Leather Dry Rot Blues
I get quite a few questions about how to reclaim leather that is in sad shape. Unfortunately, it’s often just not reclaimable.
The tell tale sign of leather that is all used up is dry rot. Dry rot was originally defined as a type of decay in timber, but it is also used to describe the type of leather deterioration that occurs when internal moisture is lost.
The cause of leather dry rot is a lack of regular conditioning, which adds moisture back into the leather. It usually will take years of neglect for dry rot to occur, but in arid climates, where there is little moisture in the air, dry rot can develop in as little as a year.
How can you tell if your leather (saddle, headstall, reins, breast collar) has dry rot? Bend the leather back as far as possible. If you see surface cracks or hear snapping or popping noises, it probably has dry rot.
Rotted leather has lost its strength and will rip relatively easily. There is no recovery. Don’t waste time trying to oil it back to health. You might be able to make it look better, but you won’t be able to repair the rot. Rotted leather is worthless leather, and dangerous leather. The only answer is replacement.
After reading this post, you might be tempted to start oiling your leather tack … a lot… and often. Restrain yourself. Too much oil can damage leather too, breaking down the fibers and weakening it. Oiling your saddle just once or twice a year (a little more in arid climates) will keep the dry rot gremlin away.