying that we should do what Virgil (70 B.C. – 19 B.C.) recommended: “Believe one who has tried it.”
— Christopher Schwarz
5 thoughts on “How to Use How-to Information”
Well, since it’s your company, you could always make a small run of t-shirts that say "Lost Art Press: Aging Leather Vests for 20 Years". 😉
Seriously, though, one of the better ways to make leather less stiff is neet’s foot oil. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a "neet" (except maybe in a Monte Python movie), but the stuff works wonders on leather ball gloves, leather box liners, and leather "bomber’s" jackets – all of which I’ve personally loosened up with the stuff.
always believe what a stagehand tells you.
IATSE Local 204
Amen. I have a rule that I will spend at most 10 seconds listening to any opinion about a subject the speaker has no experience with. After that, I find a polite way to direct them elsewhere. Barring that working, I commence to drool on either myself or them – whichever seems more promising of effectiveness at the moment.
Nice tip on the leather. I dragged a leather jacket behind my motorcycle once on such advice. It tore on a manhole outcropping, and looked like a new jacket that had been badly mistreated by a roadway. I loved it for it’s shortcomings, though.
Chris, I hope that vest is performing useful service on a vise cheek, or perhaps a bench dog. Thanks for the leather aging info — I need that for a coat.
Yep, I see regurgitated [bad] info all the time on the forums. One of my favorites is always the how to face rough sawn lumber advise offered up by folks who don’t actually do it by hand. Always seems to involve a scrub plane 😉 (ducking and running).
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