How to Dye a Tooled Leather Saddle

Written by jen davis
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How to Dye a Tooled Leather Saddle
Western saddles can lose their colour or be damaged over time and use. (Ralf Nau/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Dyeing a tooled leather western saddle can be a good way to give new life to an old piece of tack by repairing damage that has been done by scratches or water over years of use. Saddle dyeing is a tricky process because all leather reacts differently to dye and no two saddles can be guaranteed to take dye the same way. Dyeing a saddle requires patience and care in order to get the best results, especially since you can not remove dye once you have applied it to the saddle.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Leather dye/stain
  • Sponge
  • Rag
  • Saddle stand
  • Leather cleaning products
  • Leather finish
  • Rubber gloves

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  1. 1

    Place the saddle on the saddle stand. Clean the saddle thoroughly, removing all excess dirt and stripping away old leather conditioner or wax-type products that can affect the way the dye or stain you use is absorbed by the leather. Do not condition it. If the saddle is still waxy or shiny-looking after you clean it, you will need to strip the existing products off by wiping it down with a dye remover or rubbing alcohol to remove the coating. Allow the saddle to dry overnight before continuing.

  2. 2

    Read the instructions for the type of leather dye you have purchased. Follow the directions exactly to mix, and decide on a practice area of the saddle to try the dye on. The underside of the stirrup fenders/flaps is a good location because it is normally smooth leather and if you do not like the way the dye looks, it is not visible during regular use of the saddle. To test the effect of the dye on the tooled sections of the saddle, you will want to select a hard-to-see area, such as the top of the back of the skirts.

  3. 3

    Put on gloves, then put leather dye onto a sponge or rag and gently rub into the leather. Remember that when you are using dye, less is more and you can always add more later if the saddle is not as dark as you want it to be. There is no way to lighten leather back up after dyeing. Wait several hours to judge the effects of the dye on the sample location. Make adjustments to your application and technique, as needed, until you are satisfied with the appearance of the dyed sections of leather.

  4. 4

    Gently apply leather dye to the saddle. Avoid getting dye on conchos, suede and other materials that can be damaged by dye. Rub the dye on lightly and evenly. Uneven application will cause an uneven appearance in the leather that can be permanent. Work with the saddle until it achieves the appearance you desire.

  5. 5

    Apply the leather finish to reduce the likelihood of leather dye rubbing off onto clothing and other objects that come into contact with it. Allow the saddle to sit and dry for at least 24 hours, then condition the leather.

Tips and warnings

  • Some saddles simply do not dye well, or at all. Depending on the way the leather was produced, your saddle may be dye-resistant, which can lead to blotchy and uneven appearances once dye has been applied. The larger an area you are dyeing, the more difficult it is to get an even coat of dye applied. Dyeing the seat of the saddle is generally not advised because colours may rub off as you ride, ruining your clothing and causing a warped appearance on the seat.
  • Dyed saddles may or may not have a pleasant appearance when completed. The skill of the person dyeing the saddle and the quality of the leather itself have a heavy impact on the final product.

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