Caring for Leather Jackets and BagsThe unique finishes of Saddleback Leather bags.

Before you take your time to read this article on choosing and caring for the unique finish of your Saddleback leather bag, here is what others are saying about the info. (including El Presidente Dave himself):

  1. …By the way, I’ve spent a descent amount of time on the web researching the Saddleback leather products before dropping $600 and found your site and the breakdown of the different finishes to be extremely helpful!  Nowhere else did I find anything nearly as useful.  Thank You!  John C. in Chicago                                                                               
  2. …I just saw the article you wrote about the colors of Saddleback products.  Very well done!  Both Dave and Chuck love it and we’ve been seeing a lot of Saddleback fans talk about it.  Jonathan Munson, Saddleback Business Development
  3. …@leatherhelpguy I think you totally nailed the review of the chestnut finish. Spot on. Twitter comment from @clayhebert


Enough crowing, on to the article, The unique finishes of Saddleback leather bags:

For starters my bias, I think Saddleback leather bags are the best!  Dave, the owner of Saddleback, does an awesome job of explaining how his leather bags are made to  the highest quality standards.  Read his overview here.  Any leather bag made as he describes is going to wear beautifully over the years.   My goal here is to go into detail about each of the 4 main Saddleback finishes, Carbon black, Chestnut, Tobacco Brown and Dark Coffee Brown, for you.


        As a 20 year leather refinisher, I’ve cleaned and repairing all kinds of leather goods.  When I got involved with Saddleback, you can read the story here, I knew I wanted to lend my experience to help people care for these great bags.  Because I only own one bag (shown above and at the right), I asked them to send me squares of all the finishes. So, after testing them out I’m ready to start to add my two cents on how each of his styles of leather will wear over the 100+ years you own it.  


       That said, each of the 4 main finishes on Saddleback Leather will age a bit differently over time. Each finish has unique characteristics and will respond a little differently to scratching, liquids and the elements.  Some call it patina, most say no matter what happens, short of alligators, the bags will look even more distinct the longer you own them.  But, since I’m a bit of a leather nerd, I thought I’d tell you here about how each finish will age:

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Carbon Black

  • Unique Characteristics– I found this leather may be the most unchanging of the Saddleback line.  It will not scratch, stain or change easily.  As leather finishes go, it’s bullet proof.  So if you want a leather that will look just like the day you bought it 10 years from now, carbon black is your choice.
  • Scratching– Some of the other leathers will lighten considerably if you scratch them, not carbon black.  Unless a sharp object cuts into the leather, the surface will not change.
  • Staining- Almost nothing is going to get through this leather finish. Water, oil, even ink will not easily change the carbon black finish.






  • Unique Characteristics–  The Chestnut leather is beautiful.  It will change over time but only to look more distressed and unique.  I would call it the hand rubbed, semi-gloss looking leather.  It also has burst, which i personally love.  A leather that has burst, will lighten when it is stretched and pulled so the light leather "bursts" through the darker brown color. It’s a really cool feature.
  • Scratching- Chestnut leather will scratch when it rubs against something like a brick wall, doorway edge or your pants rivets.  These scratches are lighter and add to the distressed look of the overall finish.  They are usually pretty easy to get out too.  In fact, I used this leather for a scratch removal video I made on the subject.  Click here to see it.
  • Staining– The finish on this leather resists most stains.  Water-based ones will bead up, rain will not penetrate and you can easily wipe off dirt with a good leather cleaner.  If oil-based stains sit on the leather too long, they can penetrate and darken the leather.



Dark Coffee Brown

  • Unique Characteristics– The dark coffee brown leather is awesome too.  I’d call it more of the matte, raw finish version than the polished chestnut leather.  It will scratch, age, lighten and darken as you use it becomes uniquely yours.
  • Scratching- This leather easily scratches.  Run your fingernail across it and it will produce a light scratch.  This looks normal to the leather.  If it becomes too excessive for you, then you can usually buff the scratch out with your fingernail.  You could even write your name in the side of this leather with your fingernail.  Whatever, it will look more and more you but because of the rugged style, the scratches will fit. Wanna even out the finish of your Dark Coffee Brown leather, you can also try the techniques from this video.
  • Staining– Dark coffee brown has enough of a finish on it to resist most stains.  Water-based ones will bead up and wipe off with ease.  Oil based stains will absorb into the dark finish without changing the leather much at all. Just use a soft, dry cloth to blot the surface and buff the oil into the finish.


Tobacco Brown

  • Unique Characteristics- My briefcase is the dark tobacco brown.  It is beautiful.  This leather will change the most of any of the Saddleback finishes over time.  Scratches, dark stains and oils will change the finish, distressing and beautifying it.
  • Scratching- This leather will scratch easily.  The scratches won’t change the feel of the leather, they just move the finish revealing the lighter colored leather under it.  Because it is light, the scratches don’t show up as prominently as with the Chestnut and the Dark Coffee.  They can also be buffed out if you choose.
  • Staining- This leather will darken when it gets wet.  Just allow it to air dry and it will return to it’s original color or just a little darker and richer.  Oil stains can penetrate into this leather and stay.  The area will darken but won’t damage the leateher.  The oil stain can be removed with a little help but doesn’t hurt the distressed look of this leather either.


So this is one of my first stabs at sharing some of the unique ways your Saddleback leather will change and wear over time.  Look back from time to time for more specific articles on dealing with ink, oils, punctures and other wear issues.


Related article/video:  Full-grain leather vs Top-grain leather?  (Saddleback uses full-grain)