Making a Rondel Dagger – Interlude 3 – Dubbin

With the work done, I have to protect both the leather covering of the scabbard and the iron fittings against the elements and medieval appropriate medium for that is so-called dubbin or leather food. Google does yield some recipes, but I did not bother searching for or following an exact recipe much – once I have known the rough composition, I plunged right into it as is my wont.

Ingredients in the mug.

So I took a stainless steel mug, put in it a piece of lard, about the same amount of unrefined beeswax (twenty years old, btw.) and I poured an “adequate” amount of olive oil on top of it. Then I lit the fire and stirred until it all melted together. It was quite interesting to watch – the pig fat dissolved of course first and the big beeswax piece last, but it did not take too long. In fact, it was over in mere minutes. I have measured the temperature and when it all was blended together the liquid had about 80°C. High enough to be dangerous, but not so high as to melt plastic or hiss in contact with water. It remained liquid long enough to touch with bare hand.

Finished dubbin in a plastic container.

Even so when pouring it into a plastic container for keeping, I have put said container in an even bigger one and poured cold water around it just to be sure. As you can see, the liquid has had a honey-like colour that I have found rather pleasing to the eye. It does not smell too bad either and when the product cooled enough to be touched by bare hands, I have simply dipped my fingers in it and applied it to the scabbard in no small amount. In fact I sloshed liberally all over it, making an uneven layer that was in parts over 1 mm thick.

Dubbin applied to the scabbard.

That of course does not look very pretty, so I took a heat gun and melted it all until it sunk into the surface. I was careful however to not heat it too much – just about to melt it and no more. Leather does not respond too well to heat and I did not want to damage it.

When that was done I rubbed the scabbard first with a paper towel which took off some of the excess dubbin, then simply by hand. The dubbin is actually relatively pleasant to touch – not unlike a hand lotion in fact, although it is more solid.

The leather strap tied around the scabbard unfortunately did not survive this – it was made from recycled leather of poor quality and tore off. I have cut a new one and this time I plied it with dubbin before tying it around – and that seemed to have worked rather well. The dubbin made the old leather soft and pliable and also sleek, so it was much easier to pull it through the holes and tie the knots than in my previous attempts.

I intend to buy a soft bristle brush at nearest opportunity that will be used for this substance exclusively. It has hardened into a yellow mass that looks like refined beeswax but is much softer to the touch – but not creamy as a hand lotion. I have labeled the lid of the plastic box and I have stored it in my workshop for future use. I think I got carried away a little here and made possibly a life’s worth supply.

If it goes rancid I will let you know. I hope not. And next time you see the “Rondel Dagger” title, there will be pictures, I promise.



  1. says

    I guess with the pig fat and beeswax you don’t have to worry about a vapor fire -- I melted some paraffin on an open flame once and it was dramatic. Now I use a frying pan full of water between my melter and the flame.

    Can’t wait to see the thing!

  2. kestrel says

    A great leather treatment. Does it sort of dry or get hard on the leather, or does it keep it soft? That seems like a great treatment for other things too like shoes and so on.

    When I am melting wax for cheese making, I use a double boiler-type set up, with a smaller pot inside a larger, the larger with water in it, just to be careful. I have to keep it hot for quite a while as I dip and coat the cheeses.

  3. says

    @Marcus Ranum -- I have melted parafin on open flame multiple times over the years, as well as various fats and resins etc. I never experienced vapor ignition. Maybe because I am careful about there being as little vapor as possible -- using big, deep pots on small flame, constantly stirring and stopping the flame as soon as it is molten.

    @kestrel, I do not know how it will behave in the long run, but it somewhat hardened on the leather overnight and it no longer feels greasy to the touch. It has a nice glossy sheen to it and the scabbard repels water now. So to me that is mission acomplished.

  4. jazzlet says

    I was taught to apply dubbin by hand, to rub in as much as possible with the fingers as the warmth of your fingers makes the dubbin a little more liquid, and so easier to absorb. You wipe off any obvious excess, then leave the boots to dry usually for a day, when they are absolutely dry you polish up with a cloth or soft brush to a high sheen, which means a reasonably impermeable surface. Dubbin was the walking boot treatment of my youth, it was surplanted because it had a reputation for rotting thread -- I don’t know why, I never saw any evidence it did -- and more importantly because it had to be applied to dry boots. Products that could be applied to wet boots meant you could treat your boots while still using them daily, which really isn’t possible with dubbin. The other problem you can get with dubbin is that over use can soften the leather which is not always desirable.

  5. Ice Swimmer says

    Dubbin is a lovely word.

    There’s a saying in Finnish that’s strictly not true but still good advice in many cases, that states that when/where butter melts, leather will burn*.
    * = Missä voi sulaa, siinä nahka palaa.

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