Great errors are frequently committed in the care of harness, and it often happens that from ignorance or want of thought much injury is done. This arises principally from the fact that there are two very distinct parts of all harness, and each requires, or at least will bear, very distinct treatment. Those parts which require to be pliable and soft should never be dressed with shellac varnishes or drying oils, as all such compounds tend to make the leather hard in a short time, so that it soon cracks and becomes weak. There are some parts, however, such as the saddle, blinders, etc., which are never expected to bend. Varnish does not hurt these parts, but, on the contrary, greatly improves their appearance.
All harness that is in constant use should be washed, oiled, and blacked, at frequent intervals. Some harness should be oiled three or four times a year, while carriage harness, which is used only once or twice a week, if kept in a clean harness-room or harness-closet, will need oiling only once a year, unless after exposure to drenching rain, when it should be carefully oiled and blacked as soon as it is dry enough to absorb the oil. There is danger of oiling a harness too much. When the leather appears so thoroughly saturated with oil that the oleaginous substance oozes from the pores, and absorbs dust that may be floating in the atmosphere, the leather does not need oiling. The leather should always be in such a condition, when oiled, that it will absorb the oil and leave a clean surface.
When a harness is to be oiled, take it in a clean and warm room in cold weather, or on a few clean boards out of doors in warm weather; unbuckle all the parts, and wash the surface clean with strong soapsuds. Wherever there may be a coating of gum, if soapsuds will not remove it readily, dip a coarse rag in spirits of turpentine and rub the surface rapidly. A little turpentine or benzine will remove a heavy coating of gum readily; but if applied in such quantity as to soak into the leather it will injure it. Before the oil is applied, the leather should be warmed through and through. As soon as the harness appears dry on the surface, and before the leather has become as dry as tinder to the middle, apply the oil. Traces, and some other parts of a harness which are exposed to wet and mud, are not liable to have too much oil applied to them.
Neatsfoot-oil is preferable to any other, as it will keep the leather soft. We once knew a farmer who, not understanding that linseed-oil when laid on leather would render it hard and stiff, applied a coat of it to his carriage harness,.which made the leather so stiff and hard that the surface would crack badly whenever the pieces were bent.
When the oil is about to be applied, lay a piece of harness on a bench or smooth board, and use a paint-brush or swab to lay on the oil. Let the oil be kept in a large milkpan, so that all small pieces like lines and straps may be dipped in the oil and drawn slowly through it. With the thumb and fingers slip the oil back on the straps, and let it drop into the pan. By using a large pan, one can oil a harness in a few minutes in a neat and thorough manner, without wasting any oil.
The government harness dressing is said to be prepared as follows: One gallon of neatsfoot-oil, two pounds of bayberry tallow, two pounds beeswax, two pounds of beef tallow. Put the above in a pan over a moderate fire. When thoroughly dissolved add two quarts of castor-oil; then, while on the fire, stir in one ounce of lampblack. Mix well, and strain through a fine cloth to remove sediment; let cool.
A composition which not only softens the harness but blackens it at the same time, is made as follows: Put into a glazed pipkin 2 ozs. of black resin; place it on a gentle fire; when melted, add 3 ozs. of beeswax. When this is melted, take it from the fire, add 1/2 oz. of lampblack and 1/2 dr. of Prussian blue in fine powder. Stir them so as to be perfectly mixed, and add sufficient spirits of turpentine to form a thin paste; let it cool. To use it, apply a thin coat with a piece of linen rag pretty eveuly all over the harness; then take a soft polishing-brush and brush it over, so as to obtain a bright surface.