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A Bad Day at Blackrock (Leather Conditioner)

Updated: Jan 3

If you're old enough you'll recall the Spencer Tracy film "Bad Day at Black Rock" and this post is about Blackrock Leather Conditioner. All in all it's an OK product, which then would have left me with "Gunfight at the OK Corral" but that didn't appeal to me.

Real magazine writers get their product for FREE from the manufacturer, in exchange for a positive write-up which is nothing more than publicity. I'm not a magazine writer and I don't follow this practice; as being instead a gunleather designer/maker/expert/author. Instead I buy my own product direct and my sample pot of Blackrock arrived this morning.

I was inspired to get a sample at all because forums usually write glowing reviews of the product. But knowing forum members are not gunleather experts I wanted to see for myself about Blackrock before I expressed any opinion at all.

I'd say that applying Blackrock to gunleather made in the 20th and 21st centuries is a 'feel good' proposition because the leathers gunleather is made from is veg tanned, chosen for its stiffness for a reason, hardened further by being molded and dried, and the surface finish is applied after manufacture just before sale. That is, gunleather from these two eras NEED NOTHING to extend the working life of the product. They'll last 100 years MINIMUM os daily use as-delivered from the factory, unlike a hiking boot, for example.

Below is a mid-1970s Bucheimer-Clark No. 15 that the company made with Lawman Leather's logo imprinted on its backside, BEFORE:


Yes, the abraded areas look better. I used a sheeps-wool pad to rub the product into the leather, then buffed the holster after a brief lapse for a bit of shine that never materialized. What I noticed most is the leather surface now has an oily finish; and that's a consequence of what's in the Blackrock. Some have reported that the result is 'sticky' and I suspect this is a consequence of having dissolved a prior finish and/or grime, then leaving the combo behind.

The maker makes the plausible-on-the-surface claim that the product is made from a 'secret recipe' but the FDA requires Blackrock to file a Material Safety Data Sheet and its MSDS tells us it is mostly water, then mineral oil, antifreeze (ethylene glycol) and car wax; all in that order:

The company's 'brochure' (website) states it is best used on 'finished leather' and I agree because I also used it on a pair of the bride's boots that are 'finished'; that is, the leather is painted-on color. Result: the application cleaned the surface of the boots slightly (evidenced by a bit of black coloration on the applicator after rubbing in the product) and left a dull gloss. What difference does THAT make? The difference is that Blackrock cannot be absorbed through the painted surface into the leather beneath, and so cannot 'nourish' or otherwise benefit the leather itself. No 'softening' either. Also it can't darken a painted/finished leather, but it sure did change the color of the B-C spring shoulder holster which is aniline finished: it darkened it.

Do I use a far better commercial product myself, in the aniline finishes (natural, dyed grain without paint over it) such as you would encounter on 1970s Bianchi, Safariland, Sparks, Bucheimer-Clark (but not J.M. Bucheimer), 1960s Hume, 1940s Myres, 1920s Brills, etc., products? Yes I do; but it takes at least a small measure of expertise to apply using the same simple method that I used for the Blackrock; because it also contains a lacquer that gives it a final, permanent shine that is also water-resistant. By Fiebing's it's called Tan Kote and readily available in very small to very large bottles on eBay; it will restore the surface finish to 'like new' -- but it doesn't nourish anything.

Above, the Tan Kote has been applied over the Blackrock n a single coat with a sheepswool applicator; you will only get two tries with Tan Kote as a third effort will begin to dissolve the prior coats and make a mess. Get it right within two coats!. It's rubbed in and allowed to dry (takes just minutes to dry). The 'sticky' is gone.

Below, the same Tan-Koted holster has now been completed with a leather lacquer spray. Not everyone likes a lacquer finish but I do. However, at Bianchi we did a focus group in the '70s about likes and dislikes and our lacquer finish was a 'dislike'; so we changed to a hand-rubbed finish only for the oiled holsters that was accomplished with Harness Dressing (can't buy it now in clear). My friend Frank Boyer, later to be the Frontier Museum's curator for JB, was responsible for finding the ideal product and the ideal application of it: rub in the first coat, then do it again, let it dry just a bit, and rub the finish until the shine returned.

Below, the film of the same name:

Ethylene glycol (antifreeze) is well-known to have a sweet taste that can lead to poisoning in humans and pets when it's ingested, so by all means 'keep Blackrock out of the hands of children'. Antifreeze is also very slippery which is why motorcycle race tracks don't like water cooled bikes! Which nearly all, are, not to prevent freezing (!) but because it raises the boiling temp of the water in the radiator and is relied on to lubricate the water pump.


For the last half of the 19th century, that is literally 1850-1900, DON'T USE ANYTHING AT ALL. American veg leathers tanned in that time period that included the U.S. Civil War will have already shown off their 'red rot' and these must be left alone or you'll irrevocably (further) damage the collectible that is already disintegrating into a red powder. Caused by allowing the pH to fall out of the 'safe' zone and corrected by 1900.

Read more in my book titled "Holstory -- Gunleather of the Twentieth Century -- the Second Edition" that is available at and printed for you/shipped to you in USA.

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