Leather Craft Shop Posts

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 o/web/20151212011109/http://bridgewatersewingcentre.com/wners 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.


Guided To Leather Craft Shop

Posted on: July 9th, 2014 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Tourists Discover Leather Craft Shop

Margaret MacKenzie, a tourist from Glasgow, Scotland, arrived at our leather craft shop near the beginning of her trip to order a custom guitar strap.  When she returned to Halifax a week later, she picked it up.    She has been enjoying spending her vacation in many of the quaint towns throughout Nova Scotia, Canada.

She said she wanted a personalized hand made craft from Nova Scotia to give as a gift to a musician in her family living in Europe. She arrived at our studio with “The Guide To Craft & Art In Nova Scotia” in her hand which enabled her to find our custom leather craft shop.  The free Guide to Craft & Art made her aware of the many talented craftspeople throughout the province. I agreed that the “The Guide” is a great resource for finding unique shops and gifts from the area as well as for meeting the craftspeople that create these original products.

When I asked what were the highlights of her stay in Nova Scotia, she responded “My, there are too many highlights to narrow it down to just a few”.  However she did mention enjoying visiting the following communities such as Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, Pictou and Truro. She said the people were very friendly and would go out of their way to be helpful.  Aboriginal Day events were most interesting.  Jazz music was enjoyed at the Public Gardens in Halifax as well as visits and participation in many of the churches.  Most of her touring was done on the public transportation system.

After she made her purchase, my family had to go to Halifax.  We offered her a drive as opposed to waiting for the bus.  Ms. MacKenzie graciously accepted.  While on the way, we pointed out the sights before letting her off on Spring Garden Road to continue her touring.   I mentioned the ferry, Citadel Hill and the MacDonald Bridge make great spots for taking photos of the city and Halifax Harbour. It is enjoyable meeting tourists at our leather craft shop.  Over the years we have met some very interesting people from various parts of the world.

Margaret Mackenzie - Tourist from Scotland visits our leather craft shop.

Margaret MacKenzie enjoyed her vacation touring Nova Scotia. We were pleased she discovered our leather craft shop through “The Guide To Craft & Art” when she visited Halifax. In the other hand she is holding a custom guitar strap we made for her.

Meet Talented Crafts People Throughout Nova Scotia

You don’t have to be a tourist to check out the quaint studios tucked away in interesting communities throughout Nova Scotia. Let the beautiful full coloured free booklet called “The Guide To Craft & Art In Nova Scotia” guide you to the many interesting studios run by individual crafts people and artisans. See where the pottery, jewellery, paintings, glass work, woodwork, weaving, blacksmithing, folk art, leather crafts, stone work, textile creations, basketry, photography and other fine artwork are created and designed.  It is available at most tourist outlets and other tourist destinations throughout Nova Scotia.

What is great about the “The Guide To Craft & Art In Nova Scotia” are the several versions that are available.  The printed version is an easy carry size and very interesting with all the full colour images throughout the booklet. The web version is great to do some research in advance on your computer or laptop.  For convenience when travelling, all the same info is also available in a mobile version as well for viewing on your iPhone etc.  Google maps shows the location for each studio beside each artisan listing.   You can easily search by region, type of craft, business name or for demonstrations.

The Guide To Craft & Art - Web Version

Web version of “The Guide To Craft & Art”. It is also viewable in a mobile version.

Great Info In “The Guide To Craft & Art”

What makes The Guide so useful is it’s geographical divisions of Nova Scotia for easy travel.   Each geographic section has short descriptions about the studios and artisans so you can do some checking to see which interests you the most.

As many shops are small family businesses, I would advise checking to confirm business hours in case they are closed due to participation in craft shows or away for some personal reason.  Contact info is provided with each listing along with the normal business hours or a recommendation to call first before visiting.  Although our leather craft shop has normal business hours, we still advise a call first in case we have to step out of the shop for a business errand.

The Craft Guide has tons of useful information.  The artisan’s social media links are provided with their listings.  Many studios are designated in “The Guide” that do demonstrations.   Tour the workshops to see the crafts being created.  At our leather craft shop, we will walk you through, explaining the equipment and tools used in our trade.  In addition to the craft studio listings, other useful info included are listings of the craft shows, craft organizations, art shows, shops and galleries  throughout Nova Scotia.

With so much repetitive mass produced products in malls, it is a breath of fresh air to be able to be guided to crafts people throughout Nova Scotia making quality original unique products and gifts.  How many places can you actually claim that you met the makers and designers of the products and gifts you just purchased?  We hope you can visit our leather craft shop in Dartmouth as well as the many other interesting artisan studios throughout the province.

Guide To Craft & Art In Nova Scotia

“The Guide To Craft & Art” booklet is a great resource for discovering the unique artisan studios throughout the province of N.S., Canada.


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