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  • Starting leathercraft, what tools and several easy projects

    A guide to leatherwork tools and a first project


       Two of the questions I am most often asked is, “Where do I start, and what tools do I need?” I admit that it can all seem a bit daunting at first, as there are so many things you can make, and so many different types of tools available. For something a little more in depth please take a look at our Starting leather work - what tools page.


    So, take a deep breath and sit down. Start with something simple, say a keyring. Find out if you enjoy what you are doing first, before laying out lots of cash. Let the tools you need be dictated to you, by the project that you are doing. It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of the cheaper tools are not man enough for the job. So initially go for something in the mid-range price bracket, and slowly upgrade the ones you find yourself using the most. 


      Let’s get back to our keyring. The first thing we are going to buy is a reasonable craft knife, some blades, and either a poly cutting or cutting board. This poly board will help to protect your worktop and tools by providing an impact absorbing surface, the same with the cutting mat, except you cannot use it for punch based tools as it is too thin.  Now, the most important bit, some leather, 2 to 3mm Veg Tanned leather will be ideal for a variety of small projects. If you buy leather that has already been dyed, you will not be able to stamp or carve it.


     Now cut your key ring into shape. You should only need one blade, but if you find the leather is getting hard to cut, change it. You can make the keyring any shape you want, but the most important part is the tail at the top, this is where the split ring will sit that holds the keys. If you want to do a carved, or stamped finish, just cut a rough shape, larger than the shape you want. Why? Sometimes when you are stamping or carving the shape can become distorted, after all the leather your shaping must go somewhere. So, we have our keyring shape, what next? It’s a bit plain looking, so let’s decorate it! There are so many options available, you can use concho’s, stamps, paint it, carve it, it’s up to you! 




    keyring pattern ideas

    keyring pattern ideas

    Concho Keyring

    Let’s start with the concho, a concho fits in two ways, depending on the concho. They will have either a screw, or a riveted back. Either way you are going to need a holepunch and possibly a rivet setter, as you may want to rivet the tail together rather than sew it. So, try to get either a set, or a single holepunch that will do both jobs. Also, you will need a rawhide or poly maul/hammer to hit the punch with, here it may be worth buying a decent hammer, especially if you decide you are in it for the long haul. Never, never, use a metal hammer on your leather tools as it will damage them. Make your hole or holes if riveting. Even with the concho placed on the surface (don’t set it yet!) it still looks a bit plain. If your edges are a bit ragged, you may want to purchase an edge beveller. This rounds off the edges making them look neater, you could also use a bit of sandpaper, but this can take longer and if you are not careful ruin your work. If you are going stitch the top do not sand or bevel the inside edge of the tail or it will look odd and not meet properly when sewn. Now go onto the section about dyeing and painting leather. Once you are happy with all that you’ve done see the section on finishing. 

    Aged silver dragon concho

    Aged silver dragon concho

    Casing leather for carving and stamping

    This is probably the most important step to do before carving or stamping leather. The reason we case leather is to achieve a level of moistness that allows proper tooling. Leather that has been cased properly will mean crisper, and better coloured tooling. First wet the leather with clean water and sponge. Then let it start to return to its natural colour. Place the leather into a sealable bag and leave it sealed overnight in the bag. Ideally when you take it out, it should be nearly back to its natural colour and slightly cool to the touch. If you find the leather is getting too dry you may wipe it again with a damp sponge. If you do this too frequently though you will lose the definition of the carving or stamping. 

    Cased leather, ready for carving and stamping.

    Cased leather, ready for carving and stamping.

    Stamped Finish

      

    Again, there are so many different types of stamps, but they all work in the same way. So, what do you need? A rawhide or poly maul/hammer, a marble slab (see if there is either a kitchen worktop place near you or a funeral mason, they often have off cuts you can take) your stamps and probably a stamp handle as well. Both the stamping and carving of leather require another technique called casing, so read that section first. Place your cased keyring on the slab, simply decide where you want to stamp then hit it! Well sort of, when I stamp I tend to tilt it, one tilted up slightly, to the right, down, left, then a final central strike. This tends to even out the imprint. With stamping if you are not happy with the imprint you can slide the stamp back into the impression and strike it again. When your finally happy with your design you can go onto the dyeing and painting section.

    Wolf stamp on properly cased leather,

    Wolf stamp on properly cased leather,

    Carving Leather

      

    Ok, this is a lot slower and more time consuming. Personally. I enjoy the carving side, I find it relaxing and satisfying. So again, what do you need? A swivel knife, leather strop, jewellers rouge, matting stamp, and one, or two bevelers. I say one or two as you may want to add a bit more depth and texture to your carving, especially if you are doing one of the Celtic patterns below. Finally, some tracing film, pencil, and a ball ended stylus. Cut and bevel along the black lines. If you look at you beveler stamp you will see that it is a wedge shape, you want the thicker part pressed up along the cut line. See those green arrows? Well if you decided to get a textured beveler you may want to use it here. Remember the knot weaves under itself so make sure you get the thick part pointing in the direction of the arrow. Lastly the red bits here you want your matting or background stamp. You may need to case the leather again if the impressions are not clear or as deep as you expected. In the same breath if your leather is too wet you will end up with a mushy look. Remember always hold your tools up right and not at an angle. Good Luck!!!

    Sample Celtic Knot Pattern for leatherwork

    Sample Celtic Knot Pattern for leatherwork

    Painting and Dyeing Leather

    Acrylic paints are ideal for leather as they are flexible and won’t crack. Just apply with a paint brush as you would normally. Ideally it should have the consistency of thick cream. Poster style paints are too chalky, and watercolour paints leave a washed, almost distressed look. Oil paint can be used but does take a long time and tends to be a little on the thick side. 

    Leather dye can be applied in the same way, but you must be quick as it dries very quickly, and you can be left with a streaky finish. if you are doing a large area a wool dauber, or even an airbrush may give a more even finish. 

    Once the dye or paint is dry, the final step is to add a coat or two of resolene. Resolene is an acrylic finish which gives the leather a little water proofing and stops the leather dye from leaking through. Wear latex or rubber gloves while dying as it will stain your fingers. Like acrylic paint, leather dye can be miked to create different hues, BUT it must be of the same type. I.E. Solvent based can only be mixed with solvent based dyes, water with water, and oil with oil. Water based dye can be thinned with water to create a lighter wash, oil and solvent based dyes require something like Fiebing’s Dye Reducer.

    Now fold over the tail insert a split ring and rivet through the two holes so that the tail makes a loop around the ring, and there you have it, a finished keyring!

    Stamped and painted leather keyring

    Stamped and painted leather keyring

    Downloads - keyring Patterns and leather carving patterns

    Pages which you may download and print showing a range of keyring and carving patterns.