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How to Care For Leather Metal Hardware

How to Care For Leather Metal Hardware

Posted by Daniel Sutton on Jun 11th 2014

Here at Chamberlain’s, we’re all about leather. We concoct our leather recipes because we love the beauty and functionality of this singularly dazzling material, and want to help people take care of it. From the tiniest wallet to the bulkiest of beast bags, Chamberlains is hard at work milking recipes to quench even the thirstiest and dried out hide Mother Nature and your tannery next door can muster.

But leather isn’t the only thing you have to maintain when you own leather. Around the Milk Farm, we get lots of questions come up about metal. If you’re a Saddleback Bag owner, you’re going to be familiar with all the metal pieces adorning your lovely briefcase: buckles, loops, D-rings, keychains, and all the rest. These metal trinkets adorn leather merchandise of all varieties, and like leather, these metal pieces are going to wear out if they don’t get the love they need. So, for today’s post we’re going to veer away from our historical course and talk to you about metal care. Specifically, leather metal hardware care.

The most important thing to realize when dealing with leather metal hardware is that different types of metal will require different types of treatments. Using the wrong treatment for your metal can end up harming it, so you’ll want to know what you have and do your research. Even better, talk to your item’s manufacturer. Sort of like how you do for leather. But for general direction, here’s some starter’s know-how.

Gods of Metal

You’ve got two main objectives when caring for leather metal hardware: (1) you want to make them look pretty, and (2), you want to give them protection. Protection from what, you ask? Oxidation and rust. Oxidation is a chemical process that causes a reaction to occur on the surface of metal in the presence of oxygen, water and acids. Happily, you can achieve protection from oxidation and aesthetic beauty alike every time you polish your leather metal hardware. Polish not only gives your metal a protective layer that inhibits oxidation, but can also cover up scratches and give your metal a nice shine. Maybe Hollywood’s shiny and attractive equals practical and functional notion wasn’t so out of the loop after all. The kind of polish you use depends on your metal. Three common varieties of leather metal hardware you’re going to run into are Aluminum, Stainless Steel, and Chrome. Let me break them down for you.


Aluminum is a fairly common metal; you’ve likely seen it on tire wheels, trailers, and diamond plates. It’s a relatively soft metal, so you’ll have an easier time polishing it and getting your sparkly shiner. Downside is that it oxidizes pretty easily, which is a fashion no-no. It’s a defense mechanism – that oxidation actually acts like a barrier, protecting underlying metal from corroding. It’s all a good intention, but as they say, the road to "h" "e" "double hockey sticks" is paved...Many manufacturers prefer to do the smart thing and preemptively give aluminum a protective coating so that the metal doesn’t feel the need to oxidize. Of course, this means you’ll need to find a metal polish that’s compatible with this coating, rather than a simple generic aluminum polish. So keep that in mind, and find out from your manufacturer what they recommend using.

Another good reason to keep aluminum protected is that it has the potential to give leather dark spots and corrode when not adequately maintained. Keep straps and key chains inside your bag if possible to prevent scratching and other unfortunate effects.

Stainless Steel

As for stainless steel, you’re not going to need to worry too much about this type if that’s what you have. Stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion, staining, spotting, and rust. It will, however, still oxidize, and does require maintenance. Since stainless steel is a very tough metal, it’ll be far more difficult to get it to shine. It’ll take some persistence, but eventually you should be able to make it. You should find stainless steel a more simple metal to maintain in nature, even if it can take a bit of work, and shouldn't have too many problems keeping integrity.


Chrome is the big one. Saddleback Leather uses a chromium plated nickel for all of its metal parts, and it’s a common choice for many other manufacturers. Chrome works as a plated metal. What this means is that chromium acts as a sort of cloak for another metal, (ie: Saddleback’s nickel). Chrome plating is usually very thin, but very resistant to tarnish, and can keep a reflective glimmer better than any other metal. Even better, this metal (for the most part) does not oxidize. It can, however, be scratched, and these scratches can be fatal if they are deep enough to cut through the chromium plate.

To take care of chrome, you’re going to want to take care of scratches as soon as they come up. Chipped metal inside your chrome can result in a fracture, leading to rust. Try to make sure that doesn’t happen and handle your leather with care. You can cover up small scratches by buffing them with a soft polish, but make sure you use a soft cloth to apply it. Chrome isn’t fragile by any means, and is actually really, really tough. But if anything does ever manage to break through chrome shields, your leather metal hardware may need to be re-plated.

Too Much Metal For One Hand

To apply polish for any metal, you can generally use a soft cloth or a Q-tip to buff that good stuff in. It should generally cover up scratches, and give you a good shine, even if it may require a healthy exercise of elbow grease first. Try to give your leather metal hardware polish as they need it. If a scratch turns up, it’s alright to give it some polish and hide it away. If the metal begins to dull, or oxidize, it’s a good time. Play it by ear. And above all, treat your manufacturer’s advice as gospel. Everything here is intended to get you started, but try to conduct your own research to make sure you’re using the right treatment for your leather parts.

As I get to the end of this article, I’m kind of thinking I can replace every instance of the word ‘metal’ with ‘leather’ and come up with a decent, if somewhat generic article. That’s to say, metal care isn’t so different from leather care, and it’s occasions like this that I feel like stepping outside to see if we’re getting some sort of solar eclipse I didn’t hear about. Like, for intersecting parallel dimensions or something. In an alternate universe, I may very well be an expert in metal care, and right at this moment, he’s writing on leather as a special. Maybe I'm just a clone. It's giving me a headache, frankly. I feel like I should be watching more Star Trek.

Later, leathermancers.

The Hutch Deluxe, Leather Milk Repair Department
Daniel Sutton
Saddleback Leather

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