Leather Craft Tips
A nice example of a Plough Gauge used to cut Straps & Belts, this would have been used to cut the Stirrup Leathers shown above.
A Round Knife ideal for use on thick leather, this is one of our most dangerous tools if it is not held correctly.
THE LEATHER CONNECTION
LEATHER CRAFT TIPS
Patterns laid out on a 'Butt' in an attempt to achieve the minimum area of waste. this is referred to in both the Footwear & leathergoods industry as 'Pattern Interlocking' & involves what is termed the MPA. Minimum Pattern Area. (The smallest area you can cut a pattern from).
The sections cut using the above layout & showing the waste obtained from this exercise which has been left in position between the cut parts. (Which provides an exploded view). The waste between the patterns is referred to as FW (First waste which is unavoidable waste due to the shape of the patterns). This information is contained in the manuals together with full Cutting & Costing information. If you want to learn more you will need the manuals. The 'Round Knife laying on top of the work was Great Grandfathers, & I am nearly 83 so its somewhere in the region of 200 years old.
TLC Tips #1
Tallow, we used to make what we termed "Buckfat" which was mainly used to polish the raw edges of straps, etc. There was no set formula so it was possible to get it as hard or soft as you wanted, it softened in use & from being held in the hand. Ingredients: Russian Tallow, Bees Wax, Bear fat or Deer Fat, Melt & mix to the required consistency for intended use. Obviously the more Bees wax the stiffer the Buckfat so you will need to experiment. (I don't know how difficult these raw materials are to obtain now). The best leather for the Strop is Crup (a piece of the Butt of a Horse Hide) fixed to one side of a wooden strop (Flesh side up). Preparation: Coat the leather with Buckfat, them apply Carborundum powder making sure it is evenly spread & worked in.
TLC Tips #2
Subject; Irish Moss. Back in the 1950's we used Irish moss to stiffen the insides of piped & turned bags like holdalls, square mouthed kit bags, Gladstone bags, bullion bags & soft luggage. The dried moss was boiled in a pan (water added as required) to produce a thick paste, this was worked into the flesh side of the leather with a Sleeker after a bag was turned & a piece of stiff cardboard cut to fit under the piping was inserted while it dried out. If a past fitters hammer was used on the back of the cardboard to dome the side outwards it gave the article more shape. The use of Irish Moss avoided using other methods of reinforcing the sides of bags & increasing their weight, some makers used ordinary Paste for this job but that not only stuck your stiffening board to the leather it also set hard & cracked like glass when dry. I have some old Victorian bags stiffened this way & the sides have remained stiff, I don't know if Irish Moss is still available but I would expect that some other mosses would work & it might be worth trying some of the Canadian mosses found on the Tundra.
TLC Tips #3
If you use removable Stiffening Boards to shape Bags (as mentioned in TLC Tips #2) or a stack of Drying Boards (used to place flat work under while glue is drying) i.e. wallet sections, it is advisable to coat their surface with wax. (A plain candle rubbed over the surface of the boards) now & again is ideal. If it is necessary to place work under stacking boards it is also advisable to place a weight on top of the pile.
TLC Tips #4
If you produce high class hand made leather goods it follows that the tools used should be the best available, however there is no point in paying good money for tools if they are not looked after. Round, oval & crew punches, especially need to be used with care as even the finest steel can split if misused. A mallet rather than a hammer should always be used to avoid burring the top of a punch, but the choice of the punching surface under the leather is also important & so is its position on the work surface or bench. Punching surfaces must be flat & soft enough for any punch to pass through the leather & into the the surface of the block as this will produce a clean hole. (A blunted punch will leave fibers on the back of the hole), that's if it even works. Suitable surfaces; A block of lead is ideal but requires remelting frequently to get a level surface. A slice off a tree trunk is ideal & provides an end grain that won't damage a punch & if you move the work around on the block it will last longer, (you also have the advantage of tuning it over when the first side is no longer usable). Surface Bounce, is often overlooked & has more effect on hole punching than realised as you have to strike the punch harder or more often than necessary. I will try to explain; a bench has 4 legs at each corner & most people naturally work in front of the center of their bench consequently there is nothing solid under the block & you do not get the full force of the mallet strike. But if you position the punching block directly over a leg & that leg is on solid ground the full force of the strike is transmitted through the punch. This equates to less wear on puncher due to a reduction in strikes & you should be able to feel & hear the difference.
TLC Tips #5
Rivets, these are never quite as secure as hand sewing but provide a quick method of attaching buckles, etc. to belts & bags, (a rivet however added to a sewn tab on a bag) does add extra strength especially where heavy weights are to be carried. That is providing they are fitted correctly, on some commercially made belts for instance rivet heads pull through the leather. This could be avoided if the hole was made with a punch slightly smaller than the rivet stem, true this makes it harder to insert the rivet but remember there is always a certain amount of stretch in leather & this coupled with the small head on most rivets is one of the main reasons for that problem. (this is especially true when Tubler Rivets are in use as they have a very small cap overlap. It is also advisable to set rivets on a metal block positioned over the leg of the work bench (again) as this ensures that the rivet is set properly & does not bend due to the bounce factor. Where required when setting solid rivets the use of a Fetch Up & Set is advised as this ensures that the layers of leather, etc. being riveted are compressed tightly & the rivet when cut is the right length to set.
TLC Tips #6
For anyone wishing to advance their skills, acquire new techniques, teach or lecture, or become an authority on this ancient Craft I have written a series of leather instruction manuals which are available from my site (the leather connection dot com) I am sorry but there is a price to pay for them, as an old age pensioner this covers my Internet presence. However I do offer online help free to purchasers which complies with UK e-learning requirements, I am also prepared to give advice & help to non purchasers (within reason).Prior to retirement I was H.O.D of Leathergoods & Saddlery at the London Leather College (Cordwainers), we offered the now defunct City & Guilds 470 2 year full time O & A level qualifications (the college no longer provides leather courses). As I was responsible for setting the curriculum & marking the written exams & assessing the practical work for all UK colleges offering leather courses at that time I was also a City & Guilds Moderator. The fact that the UK Government of the day ceased funding for what they classified as “low level courses” meant that students could no longer access courses lower than a degree course. (Politicians now wonder why there is a shortage of skilled labor), that led me to start writing the manuals in an attempt to pass on these craft skills, I opted to produce them as PDF e-books as publishing a book was going to prove too costly I would also run the risk of them ending up out of print like two former college H.O.D’s excellent books; Leather Goods Manufacture by George Moseley & Design & Construction of Handbags by Wally Double. If you can get your hands on a copy of either I strongly advise it, however due to their rarity now they are very expensive.
TLC Tips #7
The Leather Connection dot Com Site, I set it up about 10 years ago to make the Manuals available on-line, since then they have been selling World Wide to beginners, students & craftsmen/Artisans extending their skills. But the site was not intended to be just a means of selling the manuals as I wanted to offer a helping hand to others fascinated by this ancient & absorbing craft. Therefore every other service on the site is provided Free. Some of the services available; pages offering Free Downloads, Free News & Press Releases & a For Sale & wanted Page, all available from the main menu. But the most useful section for visitors is The Membership Categories Lists, this can be found in the left hand scroll area under the Cave Painting, clicking a category will provide a detailed list of useful & safe Leather contacts & suppliers. All entries are Free the general public use the site so why not establish your own “Leather Connection” by taking up an entry in this category, “Manufacturers of Finished Leathergoods”