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Hot Wax


Jean Luc Parisot in his shop. Saumur, France

Jean Luc Parisot in his shop…Saumur, France

Back in 2009, Pedro Pedrini and I spent some time with veteran saddler/leatherworker Jean Luc Parisot in France. One of the most interesting things I learned from him was the traditional method of edge finishing using beeswax and an edge iron. Jean Luc softened a cake of wax with a small propane burner, and then carefully applied it to the edges of the leather. He then used an iron that was made by the Jos. Dixon tool company (Great Britain) by heating it with the same burner to a temperature that would melt the wax, rendering it into the leather. I realized that this was different than any other edge finishing I had seen before because the wax was actually soaking into the fibers of the leather rather than just a topical treatment. As I experimented with this method back home, I began to see the advantages…the wax would seal off the edges protecting stitches and also preventing oils from escaping on the cut edge. I especially like to do this on the horn as it tends to ‘bind’ the three layers together into a smooth finish. The wax finish is not a hard finish, as it can scuff up with use, but one thing is certain: the wax will not stop doing it’s job as the years of use accumulate. The baked-in wax will remain co-mingled with the oils on the edges for the life of the saddle.

Unfortunately, the edge iron that I bought from the Jos. Dixon company is no longer being made. There are individuals that have been experimenting with different designs that could be available commercially at some point. I have three different irons that I use for different applications, two of which are one-off designs that were made for me. I will let folks know if I hear of any good irons available for sale.

Here’s a short video clip demonstrating the use of a custom made iron I have.

If you’d like a comprehensive tutorial on this process, we have a DVD that is available at along with other learning opportunities as well. Look for the discs titled Leather Shop Techniques.



cantle binding 4Tim is an attorney from Boston for whom I’ve done work for over the years. We talk on the phone occasionally about horses, saddles, and life. I consider him a thoughtful friend. Yesterday he was asking about building another pair of chaps…’says he’s got a new horse that he wants to show this summer. I explain that I’m way overbooked, especially this summer.

“I don’t seem to get as many saddles done these days even though I’ve never been more confident and efficient. I think it’s because I can’t resist the temptation to make stuff a little nicer all the time.”

“That’s because you’re an awwtist.” He says with an exaggerated New England brogue.

Well ok, I’m thinking: I’ve been called worse names…

“I seem to be adding more time to my projects, so I don’t get as many done.”

“You’re strength is also your weakness.” He says¬†matter-of-factly.

Your strength is also your weakness… I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In our day and time, time is money like never before. It’s easy to become a slave to the clock because of what it represents. The pressure of getting things done quickly is something working folks know all too well. But high quality work, especially if it also involves creativity, operates under a different set of rules. Creativity and improving the level of craftsmanship don’t tend to thrive under the pressure of time. At least not the kind of pressure that is unmanaged. I’ve found that the clock is a good servant, but a piss poor master. And it’s taken many years of persistence to achieve something of a balance with regard to the clock and it’s demands.

Maybe that’s why I rarely resist the temptation to add time to a project “just to make it a little nicer.”

Thankfully my very patient customers seem to appreciate that my strength is also my weakness.