I’m Back Baby! – Well, sort of…

Machinist shop – Mike Savad

I’m working on getting the leather and wood shop back up and running while working a part-time day job.  The recovery from injury is slow and frustrating but I can start doing some things now.  While doing some weekend reading, I came across this fine quote by Drucker.

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

~ Peter Drucker Managing for Business Effectiveness, 1963 p. 53.

U.S. Army Riding Gloves Pattern – free

In my internet sleuthing I have gathered literally thousands of images, plans, and patterns of things I would like to make or have for reference.  Government documents, like the scans below, are invaluable resources for the maker when they are made public.  Who would know how to better and more efficiently make a pair of riding gloves than the U.S. Cavalry.  This design is the culmination of more than 110 years in the business.

Click the pattern for the full-sized image. Scale to fit the dimensions shown for the standard sizing or scale them to fit your hand, be it a tiny little paw or oversized ham (note the three sizes on the pattern).

Part of the fun is learning the names of the parts; I had no idea there was even such a thing as a quirk in a glove.

I hope to get around to making a pair soon myself but please let me know if you have any success when you try these.  Thanks for reading and please click “Like” or leave a comment if you have one.

Making a Stitching Pony; Video Tutorial

Stitching Pony, Leather Worker’s Clamp, or Saddler’s Clam…

Whatever you call it, it is a handy device to own if you sew any leather.  These are simple devices that just about anyone can make with little time or money invested.  Although there are many varieties and models, the one shown in this tutorial by Harry Rogers of Bucklehurst Leather is the one I have most commonly seen.  Is there no end to this man’s skill and diversity of talents?

 

The only comments I really have are:

YES, the jaws should be lined with thick, smooth leather and that the gap is necessary to keep the jaws as flat as possible against the work.  It is also nice, but not necessary, to have a compression spring over the bolt to push the jaws apart when loosened.   And finally (terrible way to open a sentence in writing I know), a recent comment from a friend suggested that the tightening nut could be replaced and a better system be devised from a bicycle quick release axle.  Maybe on the next one.

Check out his leather work here:

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Saddle Stitching

When teaching a leather craft or making an item for someone, I am often asked about the machine used to sew such thick leather or through so many layers in tight areas.  People are often astounded when I explain that this is all hand sewn, with an awl and two needles.

Some earlier work. Good, but not great, stitching.

I learned saddle stitching before the internet was a thing and without a book.  I was sewing leather bags, moccasins, and clothing in a relatively poor and untutored way.  As I became more savvy over the years I was able to analyze older pieces and read an article or two about saddle stitching and cordwaining that began to make my work look more professional.

Saddle stitching is the only way to build a large, complex leather project without some ridiculously expensive machinery.

While I have considered making a video to give an introduction to saddle stitching I know there are many master craftsmen out there far more skilled to do this properly.  One of them is Nigel Armitage of Armitage Leather.  He is a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen of Britain which I understand is nothing to sneeze at (I can hardly imagine the level of dedication most of these men and women have for their crafts).

Image result for Guild of Master Craftsmen

On to the show…

This is probably the best and simplest tutorial I have seen online about learning the basics of saddle stitch.  If you are new to this, remember, the pricking iron is not an absolute necessity for starting out but it will make you seams straight and beautiful.  If you don’t own one, you can still mark and follow a line or even mark the stitches with a ruler and awl (I did this for a very long time).

I hope this answers some question for those getting interested in leather work and saves you some of the headaches I experienced without proper instruction.

 

Making a Minimalist Wallet

I try to live by the creed of learning and making something good every day.

The Minimalist Wallet

As we have been pondering the holiday season it seemed a good time to get a jump on some leatherworking projects I’ve had in mind the past few months.  This morning, before getting to work on other chores, I decided to take a little time and work out a slightly modified Minimalist Wallet.  If you have followed this blog for long, you may have seen a couple earlier wallet projects we shared HERE and HERE.  This isn’t a complicated project and might be a good one to start with if you trying your hand at leatherworking for the first time.

The All-Encompassing Symbol of the Age

Making the Pattern –

It would be pretty optimistic to just dive in and start cutting out a wallet without knowing what needs to fit.  I used a debit card for scale as there will inevitably be a couple of these in just about any modern traveler’s pocket.  I didn’t put a lot of time into the pattern as I have made a similar style before and knew the basics of what I wanted; essentially two pockets and very little sewing.

A Bit of Sloppy Origami to Test the Dimensions

To create two pockets, there needs to be three layers; two on the outside and one to divide.  To make the cards more accessible, the outer pocket will be a “reveal” and I chose to do this the simplest way possible, by a diagonal straight line.

Test Fitting and Trimming the Draft Pattern

I ended up tightening the width and lengthening the entirety just a bit from my original estimates for a better fit.  The difficult part is over.

The Draft is Transferred to Stiff Bristol Board for Multiple Uses

After the pattern is transferred to the card stock, it can be used many times without fuss.  It is a good idea to label your patterns before storage as they begin to look alike when you amass a large folder of them (was this a pocket, part of a shoe, some sort of handle cover?).

Getting Down to Business –

The next step is to cut out the pattern on appropriate leather.  I’m using Hermann Oak 1.5 mm tooling side that was leftover from an earlier project.  Neatness in cutting is very important as it will affect the look of the entire piece if the cuts are even a millimeter or two off or wavering in any way.  Since most people seem to prefer dark leathers for this sort of thing I chose to dye it Medium Brown with Fiebings Leather Dye.

Wet with Dye

After the dye sets you’re free to move on.  I started by marking and awling the stitching holes at about a 5 mm increment.  I will admit, this was not my straightest set of stitching lines ever.

Punching the Holes

I almost always use a double needle saddle stitch when sewing leather as it is the best and strongest choice in most cases.  I chose a contrasting thread to give it a fine finished look.

Finishing Up

And finally, the edges were dyed again and burnished to create a smooth, finished look.  Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the outcome.  This one will be the prototype to work from and I’ll be able to take a little more care now that I have learned from this one.  If I ever get around to making enough to sell, I’ll put them on my Etsy Store.

To view this project on Instructables, click the link here: Minimalist Wallet

I have a slightly more complex project laid out for later.  If I take the time to document it, I’ll post it up here.

Leatherworking Images from the Middle Ages

Some things never really change…

While looking through my image archive I came upon some leather working illustrations dated to the early 15th century.  All but one of the images below is from the extremely informative Mendel manuscript dated 1425 created at Nuremberg, in what is now Germany.

Nuremberg ca. 1648

Creating leather from animal hides has been an important process for many thousands of years with various types of leather created dependent upon the intended use (e.g., shoes, belts, gloves, parchment, shields, ties, lariats, etc.).  Creating quality leather from a hide not only requires in-depth knowledge of the process, a little chemistry, and a little bit of hard labor.

These illustrations are an invaluable snapshot in time and space of tradesmen plying their skills.  We can learn from these.  I’ve arranged the selected images below in an order that makes sense to me from the processes I have used or seen over many years.  In  my short journey to Morocco many years ago I was lucky to wander through the ancient tannery there and see leather being produced and products made on a remarkable scale in ways that have probably not changed in several millennia.  That is what we see below.

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Furrier – The furrier is sorting what appear to be “hair on” skins either for sale or for making warm clothing.  This was northern Europe after all.  The tradition of trapping or hunting fur-bearing animals is probably as old as human’s time in cold climates.

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Soaking the hides –  The first step in making leather often involves soaking the hide to hydrate it, sometimes even promoting a brief spell of bacterial growth to “slip” the hair.  Most leather manufacturers, however, want to prevent any contamination and use other methods to swell the hide by adding caustic lime (a.k.a. slaked lime, slack lime, limewater, or Ca(OH)2). This tub might be a tanning tub containing tannins from plant material (hence the name “tanning”).

Mendel_flesher

De-hair and fleshing (a.k.a. drudgery on a pole) – The man above is de-hairing a sheep skin on a fleshing beam; a fairly dull and not very fun project for me.  My face probably resembles his when I do this task more than a few times in a row.  He will then flip the skin over and clean the membranes, fats, etc. from the flesh side before a second bath in the caustic solution.  For parchment, I understand that there was only a partial rinse after this but for soft and supple leathers, the skin is rinsed thoroughly to neutralize the pH then treated in a low pH (acidic) bath to make true tanned leather.

Mendel_parchement maker

Final Scraping in the Frame – Skins are often stretched on a frame to dry and further scraped for a consistent and smooth surface.  The hide above is destined to be parchment so it must be a perfect as possible.

What does all this become?

Just as today, people need and use leather for its plasticity, strength, and durability.

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Here we see a cordwainer making shoes.  It looks like he in the midst of attaching a sole while sitting at his workbench.  The simple tools of the trade are laid in front of him and some finished shoes are displayed behind.  Patterns or forms hang on the wall and his pail, probably for water, sits at his feet.

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Our workman above is showing leather hose, a popular bit of clothing in its day.

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The purse maker is doing a bit of fancy work while his scraps lie beneath his feet; a nice detail.

furrier thong cutter

I’m not sure what this guy is actually doing.  If anyone knows for certain, please let me know!

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Here we have another shoemaker (cordwainer) hard at work at his bench.  Shoes have always been in demand.  That is a classic shoemaker’s knife on the bench,

1425c - Mendel Housebook I, Fol 27v

The belt maker had an assortment of belts and is in the midst of punching a hole.  Good timing for capturing this image.

Bag maker

Another bag maker creating a classic belt pouch and displaying his wares.

Landauer Twelve Brothers' House manuscript, c. 15th century

Another take on the cordwainer from the same period by a different artist with a couple of other tools in the background (from the Landauer manuscript).

Why are these guys all old?

A little background – an interesting story of the Zwölfbrüderhausstiftungen (the Twelve Brother’s House).

From BiblioOdyssey, a fine, but sadly dormant weblog:  “In 14th century Germany, a wealthy trader by the name of Mendel established a charitable endowment in the city of Nuremberg, known as the Twelve Brothers House Foundation (Zwölfbrüderhausstiftungen). A dozen elderly and unwell (but capable) citizens were (I assume) given a place to live in exchange for their performing work duties.

Although the house life and routine was said to have been inspired by the example of the apostles, there was a fairly anti-clerical or anti-religious tone to the rules and priests were formally excluded from being taken in as one of the ‘brothers’. The house served as a model for the commencement of similar charity foundations in other German cities.

Mendel’s grandson began the practice in the 15th century of having sketches made of each of the brothers engaged in their chosen employment together with detailed notes about the tools and practices relating to their work. The manuscripts were updated until (I think) the beginning of the 19th century, although portraits of craftsmen engaged in their work were only produced in the 15th and 16th centuries.”

I hope you enjoy learning from these images as much as I do.

 

Knife Sheath

I realize this isn’t the most exiting project of the year but a necessary one nonetheless.  My knife sheath for the “regular” camp knife was a sloppily done remake of the original.  The knife maker did an excellent job on the knife itself but the sheath wasn’t up to the standard of this fine tool.

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No surprisingly, I have quite a lot of leather around for small projects like this so after some searching I chose a very thick and solid, wax stuffed leather that was batch dyed a very dark brown.  For durability I decided to rivet this sheath with brass which makes for fairly quick work as well.  The only real issue is getting the fit just right; tight enough to hold upside down but loose enough to come out when called upon.DSC_0127 (12)

After construction, a bit of hot water was poured over the body to shrink it up a bit and the well-oiled knife left in it for form-fitting.  Now, we’re ready for the woods again.

The Crafting of Traditional Vegetable Tanned Huarache Footwear Leather

I have raved about the Huarache Blog before. Here’s a re-run of the excellent post about how real leather is still made by hand in Mexico.

Huarache Blog

Unlike most mainstream footwear, Mexican Huarache footwear leather is still vegetable tanned using tree bark. Fewer tanneries in the world still offer vegetable tanned leathers because of the slower tanning process and higher costs of the natural raw materials used.

The natural benefits of vegetable tanned leather are:

1. The organic tanning process is non toxic and has a much lesser impact on the environment and the health of the tanners (chrome tannery workers have a 20%-50% higher chance of cancer risk).

2. The leather maintains some of its natural qualities to stretch and adapt to your foot shape.

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A few months ago in a post titled “Taller De Curtiduria González – Vegetable Tanning the Best Huarache Leathers” I introduced Jesús and Antonio González the father and son tanners in Colima, Mexico who still practice this traditional and centuries old tanning method.

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The González tannery offers a variety…

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Roman Loculus

Or what we might call a messenger bag.

I finally finished the commissioned bag from last month based on the beautifully proportioned Roman design.  As far as I know, this design dates back to at least the First Century C.E. and judging by it’s logic, probably much further.

Loculus1I think the true loculus (satchel) utilized an envelope design from a single small goat hide but as they survive only in art, we have to make a few guesses as to construction.  The one I made has a few more modern features including inner dividers and a cell phone pocket.

Loculus4The leather is an oiled cowhide with a slightly scotched (textured) surface.  This type of leather wears well, is weather-resistant, and comes back to life with a wipe down.

Loculus2A simple button closer secures the flap while the straps cover the seams and give it body.  The sewing is all double needle saddle stitch done by hand.

Loculus3The body is divided into three pockets with an added cell phone holder.

handleFinally, the handle.  Historic examples appear to have used this handle over the end of the staff with a cross piece through the loops, keeping it from sliding side-to-side as the one below.

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To remain unencumbered, Roman Legionaries carried this bag on the furca (travel staff).

I hope Gen, it’s new owner, loves it and finds it useful.

 

 

Leather Dopp Kit

DSC_0040A small toiletries bag made from a wax-impregnated leather.  The design is essentially that of a very small 18th century portmanteau.  Included here are some of the basic tools-of-the-trade for scale and perspective.  I think leather work is appealing to me, in part, due to the honest simplicity and lack of power tools.  Most projects can be accomplished with a sharp knife, straight-edge, awl and some stitching needles.

DSC_0039This certainly is not anything fancy but it will do the trick.