Having a good looking edge on a finished leather product can make all the difference to the overall look and quality of your leather project. It is a testament to your attention to detail, how much you really care about your craft and how you present your work.
I for one, will unstitch an entire wallet if a stitch is out of place, have always wanted to have a quality looking leather product, a professional finish, and for the longest time, I did no know about Seiwa Tokonole Burnishing Gum, and really struggled to get a smooth edge on my leather wallets.
When I first started leatherworking, I remember watching a video about leather edge burnishing, and the advice given was to use a small amount of water on the edges, then apply friction with a slicker, cloth or whatever you chose. But I used to see pictures of other peoples edges, and I could never get mine to look the same.
I had seen Tokonole Gum used in some videos I had seen on YouTube, but I did not know what it was, and I would only usually see it being applied, and not the name or maker of the burnishing gum being used. Eventually, I did manage to track down what was being used, and I had only just found out that there were such things as Burnishing Gums. It turned out to be something called Tokonole Burnishing gum.
If you want to get those slick, glassy looking edges then you need to burnish your leather edges. What you are trying to do when burnishing leather is to apply friction, but not dry friction. The leather needs to be moist, but also allow for friction, but at the same time not leaving any stains, and Tokonole is the best at this.
What Is Tokonole ?
Tokonole really is a game changer. You simply apply a thin layer to the area you wish to burnish, and with your Burnishing Tool, apply friction, and in no time, the edge is smooth and ready.
Tokonole is a water based solvent that is odour and toxic free, and was created in Japan where some of the best leatherwork comes from. They pay a lot of attention to perfection in the leatherworking community in Japan, so it only makes sense that they would create the best option for burnishing leather, so Tokonole was born.
Tokonole is very easy to work with, has no odour, dries really quickly and as you apply a little pressure and friction the leather fibres are bound together leaving you the perfect polished leather edges.
Interested in trying Tokonole for your own projects, you can buy some here.
Tokonole vs Water For Burnishing Leather
When you use water to burnish leather, I have found that you don't get a permanent shine on your edges, but there can be a use for water burnishing. Especially if you are using a veg tanned leather, using water to burnish your leather will give your edge a temporary polish that will last long enough for the use of the product to take over.
When you are taking a wallet out of your pocket all the time, handling it, dropping in on and off of tables etc a natural patina/burnishing will occur. So water burnishing is enough to get you through the initial stages but it's not permanent like burnishing with tokonole. What you can do though, is after burnishing with water, seal the edges with wax, and this will help keep that polished leather look for longer. Also be careful to not get water on the face of the leather, as you can end up with a water stain.
One more thing to mention is when burnishing leather with water, the edges tend to darken quite a bit, and some people like this, but if you are not a fan, Tokonole leaves the edges light and slick and that can be quite a difference for those of us that are very particular about consistency.
Tokonole vs Gumtragacanth For Burnishing Leather
Gumtragacanth or Gumtrag as it is also known is a natural gum made from the sap of a Legume plant I believe. It is also used in food products like lozenges and drinks. Just like with water, you apply a little bit to the edge, and start applying friction. Gumtrag will also leave no stain if you accidentally get it on the face of the leather, so that's a huge plus.
Gumtrgacanth is similar to water, in that when burnishing leather, it will darken the edges just a little, so it's somewhere in between Tokonole and Water in regards to how many shades darker the leather will get. So as far as the differences between Tokonole and Gumtrag, I found it's mostly the colour change and the consistency of it. Gumtrag is literally more gummy and Tokonole is more fluid, indicative of its water base.
For both water and gumtrag, after burnishing, you should definitely add a coat of wax to keep the edges shining for as long as possible.
Tokonole For Burnishing Leather
So why is Tokonole different from the other examples? When you apply water or gumtrag to a leather surface, the leather will absorb some, and then when you apply pressure and friction it binds the fibres and seals the edge, giving you that shiny look. But Tokonole works a little differently to this.
When you apply Tokonole to a leather surface and burnish it, as well as binding the fibres, it also creates a layer on top of the leather, so instead of being completely absorbed, it also adds that shiny layer we all love to see after burnishing a leather edge.
If you are doing all your leatherwork manually like me, you will also be asking yourself “What is the fastest way to burnish your leather?”, and without a doubt Tokonole is the quickest way to get that glassy look on your edges. With water and gumtrag you need to work more, so you may need to start with an edge slicker and finish up with a canvas rag before you get the desired look.
But with Tokonole you jump right in with the edge slicker, and in less than a minute you already start hearing that clicking sound you get when the friction is polishing down the edge. And as I explained, it's not just binding the fibres, it's creating a layer on top also, and it happens almost instantly. This is also why the edge stays a lighter colour as it is mostly the layer created that is shining.
If you are dying your edges though, you want to sand down and dye your edges before you apply your dye. The layer that Tokonole creates can cause the dye to smudge off after time, so just remember to dye before burnishing and adding Tokonole. Also do your best to not get Tokonole on the face of the leather, as it can leave a shiny stain on some types of leather.
Some key things to point out before you burnish your edges.
Preparing your edges for Burnishing
- Make sure the edges are even: Once you are ready to burnish your edges, make sure that the edges are all even and in line. I always leave a little extra on the sides when cutting out my templates, so I can make one clean cut at the end, to ensure the edges are all level.
You just need to add a couple of millimetres to your template or when you are tracing, and after you have glued all the pieces together, cut this extra bit off and you are left with a perfect edge ready for burnishing. This will make a very big difference if you are wanting to get that smooth glassy finish when you burnish your leather.
- Get the edges as smooth as you can: If you do have slightly uneven or rough edges, it's not a problem, you just need to take a few more steps before burnishing.
Depending on how rough the edges are and what thickness of leather you are using, starting from a higher grade sandpaper, work your way down to a finer grade, until the edges are smooth to the touch. Always sand with the grain, and not against, and in one direction.
Going both ways with the sandpaper will cause the fibres to fray and lift, and you want the fibres all pointing one way, and not all over the place, so go with the grain.
-Bevel the edges
Have you ever been slicking the edges of something, and after a while you see the sides spilling over, giving you what they call in leatherworking ‘mushrooming. This is because you have not bevelled the edges of your leather. ’
Bevelling removes the sharp edge left when you cut a piece of leather. This way, when you are burninshing leather, the centre will flatten and splay out, and without the extra leather along the edges, you avoid the mushroom effect, and get a really nice and uniform shiny edge.
So be sure to Bevel your edges before burnishing
-Apply Tokonole Burnishing Gum
Apply a thin layer of Tokonole gum to the edges, and use a fingertip to just spread evenly. Then, with your burnishing tool, whether you are using a manual one, or a machine, possibly a drill attachment, apply friction to the edges until you get the desired finish.
The longer you spend burnishing your edges, the shinier and smoother they will become. A bit of elbow grease goes a long way here, so this really is a must in the tool box of any leatherworker.
FAQ’s About Tokonole
Is tokonole water based? Yes, tokonole is water based, but it also has things like wax and glue included in the ingredients, so although it dries clear, you don’t want to get too much of it on the face of a leather surface as it can leave a shiny stain.
Is tokonole toxic? As far as the advice given from the manufacturer, all the ingredients are natural and non toxic, but just for your own safety, don't go chugging it out of the pot on a dare.
In what colours can you buy tokonole? Tokonole currently comes in the neutral colour which is the most well known, but you can also buy tokonole in black and brown colours.
Tokonole alternatives? The alternatives to tokonole are water, gumtrag, beeswax and there may be other products on the market, but I have never used them.
What is tokonole made of? Tokonole ingredients as per the manufacturer Natural Paste, Resin, Pigment, Wax and Silicone all of a non toxic nature.
How to make tokonole? As someone that has tried to go down this road, I would not advise making your own tokonole. Sure, you can find ways to make your own products to burnish your leather, but trying to find similar ingredients and getting the mixture right will take you more time and cost you more money than just buying the real thing (it’s really not that expensive), and you really don't want to go and put something on your leather that is going to stain it and ruin your whole project.
Is there a tokonole pen? I’m pretty sure I have seen this, but instead of buying one of these, you can go to a pound shop and buy the empty container with the metal roller ball on the end, and just aff your own tokonole to it. We are leather workers on a budget right, so learn to “MacGyver” some stuff
Is tokonole waterproof? Tokonole is not water resistant. You can buy products to treat leather to make them more water proof. Leather by nature is porous, it is skin at the end of the day, so you really want to be getting good quality top grain leather, or oil treated leather which increases the leathers ability to withstand water.
Is tokonole the same as gum tragacanth? They both essentially perform the same duty, but the difference is that gumtrag will darken the edges a little as you burnish them and is thicker in consistency. Tokonole is more fluid and does not change the colour of your edges.
How to fix fuzzy leather? If you have leather that has gone fuzzy around the edges, then you can use tokonole to fix this. Simply sand the edge down a little with a fine sandpaper so it's relatively smooth to the touch, apply some tokonole and with a cloth or edge slicker, apply a little pressure and friction until it is smooth to your liking.
Final Thoughts on Tokonole
So over all, I think that tokonole is the best option when it comes to burnishing your leather, but this is just my own experience. Have a try yourself, compare it to other products you may be using, and leave a coment below and let me know how it went.
If you want to try it out for yourself, and also help me out in the process, you can buy tokonole for the best price here.
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Some other posts you might also want to check out:
Glueing Leather, A Comprehensive Guide Of Glueing Leather To Everything
How To Start Leatherworking, A Comprehensive Guide 2023
I use Tokonole a lot of times to seal the back of bracelets. You can apply a think layer of tokonole, and use a flat bone, or the narrow end of the a burnisher to apply friction to create the smooth sealed layer.
Can you put tokonole on the back of bracelets to keep the leather chemical in it from irritating your skin. I know most leathers have chemicals in them. And was looking for something to seal the backs with so the leather does not irritate the skin while waring it.