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Pear shaders come in different sizes and shapes with varying textures to accomplish numerous effects.
When pear shading, it is important to fade out the impression rather than stopping abruptly. To accomplish this, lighten the force of your hammer as you reach the end of the area to be shaded.
When holding the tool, hold it tight hear the base of the stamp to allow it to recoil between strikes.
The secret to getting pear shading nice and smooth is to make only small movements and overlap each impression. Moving too far between each strike and not overlapping can leave choppy looking shading.
It is important when pear shading near a line to be very mindful of staying close to the line, but not flatten the line.
Pear shading is often used to give flower petals a 3-D effect. By shading in an area but leaving a raised ridge, you can sculpt the leather to give contour.
Pear shading can also be used to create a concave texture in scrolls. Start close to the line and create a channel along the inner curve of the scroll to blend in the texture with the impression from the camouflage tool.
Join us next week as we continue to tool the wallet back and learn how to effectively use a beveler!
Using the right amount of moisture is important when stamping. The ideal amount of moisture will allow for deep impressions and create a rich color. If you are not getting crisp impressions or getting the correct color, it may be because the leather is too dry or too wet.
Getting the flower centers defined is a good place to get a flower design started. To get good, even stamping with design stamps such as flower centers, slightly rock the tool in a circular motion to ensure every part of the stamp has made a deep impression.
A center shader can be used to bevel around the seeds to give the appearance that the seeds are standing out. To do this, angle the tool slightly so that the impression fades out from the center.
The camouflage tool is a crescent shaped tool with a series of lines on it, somewhat resembling an eyelash. This versatile stamping tool can be used independently to create borders or patterns, however it also is used to achieve several different textures in floral carving.
When only a portion of a flower center is showing, a camouflage tool can be used similarly to a beveller to outline flower centers where the seeder will later be used. It is also often used in defining the curve of a design, such as a scroll.
The camouflage tool can be used in a series impression to create texture on leaves. To achieve this, lean the tool back and towards you to get just the corner of the tool making an impression right on the cut line. This will allow the design to fade out and disappear, providing a wavy and ribbed texture.
It can also be used to create a light texture on flower petals. For this, start out near the flower center, space the impressions evenly and gradually get lighter as you move away from the flower center.
Join us next week as we continue to tool the wallet back and learn about more stamping tools along the way!
Using Jeweler’s Rouge to buff and polish your swivel knife is important. The different agents used to tan leather can get stuck on the knife blade when cutting, so stropping your blade can help remove anything might be sticking to it and causing it to drag. Make sure to maintain the correct angle of the blade when stropping as you can remove the cutting edge from your knife if you roll the knife end when sharpening.
The proper grip for the swivel knife is to place the forefinger in to the yolk up to the first knuckle, with the thumb resting on one side of the barrel and the middle figure just opposite of that.
Always make your cuts by drawing the knife towards you.
For nice clean incisions when making curving cuts, move the barrel of the swivel knife with your fingers rather than moving your whole hand.
Tapering out the cut is important. Cut roughly one third to one half the thickness of the leather, however as you cut down the length of the design, feather it out lightly by lifting the blade to fade out the cut.
When cutting to intersecting lines, stop just short of touching the other cut. If you cut past the line, you can leave a blemish in the design.
When cutting a spiral design, such as a scroll seen in floral patterns, move your project so that you are always pulling the swivel knife toward you.
Maintain good moisture content. If you are getting nice, clean cuts and good depth without struggling to get your tool to cut correctly, moisture is likely correct. If cuts are not opening up, your leather could be drying out.
When pulling towards you, learn to look in at your swivel knife at an angle to ensure that the blade is cutting perpendicular to the lather. If you lean the knife to the side to see what you are doing, you can undercut the leather which can distort your design.
Leatherwork shouldn’t be something you do as fast as you can, but rather something you can do as carefully as you can.
The trick to swivel knife finesse is practice, practice, practice.
Join us next week as we move on to the next step of the project, stamping in the design!
Near the beginning of July, we asked our social media followers what kind of advice the would request from award-winning leatherworker Jim Linnell. With over 100 responses, Jim selected some specific questions to answer while offering some of his best technique advice to get the best results from your leatherwork! Join us in this weekly series on carving a wallet back with tips and tricks from Jim Linnell!
Tracing your pattern on to tracing film is one of the first places that you will want to be patient and pay attention to detail. Having a nice, cleanly traced design helps your finished project to be as accurate as possible.
Taping down your tracing film to the pattern will help you realign the two when checking to make sure that all of the lights have been traced. Using a ruler on straight lines will help you keep your pattern centered when transferring it to the leather.
Gluing your leather to a piece of cardboard or matboard helps prevent the leather from stretching as you tool it, as well as allowing more depth in tooling with thinner leathers. It is important to use rubber cement rather than contact cement or other adhesives as rubber cement offers a temporary bond that allows for the backing to be removed when you are done tooling.
Moisture content is important to get clean impressions and the right burnish in your tooling. Start by saturating the leather fairly thoroughly in your initial wetting, penetrating at least half of the way through the leather, and then allow the leather to begin to return to its natural color before tooling.
Taping the back of your project to your work surface before tracing ensures that the leather does not move during the tracing step.
Using a stylus is the ideal way to trace patterns in to your leather. Press lightly and retrace the pattern on to your leather to create a shallow imprint that can later be used for carving. Be deliberate and careful, making sure to follow the lines as closely as possible for a clean pattern on your leather to begin with.
Using a pen, pencil, or other utensil to trace the pattern may puncture the tracing film and leave a permanent mark on your leather. Using the right tools is important.
When tracing the flower centers, use a dotted line rather than a solid line. This will allow for cleaner seeding in later steps.
Wing dividers work great to trace straight, consistent lines for the borders of your project.
Join us next week as we move on to the next step of the project, swivel knife cutting!
Lou Roth (1913 – 2003) was an artist and innovator from California who created the Craftaid, which has made leather carving easier for generations of people to get in to the hobby of leather crafting.
Growing up in Los Angeles, his father was a master woodworker who worked at a furniture company. He was very supportive of Lou’s art and encouraged him to make drawings every day. At a young age, Lou began working with his father at the furniture factory and would work every day after school. He had the opportunity to work in every department of furniture manufacturing and was fascinated by the machines and the industrialized process.
In 1926, Roth entered college and majored in Architecture and Fine Arts. After graduation he worked in architecture, art direction in film, and designing furniture for his family’s business before retiring at age 49. He later joined the Research & Development team for Tandy Leather Company where he invented a number of modern leathercraft tools, including the alphabet set, the skiver, and the Craftaid.
Roth discovered leatherwork in 1949 when he visited Pacific Arts and Crafts in Southern California with his son. He was fascinated by the beautiful looking leathercraft tools and store owner James Gick showed him samples of decoratively carved leather. After several independent attempts, Roth decided to take a leather class at Gick’s hobby store taught by Al Shelton.
Before he knew it, Roth was the star pupil and began teaching classes. He noticed that when teaching his students, it would take most of the class time making a tracing pattern and transferring it to the leather. He knew that professional carvers had a method of transferring a pattern from one piece of leather to another and thought he might be able to industrialize the process. Roth had been dabbling with his new plastic laminating press, which inspired his method of creating a raised pattern on the plastic that could be easily transferred to leather.
Dick McGahen was a occasional visitor of the classes and, when he saw the opportunity presented with the plastic engraving sheet, he invited Roth, Gick and T. Joey Smith (Gick’s business partner) to form a corporation to manufacture these “Craftaids” through the Craftool Company. Over the years, they hired a variety of different leather artists to help design new Craftaids, including a young Al Stohlman.
Fun Fact: The students of the Pacific Arts and Crafts leather class became more of a friendly group of leather crafters and eventually evolved in to The Leather Guild, the first of the modern leather guilds.
Multiple images in this article are attributed to the The Craftsman Magazine.
Dick McGahen founded the Craftool Company in 1947 with an aspiration to introduce leatherworking tools that could be afforded by millions. At that time, stamping tools were made individually by hand and were very expensive; not something a hobbyist could afford.
McGahen approached Oliver Sturdy, a tool machinist based out of Los Angeles, to create the first set of Craftool stamps. He brought Sturdy a handful of saddle stamping tools and asked if he could replicate them. His initial order was 5,000 sets of tools, to which Sturdy balked that “There aren’t 5,000 people in the country who would buy those things.”
Fortunately for Craftool Company, leathercraft caught on and business boomed. With the help of leather carvers, engineers, artists, and other technicians, the Craftool Company created a business where none had ever existed before. Many of the very first Craftool stamps were based off of tools designed by saddle maker Ken Griffin from Southern California. McGahen knew that you couldn’t just sell tools and supplies; you had to teach the world how to do leathercraft. He collaborated with Griffin on low cost ways to encourage practice and the concept of Doodle Page was born.
In 1952, a young California leather artist caught McGahen’s attention with leather carving of a palomino wearing an ornate saddle. Al Stohlman was hired by McGahen to design leatherworking tools and write publications for the Craftool Company. Stohlman began earning national attention through Craftool Company with his first publication, “How To Carve Leather”.
Another major contributor to the early Craftool Company was an inventor named Lou Roth. He is credited with creating the modern skiving knives, adjustable V gouge, and a number of other tools that we still use today. Roth was also the creator of the Craftaid.
The Craftool Company was bought by Tandy Leather in 1959 and was moved to Fort Worth, TX in 1962. Craftool stamps still serve the same purpose that they did at their inception: to provide leatherworking tools at an affordable price to introduce new people to the love of leathercraft.
The Craftools of today have benefited from technological advances. Hand grinding tools is labor intensive, expensive, inconsistent, and a very time consuming process. To keep up with the demand for affordable stamping tools, die casting and cold stamping are now used to produce uniformly designed tools.
In 2013, Tandy Leather also introduced the Craftool Pro Series to offer handcrafted, stainless steel stamps for professional leatherworkers at an affordable price. Each tool goes through a 15 to 20 step crafting process to stand up to the demands of daily use and still give crisp and clean impressions every time.
Fun Fact: Many people try to determine the age and origin of a Craftool stamp by the numbering and labeling. Although modern Craftools have a letter and a number for identification (i.e. B893), the letter prefix was not introduced in the Tandy Leather catalog until 1963.
Over the years, the label on the tools has also changed a number of times, including Craftool, Craftool USA, and others. Although some believe that this is a way to identify the age of a tool, it is unlikely that all of the plates were changed at once. As the die casts for tools wore out, it is reasonable to assume that they were replaced with the updated labeling. The transition between different Craftool labeling likely happened over the course of many years.
Original Doodle Pages by Ken Griffin, Al Stohlman and many others are still available through the Leathercraft Library!
Lacing is a highly decorative method of sewing leather projects together with lace of the same or differing colors for the desired look. Leather edge lacing is often used with tooled leathers as the combination of styles complement one another for a professional looking finish for your handmade leather goods. With instruction, and a little practice, your technique with lacing may develop in to one of your favorite finishing methods.
Although many different types of lace are available, leathercrafters can also cut their own lace for specialized colors or to save money. By using scrap leather and the Craftool Lace Maker, you can cut your own lace from a circle or square of scrap leather!
The Single Loop stitch is best suited for lacing the edges of lightweight leathers or single thickness of leather, as little lace is required to cover the raw edge. This is great for projects like a key fob or small coin purse.
The Double Loop stitch covers a wider area and is used on heavier leather for projects such as wallets, purses, or small bags. It covers a wider surface especially where two thicknesses of leather require more lacing to cover the edge.
The Triple Loop stitch can be used with thicker leathers or when you want a thicker accent on projects such as belts and large bags. This stitch is used where two or more thicknesses of leather require additional lacing to cover the raw edge.
NOTE: When lacing, it helps to have the front side of the project facing the lacer.
George Hurst also had a few lacing tips he wanted to contribute as well:
Condition Lace– Your leather lace will glide through leather smoother and mold to the edge of the leather better when treated with leather conditioner. Dr. Jacksons Leather Conditioner or any other conditioner should work for this, simply apply to the lace with a sponge, sheepwool remnant or soft cloth. Allow a few minutes for the conditioner to penetrate the leather and then wipe excess with a soft cloth.
Protect Leather Lace – When lacing through leather, be sure to pull the lace straight through each hole. Pulling it up or down will cause wear on the lace and weaken it.
Lace Length Requirements – The follow will show you how much lace will normally be required to complete a project. To preserve the strength and quality of the lace, the amount used should be no more than 2 yards with splicing as needed.
Running Stitch – 1 1/2 times the length to be laced
Whip Stitch – 3 1/2 times the length to be laced
Single Loop Stitch – 5 1/2 times the length to be laced
Double Loop Stitch – 7 times the length to be laced
Triple Loop Stitch – 9 times the length to be laced
Finishing Touch To Double Loop Lacing – After lacing is completed, tap lightly with a mallet to flatten it. Apply a leather conditioner and smooth with a wood edge slicker, canvas or denim.
Ben Moody (1920-2005) was a respected teacher and an award-winning leather crafter who received the Al Stohlman award in 1992 for nearly 70 years of teaching leathercraft.
Ben grew up a native of East Texas and was raised around leather. His father was a cobbler who owned his own shoe shop and did business with Dave Tandy during the Tandy-Hinkley days. Ben often ran around the leather warehouse with young Charles Tandy while their fathers were conducting business.
Much of his early enthusiasm for leathercraft came from Solon Aaron, a German gentlemen who worked in the family’s shop. Mr. Aaron taught Ben how to carve belts and, every day after school, Ben would work in the shop and to make projects he had commissioned from schoolmates. By the time he was a teenager, Ben was making money doing leathercraft. In addition to his orders, he would pull around a painted cart and stamp names on belts that he would sell at events.
His mentor held him to a high standard for his craft; however, he also encouraged Ben’s creativity by letting him use butcher paper to practice art. Ben was always very artistic and was not only ambidextrous, but could draw with both hands at the same time.
Ben joined the war effort when he was 20 and went on active duty in the military. He served as part of the 112th Cavalry in World War II, where he had many duties including cartography, however also volunteered to help with repairing the saddles because he loved working with leather. His unit served in the South Pacific, however he got malaria and had to be brought back to the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio before the end of the war. There, he taught leathercraft to other soldiers who were also in the hospital.
Ben won international army craft contests two consecutive years for different leather projects and retired from the military in 1960 at the age of 40. After returning home to Texas, Ben wrote Tandy about returning to the states, mentioning his leathercraft awards and that he might like to work at the Tandy store in Austin. After being hired, management recognized his work ethic and, before long, Ben was recruited to help open a store for Tandy’s new venture: Radio Shack.
He loved helping develop the new brand and worked 7 days a week to help get it off the ground. His genuine caring for helping others grew him a loyal customer base, and the new enterprise did quite well. In 1965, Ben and his wife had their second child and he left Radio Shack for the banking industry so spend more time with family.
Although no longer employed by the Tandy Corporation, Ben continued to be an active advocate for working with leather. He conducted leathercraft seminars at Southwestern Texas State University, 4-H, Scouts, Texas State School, Austin State School, Travis State School, State School for the Deaf, VA Hospitals and more. He was one of the go-to artists for both Tandy Leather and The Leather Factory, creating many doodle pages, pattern packs and books such as “Learn Leathercraft”.
Ben won the Al Stohlman Award in 1992; however this was not the only time he was part of the award ceremony. When working at the Austin Tandy store in the 60’s, he introduced many young artists to the love of leathercraft. One of those young men was Tony Laier, who went on to win the Al Stohlman Award in 1999. Although he had difficulty getting around by that time, Ben was insistent on attending the ceremony so he could personally honor him with the award.
Although there are entire books written on different methods and techniques for coloring veg-tan leather, we thought we’d touch on a few of the basics for the beginning colorist.
For this introduction, we focus on water based coloring products. They are low-odor, simple to clean up, easy to mix and don’t require solvents to be diluted. There are also a wider variety of application techniques available and they are available globally.
Water Based Coloring Products:
Our Professional Waterstains, Leather Dyes and the All-In-One Stain & Finishes offer a consistent wash of color whereas Gel Antiques and Hi-Lite Color Stains accent cuts and impressions. Cova Color acrylic paints sit on top of the leather whereas the other products listed soak in to the leather. Learn more about the differences and applications on our YouTube channel for more information on Dyeing, Waterstains, and Antiques.
Eco-Flo Professional Waterstain – The waterstains offer vibrant, uniform color. The different stains come in a variety of colors and can be mixed for even more variation of color or thinned with water to reduce the intensity of the color. These stains are a special water-based, semi-fluid wax that won’t bleed or rub off and can be used on both the grain and flesh sides of vegetable tanned leathers.
Eco-Flo Leather Dye – These transparent colors are formulated to penetrate the surface of natural veg-tanned tooling leather. They can also be thinned with water or mixed together for additional hue options. Let dry completely after application and buff between coats to remove excess color from the surface.
Eco-Flo All-In-One Stain & Finish – Color and finished combined! These are excellent to use when drying time may be an issue, however they are also great for beginners, kids and groups! Only one coat is recommended and additional top finish is optional.
Eco-Flo Gel Antique – This gel antique is designed to give your veg-tanned leather a rich aged look. It will collect in the cuts and impressions of your design to bring out the details of your work. It can also be used to highlight the natural imperfections in leather, emphasizing the uniqueness of each piece.
Eco-Flo Cova Colors – These acrylic paints were developed specifically for leather. Whereas the other products listed soak in to the leather, acrylic paint sits on top of the leather. They are opaque, however can be thinned with water to reduce intensity which can be used as a “wash” to tint areas.
A few things to know going in:
Shake your dyes, stains and antiques before using each time to make sure that the color is evenly distributed in the liquid.
Each leather will respond to coloring slightly different. Always test color on a scrap from the same leather you are making your project out of to ensure proper color. Some dyes dry lighter or darker, so let your sample dry completely to see the end result of the color. Note that drying time can vary depending on temperature and humidity.
Dyes are excellent coloring organic materials… which can include your clothing and skin. Be attentive when using dyes and always wear gloves.
Be aware that most coloring is intended for the grain (smooth) side of the leather, not the flesh side (back). The texture on the rough side of the leather may be too porous and irregular to be sealed properly and can color can rub off even if it is sealed. To achieve color and smooth texture on both sides of a project, such as a belt, you can sew two separate pieces of leather together so that there will the smooth surface on each side.
When coloring with dyes and stains, sponges are ideal for application. For even coloring, you can continue to buff the color in to the leather for about a minute (especially with the more vibrant colors) as it can help spread the pigment evenly.
When coloring with Antiques or Hi-Lite, use a non-fibrous applicator like a buffing towel and color the tooled areas first.
For All-In-One Stain & Finish, sheep wool or a soft cloth is ideal for application.
Daubers are handy for small projects and edging, but not ideal for larger surface areas.
Acrylic paints are painted on with a paint brush. You can also use a paint brush to apply small amounts of dye for detail work on more intricate designs.
Tip: For even coloring, do not apply dye directly onto leather from the bottle, but rather use one of the applicators listed above. If dye is applied directly to the leather from the bottle, it may cause over saturation in a single spot and can be difficult to disperse color evenly.
Tip: When dyeing leather, you may want more than one application of color to get an even tone. Whether applying in circular motion technique or using an overlapping stroke technique, wait until the project is dry and then go over the entire surface again in the opposite direction.
When the leather has dried, you will want to buff it with a clean, dry cloth to remove any excess pigment before sealing. Sealing color is important to make sure that it will not rub off on clothing and other surfaces.
For sealing waterstains, we strongly recommend using our Eco-Flo Professional Finish. This durable finish was developed specifically for offering an expert finish with our waterstains and comes in high gloss or matte.
Super Shene are Sating Shene are good, all purpose sealants and can be used on any of the materials listed above to provide a water resistant seal. Super Shene will add a glossy appearance to your finished product whereas Satin Shene will have more of a muted appearance.
Tip: Super Shene can be used prior to coloring with Antiques and Highlights to prevent coloring in selected areas. For more information on this technique, watch our video Resisting Techniques!
Note: Some finishes will pick up a small amount of color from water based dyes. To guard against smears on background dyed projects, multi-colored figure or pictorial carved projects, apply finish on dyed area with a brush first to lock-in colors before applying final overall coat with a sponge or soft cloth.
Learn more about dying techniques with George Hurst and Charlie Davenport on our YouTube channel:
It’s not uncommon that we’ll have a customer come in and show us a key fob that their grandchild crafted for them at camp or a wallet they made in their youth. Leathercraft is a tangible memory of time spent at summer camp.
If you are involved in planning a summer program (or know someone who is), it’s not too late to include leathercraft to provide a unique experience that campers can cherish. Contact your local Tandy Leather location to find out more about setting up your space for leatherworking and how to train your counselors to teach the craft.