Leather Working Tools For Beginners
If you are considering starting a leatherworking, then you need to be familiar with the tools of the trade. Yet, it goes beyond just knowing that this tool does this or that tool does that, to make a professional leather artisan. It is the dedication to learning the tools functionality as it pertains to your projects. Yes, there are specific functions for each tool, but at the same time, there are little variations which can be applied to how you use the tool which will set you apart from the hobbyist and make you an artisan.
Buy it don’t make it
Before you start to find the tools of the trade, it should be stated that a professional uses professional tools. There are several advocates of “making” your own tools in order to get by. I would caution anyone that wishes to follow this ideal ology not to do so. For one, you get used to a product that does not exist and master something which cannot be 100% replicated, thus hurting your signature style. Secondly, as some leathers can be quite expensive, it is a bit foolish to put the fate of the leather into a tool which may or may not damage the leather, compromise the integrity of your craft, or hurt the artist. It is just not worth the risk. Buy your tools from a manufacturer.
The first step
Prior to choosing any tool, you will need to have a firm understanding about the type of leather that you want to craft. There are thick and thin leathers, there are also various materials types of leather. For example, sheepskin is thin and delicate whereas calfskin is a bit more durable and pliable (in terms of using tools upon it). After the leather is chosen, you must then decide if you will dye the leather or work with it naturally. If dying is required, follow the needed steps to accomplish the look and feel.
Preparing the seams
Leatherworking is much about the seams and how you put the seams together. He following tools are needed for skiving and detailing the edges of leather.
The cutting craft mat ensures that you do not mess up your nice kitchen table (if that is where you are working) as well as provides a level surface in which to work. I would recommend that you get a self-healing mat. They are a bit more expensive than the cardboard alternatives on the market, but they last substantially longer. Do not store your mat rolled up or bent as the edges will warp over time. It is best to keep the Cutting mat flat.
Skiving Knives and Edge Skiving Bevellers are similar, but they are not alike. The Skiving knife shaves the surface, much like one would shave his face or a woman her legs. It is based upon the strength of the person operating the tool, so caution should be applied to the pressure to minimize the risk of gouging the material. The Edge Skiving Beveller appears as a forked or pronged tool. This tool, unlike the skiving knife which works primarily on the surface, rests upon the edge of the leather. The tool is pushed forward and he space between the fork prongs shaves off leaving a beveled edge.
It should be noted that when choosing a skiving knife as well as choosing an edge skiving beveller, that you keep an eye on the blade and the blade size. On skiving knives, look at the angle of the blade. The closer to perpendicular (90 degrees) the blade is with the leather the harder it will be to operate. On the edge skiving Beveller, keep a keen eye on the width between the prongs. If your edge will not fit relatively close to the gap find a larger beveller.
Hole Punching and Preparation
Once you have prepared the edges of your leather pattern or design, then the next logical step is to prepare the leather for sewing. This means that you will need to carefully plan the hole placement for the seams. While you could just get a heavy-duty needle and start, it is ill advised to do so. The tools which you will need for hole preparation include:
Hole punches are self-explanatory in their design. A key note to consider is the diameter of the hole punch in relationship to (a) the size of the thread and (b) the leather. If your leather holes are too large, for example if you are making a slim leather wallet, the functionality will be hindered as you will have to use larger threading on the holes which will minimize the space for cards and such. Plan your project. Typically, I advise that the delicate leathers have smaller holes created by chisels and mallet rather than by singular hole punches with a mallet. Chisels come in an array of sizes and shapes which add to the design and unique quality of the product. Use the steel ruler to ensure that your lines are straight. Personally, I prefer a cork back steel ruler, but any quality one will do.
I had an article about "How to sew leather by hand". While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of products on the internet which can help you with your leather stitching, I have narrowed it down to three main tools which you will need. On thinner leathers, you can use a sewing machine in some cases. However, I would caution the user not to use a sewing machine if he or she is not comfortable with the bobbin and needle settings. Additionally, sewing machines should only be used on delicate leathers and never on thicker leathers which may become stuck, damaged, or cause damaged to the machine. Being as this is the case, I have narrowed down the three tools to be as follows.
The Awl is a bit like a hole punch, but also a bit like a needle and so it should be considered a stitching device, especially if you get one of the higher ended tools which allows for an all-in-one stitching unit. There are tools which do not have the all in one design. These appear to be similar to metal pikes, and function in much of the same method. When using such devices, do not impale the leather. Use judgement as to the depth in which the awl should go through the leather.The function of the device is that you push the awl through the leather (so in this case you would not need holes prior). The Awl has threading within it or attached to it which is then pulled through. It is important that only wax threads be used on leather as they increase the life of the product being designed, water proof the seams to an extent, and they do not easily fray when sewing the leather.
Those which do not wish to use the Awl or those which have areas where using an awl would prove to be impractical, should hand sew the seam. Practice on scrap leather if you have not mastered the art of sewing. As there are a large variety of sewing needles on the market, it is advised that you purchase an array of sizes and diameters. It is always better to have more than to have to stop a project mid-stream and purchase needles, threads, and awls.
The edges are done and the product is stitched together, but it does not look as nice as you wanted it to. Why is this? The answer lies in the details. While the two categories above will help in getting you something put together, they do not provide you with the flare and the POP that a leather product requires to look professional. For that, you will need to have a level of experience and training as well as tools which will add those fine details which really accent a piece. Here are a few:
If you have ever seen a low-end product, such as a poorly constructed leather jacket, then you will know that most of the detail work is in how the artisan handles the edges of the leather. An Edge Slicker gets rid of the flat and unprofessional look of the seams. Additionally, adding a crease around the stitching can aesthetically boost the dynamics of the project. The adjustable edge creaser does just what it implies. The artisan adjusts via a screw the width from the edge that he or she wishes the crease to be. Once such is set, the device is placed upon the edge and pushed forward to create the seam. You can use the edger after you have stitched a product. However, I would advise to do so prior to putting everything together as this provides less strain upon the stitches and offers better control. Look on the market for various creasers, as the depth and design of these tools varies slightly from brand to brand.
Design Chisels should be one of the finishing touches that you add to your piece. The selection is limitless and one can find about any design for any personality or project. Keep in mind that there is a difference between accenting a piece and making it into a novelty product. Do not rely upon the chisels to carry your work, but rather have the designs highlight your skills. To use the design chisels, you will need to have your mallet and the then tap the design into the leather. Keep in mind that you will want to keep the chisel as level as possible in order to avoid strange depth and angles.
Leather Cleaners and Conditioners
When the project is finished, you will want to give your leather the best presentation. Clean the product, condition it, and polish it with a leather cleaner and conditioner catered to the type of leather that you are working with. Not every cleaner can work with every leather. You would not put the same level of cleaner on Nubuck that you would put upon calfskin. Alligator hide would take a whole different type of treatment.
While you can acquire all of the tools of the leather trade. If you are not familiar with how they function, you will be handicapped in what you can do. For the most part, it is practice which will hone your skills as a leather artisan. I would recommend that you stock up on some leather scraps and practice with the tools in order to master each. If you get stuck, don't hesitate to contact me directly via blog comment. My blog has a ton of resources to help you becoming a leather artisan.