Pallet Shelf DIY

Posted on: May 18th, 2016 by Alana LeBlanc

Let me start off by saying thank you for checking out our (do it yourself) DIY Pallet Shelf article from Leathersmith Designs, where we always strive to provide the best quality leather products for our customers. Today we are going to show you how to make a Leather Belt Shelf from old belts and a pallet. Jamie had some old belts from years ago that were well loved but didn’t fit and needed to be retired. After suggesting to Jamie that he throw them out and watching him almost have a stroke (he loves his job that much he can’t stand to let leather reach the garbage), I suggested maybe trying to build a shelf from recycled materials.

Pallet shelf suspended by leather belts.

Pallet shelf hanging by leather belts.

Materials For Pallet Shelf

1.  We receive around 5 or 6 pallet loads of leather each year. It just so happened that when we went to start this project we had just received one pallet. Starting this project meant making a list of materials:

– Two Belts
– Pallet Boards or whatever wood you like to use
– Screws
– Wall Anchors
– Rivets

Tools used:

– Saw
– Crowbar
– Hammer
– Square
– Sander
– C Clamps
– Drill
– Hole Punch
– Level
– Screw Driver

Worn wooden pallet kept from hide shipment at our leather shop.

Old wooden pallet kept from a leather shipment that arrived at our leather shop.

Discarded leather belts to be used for strap shelf.

Leather belts to be recycled for a strap shelf.

Check your closet for some solid leather belts that are no longer used. However they are probably in perfect condition to be used for this DIY hanging shelf. They don’t have to match exactly. We used a black and brown belt on the same shelf for this project.

Salvage Boards For Pallet Shelf

2.  The first step was to take apart our pallet.  Jamie wore eye and ear protectors when he used the circular saw. He sawed off the end piece to avoid having to pry up so many boards that were securely nailed. The balance of the boards were pried apart using a crowbar and hammer.

Sawing pallet boards for pallet shelf.

First saw cut to remove pallet boards for pallet shelf.

Alana using crowbar to take apart boards for DIY hanging shelves.

Alana using a crowbar to pry boards apart.

Just about finished salvaging wood for the hanging belt shelves.

Almost finished salvaging wood for the hanging belt shelves.

Rough wood salvaged from pallet.

Lots of rough wood salvaged.

Finishing Wood Shelf

3.  Next we removed old nails (if needed) and cut our pieces to size. If you are using pallet wood, please take some time to sand off rough edges, discoloration and dirt.

Measuring and squaring the length for the pallet shelves.

Squaring ends and measuring the length for the pallet shelves.

Sanding discoloration and roughness from wooden shelf secured in wood vice.

Sanding roughness and discoloration from wooden shelf that is held securely in wood vice.

Assembling Wood

C clamps securely hold assembly pieces in place.

C clamps secures assembly pieces in place.

 4.  After our boards are cut to size and sanded, we assembled the shelf itself. Drill pilot holes in the wood in advance to prevent the wood from splitting. We used 1″ screws for ours but that was based on the thickness of the wood we used.

Pilot holes for screws drilled while C clamps hold boards in position.

C clamps holds boards in position for drilling screw holes.

Electric drill screws shelf boards together.

Using an electric drill to screw shelf boards together.

Attaching Leather Belts

5.  Now time to attach the leather belts. We decided to incorporate the buckle for appearance and in case length adjustment was required later. Normally we use snaps to attach buckles on the belts we make to allow our customers to change buckles if they so choose. But for this project we wanted to use leather rivets for strength so I used a drill press to drill out the old snaps and then replaced them with rapid rivets. You can use a pair of pincer pliers which is just as easy to remove the snaps. If the buckle is sewn on the belts you are using, that will also work well as long as the stitching is not worn at any point. A rivet setter was used to set the rapid rivet which keep the nice curve on the rivet cap.

Rivets secure buckles on solid leather belts.

Solid leather belts with buckles secured by rivets.

Leather hole punch makes screw holes in leather belt.

Leather punch makes holes in leather for screws.

Belt attached to shelf with screws.

Leather belt secured to shelf with screws.

This next step is a dealer’s choice step. You can choose to either secure the belt to the bottom of the shelf or not. Some people will attach the leather belts to the wall and rest the shelf within the loops without tacking or securing the shelf to the belts. This choice is fine and will not change the strength of the shelf but the shelf could get knocked out of place. Rather than use nails that might split the wood, we drilled pilot holes for screws. We chose to use 1″ screws, two on either side, to secure our shelf to the belts. To do this you should punch a hole in the leather before you attach with screws. The leather hole punch tool we use is a round drive punch. You can also use the hole punch to make holes for more adjustment lengths regarding the buckle.

Secure Hanging Shelf To Wall

6.  The final step is to hang your shelf on the wall. Make sure if you are not securing your shelf to studs in the wall, use drywall anchors. Put a level on the shelf and mark your holes that way. One belt could be stretched slightly so this way you know the shelf itself is level. Although leather is strong it can stretch slightly over time. These shelves are meant more for decoration than something like a long heavily loaded bookshelf.

Wall anchors are used to secure the leather strap to the gyprock.

Leather straps are secured to the gyprock with wall anchors.

DIY Shelves Finished

7.  Then you are Done!! These artistic hanging shelves can be used for displaying decorations, pictures, tools, canned goods or flowers.

Leather hand tools sit on pallet shelf.

Pallet shelf used in shop for leather hand tools.

The finished DIY shelf displays special decorations nicely.

This finished DIY shelf is nice for displaying special decorations.

Pantry goods stored on DIY pallet shelves.

DIY pallet shelves can be used for the extra space required for pantry goods.


Viking Outfit – L’Anse aux Meadows

Posted on: February 28th, 2016 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

The Viking outfit worn by each Viking interpreter was very interesting to me when my family visited L’Anse aux Meadows in Northern Newfoundland, Canada a couple years ago. L’Anse aux Meadows is the first known evidence of Europeans in North America. Over 1000 years ago, a Norse expedition sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland and built a small encampment of timber and sod buildings.  The archaeological remains of  this Viking encampment is found in a beautiful coastline location with rugged cliffs and bogs.  This internationally renowned archaeological find was made an United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1978 because it is the first and only authenticated Norse site in North America.

L'Anse aux Meadows Viking encampment in Northern Newfoundland, Canada.

L’Anse aux Meadows Viking encampment in Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula.

When we arrived at the Viking Heritage Site, first we viewed the museum which had many of the Viking artifacts displayed as well as an interesting film to watch.  Next a guide walked us to the Viking ruins which were discovered in 1968 by two Norwegian archaeologists Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad. The stories of adventure, discovery and history told by the guide were fascinating. After that, a short walk took us to the recreated Viking settlement where we could wonder through on our own and enjoy our own discoveries. Historic experts might say a lot of the reenactors leather items worn are not period correct when compared to actual archaeological finds from the period. However being a leather worker, I was still very interested in their Viking outfits which had leather accessories hand made by many of the costumed Viking interpreters.

Outside Viking Long House

As we came to the entrance of the Viking settlement, we could see the long house in the center of the compound.

viking settlement entrance

Entrance to Viking settlement.

Standing outside the door of this recreated sod covered Viking long house, this interpreter is clothed from head to foot in a Viking outfit. In the excavations, items for sewing and knitting were found which suggested there were women in the settlement. The largest dwelling unearthed had several rooms and measured 28.8 by 15.6 m (94 by 51 ft).

viking outfit worn by woman

Reenactor wearing Viking outfit at long house.

Viking Accessories

Her Viking outfit includes a leather pouch hung from a cloth belt.  A small leather case shown just above the comb has significance which I will explain in a moment.

leather viking accessories

Viking leather accessories.

The leather Viking case which was previously mentioned, holds a needle. This Viking woman shows me her needle and asks us “Have you seen another needle around the encampment where you were walking because I have seemed to have lost one needle?” The actors play their parts in time as there was actually a bone needle that was discovered in the archaeological digs.

viking pouch needle

Viking needle pouch.

Viking Outfit

This Viking reenactor wears a long leather belt which threads through a metal piece. The belt is held taught by wrapping the leather end up under, over and through the loop.  It hangs down in front of the tunic. From the belt on his left, hangs a light colored leather pouch and small knife case.

Viking clothing includes leather belt

Leather belt worn over Viking clothing.

On his right side hangs a darker leather pouch and a deer antler handle knife in a case.

viking pouch

Viking pouch & knife case.

Hand sewn leather shoes protect his feet. Wood pieces are scattered over the dirt floor.

viking shoes

Viking shoes were hand sewn.

L’Anse aux Meadows Landscape

While walking back past the archaeology digs to the museum, we saw a couple moose wondering through the bog. Although there are about 150,000 moose on the Island of Newfoundland, they were not there when the Vikings landed. The moose were brought to Newfoundland in the early 1900’s.

Evidence suggest the Vikings would have fished and hunted animals that used to inhabit the area. These food sources would have included bear, marten, caribou, wolf, fox, lynx, birds, fish, seal, whale and walrus.

The encampment was near the coastal waters for transportation. This viking settlement was likely a seasonal camp for obtaining timber and game to be transported back to Greenland.

The Vikings did not remain at L’Anse aux Meadows long. According to sagas, there were clashes between the Norsemen and the indigenous people, who they called Skraelings. The Norse were vastly outnumbered and returned to Greenland after a few years.

This area has harsh winter conditions that cover the area in deep snow and ice.  The harsh conditions results in hibernation of a lot of animals or movement south.  These difficult winters and lack of food sources may have also caused the Norse to stay for only a short period of time.

moose L'Anse aux Meadows

Moose seen at L’Anse aux Meadows.




Viking Forge

Hanging on the stone wall of this iron smithy building is a leather work apron.  The Viking worker wears a leather knife case and leather Viking footwear. The archaeologists uncovered the ruins of eight buildings, cooking pits and an iron forge.

Some estimate that 75 people, mostly sailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, hired hands and perhaps even serfs or slaves lived at L’Anse aux Meadows. Local bog iron was apparently smelted, purified and made into nails, rivets, and other iron work. The settlement probably was a base camp for repairing Norse ships and for expeditions further south, possibly to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

viking tunic

Viking tunic worn by reenactor at the forge.

The Viking outfit worn by this fellow has an interesting closure on his leather belt pouch.  It looks like a bone, wooden pet or antler tip with a leather lace loop that secures over it to keep the flap closed.

viking garb

Viking garb includes a leather pouch.

A similar type of closure fastens the leather upper of his well worn Viking shoes.

viking footwear

Viking footwear with an interesting closure.

Inside Viking Long House

Hanging in the center near the ceiling are a number of ducks ready for eating.  Other supplies hang in bags on the wall. A rough bed on the left has some woollen blankets for warmth hanging above.

viking house interior

Viking house interior.

Another style of hand made shoe sits beside a hand sewn leather bag on the floor.

viking leather shoes

Another style of handmade Viking leather shoes.

The long house is very large and has lots of interesting objects such as Viking shields, netting and wooden barrels. Some animal pelts are hanging in the center. It looks like they might be fox pelts. Another larger animal pelt lies on top of some supply bags.

viking shields

Viking shields and supplies.

A wooden box holds another small leather pouch and  other needed articles.  This leather pouch appears to have been hand sewn by wrapping the thread in an X pattern around the edge of the leather.  A draw sting pulls the top tight.

viking box

Viking box with hand sewn leather pouch.

Location of L’Anse aux Meadows

Move, enlarge and decrease the map to see where you are located in relation to this historic Viking settlement. See how far they had to travel from other viking settlements in Greenland and Iceland.

Make Viking Pouch

Should you want to make your own leather Viking pouch, you will need some leather craft tools and leather sewing tools.  The leather can be cut with a utility knife or shears. Holes for hand thread can be made with leather punches or an awl.

cutting sewing tools for Viking pouch

Leather craft cutting and sewing tools to make your own Viking pouch.


Leather Custom Bookmarks

Posted on: January 24th, 2016 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Strap Cutting Bookmark Leather

Of the different promotional products we produce, leather custom bookmarks make wonderful gifts for events at schools, universities, libraries and family reunions. The first step in making the bookmarks is to start with quality top grain leather hides. We use vegetable tanned leather which is also referred to as tooling leather.  This type of cowhide is tanned by the tannery using tannins from tree bark.

Since we dye our leather by hand, it is easier to control the color evenness by coloring long narrow strips as opposed to dyeing the whole hide at once.  We use a strap cutting machine to cut multiple strips of leather at a time. Before we owned this machine, we used to use a leather craft tool called a leather strap cutter which is also used for cutting belts.

Strap cutting leather for bookmarks by machine.

Tamsin catches leather straps for bookmarks from the hide being fed though the strap cutting machine by Jamie.

Dyeing Bookmark Leather

We apply about four coats of leather dye to the leather straps with a cloth applicator that is fastened to a wooden block.  When the dye is dry, a leather conditioner is worked into the leather with a sponge applicator.  The leather conditioner we use is neatsfoot oil .  However with neatsfoot oil, it is better to apply several light applications as to one heavy application . Too much oil will darken the leather too much.

Hand dyeing leather & oiling straps to be made into custom bookmarks.

Jamie hand dyes the leather and Alana oils the leather to be made into custom bookmarks.

To give a nice sheen to the leather, two coats of polish are applied to the leather straps and hung to dry between and after each application.

Luke hangs polished leather straps to dry.

Luke hangs leather straps to dry after they were polished.

Cutting Leather Custom Bookmarks

The leather straps are finally ready to be cut to the final bookmark shape.  Our customer requested a certain shape and size so we had a die shop custom make a cutting die from the pattern we drafted.  We use a hydraulic cutting press called a clicker to cut the leather shapes.  The cutting die is placed on the leather and the machine head is swung above it.  When dual buttons are pressed, many tons of pressure push the cutter through the leather.  When the pressure is released, sponge rubber ejects the leather bookmark from the cutter. Using the die reminds me of using a cookie cutter for cutting the shapes.

Die cutting leather custom bookmarks on clicker press.

Leather custom bookmarks are cut out on a clicker press with a metal cutting die that was specially made for this order.

Imprinted Leather Bookmarks

We use a pneumatic hot press to imprint the leather custom bookmark. The press descends with numerous tons of pressure to a set height.  Therefore our leather purchased has to have a very consistent thickness throughout the hide or the press will push the imprint too deep or not deep enough.  After our hides come from the tannery, they are sent to a custom finishing shop to have some of the flesh side removed that is too thick which leaves the top grain leather with a very consistent thickness throughout the hide.

Consistent dwell time which mean how long the metal imprint is pushed into the leather as well as consistent controlled temperature are key to a quality imprint.  We send the graphics to a metal shop to custom make a metal imprint plate for us. This imprint plate must have a deep engraving in the metal.

Logo is imprinted on the leather custom bookmarks with gold foil.

Gold foil imprinting the customer’s logo into the leather custom bookmarks with a pneumatic hot press.

Before our leather custom bookmarks are shipped, they are checked for quality.  Imprint quality and dye evenness are checked. Leather quality is also checked to avoid cuts or marks. Any bookmarks that don’t meet the high standard required are rejected and new bookmarks are made to replace them.

Quality control check of custom leather bookmarks before shipping.

Tamsin checks the custom leather bookmarks for consistency in quality before being shipped.

Normally we make our imprinted leather bookmarks with a rounded top and fringes on the bottom.  We find gold and silver imprints show the best and look the richest on black, brown or burgundy leather although we imprint with other colors as well.

Leather Tools For Bookbinding

Posted on: December 6th, 2015 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Stamping Extremely Thin Leather?

Earlier this year, a customer visited my shop looking for some leather tools to decorate a bookbinding cover he was working on. It turned out his name is Ronny Fritz, owner of Peregrino Press in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia who does professional bookbinding. He wanted to buy some leather stamp tools for a particular job he was doing which involved bookbinding an old book that was falling apart.

He showed me a sample of the vegetable tanned calf skin which he was planning on imprinting with the new leather tools.  Like other bookbinding leathers, it was very thin and I could not imagine how he could imprint such thin leather by striking the stamp tool with a hammer without going right through the leather.  I myself am not a bookbinder and work with much thicker leathers and leather craft tools for belts, dog collars, knife cases and guitar straps etc which take deep impressions.

However Ronny said he would send me some info on how he successfully can imprint on these thin vegetable tanned calf skins. He graciously shared these photos and info on how he beautifully imprinted, rebound and restored this old worn book.

Front covered imprinted with leather tools that were heated.

Front covered design stamped with leather tools that were heated.

Titling between the stamped designs was done with a gel pen.

Titling with a gel pen.

Design lines embossed with wheel of map measure tool.

Design lines made with wheel of map measure tool.

Heating Leather Tools For Stamping

The technique he used to imprint the thinner leather was to use heat with light pressure as opposed to pressure impacts with a hammer which would leave too deep an imprint. He made wooden handles for the metal stamp tools so he could pick them up from the hot plate without scorching his fingers.  A 1/4 ” hole was drilled about 3″ deep into 1″ x 1″ x 6″ wood. He used an electric hot plate to heat the tools. (See photo below). Without a thermostat he had to keep testing the tool shaft against a damp cloth until it just sizzled. He tested hand pressure and dwell time on scraps and when things were looking good, he imprinted the actual leather on the book.

Some leather tools used by Peregrino Press for stamping leather and bookbinding.

Some leather tools used by Peregrino Press for imprinting leather and bookbinding.

Design Layout For Imprint Tools

Layout of the design elements–lines, fleurons, title patch–was done on tracing paper. This template was used as a guide to transfer the designs onto the leather. First, a light cold impression was made through the tracing paper template. Then the final heated impression was made with the template removed. Just hand pressure was used to push the leather tools into the dampened leather so as to not cut through the delicate calfskin. He did a few touch ups to try to make all impressions the same “intensity”.

If you look closely at some of Ronny Fritz’s tools (shown above), you will see some non-traditional items that were used with ingenuity as leather tools to imprint the leather. Lines were made on dampened leather with an unheated tiny wheel of an old map measurer drawn along a straight edge, and the terminal dots with the head of a 3d finishing nail.  The title was written with permanent ink using a o.5 mm black gel pen.

Bookbinding Project Notes

To see the long process of rebinding this book that was falling apart and refurbishing it, view the the photos and notes below that Peregrino Press shared with me.  Bookbinding is a trade in itself as you can see from the many steps such as removing worn parts, cleaning, trimming, hand sewing, mounting, rounding, molding, pasting, polishing, titling & tooling. Many thanks to Ronny Fritz of Peregrino Press for all the information provided for this article on this particular bookbinding project.

Page 1 - Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 1 – Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 2 - Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 2 – Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 3 - Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 3 – Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 4 - Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 4 – Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 5 - Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 5 – Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 6 - Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Page 6 – Bookbinding Notes from Peregrino Press

Organ Repair With Leather & Piano Repair

Posted on: August 10th, 2015 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Professional Organ Repair & Piano Repair

Dwight Mallory makes a living by doing professional organ repair, piano repair and piano tuning throughout Nova Scotia, Canada. Dwight is a customer of mine from Cole Harbour, NS that has dropped into my leather shop over many years.

Dwight Mallory picking up  leather strips for valve covers on bellows from Leathersmith Designs to use in an organ repair.

Dwight Mallory picking up leather strips from Leathersmith Designs for valve covers on organ repair to bellows.

Leather Used In Organ Repair On Bellows

Selling leather craft supplies is interesting when customers show you the unique projects they create. Dwight sometimes requires leather pieces to be used in some of his piano / organ repairs and refinishing.  On pianos, the leather is sometimes used as an insert in the music rack.  In the organ, the leather is a key part in the operation of the organ bellow. Leather is also sometimes used on pallets which act like an air valves.

Video showing Recovering Organ Bellows With Leather


Fixed organ bellows with leather valve covers in place in bottom of organ.

Organ repair to bellows with new leather valve covers in place near bottom of organ.

Organ Refinishing & Piano Refinishing

I knew about Dwight’s piano tuning expertise as he has tuned pianos for my family members over many years.  He has also tuned pianos for famous music artists such as the Rankins, Roger Whittaker and Rita MacNeil.  His customers include large music chains, school boards and the Halifax Conservatory of Music.

However I did not know about the intricate finishing and organ repair work he did.  I discovered it when I started quizzing him in detail during his last visit to our leather shop.  I was wondering how he used the leather supplies he purchased from us in his work.  I was amazed at the detail and degree of organ repair and piano repair work he did.  He explained it to me and shared some videos shown below. He must be knowledgeable when working with such high string tension pressures.  A medium sized piano contains 230 strings.  Each string has about 165 pound of pressure for a combined pull of about 18 – 19 tons. The working part of the piano called the action has about 7500 parts.  He can take the piano or organ totally apart and reassemble them.  He can do everything from restringing pianos to refinishing the woodwork.

Video showing Refinishing of Willis upright piano

It is interesting to watch the transformation in the musical instrument. A worn out of tune instrument becomes a beautiful finished and wonderful sounding organ or piano. In the following video, Dwight Mallory starts his repair with an organ that is so worn and neglected that it even has a mouse nest. The organ repairs involves first disassembling the organ so wooden parts can be stripped and scraped of old finishes. The wood is sanded before applying numerous coats of stains and finishes. Old yellowing keys are cleaned and made bright white. Worn metal metal pedals are chromed. Brass pieces are polished. Other worn buttons and parts are replaced. The last part of the organ repair is to reassemble all the pieces which looks like a gigantic puzzle. What a beautiful finished product. The piano style organ looks brand new after numerous hours of skilled hand repair work by Dwight Mallory Piano Service.

Video showing Refinishing piano style reed organ that is over 100 years old.

Leather Shop Metamorphosis

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Basement Leather Workshop

At age 12, my first leather workbench was a cement block sitting on the floor of my parent’s basement in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1975, my father helped me build a number of proper heavy duty wooden workbenches and shelving units so I could start my first leather workshop. My Dad and Mom (Gerald & Verna Hartling) were very supportive in allowing me lots of space in the basement of their home to grow my leather business.

My mother, Verna Hartling by leather splitter in basement leather workshop.

My mother, Verna Hartling by leather splitter in basement leather workshop.

Mr. Mumford, a neighbour across the street even came over one afternoon with his chainsaw and made a solid level workbench out of a very large tree stump.  The tree stump is still being used every day for a sturdy work surface for punching holes in leather. On top of the tree stump I bolted an anvil that a friend Russell Lockhart help me make. I even made a dye bench/storage unit from lockers I salvaged from Prince Andrew High School that were being replaced.

Building New Leather Shop

By 1990, I had fully occupied the whole basement of my parents home as a leather craft work area with stock, sturdy wooden work benches, tools and leather bench equipment. To grow my business, I needed more space for more equipment. My parents generously allowed me space on their property to construct a building for a leather workshop in addition to continued use of their basement for stock. However, purchasing more equipment and a building required more money than I could afford.

One day when walking through my neighbourhood I stopped to talk to a hard working man originally from Turkey who owned his own upholstery business. I explained I wanted a building for my leather work but it was too expensive.  He said “Since you are young and healthy, you can build it yourself to make it affordable.” His encouragement was nice but I knew nothing about construction.

Mr. Laybolt, a neighbour up the street suggested his son David who was skilled and knowledgeable at construction could possibly work with me building the shop. His son agreed and worked a good part of the summer on his days off and evenings and left at the end of the day with detailed instructions regarding what I had to complete before he came back the next time. My father helped me with the construction as well. Another neighbour across the street, Mr. Piercey, helped me lay the top flooring. Our minister, Rev. Snow even dropped by one afternoon to help secure some windows.

The excavation for this building was done by hand by myself with a shovel which took many evenings over a number of weeks. My brother Philip helped me remove a tree stump when he saw how frustrated I became with the difficulty of the digging and how long it was taking me.  Our part of Nova Scotia has a lot of very large rocks under the ground.

Building first leather workshop.

In the summer of 1990, I am building the roof and my father is working down below on my first leather workshop building.

Moving Leather Shop Building

In the summer of 1999, we had outgrown our old leather shop and needed a larger workshop. My wife Gail and I considered building a larger building on another site but it was very expensive to rebuild as well as the high cost of having the heavy leather equipment moved. My brother Lester suggested I look into moving the whole building which I already owned. To my surprise, it wasn’t that much more expensive to move the whole building with the equipment in it as opposed to only having the equipment moved to a new location.

We had it moved to our new location next to our larger shop which was just renovated for us by Forrest Brothers Construction. They did a wonderful job adding new windows, doors, walls, insulation, gyp rock and siding. Wiring in the building was done by O’Malley Electric to accommodate leather machinery with large motors. No way was I going to excavate this site by hand with a shovel after my experience of doing it with the first building.  I contracted a company to excavate the ground for the placement of the old leather craft shop building but I can’t remember their name. After they finished, my friend Mike Haikings came over with his survey equipment and we accurately levelled the gravel area.

It was quite the move involving approval from the telephone company, cable company & electric company. Routes had to be checked, wire heights for all the utility companies had to be measured. Some overhead wires had to be raised, permits had to be arranged and scheduled moving time with the Halifax Regional Municipality had to be approved.

Before the move, electrical wires and telephone wires had to be disconnected from the leather craft shop. Machinery had to be securely bolted to the floor. Boards had to be nailed to the outside of the building to protect the exterior from the strain and pressure of the cables.

Moving original leather shop building to new location in September, 1999.

Moving original leather shop building to new location in 1999.

All our leather equipment was inside the building that was suspended by the crane. My livelihood was virtually suspended by the crane cable so we were very relieved when the crane finally successfully lowered it at the new location in another part of Dartmouth. Some of the leather equipment such as our leather clicker weighed a couple thousand pounds and other pieces close to 1000 pounds each. The crane operator was surprised that such a large crane was booked for our building. However, when he started to lift it and the crane registered how much it weighed with all the leather equipment inside, he understood why. He had to stop and reposition the crane to deal with the heavy weight load.

Sagadore Cranes did an excellent job of moving the building. The city of Dartmouth was cooperative with the scheduling times as we needed daylight to see since the building had to be lifted over trees and over the roof of another building but couldn’t be moved during busy traffic. There was manoeuvring in quite tight spots. The crane operator and crew were very skilled.

Relocating heavy leather equipment within the larger leather shop.

Relocating heavy leather equipment within the larger leather shop.

The metamorphosis from a tiny concrete block workbench on a basement floor to a large professional leather shop took many years. Most of our business is on the web selling our custom leather products such as guitar straps, dog collars, money belts and leather craft supplies. However we love it when customers and tourists visit our leather craft shop.

Combined older leather shop with larger leather shop.

Combined leather shop. Older shop next to larger renovated shop.

You can watch the following video of the “Big Shop Move”, which shows how our leather shop was lifted by the large crane and moved through the streets of Dartmouth (Halifax Regional Municipality). In the video, excavation was first done at the new location for the old workshop. After the building move, leather machinery was transferred between leather shops by the crane.

Video showing The Big Shop Move

Leather Sewing Machine

Posted on: March 30th, 2015 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Leather Sewing Machine Needed

Back in the 1970’s when I started doing custom leather work as a part time business, I wanted a leather sewing machine to save time from hand sewing leather. I tried using my mother’s domestic White Co. Sewing Machine. Even though I tried a leather needle, it didn’t have the required power to go through the leather. The needle just hit the top of the material and that was all it could do. I then bought an old black antique domestic sewing machine that had been converted from treadle with an electric motor. It had more power and I was able to sew light garment leather with it.  A leather needle is shaped like a spear to slice through the leather as opposed to a round needle which is used for fabric.

However, to sew thicker or firmer leather, I needed a commercial leather sewing machine. In my mid teens I was trained on what is called a shoe patcher sewing machine by George Rapanakis who was the owner of George’s Shoe Repair in Dartmouth, NS. This is the typical industrial leather sewing machine found in all shoe repair shops.

Being familiar with this machine, I went looking for a second hand one to buy. As a teenager all I could afford were very old models. My first industrial had to be greased & oiled a lot since it was partly seized up from sitting unused for many decades in someone’s shed and needed lot’s of adjustment. It was operated by a foot treadle instead of a motor and had a short arm. Over the years I bought three older treadle patcher industrial sewing machines ranging from short arm to long arm and from Singer to Adler brands. However all needed a lot of adjustment continually as parts were worn.

In 1986, I made the decision to move from part time to a full time leather business. After a few years as this being my sole source of income, I realized in order to make a go of it, I had to become more productive. I had to get out of the labour intensive hand sewing of thick leather and have dependable accurate sewing machines.

Servicing Leather Sewing Machines

In 1990 I contacted Bridgewater Sewing Centre in Nova Scotia, Canada to buy some new industrial leather sewing machines. What a difference working with a new machine. Over the years, the owners of Bridgewater Sewing Centre have been great in servicing them. Carl and Neil Milheron travel weekly to the Halifax Regional Municipality servicing all kinds of industrial machines.

Carl became involved with sewing machines in 1961 and opened his store Bridgewater Sewing Centre in 1975. His son Neil became involved with servicing the sewing machines in 1980. Anyone who owns an industrial machine in Eastern Canada knows Carl & Neil as they service a vast variety of trades involving leather, clothing, canvas, sail making and even the navy. Yes there are sewing machines even on the navy ships. With so many years of experience, they service all kinds of industrial sewing machines from single needle to 10 needle as well as embroidery machines and other electronic industrial sewing machines.

Neil advises that the key to keeping your leather sewing machine working well is to regularly oil it with sewing machine weight oil. If you sew 6 – 7 hours a day, then oil your stitcher daily. If you sew a part of a day for a couple days a week then oil weekly or less frequently if used less.

Neil Milheron and father Carl adjust timing on leather sewing machine.

Carl Milheron looks over his son’s shoulder while Neil adjusts the timing on my Durkoff Adler K205 370 heavy duty harness stitcher.

Sewing Machines Used In Custom Leather Shop

The heavy duty Adler stitcher shown above can sew through firm leather piled 5/8 inch thick.  Although I don’t do harness work, I use it to sew thick leather knife cases, tough dog collars, industrial belts and cases.  This is a powerful leather sewing machine.  It takes very thick thread.  I normally use #207 and #277 nylon thread for sewing thick leather products.  However this leather sewing machine easily takes much thicker thread than even this.

My first brand new Singer patcher 29U172A shown below, hasn’t changed much in design from the black antique treadle patchers that I first owned.  Instead of the leather pulley belt  attaching to a treadle wheel, it now attaches to an industrial motor.  The unique thing about this leather sewing machine is that it can reach inside tight spaces within shoes, boots, purses and cases plus it can sew in 360 degrees. The big black wheel on the front can be attached to the end or the front of the stitcher depending on your preference.  I find the reach easier when it is in front.  The typical thread used in shoe repair shops and for sewing most light and medium thickness leather products is a #69 nylon thread.

Patcher leather sewing machine with long arm.

My first brand new leather sewing machine was this long arm Singer patcher.

The leather sewing machine below is used to sew belt pouches, purses, guitar straps, portfolios, money belts, wallets etc. The reason this machine works great with leather is that it pulls the leather from the walking foot as well as the bottom feed. Therefore if you are working with a couple layers of soft leather, both layers will be fed evenly through the machine.  Shown in the background are various colors of #69 nylon thread that I use which can be fed over to the stitcher.  The cylinder arm makes it versatile for sewing inside leather objects.  However I have a home made table I attach around the cylinder for when I require a flat bed sewing machine set up for sewing leather products I want to lay flat.

Walking foot Singer leather industrial stitcher.

This Singer 153 B8B cylinder arm sewing machine is the most used leather sewing machine in my custom leather shop.

There still are other styles of leather sewing machines I would like to have should I have the space or finances to do so.  For example a post machine with a roller feed would make it easier for doing more intricate stitching patterns.  Computerized machines would be neat for massive production of the same stitch pattern but my production level isn’t anything near the requirement to justify the many thousands of dollars that type of machine would demand.

Although I mainly use industrial leather sewing machines now for my leather work, I very much appreciate the beauty of hand sewn leather products.  There are still leather craft projects that require me to use hand
leather sewing tools. I still own the first hand awl my uncle made for me as a teenager and remember how I was taught to make thread by rolling 6 strands of linen thread and waxing the rolled strands with beeswax or applying pitch.

Finishing Leather Edges

Posted on: January 27th, 2015 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Quality Increased by Finishing Leather Edges

When I was in my early teens, I first discovered the importance of finishing leather edges well.  The finishing methods learned and discussed in this article apply to vegetable tanned leather which is a firmer leather as opposed to soft garment or soft bag leathers.

In the 1970’s, while still in Junior High School, I was selling my leather goods at the Festival of the Arts.  A stranger commented that he liked my work. However he nicely pointed out that if my leather edges were smooth where the  leather was sewn together, it would add to the overall quality.

It turned out that this stranger was the internationally recognized leather sculptor Rex Lingwood that was living in Halifax at the time.  His sculptures have been exhibited widely in North America, Europe, Great Britain and Australia in both group and solo presentations.  I also proudly own a leather craft book he wrote called “Leather In Three Dimensions”.  When I asked for some suggestions, he kindly invited me to visit his studio and he shared some edge finishing techniques with me.  The main thing I was neglecting to do was sand my edges smooth.

Sander For Finishing Leather Edges

Over the years since then, I have had different pieces of equipment set up for sanding leather edges by various sanding drums. Some drums were home made wooden wheels with foam and sandpaper attached that my Uncle Clint Wilson made for me on his lathe. At one point I even bought a 7 foot shoe maker’s finishing machine that had numerous wheels for working on edges. As my shop became more congested with tools and workbenches, I sold this large shoe repair leather edge finisher as it was taking up too much space for what I needed to do.

Finishing leather edges of knife case on sanding drum.

Finishing leather edges of knife case by sanding it smooth.

Twenty some years ago I converted a furnace blower motor into a edge finishing sander.  I had asked a furnace repairman to save a motor for me when a furnace was being discarded.  At the time I used a sanding drum from Sears.  I bought a bunch of sanding sleeves at the time but many years later, when I tried to buy more sanding sleeves I found they were no longer carried for that size drum any more.  Apparently Sears had discontinued that tool line.

I called many wood tool companies trying to find an alternative and got great results with Lee Valley Tools. Bob who works at Lee Valley Tools in Halifax came up with the solution for me when he asked what I was trying to do.  He sold me a nice drum set kit and a shaft adapter.  He suggested I could pick up a 1/2 inch drill chuck from Princess Auto since he no longer carried them.  I wanted to continue to use my motor and hold my leather products vertically to sand the edges.  I suppose I could put a sanding drum in a drill press and run my work horizontally but I was used to finishing leather edges this one way for decades. As well, I was used to seeing work held vertically for sanding at a shoe repair shop I used to visit regularly after school when I was a teenager.

Drum sander with motor set up for finishing leather edges.

Motorized drum sander made for finishing leather edges.

This homemade leather edge finisher that I use in my leather shop everyday consists of a furnace blower motor with an electric switch purchased at a hardware store for turning it on and off.  An extension cord has been cut and attached to the motor so I can plug the motor into a wall socket.  You can check with an electrician to do this as well as switching wires to change the rotation direction of the motor should you have to do so.  The board is C clamped to a workbench for easy removal in case I need the bench space.

The shaft adapter attaches to the motor shaft with two allen key bolts. The drill chuck screws onto the threaded end of the shaft adapter. Choose a sanding drum size and sanding sleeve grit from the Lee Valley Tool kit and tighten it in the chuck with a drill key.

To cut down on leather dust from the sander, I screwed a leather strap loop to a piece of wood to insert my shop vac tube into near the sanding disc.  I still advise using eye protectors and a shop mask even though the shop vac captures most of the leather dust from sanding the leather edges.

Beveling Leather Edges

Leather edge rounded with beveler leather craft tool.

Rounding corner of leather edge with beveler leather craft tool.


After the edges are sanded, I continue finishing leather edges by rounding the corners with a beveling hand tool.  The larger the number on the beveling leather tools, the more leather is removed from the corner of the edge.

Coloring & Burnishing Edges

The last step of finishing leather edges seems to vary from leather worker to leather worker.  Each leather worker seems to have their own preference for coloring and burnishing the leather edge.   There are a lot of leather dyes and finishes to choose from.

Edge finish applied with foam applicator along edge of leather.

Applying edge kote with sponge applicator to leather edge.


I have used Fiebings Edge Kote for years to give a hard color leather finish.  The leather can be smoothed down by burnishing the edge with a denim cloth that had been coated with beeswax.  Burnishing is smoothing the leather edge with friction by rubbing it with a cloth in one direction for a number of times until smooth.

For years I used to attend craft shows where a fellow leather craftsman used to apply Fiebing’s Leather Dye to the edge of belts. Then he would rub paste saddle soap into the edge and burnish with a cloth.  The edge was slicked very smooth with this leather edge finishing technique.

A saddle maker from years ago that had his leather carvings displayed in art exhibits used another technique that gave a smooth glass edge finish.  He dyed the edge with Fiebing’s Leather Dye.  Then he dampened the leather edge with water and slicked it numerous times with denim or waxed paper.

When I used to visit shoe repair shops, they would use an edge ink on the edge of the shoe’s sole.  This edge ink contained a wax that made a smooth waxed edge when the inked leather sole edge was heated from the friction of a rotating rubber finishing wheel.

Some leather workers even made their own finish from a mixture of corn starch and water which they applied to the dyed leather edge.  Other leather crafts people use acrylic leather paint while others just apply the leather dye without doing anything else.

If the leather edge is nice and smooth, you have lots of leeway in developing your own personal preference for finishing leather edges with different dyes, waxes, finishes and burnishing techniques.  A well finished edge improves the overall look of your leather craft project.

Travel Money Belt Custom Made

Posted on: November 15th, 2014 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Making A Travel Money Belt

1.  Our leather travel money belts are made totally from genuine cowhide, both the top and bottom pieces.  The belt is first cut from a piece of 5-6 oz thick premium tooling leather with a strap cutter leather craft tool.  This thickness is for the top piece of the money belt.  The underneath piece of the leather money belt that contains the long zipper pocket is cut from 3-4 oz thick premium tooling leather.  Note that the hide must have a straight cut along the edge for the strap cutter tool to follow along.

Cutting the travel money belt from the hide.

Cutting the travel money belt from the hide with the strap cutter leather tool.

Tooling Design and Name in Leather

2.  The custom money belts are made individually when the order is placed.  Many people want us to make their travel money belts plain.  However, others request it be made with an imprinted design or name.  To imprint a design into the leather, the top surface is first dampened with water to allow the metal stamp to deboss the leather surface.  The metal stamp tool is struck with a wooden or rawhide mallet while the leather sits on a hard smooth surface like this piece of quartz. Also it is important that the table is solid and does not have any bounce.

Designs stamped into the leather belt.

Designs and names can be hammered into the damp leather belt.

 Dyeing the Leather

3.  Four coats of dye are applied to the leather money belt. The applicator in the picture is made of sheep’s wool stapled to a wooden block.  This thick applicator holds a lot of dye which allows it to flow into the design.  If we wanted the dye not to go into the design so there would be a contrasting color of the natural leather leather showing through, we would have used a thinner applicator of flannel fabric stapled to a wooden block. Vinyl gloves are worn to keep the dye and other leather chemicals from absorbing into our own skin which would be unhealthy.   After that, neatsfoot oil is rubbed in to condition the leather.  Finally two coats of resolene polish provides a beautifully shined finish and top seal.

Leather dye applied to the travel money belt.

Leather dye is applied with a sheepskin applicator to the cowhide money belt.

Making Long Zipper Hidden Pocket

4.  The zipper is sewn into the bottom piece of leather on our industrial walking foot sewing machine.  We buy the zipper in very long lengths so we can make the zipper pocket as long as the person’s waist size will allow.  The bigger the waist the longer the zipper pocket.


Long zipper pocket sewn in travel money belt.

Long zipper sewn in travel money belt.

Contact cement is applied along the edge inside edge of both pieces of leather.  When the contact cement has dried enough so that it is not sticky, both leather pieces are carefully pressed together.  The two leather pieces are bonded together with the tapping of a cobbler’s hammer on an anvil.  The access leather is then trimmed off with a sharp utility knife.

Hammer taps the leather belt pieces together to bond glue.

The leather zipper pocket and top leather are tapped with a hammer to bond the contact cement.


Finishing Edges and Belt Ends

5.  Although the excess leather had been trimmed, the edge is sanded smooth and even before the two pieces of leather are sewn together on our walking foot industrial sewing machine with industrial nylon thread for strength.

Sanding edges of leather travel money belt.

Edges of travel money belt sanded even and smooth.

Next, the leather edge corners are rounded off for a finished look as well as for comfort.  The hand beveller tool will be used to round all four corner edges along the length of the belt.

Leather edges rounded with beveller tool.

Belt edges are rounded with a bevelling hand tool.

After the edges are dyed and burnished with beeswax, the buckle is ready to be attached.  First rivet holes are punched as well as an oblong shape hole for the buckle tongue.  Rapid rivets are set to permanently secure the buckle. The buckle is a quality silver chrome plated solid brass buckle or a gold solid brass buckle.

Rivets secure the buckle to the custom leather money belt.

Buckle is secured in place by setting rivets in the custom money belt.

A drive punch tool is struck with a hammer to make seven round buckle adjustment holes.  We do all our punching and setting of rivets on a large tree stump that is used as a work table. The stump is solid and will not allow any bounce when hammering.  We also put a piece of scrap leather under the belt being punched to allow the sharp edges of the leather hole punch tool to last longer.

Hammering drive punch to make holes in leather money belt.

A drive punch tool makes holes in the leather travel money belt.

 Finished Travel Money Belt

6.  Our custom made money belt will easily pack a lot of trifolded bills in the hidden zipper pocket.  People hide the money in the belt for vacation travel and business trips.  So not to bring attention to the money belt, daily purchases should be made with money from your wallet or purse.  Back in your hotel room, you would take money from your travel money belt to add to your wallet or purse for one day’s needs.  We can provide you the leather craft supplies to make your own belts. Custom made travel money belts for men and women can also be made by us for you in various widths and colors.

Finished travel money belt ready to securely hide your money.

Tooled design leather money belt ready to hide your money for your vacation.


Ox Bell Straps – Ross Farm to Chester Basin

Posted on: November 8th, 2014 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Nostalgic Ox Bell Straps

Earlier this year, I (Jamie Hartling) had the enjoyment of doing some custom leather work for Mr. Lenethen’s daughter.  It consisted of making a couple ox bell straps to display some of his metal work owned by his daughter, Valerie. These stainless steel ornaments are quite a keep sake.

She told me some interesting stories about her Dad .  In Mr. Lenethen’s youth, teenagers had a lot more responsibilities than today.  What chore could you give a 16 year child that would be dramatically more time consuming than emptying the dish washer or vacuuming a room? Imagine today if you had to ask your 16 year old son or daughter to take the responsibility to get a couple oxen ready for a trip.  The task will involve delivering grain to a mill since it was ready to be made into flour. It will take two days to get there because of the distance and condition of the old dirt roads so you must be prepared to sleep on the wagon for the night. That’s exactly the task that P.O. Lenethen had to do years ago at age 16 when requested by the farmer he was working for at the time. The trip involved taking the two oxen and wagon from the Mill Village, Nova Scotia area to the mill in the Camperdown, NS area.

Mr. Lenethen grew up in East Port Medway, Queens County, Nova Scotia, Canada as a youngster. Although as an adult, he worked at totally different employment than on a farm, he always had an interest in oxen. He would have seen lots of oxen in his day on the South Shore. Because of his love for oxen, he enjoyed making ox bells and decorations from stainless steel in his spare time for souvenirs. He proudly made quite a number of ox bells in the 1980’s.  At the age of 94, in 2012, Mr. Lenethen passed away.

ox bell straps

Custom leather ox bell straps crafted by Leathersmith Designs for nostalgic ox bells and hearts made by P.O. Lenethen.

Oxen Transport Goods From Ross Farm to Chester Basin

In 2010 for the 250th anniversary of Chester Basin, I enjoyed viewing a re-enactment of oxen transporting goods from New Ross, NS to Chester Basin on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. This event was organized by Ross Farm Museum and the Chester Basin 250th Anniversary Society.  It involved eight teams of oxen.

New Ross and Chester Basin have been interdependent communities for hundreds of years. The farms of New Ross produced items such as food, lumber and wool-crafted products for local use and export to coastal communities. Imported goods required, such as stoves, books and farming tools, arrived at Chester Basin by sea.  The transportation of the goods between the coastal communities and inland communities in old days was done by ox and wagon.  For the re-enactment, one of the wagons was unloaded onto the Tancook Whaler, which is part of the historic vessel collection of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, NS.

This historic transportation re-enactment journey with the oxen also took them two days to reach Chester Basin. I watched the oxen come down the road with their custom leather head pieces beautifully decorated in metal ornaments. Among the hoofs clip clopping, I heard the oxen bells making their unique clanging sound hanging from the ox bell straps as Mr. Lenethen would have enjoyed years ago.

There were a lot of responsibilities, chores and daily work for youth and adults from times gone by.  What kind of chores or responsibilities did you, your parents or grandparents have growing up that are different from today?  Are the responsibilities and chores of today’s youth less, more or just different than the youth of the past?  What’s your opinion?


Brass ox bell hang from the beautifully decorated studded custom leather work on this oxen team.



Goods being transported by oxen teams from New Ross to Chester Basin for the 250th Anniversary of Chester Basin.



Goods arrive in Chester Basin, NS from New Ross, Nova Scotia by ox and wagon.




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