Leather Work Tips

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Leather Work Tips

By: Jake Berlin

For leather work, consider the basics: an awl and spare point, a retractable X-acto knife and spare blades, a retractable knife with a break-off blade and a rotary punch. In addition, you'll need needles, a lump of beeswax and some waxed linen thread.

As well, a pair of pliers to pull the needle through the leather is a must, and scissors you can use for cutting the leather. Then there are edge slickers and bevellers that are used to finish the edges, drive punches for bigger holes and thong cutters for making laces. A T-square, compass and yardstick are essential to ensure that your leather work is measured accurately.

If you're just starting out with leather work, you might not want to spend a lot of money on tools. Once you've worked with the basic set and completed a few projects, you'll have a better idea of what tools work best and what you use most. At that point, a little research and some comparative shopping can lead you to acquiring some better quality tools that will enhance your leather work.

Of course, even the most expensive tools won't help if you haven't taken the time to develop and perfect your craft. If you do your very best with what you have, it doesn't matter if you can't afford the most expensive awl or the latest knife. Quality will show anyway.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Start with a basic tool set.

  • Buy better quality tools once you've completed some projects and have a better idea of what will enhance the quality of your leather work.

  • Study the various types of leather before starting.

Tooling Leather

There are many different types of leather available, some better than others, depending upon the project you have in mind. Vegetable-tanned leather, also called tooling leather, has been processed using vegetable dyes rather than chemicals. It's usually flesh-colored and is excellent for a variety of projects, especially if the top is to be stamped or tooled. Because it has a relatively rigid structure, this type of leather is ideal for leather work items like book covers and belts.

Latigo

Oil-tanned leather, also called latigo, unlike other leathers, has a waxy surface and is ideal for leather work projects where durability and flexibility are a must, such as for tack and saddles. Avoid using it though if you don't want the finished product to have stretch and flexibility, such as in dog collars. Bear in mind also that it can't be tooled or stamped.

Top Grain Leather

Top grain leather has one smooth side, called grain, which is the skin side, and a rough inner side, the flesh side. Either side can be used, rough or smooth.

Chrome-Tanned Leather

Chrome-tanned leather is dyed with modern chemicals such as chromium and comes in a variety of colors, is often white on one side, though the cut edges can be a different color than the facing. It's relatively inexpensive, but not very breathable, and can't be tooled or stamped because it's too soft for leather work and it's waterproof

Weight of Leather

Leather thickness is given in ounces. The heavier the weight, the thicker the leather is. Calf or goat skin is generally 2 ounces or 1/32 inch thick. One ounce is 1/64th of an inch thick. On the other end of the scale, 8 ounce leather is usually 1/8 inch thick.

Summary:

  • Tooling leather is the best choice for most leather work projects.

  • Latigo leather is great for durables like tack and saddles.

  • Choose suede and garment leather when making clothing.

  • The heavier the weight of leather, the thicker it is.

  • When ordering leather through the mail, try some sample swatches first.

  • Keep your leather soft and supple with the proper oil.

About The Author

Jake Berlin


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