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By bishopdonmiguel
Supporting Member
#4795225
Want to dye your vegetable tan leather black on the cheap? Just use this modern implementation of an ancient method that historically utilized urine and other nasty components. Technically, this is not a dye process, but instead is a chemical reaction that will provide permanent color to the leather. Accordingly, there is nothing that will rub off or stain other materials. This color is sometimes called vinegaroon black.

For this example, I will make a cheap holder for a Belt Gizmo. Here’s what you will need…
  • Tan leather tape measure holder ($5 Ace Hardware)
    White vinegar, large bottle with screw cap
    Steel wool
    Baking soda
    Glass bowl
    Large ziplock bag
    Paper towels
Before we begin, please follow any obvious safety precautions. Work in a well ventilated space designed to accommodate messes, wear safety googles, wear gloves… all that good stuff.
Last edited by bishopdonmiguel on June 15th, 2014, 7:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
Hijacker, Bakermouse, bworld liked this
#4795226
First step is to prepare the acid wash for the leather. If your bottle of white vinegar is full, pour about a third out to make room for the steel wool and provide space for gassing.

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Stuff 2 or 3 pads of steel wool into the bottle (you many need to cut these into smaller pieces depending on your bottle design) and put the cap on LOOSELY.

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Set this bottle aside in the garage or other place outside of your living quarters and out of the reach of curious corporeal lifeforms. Important safety tip; do not put the lid on tightly. The vinegar will react with the steel and will produce some gas as a by-product. This gas must be allowed to escape or the bottle will become pressurized and possibly explode. You don’t want that so don’t put the cap on tightly. Check on the bottle once a day, gently swirling as necessary. After a few days, perhaps a week, you will have a brownish solution. This is ferric acetate and it is what will react with the tannins in the leather to turn it black.

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Hijacker liked this
#4795227
Now that the solution is “fermenting,” time to work on that cheapo leather tape holder.

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Make any adjustments you think necessary by cutting and removing portions of leather. Be sure to keep one or more pieces for testing during the next step. Remove any leftover rivets using a combination of drill bit, small flat screwdriver and pliers. I opted to retain and reposition the strap & snap so the Gizmo would be held securely but doing so is not at all screen accurate. You may wish to completely remove this and determine another method to attach the Gizmo to the holder.

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Hijacker liked this
#4795228
When you think the ferric acetate solution is ready, put on some nitrile gloves and pour a small amount into a ziplock bag. Submerge a piece of the discarded leather from the prior step into the solution. The leather should react almost immediately, turning black within a few seconds.

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If it does not, either the solution hasn’t fully “fermented” or the leather has been treated. If you think the solution needs more time, wait a few more days. If you think the leather isn’t vegetable tanned, you will need to find another suitable piece. In my experience, most leather goods that are a light tan color will work, especially the cheaper ones because they most likely have not been sealed, oiled, etc.

Please note, because this solution is cheap & easy to make and used infrequently, I carefully discard the leftover down the sink with some baking soda when finished. If for some reason you want keep some solution around for another future use, I’d recommend straining it from the vinegar bottle into another suitable storage container utilizing a filter to remove all the small bits of metal. Make sure the container is clearly marked with a warning label and kept away those pesky and always curious corporeal lifeforms.
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#4795229
Because the solution will continue to react with the leather and damage it, you will need to create a neutralizing bath. Fill a small glass bowl with water and dissolve several tablespoonfuls of baking soda into it. Set this bath aside then lay out a few layers of paper towels next to it.

Pour enough solution into the ziplock bag to thoroughly coat the leather. You don’t need to deeply submerge it but you need enough to evenly treat each the entire piece in one session, every nook & cranny. Place the leather into the ziplock bag and mix using gloved hands until you achieve complete coverage and the desired color. If you prefer, you can use a paintbrush to apply the solution evenly but I find that process rather tedious.

After a half minute or so, carefully remove the leather and place into the baking soda bath (watch out for drips on your counter!). You may notice some bubbling as the baking soda does its neutralizing work.

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Once you think the leather has been sufficiently neutralized, perhaps 5-10 minutes, remove it from the bath and place it on the paper towels for transportation to a sink. Rinse the leather thoroughly under running water for several minutes.
#4795230
Let the leather dry and then treat with a leather conditioner. Depending on the metal used for the rivets, they make corrode as a result of prolonged exposure to water. You may want to help the drying along by placing near a fan and blotting with a dry towel. You may notice a slight vinegar smell but that should disappear quickly.

When you are all done, the cheap tan leather tape holder will be transformed into a dark black, rich looking Gizmo holder.

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If anyone finds this useful, please post a comment about your experience.

Good luck!
Ecto-1 fan, Hijacker liked this
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By Alan Hawkins
Supporting Member
#4795234
That's a pretty neat trick! I may try this just to see it work.

I will say that when I first saw "urine" as part of your process I said to myself "Oh jeez, here we go... Going to have a bunch of Busters pissing on thier gear..."
#4795238
will say that when I first saw "urine" as part of your process I said to myself "Oh jeez, here we go... Going to have a bunch of Busters pissing on thier gear..."
I should have clarified, this is a "urine-free" method :-P
Peter Venkman Jr. liked this
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By bishopdonmiguel
Supporting Member
#4820419
weird. It's been about a week for me, and the vinegar hasn't turned brown, only a murky grey. Tips?
Do you have any scrap leather to test? Each batch is a little different. My first batch looked kinda grey in the bottle at first. Could also be the steel wool you are using is coated. Might need a good stir.

If the solution is ready, the leather will turn black within a few seconds.
Peter Venkman Jr. liked this
User avatar
By EctoPrimer
#4820420
Blah, stupid me. You're right, I should have tested.

I'd like to turn this into a tutorial video. Do you mind? (I like videos)
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By bishopdonmiguel
Supporting Member
#4820421
Blah, stupid me. You're right, I should have tested.

I'd like to turn this into a tutorial video. Do you mind? (I like videos)
Not at all. Sounds like a great idea. Look forward to seeing it.
User avatar
By bishopdonmiguel
Supporting Member
#4822086
I liked your method of covering the metal but those snaps will definitely rust if you leave the leather dry on its own. Use of a fan on low will speed the process or setting inside a clothes dryer on "air fluff" mode (no heat) if you have one that has a shelf. If you decide to keep your solution, you might want to strain it and it will be almost clear without the bits of metal in it. You might also try adding more steel wool given the amount of vinegar you used. That would increase the concentration. I think I used two pads in less than 16 oz of vinegar. The leather conditioner is what really brings out the color, great that you demonstrated that.

Great to see the process on video. Well done!
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By bishopdonmiguel
Supporting Member
#4899595
Glad you found it. These tutorials get buried after a while. If you enjoyed science experiments in school, you’ll love this. The reaction is like magic. The only better magic is with magnets. But sadly, no magnets used here.
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By Batfly
#4901484
This is too cool to be so cheap! Thanks for this tutorial, I'll be sure to use this when I make gizmos for my fiancee and I.
bishopdonmiguel liked this

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