The International Leather Journal
The Talk of the Craft
The Talk of the Craft
Sometimes I think back to grammar school, art class, the school plays…and memories come to mind. I start to reminisce of enjoyable moments, and the feelings they bring up again. As I reflect on them, sometimes with a big smile on my face, I begin to realize why they’re so meaningful. Was it the music? In part. Was it the new skills I was learning, Yes, some. Was it the newness of everything, experiencing many exciting new things so often, to some degree, yes. Ultimately, I realize, it was the people.
The people make all of those experiences special; the memories happy, the laughs genuine. They taught me lessons about things, and helped me learn about myself. They gave me advice, helpful criticisms, support, encouragement, friendship, mentorship, and belonging. Together we learned and grew and developed ways to express ourselves in unique ways.
The leathercraft community is very much the same. Having been a part of it for some time (and still far less than the masters of the craft and all the local crafters who have helped shaped what it is today), I feel it to be a very similar experience. A group of positive, creative, genuine, and supportive people. It’s a special place to be and meaningful group to be a part of.
I see those similar patterns of joy growing; sharing insights, giving support, providing helpful and honest criticism, and learning together. A mutual respect for the love of the craft, regardless of skill level. It’s the human, personal journey we are each on; with a shared interest in developing skills and expressing ourselves through this medium. Some artistry is musical, some is physical like dancing, or athletics. Some is imaginary like philosophy, story-telling, or playwriting.
Leather artistry can be both beautiful, and functional; a portrait carving that is photo-realistic, or a belt that is worn every day. It becomes an expression that we experience in everyday life in many different ways.
And what helps us? What educates us? What inspires us? What supports us? What makes us feel good when we think back to a certain class or chat or workshop or hangout with friends while crafting? Yes, it’s the people – the true magic behind leathercraft.
So thank you to those of you who make this special thing, special. And often, think of those around you who have taught, learned, inspired, supported, joked, and laughed right along with you. They’re all around, and that group is growing every day the more we each take those moments to really enjoy those times and bring warmth and genuineness to the leathercraft community, and to one another. Through what we do, and what we share, incredible things are possible.
Maybe thank them today, or when you talk with them next. Cheers to each of you, and to all of those whom inspire us as crafters, and as people. Let’s dive into another issue, there are some things in here we think you’ll really enjoy.
In This Issue
Statistics & Trends
What's New & Popular
Baseball season is here! America’s favorite pastime is accentuated with leather from gloves to the coverings on baseballs. But, have you ever wondered what it would be like to re-cover some of the old baseballs you have lying around? Re-covering baseballs allows you to design your very own custom baseballs. You can add embossed leather, oil tans, tooled veg tan, or any type of leather and create a nice conversation piece the next time you play catch. It’s easy too, all you have to do is remove the old covering, create a template from it, and cut and stitch the new leather on. You can also use a pre-punched shape that is almost an exact fit to the original covering. It’s an enjoyable way to spend a few hours while listening to or watching your favorite team.
Don’t you hate it when you go to the shoe store, find a nice pair, and they don’t have your size? Why not make your own? Traditional shoe-makers use a lot of different specialty tools, but you don’t have to if you start by making an easy pair of DIY leather sandals. There are a lot of different patterns and templates available on Etsy so the sky’s the limit for customizing your own pair. Typically, there is little stitching required depending on the design, but you can have your own stylish pair of handmade sandals when finished and you won’t have to worry about the store not having your size this summer.
Who doesn’t love a good Ren Faire? Smoked meats, crafts, and costumes. Sign me up. I’ll have to make some armor first to fit in. Armor can be made from 8-12 oz. veg tan and makes for the perfect use of the new scale stamp or tooling pattern. Another big hit at Ren Faires are leather cuffs and bracers that add the perfect accent to your look.
Perspectives on the Craft
Choosing the Right Leather for a Project
By Dillan Conn
In the world of makers and creators – whether you’re a chef, a woodworker or a leather craftsman – the final product is directly related to the materials you start with. This correlation doesn’t only apply to the quality of components but also in choosing the appropriate supplies.
In leather there are far more than a handful of decisions to be made before you even begin crafting your piece. These choices are born out of your end goal, the rate of use (or abuse) your product will endure, size, style and even your level of crafting experience. Today we’ll run through a quick overview of some things you want to keep in mind when selecting the leather for your next project.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into qualities and types of leather here is an article posted over at Liberty Leather Goods which gets into some of the nitty-gritty details about how a hide is cut, prepared and the technical side of what makes different leathers fall into their distinct categories. Within that article you can find even more in-depth resources on grain leather and the more affordable bonded leather.
Chrome vs Veg Tanned
One of the overarching elements in the choosing leather you work with will be how it was tanned – chrome tanned versus vegetable tanned (a.k.a. “veg tanned”). The difference in how a piece of leather was “tanned” refers to a process all leathers go through which permanently alters the animal skin to ensure its durability, color and longevity.
Chrome tanned leather makes up approximately 80 percent of the world’s leather supply with the remaining leather being veg tanned. The popularity of chrome tanned leather is thanks to the speed and economically-beneficial process of using chromium salts to accomplish the tanning process. Chrome tanned leather usually ends up both thinner and stretchier than veg tanned leather and is considered to be less durable. Nonetheless it’s found in cars with leather interior and is suitable for projects that won’t be subjected to extremely heavy distress.
Vegetable tanned leather, processed with organic materials – most often tree bark – is time consuming and requires a higher level of skill to accomplish. With that in mind, it is more expensive but offers a host of benefits. Veg tanned leather is thicker, more durable or hard wearing and has the ability to develop a desirable patina with usage and age. Because of its more supple “hand” (a term referring to the materials softness) this leather is used for most luxury shoes, boots and bags.
Top Grain vs. Full Grain
Another common distinction to be aware of when sourcing leather is the difference between “full grain” and “top grain” leather. These two leathers are similar in that they are both highly workable and found in the top layer of an animal hide. Full grain leather comes from the outermost layer of the hide, referred to as the “grain”, and keeps with it a fibrous or rustic texture many leatherworkers find attractive. It is thick, extremely durable and will hold up well to abuse.
This doesn’t mean top grain leather is weak or even inferior, this is where we find a tradeoff between the two cuts of leather. Top grain leather has been sanded or buffed in such a way that smooths out potential imperfections in a full grain hide, offering a more supple feel and a thinner, more pliable piece to work with. The gained flexibility is absolutely necessary for certain projects and trust this leather still holds up well.
Pro tip: Some leatherworkers enjoy mixing the two types of leather in one piece/project to add an attractive difference in texture.
Thickness/Weight of Leather
We’ve touched briefly on the aspects of how leather processing affects the thickness of a final piece of leather. The first step in deciding what thickness you’ll want to be working with is understanding how leather thickness is measured. Generally, leather is measured in weight (oz) rather than thickness (mm). Every project is going to have different requirements and it’s important to know what you’re ordering – especially if you’re purchasing online.
Leather can range from 1 oz. (0.4 mm) all the way up to 16 oz. (6.4 mm) and you don’t want to be caught with the wrong material for your project. For instance, you wouldn’t want to use a 14 oz. leather for a small bracelet because it would be huge on the wearer’s wrist. Just the same, a 2 oz. piece of leather used as a belt would surely break. Here is a handy chart to reference if you’re unsure on what thickness of leather to purchase for your next project.
While it is a quick overview of the many differences we have to choose from in the leather world, hopefully it will be helpful when you pop into your local leather shop or dial up your favorite supplier online. Don’t forget to click the links near the top of the article to gain even more insight into how leathers are processed and what makes each material unique. Happy crafting!
Heritage & Upcoming
Heritage: The Origin of Tanneries Part 2 - An overview into the tanneries of the world
By Dan Snyder
In our last issue we discussed the tanning process, now let’s take a look into some different tanneries in the world.
It goes without saying that much has changed in the world in 40,000 years since man first started tanning hides, but the fundamental process used in producing leather has remained largely the same–well from a chemical standpoint. However, there are a number of tanneries still in operation that have seemed to perfect the formula for making high-quality leather and one of them is Missouri’s own Hermann Oak Leather Company
Based in St. Louis, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River. Hermann Oak has been in operation since 1881. Specializing in vegetable-tanned cowhides, harness, skirting, and bridle leather, Hermann Oak is world-renowned for their leather. The company supplied leather to the military in both World Wars and their process for producing high-quality carving and stamping leather remains largely unchanged. Shep Hermann, fourth-generation owner, has employed sustainable ecological practices to reduce the environmental impact of leathermaking as well as implementing new technology to increase the efficiency of the whole process. You can view a list of Hermann Oak distributors on their website.
This Chicago-based tannery has been in business since 1905 and is famous for its Shell Cordovan. And, if you’ve played a game of catch recently, odds are the football, baseball or even glove leather came from Horween. They are also known for their Chromexcel leather that sports a polished finish and ages beautifully using the same 100-year-old recipe. Check out their website for more information and if you haven’t gotten a chance to use any Shell Cordovan, be sure to take a look at some of the wallets and shoes produced with their leather.
This family-owned tannery was founded in 1932 in Veracruz, Mexico. Their vegetable tanning process takes 45 days from start to finish. This leather is known for aging beautifully and developing a fine patina over time. Chahin partners with Weaver Leather and promotes a culture that focuses on sustainable practices. You can find out more here.
S.B. Foot Tanning Co.
Located in Red Wing, Minnesota, S.B. Foot was founded in 1872 by Silas Buck Foot. Known for their top-tier footwear leather, it’s no surprise that S.B. Foot is the leather producer for Red Wing Shoes. Majority of the boots worn by US soldiers from WWI to the present were made using S.B. Foot-tanned leathers. Their hides come freshly prepared in a state called “Wet Blues” which refers to the blue toned color of them. Those hides are then soaked in a variety of tanning agents for an extended period and then finished to deliver quality leather to their customers. Learn more here.
Wickett & Craig
Originally started in 1867 in Toronto, Canada, Wickett & Craig has since relocated to Curwensville, Pennsylvania. Wickett & Craig makes high-quality vegetable-tanned leather at a state-of-the-art 16 acre facility. Their leathers are used in shoes, bags, belts, and equestrian gear. Some of their best stuff, in my opinion, is their oiled-tanned latigo line. This latigo is hot dipped in a blend of oils and waxes designed to make it withstand the elements. It’s beautiful stuff, take a look for yourself on their website.
To find local tanneries around the world, click here to visit our Global Leather Directory – there is a Tanneries tab, click that and look for those near you.
Digital Drawing Programs
By Dan G.
Planning out our projects can often lead to better results. Often, we do this by hand-sketching the ideas first, refining the general direction, then drawing out more detailed and exact patterns that we can use for cutting, as templates, as patterns, and for carving. While doing this by hand is a timeless practice, drawing these out digitally on a computer can have huge benefits too.
Computer-based drafting, drawing, and illustration programs (sometimes referred to as Computer Aided Drafting & Design – CADD) can be huge time-savers while also producing precise results. And believe it or not, the learning curve can be surprisingly easy.
These digital drawing programs utilize software on a computer to draw lines and points and all sorts of shapes. Let’s look at a few of the key benefits:
Fast to Draw – Using a mouse, finger, or pointer, lines and shapes can be added to a design in truly seconds. You can start to see it come to life, copy and paste shapes across your design, and even brainstorm a few concepts all in one file.
Precise – Most of these programs also have precise measurements that display as you’re creating shapes and lines, allowing you to create layouts of exact-dimensions. They also have design-grids (a way of laying out the shapes), so they move and align to precise points as you work (for example, the center of a belt, middle of a circle, edge of a line). This allows for very accurate layout.
Fast to Update – Digital files can be copied, pastes, and scaled with ease. If you had a 3” circle as part of a design, no need to redraw with a compass. Just click the circle, type in 4”, and now your circles are perfect 4” circle. This can be done for all shapes and lines (squares, rectangles, spacing, offsets, etc.)
Easy to Share – The digital files can be exported in many formats, and even allow someone else to use your file in their program, adjusting it as they need for their project or preferences. No reinventing the wheel needed, just more designing and crafting 🙂
Great for High-Volume Work – Some manufacturers today are working with faster production using laser cutting machines. The files used to guide the laser cutters are made, you guessed it, with digital drawing programs. So if you’re planning on making designs for this type of production, making them in a digital drawing file will help the process go fast and easy.
Help with Etching – Laser cutters also use these digital files the instruct them how to etch patterns into leather. We’re seeing this more and more now for names, logos, and words, and designs of all sorts in leather surfaces.
Vector-Based – oh no, what is this?? Vector-based programs just mean that the drawings use math to know what your sketch is all about. Instead of a fixed line on paper being, say, 1” away from the next line, it just knows that this line is a certain distance from another line. So if you wanted to take a tiny belt design for a puppy, and make the same design for a big dog, no need to re-draw everything! Just “scale” it larger, and the entire design proportionally increases in size in seconds. Magic!
So what to use? Let’s take a look at some of the more popular options. We’ll focus on 2D programs here, meaning they work in 2-dimensions (essentially left-right, and top-bottom), just like sketching on a piece of 8.5” x 11” paper. There are 3D programs too which allow us to draw 3-dimensional objects, though those are for exploring a different type of modeling than our more common hand-sketching.
Adobe Illustrator – this is a vector-based program, available for MAC, PC, and Mobile, that is an industry standard.
Affinity Designer – this is another great program available on Mac, PC, and Mobile. Click here for details.
Corel Draw – another powerful choice, for Mac and PC. Click here for details.
Adobe Photoshop – this is a photo-editing program more than a drawing/illustration program, and is not vector-based, though can be used to draw concepts and designs, and is a popular tool.
Adobe Illustrator Draw for iPad – this is a free version of the powerful program, for iPad. Click here for more details.
Inkscape – this is a popular, free drawing program for Mac and PC. Click for details.
Figma – an online-based UX (user experience) design tool, this can also be used for very fast and intuitive project idea drawing. Click for details.
Gimp – this is a popular, open source image editing program. Think of it like a free version of Photoshop. Some features differ, though it’s exceptional for a free program. Click for details.
There are also so many other options available, including Apps that can be used on mobile devices. This can make digital drawing very accessible, portable, and easy. One can draw come concept ideas while they’re out on a hike, or sitting in the yard, then bring them back into the shop.
Some programs even let you start sketching on an app, then share that file with a larger, desktop computer for more detailed drawings or adjustments later. So even the design workflow can begin to change, where a crafter can start a design in one place (on their mobile phone, sitting on the train), and finish it at home (on their laptop computer). Digital design workflow can be an entire article all it’s own, so for here, just know that using computer based drawing tools can be a huge help.
This is just a tiny tip-of-the-iceberg look into digital design tools. So if you’re already familiar and looking to try them out, or just learning about them and curious for more, it’s definitely worth checking into digital drawing programs to help with leather crafting. Ultimately, they can allow us to make more accurate designs, faster, and provide us more time for what we all enjoy, the crafting!
Pioneers of the Craft
An Embodiment of the Craft - With Jim Linnell
By Dan Snyder
While I was writing this, I was having trouble coming up with an introduction for our next interviewee. After all, the saying is true. He is a man that needs no introduction. It is safe to say that Jim Linnell’s work in the leather industry has positively reverberated into the lives of many. From his award-winning artwork to teaching thousands of others across the world, Jim’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things leather and his dedication to promoting the industry is a testament to the fundamental core belief of our publication. We are but students of history.
He’s a self-described leather geek and after having the opportunity to chat with him, it’s definitely a moniker that is well-earned.
You’ve spent 55 years right in the middle of the leather crafting industry, but there had to be a time where you weren’t working with a piece of leather right? What was that like and how did you stumble into the wide and wonderful world of leather?
I was born and raised in Montana and up there you had the opportunity to take industrial arts classes and leatherwork was one of them. That’s where I fell in love with leatherworking in the 7th grade and I bugged my folks until they got me a basic tool kit from Tandy. I found out that it was pretty easy for me and I got pretty good at it. When I got into High School I continued to take those classes probably because they were easy for me. After High School I went to work for a construction company and during the winter months I went to work for a saddle shop. They gave me a chance, so for the next four years I did all the custom work for this shop on the side. That’s what I loved to do.
The way that turned into a career was that I was in Billings, Montana and happened to pick up the newspaper and saw that Tandy Leather was looking for employees and thought that would be awesome. I went to the Tandy store wearing a hard hat and coveralls and covered in grease and said, ‘I hear you’re looking for some help’ which got a lot of weird looks. I showed him some of my work and I got the job. I left a job where I was making $15/hr on a Friday and went to work making $2.65/hr (minimum wage at the time) on a Monday. That was the beginning of my career at Tandy and led me to teaching a lot of classes.
After almost four decades at Tandy, I’m sure you had a lot of job titles. Are there any particularly memorable projects that you started or were involved with?
Certainly the most rewarding thing was reestablishing the Tandy Leather chain. At the time, I was the face of Tandy. I was going to all these leather shows and I was the guy in the Tandy booth and teaching all of these classes. It was very satisfying to have that out there, because without those retail stores out there this craft could have dwindled down to nothing. Having those retail stores is essential to the growth of this craft. The future of this craft will continue.
Knowledge and practice are keystones to learning a skill. What other attributes are good to have as a leather crafter?
If somebody is wanting to get into leather craft those things certainly are the most important.
They need to learn those basics and they need to practice those basics. I teach a lot of classes, I’m teaching one here in three hours but the one thing everyone of these people need is to practice and that can be expensive, you know, leather isn’t cheap, it’s not free, but you still need to practice. So one of the things that I tell folks in those beginners classes is that I believe leatherwork is one of the few hobbies you can ever get into that will pay for itself. And by that, I mean if you went over and bought a belt blank from Kevin (Hopkins, owner of Springfield Leather) there it’s going to be a lot cheaper than going over to the store and buying a finished belt and it’s a better piece of the leather.
You could then build belts and, you know, charge 10 bucks over what you paid in materials and somebody would be happy as all get out to get a belt from you at that great price. And you know what? You practice on their nickel. You get somebody paying you to do the thing that you need the most when you’re starting out and that is you gotta practice.
Because of things like Facebook and the internet I have seen leather work that just blows my imagination. I mean, I’ve seen leather work that I would have never believed or ever had been exposed to without this device called the internet.
So I think in that regard it’s awesome that it’s expanding the awareness of this craft. However, the bad part of it is that there are brand new people that want to learn how to do leather work and so they go searching on YouTube, but the person doesn’t know if they’re getting good instruction or not. They may be getting somebody sharing with them the bad habits that they figured out how to make work. And so now they’re starting out with this bunch of bad habits that they have to try to work through themselves.
Even when I do the video classes, I try my best to explain the why, why I do it the way I do it and so forth, but I can’t see what they’re doing.
And since I retired, I think I put up something like 135 different videos now, but none of those are as good as an in-person class. That’s still the best way to learn if people have a chance to do that.
In what ways can other leather crafters help promote and grow the industry?
That’s a great question. First of all, I think everybody who has been blessed and enjoys this craft has a responsibility to pass that on. Every one of us are leather workers today because somebody, somewhere has influenced us.
We saw something that someone made. Somebody took the time to explain a few basic things to us. And I think everybody who has enjoyed this craft, has a responsibility to do the same and it doesn’t have to be in some big formal class where you have hundreds of people or anything like that. It can be one-on-one with a grandchild or one-on-one with a relative or a friend. That is how it’s passed on. I asked people and they say ‘oh no, I’m not a teacher, I can’t teach.’ Well, all teaching is is sharing what you know.
I didn’t know I was a teacher until people said, ‘how do you do that?’ Well, let me show you. Here’s how I do it. That’s teaching and anybody can do that.
After being so involved in the retail aspect of the industry, how has it grown over the years and what do you think the future holds?
I think the future is great. On display in my shop I have leather on display from Al Stohlman, Ken Griffin, Bill Gomer, so I have a ton of leatherwork here to look at and I get inspired every time I go out to my shop. Every one of those pieces are still continuing to teach people. What does that have to do with the future? Well, we don’t have to start from scratch. We don’t have to go out and figure out how to make our own tools or make our own patterns, we have the tools available to use.
We get to start where they left off, and that’s my goal for the future. I want to make sure that there is nothing left in the library of me that I haven’t shared, so that future generations can take whatever I’ve done and then take it to the next level. And I think that’s what any teacher aspires to do. To have their students do a better job than they ever could.
Do you have a tool or a certain leather item that holds significant importance to you? A favorite carving or pattern?
No, it’s hard to say that. If you saw the collection that’s here you’d realize how hard it is to say that one’s my favorite because every one is unique and you know I guess the ones that are most special to me are the ones that people gave me.
Somebody just recently sent me a piece of leather work by Ken Griffin, and that was done probably around 1949. It was the leather work was done on the very first Tandy Leather catalog.
I can look at it and I have that piece of leather here. I can touch it. I run my hands over it. It is a piece of leather that was there at the beginning of what we do today.
Heritage is such a valuable part of our craft and you’ve been deeply involved in researching and sharing that with the community via the Leaders in Leather area of your website. What part of the heritage would you like more crafters to learn and know about?
Some of them might be only aware of it because of what they’ve discovered on the internet. But this goes back farther than that. When I was over in Spain, I was talking about what we do here in the US, but they were doing a lot of leather work over there long before we ever got a hint about it here and then they came over to this country and brought their horse culture.
And along with that horse culture, came all of the tack builders and the people that needed to maintain that tack. So [leatherworking] has been handed down a long way and I think that’s important that we don’t lose that heritage because when we do, we lose some of the richness of the craft. We lose some of the depth of that heritage.
The work you have done in promoting and teaching the craft is tremendous. Myself and others I know have greatly benefitted from your lessons. It’s not surprising that you won the Al Stohlman award. What was it like winning the award?
It was more than stunning. Ann Stohlman happened to be there the year I won the Stohlman Award in 2002. She actually hung that medal around my neck. To have Ann Stohlman hang that medal on my neck was a pivotal moment. If there is such a thing as a lifetime achievement award, that was it. It’s humbling to be put into those categories and have my name mentioned with others that have won that award.
Okay, so this is the one question I ask everyone, what is your worst piece of advice?
The worst piece of advice would be to give up. The word give up should never be in someone’s vocabulary if they are wanting to learn this craft.
I’m better at giving good advice and one thing I tell people is go and find someone’s work that you respect and learn from it. Learn everything you can from that mentor until you have a good solid foundation. Also, the most important class that will ever be taught is a beginner’s class.
Tools, Techniques, & Leather Types
Tools - Japanese Screw Punch (best tool ever!)
By Dan Snyder
Most people like to watch Netflix or go on a walk when they’re bored. Not me, I like to go to my local leather shop and walk around looking at the stuff I wish I could afford. Except this time I found something special.
One of the workers there brought it to my attention and told me it was the best thing since sliced bread. He then showed me how it works. I was amazed. Money was suddenly no issue because I had to add this to my literal toolbox.
What is it you may ask? It is…(drumroll please)…a Japanese Screw Punch also called a Yankee Punch. So what does it do? Well it screws and twists and punches a hole in leather. It’s fantastic. I don’t know why I have never heard of or seen one before. The reason I bought it was because the worker that showed it to me used it to put a 2mm hole cleanly through a piece of 13+ oz. skirting with minimal effort. All you do is place the tip on the area you want a hole, press down, and the punch “screws” a hole out of the leather. No mauls or mallets required. It works great consistently on leather ranging from one to nine ounces, anything heavier may require a bit more twisting and force to get a clean hole. Say you’re in a library and you’re working on leather but have to be quiet? This little gadget is perfect! The one I bought was around $30 and came with two tips, 2mm and 2.5mm. I have used it quite a bit especially if I have a pattern and have my holes already marked. From what I’ve heard from other crafters, I wouldn’t recommend buying the ones you see on Amazon due to the poor quality. See if your local shop has one or you can get one here.
Techniques - Preparing Leather for Stamping or Carving
By Bob George
This article specifically discusses veg-tan leather that will be stamped or carved. In order to get really defined cuts or stamp marks in leather, it needs to be wetted; but not too wet. There are about as many ways to do this as there are people carving/stamping leather. I have personally tried multiple ways to case (term used for leather after water is applied) leather and have settled in my own mind, at least, what works best for me. All leather casing is done with tap water. No additives at all. Cased leather is at its best time to carve/stamp when it comes back close to its original color, after drying a bit; depending on how wet it was. When casing leather, don’t just case the area you will be working, but the entire area so there are no color differences. If one just wets the area of work, it may appear darker or stained when it does completely dry.
The dipping technique literally dips the piece of leather into a water bath for a few seconds, then it is either set aside to dry for a long period of time or placed in a freezer bag overnight. It can take hours for it to dry based on the length of time it spent in the bath.
They actually make misting bottles specifically for spraying water onto leather. It sprays a fine mist. One can find these at sellers of leather goods. You can also use a generic spray bottle that has a variable nozzle to accomplish the same thing. With this method, there is less water applied, but it does need to be applied evenly to avoid “stains.” The dry time is normally in minutes. Again, wait until the natural color of the piece comes back.
Using fresh water and a fresh sponge (make sure the sponge isn’t one used in a kitchen. Most of those now come with an antimicrobial agent in them. Yep…one of my holsters is actually antimicrobial). Soak the sponge in water and lightly apply it evenly to the entire piece of leather, making sure you have good coverage. The best way to tell it is cased well is when the excess water on top of the leather is no longer being absorbed. When it starts pooling on the leather, it is cased well. This method may take five or so minutes before it is ready to work. This technique is the one I find to work best for me.
Regardless of the method one chooses, it is important to experiment, both with method and dry times. Pay attention to the depth of cut or impression. Is the swivel knife pulling freely through the cut? Is it going deep enough? Are your impressions crisp and clear? Pay attention to the force used to strike the stamp. Once one finds that sweet spot, replicate every time.
Of course there are other variables to consider, like sharpness of the blade or thickness and finish of the leather. Just make sure to alway cut a small piece from the leather you will be tooling and practice on it before potentially ruining that next project.
Leather Types - Alligator Leather
By Bob George
American Tanning and Leather, LLC. is a US -based company that produces exotic alligator leather. A good friend of mine, Chandler Plott, is one of the owners. Just like other types of leather, alligator goes through a tanning process, albeit, a little different, but much the same.
Alligator leather, as a finished product, is chrome tanned. There will be no stamping / carving on this leather. It goes through a meticulous process over multiple days to achieve the perfect finish. As part of the tanning process, dyes and finishes are added to really bring it to life. American Tanning has over 300 different colors and can make custom colors as well. In addition, there are multiple finishes, glossy, matte, etc. to add even more variations. Although there may be modern equipment involved in this process, the same steps that were used hundreds of years ago are still employed. Much of the final touches are done completely by hand.
Alligator leather is graded, again, similar to other leathers. The less defects in the leather, the higher the grade. These defects can be healed scars, open scars, holes, parasites (actually look like tiny, round, bored holes), umbilical scars, wrinkling, grain damage, or bones / buttons (circular patterns that form in the skin). The top and bottom of the alligator are graded separately. With wild alligators, the head or tail defects are not included in the grading due to bite marks and injuries. Farm raised alligators have a stricter grading standard. These are more rare and expensive. Top grade is one and the grading goes to grade five.
Skins are measured and sold by the width of the belly in centimeters. It can range anywhere from 20-60+ cm (just under 8 to 23 inches).
Alligator skin can be used in large pieces to make clothing, bags, or outerwear. It can also be used in smaller pieces as inlays in large or small projects; knife sheaths, holsters, guitar straps, etc.
There are strict laws regarding the harvesting of alligators which helps keep their population thriving. Forty to forty-five percent of their habitat, coastal wetlands, is in Louisiana. To promote their population, there are folks who will buy alligator eggs from the landowner and raise the gators to approximately 3 feet in length and return 10 percent of them to the landowner to repopulate.
When one buys a piece of alligator leather, it should have a CITES (Conservation on International Trade In Endangered Species) tag, denoting it was harvested legally and promotes sustainable use programs.
Chandler was kind enough to send me a sample box stuffed with alligator leather of varying colors and hands (the feel of the leather; stiff, soft, smooth, rough). I have used it for inlays in knife sheaths, gun holsters, and a pen holder attached to my Bible.
Featured Channel & Giveaway
Featured Youtube Channel
Legacy Brand Leather
Legacy Brand Leather is a shop based out in Orange, California, USA, started by Ted Atkins in 2016. First introduced to leather in 2001 through Boy Scouts, Ted would come to value and appreciate the craftsmanship, usefulness, and timelessness of quality leather items.
When asked how the channel helps him connect with other crafters in meaningful ways, Ted shared, “Legacy” isn’t just about what we leave behind; it’s also about ‘passing the torch.’ That means sharing a passion, craft, or heirloom with the next generation. Creating videos via my YouTube Channel has allowed me to share my passion for leathercraft with a large community of other crafters across the globe and hopefully inspire them with patterns, or tips and techniques to improve their own craft.”
His channel features lots of great projects and insights to help with your crafting. They are relaxing,informative, inspirational, and definitely worth a watch.
A **Never-Before-Published** Carving Pattern from Jim Linnell!
In this issue, we have a genuinely exciting piece to share with you. Master carver Jim Linnell has shared with us a previously unpublished carving pattern he has designed.
It is a floral sketch in a landscape layout. You can download this image and print it out at the scale/size you would most enjoy carving it in. Jim has an incredible studio, Elktracks, packed with deeply valuable knowledge, instructional videos, patterns, and classes on leathercraft and carving.
For more patterns, click here to view that area on his site, and take a look at the other great resources there. You might be there a while, there’s so much to see 🙂 This is an incredible special pattern to be able to share, please let others know they can come here to enjoy/use it too.
ILC Club News
To Great Beginnings
A Fast-Growing Leather Craft Community
The International Leather Club (ILC) began just last year. It’s incredible to think it’s already 2022, and also unbelievable how much the club has grown in that time with more members joining literally every day. Here are a few highlights:
- Members active in the discussion area, helping one another with project and crafting questions, encouragement, and support
- The Club Points program continues to be fun – earn gift cards through Club participation
- We have added a new section for the Global Leather Directory – it is a searchable map of all things leather craft, globally – events, shows, stores, tanneries, tool makers, and much more. Easily find helpful resources, locally, to you.
We’re really excited where things are going! For more, click below to visit the Club.
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