Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Getting set up for leatherwork



New Year’s Resolution involve cutting up a cow hide?  Perhaps you have a project that you can only envision in leather.  Well, before you head out to the leather store (online or in person) here’s what I’d recommend you get to start your adventure.  Keep in mind that this list is your starting list to give you an idea of what it takes ($$$ and tools) to start.  The list will grow as you learn, should you find that you actually enjoy this!

1.  A pair of sharp leather scissors/shears.  These can run anywhere from $7.99-$44.99.

2.  A snap setter.  The most basic ones come in little sets with a base with different size divots on it, and a series of little snap setting tools that you need to hit with a mallet.  They also work for rivets.  You will want to buy these from the same place you buy your rivets and snaps since some are manufacturer specific.  They usually run $22.99-$32.99.  If you want to get really fancy, you can get a rivet press and they run right around $100.  Then you have to buy dies for them, and they run about $60/ea. I’d only recommend this if you’re really serious – I did without one for years.

3. A mallet. Plastic or rawhide are both fine.  Just don’t use a metal hammer on your metal tools since it will completely, 100%, destroy them. You’ll need this little guy to work with your snap setter. You can find one of these for about $20.

4. A leather hole punch.  For anything you want to punch holes in (stitching, rivets, snaps, etc) you’re going to need either a leather tube punch set or a rotary punch.  I prefer the rotary, although that only really works for punching holes on the edge of things.  For something further in, you need a tube punch.  These run $14.99-$59.99. If you want to make irregular holes (like not small round ones) you might want a knife, though in a pinch a really sharp X-acto will work.   If you opt for the punch set, get a cutting board from Ikea to put under it when you’re punching (they’re like $2).

5. Dye.  Since I imagine you want to have your leather a color other than flesh, right?  Small bottles of dye run about $6.50-$8.00.  You can get these from Fiebings (usually alcohol based, so a little stinky) or Tandy (mostly water based, so less stinky).

6. Paint.  Again, Tandy has water based if you want to do some painting. These run about $5/bottle.

7. Topcoat.  You’ve put all this work into the cut and color of your piece – make sure it stays on by choosing and applying a topcoat. Fiebings and Tandy again both sell these – expect to pay $8+ for a small bottle.

8. Thread or Lace.  If you’re only doing a small amount, this might be your best source for leather lace. You can buy just a small amount, rather than dropping $35 on a roll.  They also have lots of colors, which are fun.  $5 for two 72” laces, I’d say that would be enough to lace a small bag.  If you want stitched, I’d recommend a waxed thread.

9. Tools. If you want to do any sort of patterning on the leather, you’re going to need to opt for either the traditional “leather tooling” tools.  You can get a starter tooling set for $35 on amazon.  If you want to brand it, like I often do, expect to spend $200+ to get a decent branding iron.  You can get a cheap-o one for $22 online, but you will burn yourself and your lines will not look clean. The tips also will break and fall off onto your leather with heavy use, since they’re not really meant for this.  Or, eHow seems to think you can make your own branding iron.  Though if we’re comparing bad ideas, this one wins.  Just in case there’s any mistake – I DO NOT recommend this!

10. Leather.  And, this is where it gets expensive.  Leather is sold by the hide, and you should expect to pay a minimum of $100 for a hide.  It’s priced by the square foot, so don’t be fooled when you go looking at it – that’s just how they determine price, it’s not that they’ll cut it for you.  Hide House has an amazing collection of leather but if you’re going to be putting any patterning (with tools, branding, etc) or paint and dye on it, make sure you get vegetable tanned leather.  The Leather Guy has some smaller pieces, but be aware that not all of the hide you purchase will be useable.  There will be thin spots, marks, and other variations that will make it impossible to use every square inch.  There will be waste – it’s just what happens.


Okay, so there’s your starter list.  And here’s your starter price tag:  $227.47 if you buy the cheapest version of everything.  I highly recommend going to your local Tandy Leather or other leather store and seeing if they have classes so you have a chance to experiment with the various tools before buying them. This sport isn’t cheap, so be prepared to do a few things:  spend a lot of money, and make mistakes.  I’ve been working in leather for almost 10 years, and there’s a definite difference in my understanding and skill from where I was ten years ago.  You can take classes, read books, watch videos, and the best way to improve is by doing. 

Of course, if you decide this looks too daunting but you still want that custom leather piece made, give me a shout.  I’m happy to help, and I can even copy your artwork into leather.  You tell me the piece you’d like, and I can give you the dimensions you have to work with.  Then you send me a pdf/jpg, and I will use my skills, tools, and expertise to transfer it to a one of a kind leather item that you made.  Here’s my email, just to give you a kick start –

Happy New Year! I’m off to go buy some more leather tools.  Writing this gave me the itch...



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