Kurt, the proprietor of Faith Co. in Taipei and owner of the S.F.K. brand, has been getting in some new old stock horsehide belts from Switzerland over the past year. Luckily it seems the larger sizes are in greater supply, so I was able to acquire one too.
Let’s have a look at how it appeared before I did restoration work:
As you can see, really good condition for a leather belt that is decades old. The black coated buckle is in as-new condition. From the lack of markings near the pin holes and undisturbed edge burnishing, we can assume this belt was never used.
Stamped on the tip are the maker, year and place of manufacture. According to Kurt these belts were sourced from military surplus. I have seen a very old ammo pouch made by the same maker (R. Pfaffli, Trimbach) before.
A few things to note:
The horsehide is rather thick, at 3.9 mm (9.75 oz), and remains rigid and relatively oily after all these years.
The belt somewhat narrow, at 32 mm across.
On the grain-side the grain is pronounced, very dense and has a slippery surface in the absence of any waxing or polishing.
On the back-side the finishing is smooth and compact.
The edges are nicely beveled on both sides, and the burnishing is very nicely done.
The leather was not skived at the buckle bend, with the stitching going 7.8 mm of leather altogether.
The stitch used to lock-in the buckle is very rigid – and has cut into the leather slightly – I wonder if it is waxed sinew?
The buckle is an interesting up-&-under design that I haven’t seen in a while.
Overall, whatever the original intended purpose of this belt, it is clear that time & effort has gone into both tanning the horsehide and crafting the belt. Indeed, the nature of the grain tells me that the vegetable tanning process used on this leather is more gentle and more lengthy compared to how most vegetable tanned leathers are created these days. The density and relative oiliness/reduced water volume are what differentiates horsehide from cattlehide, and also the factors that contribute to the special shine that horsehide acquires with age.
I did notice some mild cracking and drying was evident near the buckle bend. So, might as well condition & renovate the whole belt.
Step 1 – Clean
I brush the leather with a horsehair brush.
I then clean the buckle and the leather with a damp cloth, wetted with a very mild plant based detergent mixed with water.
The belt is then allowed to dry for an hour in the shade.
Step 2 – Feed
I use Tender’s pure mutton tallow here. Any suitably prepared animal fat or oil will do.
I apply the fat with my thumb, working it into the leather firmly so as to create some heat.
I feed both the grain- and back-sides.
Given the high integrity of the leather, one application of feed will suffice and there is no need for preservatives.
Step 3 – Finish
I use beeswax on a twill cloth to smooth over a couple of minor scratches.
Then, using the same wax-impregnated cloth, I wipe the rest of the leather firmly, including the edges. It is important that the wax layer remains very thin.
Finally, I wipe down the leather again with a horsehair brush.
This process does take some time, but I feel the results are worth the trouble. Check out that pull-up when the buckle is done up!
You can contact Kurt at Faith Co. through e-mail or Faith’s Facebook page if you’re interested. The pricing is quite reasonable for such a curious item.