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★ Leather Craft Tutorials | Beginner's Guide & DIY Project Ideas ★

Updated on February 18, 2016
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Leatherworking Lessons & Technique How-Tos

Crafts involving leather are varied and impressive, and if you are interested in making very durable and long-lasting quality products, leatherworking is a perfect skill to learn.

People have been making leather products for hundreds of years, and traditional projects like knife sheaths, gun holsters and belts are still very popular today. There has been a bit of a resurgence of classical crafts due to newer hobbies (like the making of steampunk costumes), and leather cases have become much more in-demand since portable gadgets like iPads and laptops came on the scene.

Animal hide is a very versatile natural product and can be used for many items, especially bags, wallets, purses, jewelry and camera & guitar straps. On this page I have linked to the best DIY ideas and tutorials, plus lessons in different techniques like stamping.

I hope you find this page helpful and inspiring :)

Using Stamps to Add Texture & Patterns

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Best Leatherworking Kits & Sets

Buying a kit or a set of tools can be a very good idea for beginners, and can work out as a better value option also. Here are 5 of the best kits and sets on offer:

Tandy Leather Basic Leathercraft Set 55501-00
Tandy Leather Basic Leathercraft Set 55501-00

An ideal kit for introducing beginners craft techniques. Inside the kit are quality tools and supplies (such as a variety of stamping tools and pieces of leather) which will enable you to make a few different projects including a wallet, a key fob and a coin purse.

 
Tandy Leather Deluxe Leathercraft Set 55502-00
Tandy Leather Deluxe Leathercraft Set 55502-00

This 5-star rated deluxe kit contains a whopping 47 items which allow you to make 7 projects and really get stuck into the world of leather craft with ease.

Techniques you will learn along the way include carving and lacing.

 

An Introduction

All About the Different Types of Leather You Can Buy

Leatherworking is a satisfying and fun hobby, and mastering it will allow you to make some very impressive and high-quality products. It is a great skill to know and learn, and I hope this page inspires you to have a go.

You will mainly find that hides come is 2 types; vegetable tanned and chrome tanned:

- Vegetable tanned leather is also called tooling leather, as it is the type you need if you are planning on using tools like stamps on it, or if you want to try wet molding. It's also the best quality and therefore most expensive leather. The shoulder section is usually the thickest and most expensive part, with the sides probably being the next best, and the belly being the cheapest.

- Chrome tanned leather is great for beginners and for practising on, especially the hide from the belly because that is the cheapest cut. Another thing I like about choosing chrome tanned is that it is available in an array of colors including blue and pink, which makes it good for more modern and fashionable projects.

When buying leather, it will most likely be labelled in ounce (oz) amounts, or sometimes millimetre (mm) thicknesses. I would say that anything up to 3oz is thin, and anything over 7 or 8oz is thick. You will need to decide what you want your end product to look like before you buy the hide - i.e. do you want it to be rigid and heavy, or thin and lightweight?

Leathers are sold in square foot measurements and often are graded depending on the quality of the hide. Top grades will be smooth and consistent, and will not have marks or defects. Cattle hides are the most popular and best quality, followed by hides from animals such as sheep and pigs, which are thinner.

The skin side of a hide is called the grain and is the side that is patterned by tooling. The underside is the soft (non-smooth) flesh side and isn't suitable for tooling. Full grain leather is where the hide is pretty much untouched from when it's removed from the animal and is thought to have superior strength and appearance. Top grain is cheaper and is still a good choice, but has less strength due the sanding down of the outer layer of the hide. Full grain, vegetable tanned leather is the easiest to work with and is best to use for tooling and carving. To start with at least I would recommend top grain because full grain is expensive in comparison, even though it's worth paying the extra if you want the best quality.

Click here for a fantastic guide on leather cuts, thicknesses and which leather you should use for certain projects.

Sturdy Tote Bag

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Carving & Tooling Lessons - Video Demos and Instructions

Easy Beginner Projects

A selection of easy and quick things you can make with leather.

Modelled on a Paper Bag

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Techniques and Tools

Including Wet Molding, Carving & Stamping

Leatherworking can be an expensive hobby if you want to buy all the amazing specialist tools on the market (and that is tempting!), but it doesn't need to get at all costly until you become much, much more advanced and perhaps take it up professionally. For beginners, a lot of varied projects can be undertaken with just a strong needle, a suitable glue, an awl, waxed thread, a suitable work surface such as a cutting mat, and (obviously) some leather. So actually it's an inexpensive craft to start if you just buy the basics - just don't let the wide array of extra tools you can buy tempt you too much!

Once you move onto tooling, which is where you stamp and/or carve patterns onto the leather surface, you will then need to add stamping and carving tools to your collection, plus a mallet and a flat, solid work surface that you don't mind getting damaged (such as scrap wood). Stamps are metal rods with a flat design at one end and are hit (with a mallet) onto the surface of the hide. The stamp leaves an imprint in the leather, and if the leather is a bit damp then the stamp sinks further into it and makes a clearer mark. A water spray bottle is useful for this.

With regards to the stamping tools, there is a wide array of imprint patterns available including stars, diamonds and raindrops. Carving tools are made for carving lines into the leather (without going through to the other side) and are good for making image outlines. A popular example of a carving tool is the swivel knife. Stamps that compliment carving outlines include the beveler, the background tool, the seeder, and the pear shader, all of which are used to enhance the image with a series of indents which add texture, realism and an overall 3D effect.

You can see a large list of available tools and supplies by clicking here - now you know how it can become expensive! But I would say only get the very basics to start with and then only buy more as you require it. I'm sure a lot of expert leatherworkers don't even have all of those on that list :) For a more realistic list for keen beginners, an all-round range of tools can be seen here.

Another technique you can experiment with is molding the leather using water (also called 'casing'). Wet molding really is quite simple (and fun) to do so don't be put off if it sounds complicated! Basically you wet the leather so that it becomes flexible and malleable and then you mold it around the item you are going to enclose in the leather - or a replica of it. For instance, if you are making a knife sheath you would press the hide onto the knife to fit it closely, so that when it dries, you would have leather in the shape of the knife. On the other hand, if you were making an iPhone case , you wouldn't want to be wrapping anything wet around it so you would need to make a replica (e.g. out of MDF) to act as the mold in its place.

The Making of Straps, Hats, Wallets and More

Very clear and useful step-by-step demonstrations of how experts make wallets, guitar straps and more.

DIY Pocket Mirror

leather-pocket-mirror-diy
leather-pocket-mirror-diy

What you will need:

* 1 round pocket-sized glass mirror 2" in diameter (you can find these in the arts & crafts section on Amazon)

If you would like to use a different mirror diameter you can, just adjust the leather circle diameters too.

* 2 circles of leather of equal size; the diameter of each should be the diameter of the mirror plus 3/4" (in this case the diameter will therefore be 2 3/4"). The leather shouldn't be too flimsy, but not too thick either. 3oz (1.2mm) would be a good choice in terms of thickness.

* Compass

* Marker pen

* Ruler

* Awl

* Needle and brown (or a contrasting color) waxed thread

* Leather shears, utility knife (and cutting mat), or scissors

* Scrap piece of wood or a surface you don't mind putting holes in


- Loosely fold one of the leather pieces in half twice and cut off the tip to mark the center, or use a ruler to find the center and use an awl to make a hole there.

- Use your ruler to mark points on opposite sides of the circle, using the center point as a guide. Each point should be 1/4" from the outside edge and should be marked by using the awl to make an indent (but not a hole yet)

- Using the above diagram as a reference, mark the black points first, then you can mark the red points in between the black marks, and then finally the blue points between each pair of red marks. This way you will get points which are equally spaced.

- Put this marked leather circle on top of the other leather circle so that the smooth (front) surfaces of the pieces face outwards and the backs of the pieces are placed together.

- Make sure the circles are perfectly aligned, and then place them on a flat, solid piece of scrap wood. Use the awl to make a hole straight through both pieces of leather at each of the marked points, so you should end up with 2 leather circles that have 16 holes around the outside.

- Use your compass to mark out a circle outline on the top leather circle (that already has a hole in the center). This circle should be marked on the reverse side, it should be centered and should have a diameter of 1 1/2". Cut this circle out with a utility knife (and a cutting mat underneath) or with shears/scissors. This will give you a ring shape.

- Place this ring back on top of the leather circle and use a strong needle and some waxed thread to sew both pieces together, by going up and down through each of the holes you have created with the awl. Enter the first hole by going in between the two leather pieces and leaving a thread tail of about 3-4". Finish like this as well and knot the two loose thread ends together to secure. This knot will be hidden in between the pieces. Then just cut off the thread surplus.

- That's it! If you want to use a different stitch (2-needle stitching or saddle/blanket stitch), or want to add a stamped design, you can of course do this and any other variation you like.

Dyeing Leather

Photo and work by Attila Acs - click here for the tutorial.

A Variety Of Stamping Tools

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Techniques & Tools (...cont)

Popular Leather Tools & What They Do

Other leather craft methods include:

- Cutting: Leather hides are natural products and therefore don't come in neat rectangle shapes, so in order to get a piece of leather the size you want you will have to cut through it, and there are various ways of doing this.

If you are cutting out straps with parallel sides - such as belts - then a strap cutter tool is invaluable because it measures and cuts at the same time. In the usual cases though, a (heavy-duty if the leather is thick) utility knife or other leather knife is popular, as are leather shears. Just remember to keep knife blades sharp, or replace them in the case of utility knives. If you are making a high number of identical shapes, it might be worth getting a die cutter made to save you time compared to measuring out and cutting every shape individually.

- Sewing: Most leathers projects are hand sewn with strong needles made especially for leatherworking, together with waxed thread. If you want to, you can buy regular unwaxed thread and wax it yourself by drawing the thread across a block of beeswax. Synthetic threads can be melted at the ends to stop them fraying too (using a lighter) but be careful and getting burn marks on the leather. Another alternative is artificial sinew, as a modern replacement for natural sinew which was traditionally used.

Before you hand sew, you will need to make holes through the leather layers to allow the needle easily through the leather - because unless you use very thin leather, you will really struggle to push the needle straight through. The holes are made with an awl tool normally, or a drill if the leather is very thick, and you will need to make sure that the holes are equal distance apart.

With regard to machine sewing, some people seem to be OK sewing thin leathers (up to about 3oz) as long as they use sewing machine needles specifically designed for use with leather, and perhaps a Teflon foot for further help. However, regular machines would struggle to go through leather of any substance and I personally wouldn't risk it, but it's up to you. If you do want to sew thicker leather then there are heavy duty leather sewing machines made for the job.

- Glueing: To help with aligning leather seams in preparation for sewing them, leather pieces are often glued together in the correct position (since leather can't be pinned as fabric can). There are a few leather glues available which can be used, but rubber cement seems to be common in these situations because it gives you a bit of time to adjust the seam before the glue hardens. Another adhesive that can be used with leather is called contact cement, but this is an adhesive that permanently joins leather pieces together instantly so there's much less opportunity to correct any mistake. Therefore, it's best not to use contact cement for joining together seams to be sewn, but in other situations it provides a strong join.

- Cutting out holes: Awls are the main tool to use for making small holes in leather to allow needles to go through, whilst hole punches (revolving or not) are used to make larger holes. Hole punches are available in assorted sizes so you can choose which to use, and you will mostly see the result of these when you see the holes in belts, for example, or when eyelets or rivets have been inserted in leather.

- Dyeing: To darken the leather or change the color, a dye is used. Often a dark brown dye is used to enhance the natural color of the leather, making the color deeper and richer. The dye can be applied with a 'dauber', a sponge of a rag, and the more coats you apply, the darker the leather will become. You can also mix different dyes together if you wish. Best to wear gloves whilst you are applying dye too, otherwise you'll end up with very weird looking hands!

Whilst dyes absorb the color deep into the leather, paint is a coloring that stays on the surface and is therefore prone to cracking and wear. If the leather product is not going to be worn or flexed however, painting (often with acrylics) is a versatile means of adding color and patterns to leather.

Some people also make their own leather dyes from all kinds of natural products, which you can see examples of here.

As a final protective layer you can add some leather oil to the leather. Oil conditions and preserves the leather and helps it to repel water, and if your leather project ever becomes dry or cracked you can just add some oil to restore it to its former glory!

Other very useful tools include:

- A Metal Ruler; always a useful thing to have, especially for cutting straight lines in the leather.

- Edge Beveller: Adds a nice rounded finish to leather edges.

- A Leather Groover; a specialized tool that removes a thin strip from the surface of a piece of leather and forms a groove. This groove is where the sewing stitches are going to go, so not only does the grooved line act as a guide for where the stitch are going to go, but because the stitches will be sitting below the leather surface rather than sticking out on top, the thread will be protected from wear and it will just give a more professional result.

- An Overstitch Wheel (also called a stitch spacer); this is a little spiked wheel which you roll along the leather surface (or along the line made with the leather groover if you have one), and makes tiny indents spaced equal distances apart. These marks act as a guide for sewing stitches and this process is a lot quicker than measuring and marking out each stitch position yourself. A big difference between something looking professional or unprofessional is if the stitches are straight and equal, or wonky and irregular, so this tool I would definitely recommend.

TIP: As leather hides are irregular in shape, you will definitely end up with scraps leftover from any projects. I would recommend that you keep these to use for test runs and practicing of a technique so that a) you can see what the result will look like before you try it on the real thing and b) you will gain more experience and confidence.

SAFETY: Please note that a lot of leatherworking tools are very sharp, so please use caution. Also, you will need ventilation if you are working with anything giving off fumes, such as leather glue.

Things to Make by Wet Molding with Water

There are many tutorials you can find easily online for making popular knife sheath and gun holster products, so I've included only a few below. If there is something in particular you want to find out regarding making these items, a quick Google search should answer any questions :)

Tutorials for Making Sheaths & Pouches

Molding a Mask

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Bookmark Kit

Tandy Leather Factory Bookmark Leather Craft Quick Kits
Tandy Leather Factory Bookmark Leather Craft Quick Kits

This kit contains 3 bookmarks in a plain tan colour, plus ideas for designs you can add yourself.

 

Have you ever crafted with leather?

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    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      I really enjoyed seeing what is possible when working with leather. There are some very cool projects here. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Mohammad Parvez 7 weeks ago

      Thanks for sharing ideas, I really enjoyed...

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