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Leather crafting

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Modern leather-working tools Leather crafting or simply Leathercraft is the practice of making leather into craft objects or works of art, using shaping techniques, coloring techniques or both.

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1 Dyeing 2 Painting 3 Carving 4 Stamping 5 External links

[edit] Dyeing

A dyed leather carving Leather dyeing usually involves the use of spirit or alcohol based dyes where alcohol quickly gets absorbed into moistened leather, carrying the pigment deep into the surface. "Hi-liters" and "Antiquing" stains can be used to add more definition to patterns. These have pigments that will break away from the higher points of a tooled piece and so pooling in the background areas give nice contrasts. Leaving parts unstained also provides a type of contrast. Alternatives to spirit stains might include a number of options. Shoe polish can be used to dye and preserve leather. Oils such as neatsfoot or linseed can be applied to preserve leather but darkens them. A wax paste more often than not serves as the final coat. Sweat and grime will also stain and 'antique' leather over time. Gun holsters, saddlebags, wallets and canteens used by cowboys and buccaroos were rarely colored in the Old West. The red, brown, and black tones develop naturally through handling and as the oiled leathers absorb the rays of the desert sun. Due to changing environmental laws, alcohol-based dyes are soon to be unavailable.[when?][where?] There are currently water-based alternatives available, although they tend not to work as well.

[edit] Painting
Leather painting differs from leather dyeing in that paint remains only on the surface while dyes are absorbed into the leather. Due to this difference, leather painting techniques are generally not used on items that can or must bend nor on items that receive friction, such as belts and wallets because under these conditions, the paint is likely to crack and flake off. However, latex paints can be used to paint such flexible leather items. In the main though, a flat piece of leather, backed with a stiff board is ideal and common, though three-dimensional forms are possible so long as the painted surface remains secured. Acrylic paint is a common medium, often painted on tooled leather pictures, backed with wood or cardboard, and then framed. Unlike photographs, leather paintings are displayed without a glass cover, to prevent mold.

[edit] Carving
Main article: Leather carving Leather carving entails using metal implements to compress moistened leather in such a way as to give a three dimensional appearance to a two dimensional surface. The surface of the leather is not intended to be cut through, as would be done in filigree. The main tools used to "carve" leather include: swivel knife, veiner, beveler, pear shader, seeder, cam, and background tool. The swivel knife is held similar to pencil and drawn along the leather to outline patterns. The other tools are punch-type implements struck with a wooden, nylon or rawhide mallet. The object is to add further definition with them to the cut lines made by the swivel knife. In the United States and Mexico, the western floral style, known as "Sheridan Style", of carving leather predominates. Usually, these are stylized pictures of acanthis or roses. California, Texas, and a few other styles are common. By far the most preeminent carver in the United States was Al Stohlman. His patterns and methods have been embraced by many hobbyists, scout troops, reenacters, and craftsmen.

[edit] Stamping

Examples of geometric stamping on leather. Leather stamping involves the use of shaped implements (stamps) to create an imprint onto a leather surface, often by striking the stamps with a mallet. Commercial stamps are available in various designs, typically geometric or representative of animals. Most stamping is performed on vegetable tanned leather that has been dampened with water, as the water makes the leather softer and able to be compressed by the design being pressed or stamped into it. After the leather has been stamped, the design stays on the leather as it dries out, but it can fade if the leather becomes wet and is flexed. To make the impressions last longer, the leather is conditioned with oils and fats to make it water-proof and prevent the fibers from deforming.

History of Leather
Leather has played an important role in the development of civilisation. From prehistoric times man has used the skins of animals to satisfy his basic needs. He has used hides to make clothing, shelter, carpets and even decorative attire. To the Egyptian lady, a fur piece was highly prized as her jewellery. From leather, man made footwear, belts, clothing, containers for liquids, boats and even armour. The principle protective armour of the Roman soldier was a heavy leather shirt. In recorded history, pieces of leather dating from 1300 B.C. have been found in Egypt. Primitive societies in Europe, Asia and North America all developed the technique of turning skins into leather goods independently of one another. The Greeks were using leather garments in the age of the Homeric heroes ( about 1200 B.C. ), and the use of leather later spread throughout the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, the Chinese knew the art of making leather . The Indians of North America also had developed great skills in leather work before the coming of the white man. At some time, by accident or by trial and error, man discovered methods of preserving and softening leather treating animal skins with such things as smoke, grease and bark extracts. The art of tanning leather using the bark of trees probably originated among the Hebrews. In primitive societies, the art was a closely guarded secret passed down from father to son. As civilisation developed in Europe, tanners and leather workers united in the trade guilds of the Middle Ages, as did the craftsmen in other fields. Royal charters or licences were issued permitting people to practice leather tanning. In the nineteenth century, vegetable tanning, i.e., tanning using the extracts from the bark of certain kinds of trees, was supplemented by chrome tanning. This process uses chemicals and today accounts for about eighty to ninety percent of all tanning done except for the leather used in the soles of shoes and tooling leathers. How leather is sold The most economical way to buy leather is to purchase it directly from the tannery. Leather is usually priced by the square foot and sold as a complete hide. The exact size, to the nearest 1/4 sq.ft., is measured on government approved measuring devices at the tannery. When you purchase leather this way, you are assured of getting value for money. Leather comes from tanneries in various shapes and sizes depending on its intended use and the animal which it came from. One thing to always remember about leather - it is an animals skin that has been processed into finished leather, not a synthetic material. Because of this, the exact size and shape of the finished leather is dictated somewhat by the size and shape of the animal hide that the tannery received to process. For ease of handling during tanning, large animal hides are usually cut into smaller sections ( sides, shoulders, bellies, etc. ) at the tannery. Skins of smaller animals such as calf, goat, pig and reptiles are tanned and sold in their original shape. Although leather is sometimes cut into various shapes for the convenience of the customer, the

price is always higher because of the additional costs for labour and waste. Buying leather is much easier if you understand what the different types of leather are used for, how different leathers are tanned and how large skins are cut and sold. Here are a few of the basic terms used in leather craft with their explanations. We will always be happy to answer any questions you may have about our craft. Leathercraft terms Back. A side with the belly cut off, usually 15 - 18 sq.ft. Belly. The lower part of a side, usually 4 - 8 sq.ft. Kip. The skin of a large calf, usually 9 - 17 sq.ft. Split. This refers to the undersection of a piece of leather that has been split into two or more thicknesses. Splits are usually embossed with a design or sueded. Suede. Leather that has been sanded to produce a nap. Grain. The epidermis or outer layer of animal skins. Full Grain. Leather that is just as it was when taken off of the animal. Only the hair has been removed and the grain or epidermis is left on. NOTE: ONLY FULL GRAIN, VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER will absorb water and tool correctly. All leather carving and tooling must be done on full grain leather. Top Grain. Top grain leather has often been sanded to remove scars and then sprayed or pasted to "cover up" the work. Top Grain IS NOT the same as "Full Grain" leather. To make leather a uniform thickness, first the hides are run through a splitting machine. Since animal hides are not of uniform thickness, and since they are wet when they are put through the splitting machine, thethickness of the leather will not remain the same throughout the hide. There will always be slight variations and that is why leathers are usually shown with a range of thickness - such as 2 - 2.4mm., 3.2 - 3.6mm., etc.


PREPARING - TOOLS - DYES - FINISHING PREPARING THE LEATHER Leather will take up and hold an imprint only if it is damp. So, before work begins with any

tools and before tracing on your design, you need to dampen the leather CASE it is the proper term. Do this with water and a small piece of sponge. The sponge should be pretty damp but not wringing wet. Leave for a minute or so to allow the water to penetrate. TOOLS There are dozens of different metal stamps available from leather craft suppliers. These are also referred to as fancy punches and dies. They range from simple geometric ones to quite complex motif stamps that you can use singly or to make a panel of repeated pattern. Hit them with a mallet and work on leather dampened with water. You can even make your own simple stamps using small lengths of hardwood moulding. These stamps should last pretty well for a good few dozen imprints; then the edges will loose their sharpness. DYES Most of the leather dyes you can buy have a spirit base, are thin like water and soak into leather rapidly. They dry quickly to give permanent waterproof colours. Often they are sold as powders which need to be mixed with methylated spirit, otherwise they come in ready mixed bottles, with tight snap on or screw tops, for mixing or storing. The dyes will come with instructions on how to mix them up so scrutinise the details carefully. You can buy a good range of colours and most of them can be diluted to give lighter shades. Colours can also be mixed, but we find mixing more than two colours turns the dye muddy. FELT TIP PENS You can use these to draw quite intricate designs on hide bags, belts and straps etc. Strong, dark colours work best. Use spirit based markers if you want to put on a saddle soap finish, water based ones will smear. The chunky sort of permanent marker is also useful for colouring bevelled hide edges. Felt tips work equally well on light coloured suede and soft, matt grain leather. Some so-called permanent markers smudge if you get them wet, so again, experiment on scraps first. FINISHING When the leather dries it will probably look pretty dry and dull. Thats because the dye removes some of the natural oils in the leather. Dont worry, you havent finished. You can rub the surface hard with a rag and produce a fair shine. Better still, feed the leather with saddle soap. This will enrich the colours and polish up to a beautiful sheen. SADDLE SOAP This is excellent stuff and we cant recommend it enough. It imparts a smooth natural sheen to grain leather (not suede). There are products around which claim to give all kinds of wonderful gloss or lacquer finishes to leather, but for our money wed rather stick to good old saddle soap. It helps to soften and clean leather, gives it a semi water resistant finish, is safe to use on dyed or untreated leather and you can often get it from shoe shops or hardware stores. Put it on a non-fluff cloth or your fingers and rub well in to bring up a shine. To smooth the fibres on the flesh side of the finished article. A wax polish can be applied sparingly. Good luck!!

Tooling Leather / Art Work

Use vegetable-tanned, light-colored top-grained leather for tooling leather. If youre not sure what you have, test the leathers ability to take a pattern by wetting a corner and making lines with different objects like the edge of a coin. When working with a large piece of tooling leather, tape or glue something to the back to prevent the leather from stretching when you are working on it. The first step involves cutting a design into the leather, followed by creating depressions with various tools that result in elements of the design presenting a raised surface. Tooling leather is done before it is painted or dyed. If the leather becomes dry while you are working on it, moisten with a damp sponge. If youre not able to complete your project in one sitting, store the leather in an appropriately-sized Ziploc bag and place it in the refrigerator.

Choosing and Tracing a Design Choose a design and trace it onto tracing film or wax paper with a pencil. You can get tracing film in most hobby stores. Search the internet and leatherworking books for ideas on tooling leather. Other sources include wood burning and stamp making catalogues, coloring books, seed catalogues (for floral designs) and magazines like National Geographic. Copy and paste this url into your borwser and check out this great site for tooling leather patterns:

Start with something simple if you are just beginning tooling leather, and work up to more complex designs as you gain experience. Paper palette, available at craft stores, consists of paper on one side and a sort of plastic film on the other side. It can be trimmed to fit in your printer. Once you find the design on the internet, simply print it off. The plastic side will protect the design from getting wet when you place it on the damp leather.

Transferring the Pattern

Begin by dampening the leather on both sides with a sponge, or by holding the piece under running water or dipping it in water. Try to avoid soaking the leather, as it becomes too soft to work with. Then place the tracing film on the right side of the leather, using tape at the back of the leather to hold it in place. Using the tip of a ballpoint pen from which the ink cartridge has been removed, trace over the pattern, following the lines, pressing firmly. Instead of a ballpoint pen, you can purchase a special tool called a ballpoint stylus that is specially designed to transfer patterns for tooling leather. Once you remove the film, you can see the design on the leathers surface. If youve made any mistakes, you can smooth them out using the back of a spoon. Using a Swivel Knife Taking a swivel knife, trace over the outline, holding the knife with your index finger resting on the u-shaped section at the top of the handle, while holding the body of the knife between your thumb and your middle finger. The knife should be turned by rotating the body between your thumb and the middle and ring fingers. The knife is held upright at a 90 degree angle to the leather, cutting with the corner of the knife facing you. Dont do multiple cuts over the line and make the cut light enough to just penetrate the grain, about half the thickness of the hide.

Creating Texture and Depressions Use a firm surface such as marble for the next phase, where texture and depressions are created in the leather using a wooden, PVC or rawhide mallet, a beveller, a pear shader and a camouflage tool. Bevellers come in different sizes. Start with three: a small, medium and pointy one. This will give you plenty of versatility when tooling leather. Position the deep part of the beveller into the groove you have made, and the shallow part towards the side you want to push down or depress. Strike the beveller with the mallet. Use the beveller on the outside of the design to create the formation of ridges while giving a raised appearance. By overlapping each stamping, you achieve a smooth and continuous effect. The pear shader is used to depress areas of the design, adding contour and

depth. The camouflage tool works to add texture to the design and is excellent for such fine work as recreating the petals of a flower. Get comfortable with your tools by practicing on scrap pieces of tooling leather. That way youre less likely to make mistakes when you are working with the actual project.