Leathercraft Posts

Axe Sheath & Hatchet Sheath Handmade DIY

Posted on: April 18th, 2017 by Alana LeBlanc

An axe sheath – hatchet sheath is handmade in this step by step DIY hatchet cover article. This snug fitting leather axe cover design protects you and your axe blade. Learn how to make an axe case & hatchet cover with the required leather craft tools.

Leather hatchet sheath & double head axe sheath handcrafted.

Leather hatchet sheath and double head axe sheath custom made.

Tracing the blade

1.  Place the axe on a thin piece of cardboard and trace the blade. An average measurement is around two inches in from the blade tip. Since this axe sheath is not covering the entire head of the axe, you only need to trace the three sides which are the blade edge shown on the top and the left/right side of the head in the following photo.

Hatchet put on firm bristol board.

Hatchet placed on firm bristol board or card stock paper.

Hatchet blade tracing to make pattern for case.

Hatchet blade traced on three sides to make a pattern case.

Adding Space For The Rivets

2. This hatchet sheath is designed in a way that protects your blade from the rivets to prevent damage. For this, we add a third layer of leather for the blade to rest against. Take your tracing of your blade and add 5/8 inch to the surrounding edge. Although there are three sides to the tracing, you only do this to the top and blade sides. The handle side will be where the blade slides into the sheath. On that side you are going to draw a tab to fold and snap the blade secure onto the case.

Axe case pattern parts for leather cover.

Axe case pattern showing parts for leather cover.

Cutting The Leather Hatchet Sheath

3. Next step is to trace the pattern you have created onto your leather. You want to make sure your sheath will be strong, so use 9 ounce tooling leather. 9 oz thick leather is 9/64 inches thick. First you must flip the pattern over and trace this on the leather. It is important to do this so the top grain side of the leather is always facing out. Next, cut the tab off the pattern and trace it on the leather. DO NOT FLIP this part. Lastly, separate the leather insert piece from the axe head tracing and trace your insert piece on the leather. The leather is easily cut with a utility knife on a cutting pad. I will refer to this leather insert piece in the rest of the article as a welt.

Coloring Leather

4.  You can dye, neatsfoot oil and polish the leather to give it a nice finish immediately after you cut the leather shapes being careful not to get oil on the areas where you will glue as glue does not stick well to oily leather.  However, in this example we just applied pure neatsfoot oil with a cloth or sponge and polished it with Fiebings resolene just before we set the rivets. The neatsfoot oil gave the leather the nice deep tan color.  When using leather dyes it is best to avoid the flamable types if you are buying outside your own country as they have to be shipped by special means which can be expensive. Stick to the nonflammable leather dyes and leather finishes. Also wear protective gloves and use in well venitilated areas.

Gluing your pieces together

5. You want to make sure you rough up the areas where glue will be applied to the hatchet sheath. A low grit sandpaper will do the trick.  This inside leather welt piece protects the sharp blade from being damaged by preventing the axe blade from touching the metal rivets.

Inside welt cemented to two sides of leather hathchet cover.

Inside welt glued to two sides of leather hatchet cover.

Leather welt protecting sharp axe blade from metal rivets.

Leather welt protects the sharp axe blade from the metal rivets.

Sanding Edges Of Your Hatchet Case

6. After the gluing stage, sand the edge of the three layers even on a drum sander or by hand.

Sanding edge even of leather axe case on drum sander.

Sanding the edge of the leather axe case even on drum sander.

Beveling Edge Of Leather Axe Sheath

7. The leather edges can be beveled with a hand beveler tool or sanded by hand to round the square edges.

Hand beveler leather craft tool rounds corners of leather.

Using hand beveler tool to round corners of leather.

Holes for Rivets

8. The most common way to put holes in leather is to use a drive punch but you can also drill them. The more layers of leather, the harder it can be to punch a hole perpendicular through such a combined thickness of material. If you have a drill press it can make this process much easier.

Rivet holes made with leather craft hole punch or drill.

Rivet holes made with leather craft drive punch or drill.

Setting Rivets In Your Axe Sheath

9. There are a few types of rivets you can use for this project. We suggest you use Double Cap Rivets X Large for going through three layers of 9 oz thick leather. If you use thinner leather, you might have to use a shorter post rivet such as large double cap rivet. These types of rivets are very strong and have the same finished cap on both sides when set.

You can use a rivet setter to achieve a rounded surface on the top side or you can use a cobbler’s hammer, which leaves the rivet head flat on both sides. A cobblers hammer has a slight convex head so it does not mark or damage the leather surface. However, a carpenter’s hammer would set the rivets as well. Either way, just make sure there is a solid metal surface to set them on that does not have any bounce.

Rivets for leather being set on mini anvil.

Setting rivets in leather on mini anvil.

Setting the Snap Cap

10. The last step to making your hatchet sheath is to set the snap. For 9 oz thick leather, use the line 24 large jacket snaps with a long post.  For thinner leathers, use the large size snaps with the regular post. This is done by first setting the cap part of your snap in the leather tab. The cap is the part of the snap you push with your thumb. To locate where the cap should be set, measure around ¾ inch from the tip of the leather tab and mark it in the center. Punch the hole with a drive punch. Next you put the axe in the case and fold over the tab on to the body of the case. Use a pencil and make a spot through the hole onto the body of the case.

Now you can set the cap of the snap.  First put the snap cap post through the hole. Put a dot anvil under the cap to keep the cap’s curvature. Put the socket through the cap post and strike the line 24 durable snap setter with a hammer to crimp the post around the socket.

Setting the Snap Stud

Before you punch the hole in the body, make sure you put a thick scrap piece of leather inside the axe sheath. This will prevent you punching the hole right through the back of the case.

The last step is to set the stud part of the snap. Put the snap post through the hole. You need to slide a strong metal surface into the axe case and under the snap post such as a mini anvil. A solid non bounce metal surface is required to ensure the snap will be set properly. Place the stud trough the post and set it with the line 24 durable dot setter.  The dot anvil is not required to be used for this part of the snap as you want a flat surface.

Stud part of snap set on hatchet sheath body.

Setting stud part of snap on hachet sheath body.

You are finished!

Finished handmaking leather hatchet cover.

Handmade leather hatchet cover finished.


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


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.


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 Fiebing’s 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.


Making Knives By A Teenage Craftsman

Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

 

Keon Maskell Making Knives Since Age 13

Over the years I have met different people with unique talents that have walked into my custom leather shop.  Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Keon Maskell who enjoys making knives from his home workshop in Westphal, Nova Scotia, Canada.  He wanted to order a custom knife case to fit one of his latest creations.  He showed me a beautifully made knife that he had just finished.  What is really interesting is that Keon is a young man of age 16 in grade 11 high school that taught himself how to make his own unique knives.

In elementary school he had an interest in swords and knives.  At age 13 he wanted to own a good quality knife but did not have the money to buy one.  He was totally self motivated and decided to teach himself the craft so he could have an unique knife.  At that young age he started  to forge his own knives all by himself.  He researched the internet for articles, watched instructional youtube videos, read books and experimented.   By age 15, Keon started to get requests for his work and has shipped his custom knives to places as far away as Sweden, Ohio, Pennsylvania in addition to doing local orders.

Process in Making Knives

When he found out that I was interested in the process he used to make his knives, Keon shared the following video showing his knife making steps using a forge and machine tools.  To my surprise, he even included the custom knife case I had made for one of his knives in the video.  It is very interesting watching the process of  making knives which he starts with a plain piece of spring steel and transforms it into a beautifully finished knife with a real deer antler handle.

Video showing the steps to making a knife.

Keon starts making his knives from a piece of 5160 spring steel leaf spring for the blade.  He explains that this type of steel is a good balance between being too brittle and too soft.  After the spring is separated, it still has a curve in it.  To flatten the curve and to flatten the bevels that will later be ground, the steel is first heated red hot to soften it.  Then it is pounded to shape on an anvil with a heavy hammer and then cooled in a bucket of cold water.

flattening knife blade

Keon pounding flat a red hot blade that just came out of the fire.

With a hand grinder, Keon shapes the blade.  Sparks continue to fly from the grinder until he gets the desired bevel into the blade.

Grinding Bevel In Knife

Sparks fly as the bevel is ground in the knife blade.

Quenching which transforms the property of the metal is the next step in making knives.  It involves heating the metal to a high temperature and then cooling it extremely quickly.   The extremely high temperature is obtained by dipping the hot metal in a quenching oil.  This makes the steel very hard but brittle.  To take the brittleness out, the steel is then tempered by adding a constant heat.

Quenching step in making knives.

Quenching is an important step in making knives.

Real deer antlers are used to make the handle.  Keon obtains antlers from family members that hunt.  First the antler is cut to size.  The antler is then boiled to soften the marrow.  This allows the tang to be more easily inserted in the handle after the hole is drilled.  The handle is pinned and the ricasso (unsharpened part of the blade) is wrapped in brass wire.  Both the wire and handle are then epoxied.  Engraving of initial in the antler is done with a Dremel tool.  Danish Oil is applied to the handle to give a beautiful polish as well as for sealing and conditioning.

Engrave knife handle

Engraving knife handle with Dremel tool.

To sharpen the knife blade, Keon hand hones it on a coarse stone.  For the final touch, a fine stone is used.  People interested in contacting Keon about his knives or for custom knife requests can do so by clicking on the youtube button on the above video and leaving him  a comment.

Custom Leather Knife Case

I was pleased to be able to craft a custom leather knife case for one of Keon’s original knives.  A thick leather blade guard was sewn around the inside of the leather knife case.  The perimeter of the hunting knife case was sewn with two rows of thick thread on our harness stitching machine.  It was very interesting to make a personalized knife case having met the actual knife maker.  Thank you Keon for sharing your talent in the process of making knives.

Custom knife case

Custom knife case by Leathersmith Designs for handmade knife by Keon Maskell.


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.


Leather Craft On Shoestring Budget

Posted on: May 28th, 2014 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Tree Stump For Leather Craft Work Bench

When I was in school in the 1970’s at Admiral Westphal Junior High School, some friends came home with me on the school bus to help haul this tree stump out of the woods and down the basement stairs at my parent’s home. A neighbour came over with a chainsaw to level off the top for me. Although I now have my own leather shop, this tree stump has been moved to several locations over the years and has been continually used for punching holes in leather and for holding leather craft tools.

A tree stump is very common in leather shops since it is so solid that their isn’t any bounce when pounding holes in leather or for setting rivets.  On the side of the tree stump is attached a wooden block with holes drilled in it hold the various sizes of leather hole punches.  More leather craft tools are held in place with short strips of leather nailed to the tree stump.  I have been using this same tree stump work bench for many decades.

Hand Make Leather Craft Tools

The anvil on it is actually a train rail. My metal shop teacher in Junior High allowed me to come in on many many noon hours to use a hacksaw to saw the bottom off the train rail. A friend of mine helped me carry it from school to his house about half a mile a way where we took turns with a large electric hand grinder trying to smooth the narrow end which someone had originally cut with a blow torch. I still use the anvil for setting, rivets, setting snaps and pounding leather.

In the background you can see a red handled awl in a cork block which my uncle made for me out of screw driver. I have been using it since I was a young teenager. Other tools made at that time which I still use from time to time are imprint stamps that were made by hand filing and grinding designs into spike heads or metal rods.  With my father’s guidance, we built a workbench out of 2″ X 4″ studs and heavy plywood for cutting my leather.  Sometimes when I was able to pick up larger rusty items cheap like metal shoe lasts, another neighbour sandblasted off the rust and painted it for me so it look brand new.  Even the local furnace repair man saved me some old furnace fan motors from replaced furnaces.  I converted the motors into grinders and drum sanders with some attachments.

Involve Other Leather Hobbyists

You could also get someone else involved with your leather craft hobby so you could go splits on the tools to make it more affordable.  My brother did leather work with me for about half a year when I first started and he bought some beginner leather craft tools.  However his interest was only short lived.

When I was a young kid, I was lucky to have so many people support me and help me get started in my business since I did not have the money at that age to buy a lot of tools. Many of my original tools were made by myself or with the help of others.  Every year for birthday or Christmas gifts, I would always ask for a new leather craft tool to start building my collection of tools which would expand my leather crafting capabilities.

 

Tree stump used as work bench for punching holes, riveting and holding leather craft tools.

Tree stump used as work bench for punching holes, riveting and holding leather craft tools.

 


Making Customized Guitar Straps

Posted on: May 18th, 2014 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Leather Hide For Making Customized Guitar Straps

First a premium piece of tooling cowhide must be chosen to avoid marks and nicks that could be visible in the finished leather craft project.  5 – 6 oz leather thickness works well for making customized guitar straps to give the required strength but also enough suppleness. We choose leather that has been properly prepared on the underneath side from the tannery so there will be no fuzzy pieces of leather coming off on your clothes when you are wearing the guitar strap. Leather hides are supplied in various thickness for different leather craft projects.

custom guitar strap on roll of cowhide

All our custom guitar straps are cut from quality premium tooling cowhide.

Stamp Design

After the leather guitar strap has been cut, we dampen it with water on the top surface only. A firm solid flat surface to work on such as a piece of marble or granite is used when making customized guitar straps. When stamping the guitar straps, we need a firm and solid surface so the stamp tool will not bounce when we hit it with the rawhide mallet. As we stamp the design down the guitar strap, the water will start to dry out so we will have to dampen it again with a wet sponge. If we want to stamp in a name, now is the time to do that as well. This is a labor intensive process since not only each stamp has to be lined up neatly but each stamp has to be hit with the same hardness so the design will all be the same depth. There are lots of leather craft stamps available to decorate your special leather project.

When making customized guitar straps, designs and lettering can be hand stamped into the damp leather.

When making customized guitar straps, designs and lettering can be hand stamped into the damp leather.

Dye Leather

After the water has dried from the leather, we are ready apply leather dye the top surface of the leather. Professional oil dye by the Fiebing Company is used for coloring our guitar straps. It penetrates deeply into the leather while allowing the natural grains of the leather to be seen. Although it is more expensive, we choose to use it so we will not have to worry about rub off like some poorer quality leather dyes.  However, Eco Flo dye also works well and is less expensive to ship since it is not flammable, it does not have to be shipped a special way and therefore is often less expensive to ship. We have a folded piece of flannel cloth nailed to a wooden block. The cloth makes a nice applicator to rub the dye into the leather. The wooden block allows us to hold the applicator easily. Protective gloves are worn so we won’t have to have our hands dyed for weeks. The dye is rubbed on the guitar strap being very careful not to get it into the stamped design. This is a tedious time consuming process when making customized guitar straps. Many applications are applied to get an even coverage and the desired darkness we want. Keep in mind that this leather dye is meant for natural undyed vegetable tanned leather and not meant for redying leather that has already been colored.

Guitar Strap Dyeing

The custom leather guitar strap is dyed by hand, being careful not to go into the imprint.

Border Design

Once the dye has dried, we can make a boarder design along the guitar strap with this groove tool. This adjustable groover tool is also used for making stitch grooves for doing sewing for other leather craft projects. There is a small set screw which allows us to adjust how far from the edge we want the groove to be. This groove tool is also a great leather craft tool to make channels for sewing other leather projects.

Guitar Strap Line

A boarder line adds a nice touch to our imprinted guitar straps.

Round Edges

Rather than have a square edge, we round the edge of the guitar strap with this beveller for a more finished look. There are different size bevellers for taking off a little from the edge to a lot. When making customized guitar straps, we even bevel the underneath side for a more comfortable feel on the shoulder. Although we bevel both the top and bottom side of our guitar straps, the bottom is a lot harder to do. Using proper leather craft tools makes the job a lot easier. Now that all the design work is in the leather, we dip the guitar strap into a vat of neatsfoot oil compound to keep the leather from drying out and to give it some more suppleness. After the neatsfoot oil is absorbed over a few hours, we touch it up a bit more with some neatsfoot oil on a brush to even out the color since the neatsfoot oil darkens the leather.

Guitar Strap Bevelling

The corner edges are rounded with a bevelling tool.

Dye Edges

The edges of the guitar straps are dyed with a different dye than the surface. We use Fiebing’s acrylic dye because it holds down all the edge fibers of the leather. Since it is a hard finish, we burnish the edges when dry with beeswax using a denim applicator. Now the surface is ready to have a couple coats of polish, letting each coat thoroughly dry before the next is applied. There are many polishes for leather that will work well. However, we choose Fiebing’s Resolene since it helps seal the dye as well as giving a brilliant quality finish to the leather. There is also other types of leather polish that give a nice finish on the leather. The leather polishes we supply are made for vegetable tanned leather.

Guitar Strap Edge Dyeing

Dyeing the edge of the guitar strap.

Slot Hole Punch For Making Customized Guitar Straps

We punch the slots for adjustment and the round holes for the guitar knobs using a heavy rawhide mallet and an oblong slot punch. So we will not get bounce when we punch the holes, we use a solid wooden tree stump as a work bench. These oblong leather hole punch tools are also used for the slot when using a buckle in a leather craft project.

Punching oblong holes for making customized guitar straps adjustable.

Punching oblong holes for making customized guitar straps adjustable.

Guitar Strap Finished

Now the customize guitar strap is finished and ready to be worn by a musician. This quality personalized leather guitar strap will last for many years and will become more supple with wear. You can see what has been involved in making customized guitar straps from the unfinished piece of leather to the finalized leather craft product. See more of our finished guitar straps on our web page custom leather guitar straps. If you do leather craft work and enjoy making customized guitar straps, check out our leather craft supplies pages for leather hides, leather tools, hole punches, leather craft stamps and leather dyes.

Guitar Strap Leather

Finished custom guitar strap on cowhide it was originally crafted from.


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