Book binding

Neatsfoot oil – A super simple way to make your DIY leather products feel supple

I’m a completely self-taught bookbinder. As anyone who is into making books would know, working with leather is a big part of this craft. Leather is often the material of choice for a lot of bookbinders to cover their books, although of course there are so many different options and varieties to choose from when picking leather.

I recently visited Tandy Leather in San Bruno, a store which as it turns out, has a long legacy for being the mecca of all things leather 🙂 (I believe it’s a chain with many different locations). The owner of this particular store was super friendly and shared a lot of great info about leather working with me – which, with me being a complete newbie to leather, I found extremely helpful!

One of the things that he introduced me to, is what is called “Neatsfoot Oil“. I’d asked him for what could I do to make leather feel more “polished” and “supple”, and he suggested Neatsfoot oil, as a way to increase the life of your leather, and make sure that it doesn’t dry out. Quoting from Wikipedia –

Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet (but not the hooves) of cattle. “Neat” in the oil’s name comes from an Old English word for cattle. Neatsfoot oil is used as a conditioning, softening and preservative agent for leather. In the 18th century, it was also used medicinally as a topical application for dry scaly skin conditions.”


The description does sound quite….”yikes!”, especially if you’re vegetarian! It is an animal product I guess….But, leather is in itself an animal product, so…. For what it’s worth, I use left over leather from leather manufacturers to minimize the impact, but I guess it is still an animal product 😦

But if you’re able to get past that, the oil does do wonders for leather. It’s very easy to apply, and the effect is almost magical. Applying Neatsfoot oil also makes the color of your leather darker, and I’ve found the leather often ends up looking richer. I honestly really like that look! This video does a good job of describing how to apply oil to your leather.

If you’re into bookbinding, or any leathercraft for that matter, and are looking for ways to make your leather products look a bit better and last longer, I would highly encourage you to give Neatsfoot oil a shot! 🙂 I bought a really small bottle which I found more than enough for my books (4.4 oz / 130 ml, this bottle is by a brand called “Dr. Jackson’s”). Amazon has a whole range of Neatsfoot oil too!

My bottle of Neatsfoot oil

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