HAND-CRAFTED LEATHER GOODS
F A Q's
(Frequently Asked Questions)
Are all leathers the same?
Leathers are not all the same. Finished leather (that is, leather with surface pigments and lacquers) provides a great deal of protection from soiling, fastness to light and wear. Aniline leather, on the other hand, will mark very easily and will show all the natural marks and scars - hallmarks of the natural origins of the hide. This is considered to be a more aesthetic product but generally only suitable for high-end, light traffic environments.
What is the best leather for carving with?
The only type of leather suitable for carving is vegetable tanned, full grain leather. This is because the vegetable tanning process allows the leather to absorb water, which is used to soften the leather before the carving process, and the grain of the leather is necessary to allow the leather to hold the shape after the carving process is complete. Other leathers lack these two essential qualities.
What is tooled leather?
Tooled leather is leather which has been worked in some way to be decorative as well as functional. The designs on tooled leather range from the simple to the ornate, and they are part of the artistic tradition of many nations. Collectively, things which have been made from tooled leather are often known as leather crafts, in a reference to the craftsmanship which went into their construction. Numerous examples of leather crafts can be found for sale around the world, ranging from Italian boots to Western saddles.
What is Bridle Leather?
Bridle leather is vegetable tanned cowhide that has been finished with fats, waxes and tallow. It gets its name from what it was originally created for - a bridle - the straps on a horse's head, to connect to the reins. It is very strong and long lasting.
Can the leather stamps be used for stamping metal such as copper or aluminium?
Although we have several customers that do this, we do not recommend it. These stamps have a plating on them that is not meant to impact something as hard as metal. Even a soft metal will damage these stamps.
What is the best way to burnish leather edges, and how does it work ?
The only part of a leather piece I normally burnish is the edge. First the corners are "rounded" using an edge beveller. Next I apply Gum Tragacanth and allow it to dry. Finally, I burnish it by rubbing briskly along the edge with an edge slicker and/or a folded up piece of denim.
What type of leather is lacing made of?
Lacing is made of cowhide, kangaroo hide etc.
How is the embossing wheel used?
It is put in an overstitch spacer and rolled across cased leather to make the imprint.
Can the leather stamping tools also be used to stamp a "soft" metal like sterling silver?
Officially we have to take the stance of no, since use on metal voids any warrantee. I have known them used for thin soft metals, but be aware that use on any metal may chip the plating on the tool. Furthermore various metals of the same type may have differing amounts of tempering and this may also affect results.
What is leather carving?
Leather carving is a form of leather working in which pieces of leather are cut with fine tools to make a pattern or design. It may be combined with other types of leather crafting such as stamping or burning for additional impact. Leather which has been carved is said to have been "tooled", because it has been shaped with the assistance of tools. Carved leather is used in belts, shoes, saddles and many other leather crafts, and it may also be used as a standalone piece of art.
What is figure carving?
Figure carving is the carving of birds, animals, people, trees, and objects (as opposed to patterns). A lot of figure carving is done with backdrops such as landscapes. Figure carving takes more practice to become skillful, but is very rewarding. In general, figure carving also requires more stamping tools.
What is basket weave?
Basket weave is a stamping technique for applying patterns that look woven. It most commonly seen on belts, although it can be beautiful in many applications.
Can you suggest a good book to learn the basics of leather carving?
Yes, the Leatherwork Manual covers all the basics.
How do I cut belts or straps perfectly?
Use a Strap Cutter. These are adjustable for width, fairly inexpensive, and easy to use. The only hard part is cutting the first straight edge. To do this you need a long straight edge (such as a metal bar or ruler). Lay the leather on some board and cut along the straight edge with a sharp knife. It is helpful to have someone hold the straight edge while you cut it. Remember, the strap cutter follows this edge so if your first cut isn't straight, your straps won't be either.
What is stropping?
Stropping is used to put a fine polished edge on cutting tools. All tools cut better when stropped. A simple inexpensive strop can be made by applying Jewellers Rouge to a scrap of leather. Rub a thin layer of rouge on the rough side of the leather. Hold the knife bevel flat to the leather and pull it across the leather. Repeat several times on both sides of the blade. When cutting, strop now and then. A properly stropped blade cuts smoothly and easily.
How do I know when my swivel knife needs sharpening?
If your swivel knife is not cutting smoothly and appears to be tearing the leather then it probably need sharpening. Unless abused, most swivel knife blades will rarely require sharpening. A good stropping should put a razor edge on the blade. If it cannot be stropped to a razor edge, or has nicks then sharpening is necessary.
How do I sharpen my swivel knife?
You need a keen edge sharpener jig and a sharpening stone. The blade is removed from the knife and inserted in the jig. Next adjust the angle so the knife bevel lays flat to the stone. Roll the jig back and forth several times on the stone. Flip the blade and repeat for the other side. This may have to be done repeatedly for very dull blades. When you feel the blade is sharp, give it a good stropping.
Can I use a hammer in place of a mallet?
No. A metal hammer will cause the plating on the tools to chip, eventually leading to a rusty, useless stamping tool. always use a rawhide or poly mallet when stamping.
What is the best way to transfer patterns from books to the leather?
Tracing film works best. It is waterproof and translucent so you can see where you are positioning it. Tape the film to the pattern. Trace the design with a pencil. Case the leather. Position the tracing film on the leather. Trace the design with a metal stylus. The design is ready for cutting. Save the pattern for future use.
Can I use paper to transfer patterns?
Yes, but it is not recommended. Be careful that the paper doesn't get too soggy. If it tears you will have difficulty tracing accurately and since it is not transparent, you will have difficulty positioning a new copy over partially traced designs. Paper cannot be used more than once.
How can I get a professional looking edge on my belts?
This is a multi-step process as follows: Use an edge beveller tool to reduce the angle of the edges. This is done on both front and back edges. Dye the belt and edges as desired. Optional, but recommended - apply Gum Tragacanth to the edge and allow to dry. Use an edge slicker to burnish the edge until nice and smooth. Apply any leather finish desired.
How is an edge beveller used?
Our goal here is to transform 90 degree corners into 45 degree corners. This will make the burnishing later, easier. Position the leather to slightly overhang the edge of your bench, for example. Hold the cutting area of the beveller against the corner of the leather. It should be held so that it will cut the corner off at about a 45 degrees angle. The beveller is pushed along the edge. Try to cut the entire length of each side without raising the beveller for best results.
How is an edge slicker used?
Position the edge to be burnished to slightly overhang the edge of your bench. My personal preference at this point is to dampen the edge. The groove in the edge slicker is positioned over the edge and rubbed briskly back and forth. The friction will smooth and round the edge as well as hardening it.
Does Gum Tragacanth really work?
Yes. I find that edges with Gum Tragacanth applied, burnish better, much faster, and with a lot less effort. On the other hand you can rub in beeswax and achieve an equal result.
Must I use a marble slab when stamping?
No - any sufficiently hard smooth surface will work. I prefer a marble slab on top of a poundo board since that combination seems to absorb the impacts well and minimizes noise and vibration. If you plan to do a lot of leather stamping, a marble slab and poundo board is a good investment.
What does casing mean?
Basically casing is wetting the leather in preparation for carving. A sponge is used to wet the surface of the leather. Well cased leather tools easily. The correct amount of moisture is somewhat difficult to describe, so you should practice with some scraps to get the hang of it. I generally wet both sides of the leather, then allow the flesh side (smooth side) to almost return to its original colour before tooling. On thin leather, apply water to the flesh side only.
How deep should my swivel knife cuts be?
For most carving the cuts should be about halfway through the leather.
How do I hold the swivel knife?
The correct way to hold a swivel knife is to grasp the barrel between thumb and middle finger. Place your index finger on top (in the U shaped piece). For additional stability place the fourth fingertip against the side of the blade.
How do I use a swivel knife?
Although it sound complex, with a bit of practice you will be able to use a swivel knife without having to think about it. Practice on some scrap cased leather. Grasp the knife properly, tilt the top away from you and position the front blade corner where you want to start the cut. Apply downward pressure with your forefinger to control the depth of cut. Pull the blade towards you. Curves are followed by swivelling with the thumb and middle finger. Practice making straight cuts first, then S shapes, then C shapes, and finally complete circles with only two cuts.
How do I end a cut that does not meet another line?
This is most common in floral carving. As you approach the end of the cut, gradually reduce the pressure with your forefinger to provide a smooth transition.
I am hoping to make jewellery. Are the 3D stamps something I can use to make 3D flowers to wear on a leather necklace?
These stamps will provide a multi level imprint of a flower (or whatever type of stamp chosen) to make a medallion style necklace. They will not make a fully 3 dimensional sculpture type piece.
What is Bonded leather?
Bonded leather is leather made by the grinding up of leather pieces, which is then mixed with a bonding agent and dyed to create a new very uniform leather.
What is man-made leather?
Imitation leather made up from a composite of plastics, fabric and rubber. The finished product is made to look and feel like real leather, but for a fraction of the cost.
What is the difference between top grain and split leather?
Top Grain is when only the hair and lower dermis have been removed. Split is the leather made from the lower dermis that has been separated from the top grain and given a finish similar to that of the top grain.
What is Latigo leather?
Latigo is a type of tannage used in certain cowhide leather. It is generally quite soft and supple to the touch, and has a slight oily feel to it.
What is leather painting?
As one of the several forms of leather craft, leather painting is the application of a colour or a series of colours to the surface of a section of treated leather. Leather painting allows for the creation of a number of designs and styles on tooled leather surfaces, adding interest to all sorts of items that you've made with the material.
Leather painting differs from leather dyeing, in as much that painting leather only involves applying colour to the surface of the material. Dyeing, on the other hand, involves immersing the leather so that the colour permeates it entirely. This also means that leather painting is not a good choice when the leather is used in the creation of items that bend or are subject to a lot of friction, such as wallets or belts.
Leather carving is a form of leather working in which pieces of leather are cut with fine tools to make a pattern or design. It may be combined with other types of leather crafting such as stamping or pyrography for additional impact. Leather which has been carved is said to have been "tooled", because it has been shaped with the assistance of tools. Carved leather is used for belts, shoes, saddles, and many other leather crafts, and it may on occasion, be seen as a standalone piece of art.
Some do's and don'ts for leather
Roll leather up with the grain side on the inside – the other way round will cause the grain side to stretch, and when you straighten the leather it will probably wrinkle.
Rolls of leather can easily be stored in lengths of PVC pipe having a diameter of eight or more inches.
When you start wetting the leather for tracing, and swivel knife cuts, and tooling, make sure to always wet the full surface of the leather – if you do not, the water will rinse chemicals to the edge of the wet part and when dry, those edges will be seen as stains. These can only be treated with excessive washing with lots of water.
When you spill coffee, tea or a soft drink on an article, immediately take it to a basin and empty the rest of whatever was spilt over the project to cover it completely (consequently staining it completely and seamlessly) and after that rinse it off well under running water.
If the sides, say, of a leather purse, get stuck together
If you have a leather item with sides, such as a purse that appear to be stuck together, look inside to see if you can tell exactly where they are sticking. You should be able to see where it is sticking, such as in just in a couple of places, or if the leather is completely stuck together.
Hold the item over a pot of boiling water, but not too closely, and don't allow the leather to get soaked. The heat and humidity will expand the pores allowing you to work the sides free, just do not force them if they will not budge.
You could also try working some leather cleaner in between the sides. If it's dirt or grime that's holding the sides together, this may loosen it. Finally, if it doesn't look like you're going to get the sides separated easily, take it to a professional to get it fixed.