'Micro Finishing' - Making the Leather the Star of the Show

Leather colour swatches

‘Micro finishing’ is a term we’ve talked about a little on our Instagram page recently. A browse through our product line will show you that all of the products have a stand out feature. We need something that we feel separates our guitar gear from guitar gear you find in a guitar store, it’s always our design remit. On the Pro Line straps, and on certain future lines we’ve got in the works, you’ll see that the look of these guitar straps is achieved through micro finishing. Simply stating this as a product description in no way really explains the effort that goes into micro finishing so this blog is in order to talk about what goes into this technique and why it makes for something different to anything else out there.

In the most simplified nutshell, micro finishing is our own specialist technique we use to apply dyes to the leather. It is not something we’ve been shown by anyone else or have researched somewhere, it’s literally a process of years of trial and error. Before we go into how we do it, we’ll tell you how leather dying is commonly done for everyone else.

99.9% of leather you’ll ever see on a guitar strap (if it’s real leather) is drum dyed, that is, at the tannery the hides are loaded in batches into a large tumbling drum and dyed by immersion in pigment. Drum dying results in maximum dye penetration on all surfaces and even, high saturation, coverage. Secondly, and a little more specialist, hides may be booth sprayed at the tannery. This method produces an even coverage and allows for the character in the leather to show through a little.

These two methods of finishing (there are others, but drum dye and spray booth are common) are what leatherworkers will find on leathers typically bought off the shelf from leather merchants. The upside, in terms of production, is you get a consistent leather product that you don’t need to do anything to, it’s just good to go for whatever you use it for and guitar strap makers get to churn out products quickly and uniformly. The downside, as far as we are concerned, is that your gear ends up looking like everyone else’s. Look at a rack of guitar straps in a guitar shop……. there is zero visual difference between straps from the same brand, and almost zero difference between brands. That visual consistency in the leather isn’t what we’re into. When you know what good leather is, it’s the flaws and character that you start to appreciate. Every single skin we handle has it’s own nuances and finishing in a way that highlights those flaws is what gives your guitar strap character. If you adopt this approach you get no two straps being exactly alike in patina.

Micro finishing is all about accentuating natural character. The technique borrows from tannery spray booth finishing, but goes a few extra …….. very…….. time…….. consuming…….. steps……..

Leather colour swatches

Swatches, swatches and more swatches to get the exact colour mix we want.

Instead of using wide nozzle spray gun that will cover a skin in only a few side-to-side passes (the type used to spray paint on cars), we use a small nozzle air brush. Held like a pen and with a nozzle width similar to the size they use in nail salons, it gives a ‘micro’ level of control over the finish that allows the sprayer to work slightly lighter or heavier on different small sections of the hide and interpret a patina finish that suited to that one skin only. Sections where there are scars or points of interest can by sprayed slightly lighter to allow the character to stand out more. On the other hand, relatively featureless, more pristine sections of the hide can be treated with more variation of heavier and lighter pressure to create a textured finish.

After our custom dye mixes are sprayed to each hide we then go through second stage of hot stuffing a proprietary oil and wax mix down past the surface of the leather to diffuse and bleed the dye to mellow the lines. We let the leather ‘breathe’ for a minimum of 48hrs during this process for the oils/wax and dyes to equalise a little. Not only does this step lightly condition the leather, but it makes the micro finish look like a natural, lightly marbled, organic patina, crucial to making sure the colour toning doesn’t look contrived and man-made. Maybe the oil/wax mix, which is out own cook up, is something you’d like to know more about, but that stuff is secret sauce and we’d have to kill you (typically poor business form and frowned upon by our customers).

Thomas Ware and Sons Dustbowl Tan Micro Finish

Dust Bowl Tan micro finish on a Thomas Ware & Sons bend. Ready for cutting.

As you can now imagine, dying a large surface with a very very small area applicator then hot stuffing oil takes absolutely ages to put it politely, but the aim of the game is to make the leather the star of the show and it’s micro finishing that achieves that better than any other technique.

Micro finishing, being just a top surface finish, also keeps the reverse, flesh side, of the leather completely clean and unfinished which we require for the no-stitch construction on our Pro Line guitar straps, but that’s a story for another blog.