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 from Leathersmith Designs to repair valve covers on organ bellows.

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

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 new 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 piano style reed organ that is over 100 years old.

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 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.


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.

Custom leather ox bell straps crafted for ox bells.

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?

decorative-studded-leather-oxen

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

 

oxen-chester-basin

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

 

oxen-pulling-wagon

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

 

 

 


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.

Since I published this article in 2014, Keon has become even more involved in equipping hunters, fisherman, bushcrafters and outdoorsmen with the knives he makes.  For more information on Keon’s knives, you can reach him by email at maskellknives@gmail.com


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.

Other Craft Guides for Nova Scotia Artisans

Unfortunately, since this article was published, the “The Guide To Craft & Art in Nova Scotia” booklet and online version have been discontinued.  However, there are other sources available to find crafts people in Nova Scotia.  For the Halifax Dartmouth area, you can pick up the Halifax Art Map at the Nova Scotia Tourist bureau or view the online.  Craft studios are also listed on the Nova Scotia Tourism site or you can pick up or request a free printed copy of the Nova Scotia Doers & Dreamers  Travel Guide from them.  You can also find Nova Scotia craft artisans as well as others across Canada listed on Citizens Of Craft.


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