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Old 02-12-2016, 02:48 PM
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Matt Shade Matt Shade is offline
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Default Tooling Leather

This hardly qualifies as fabrication but I thought I'd show you guys a little bit of my latest projects.
I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started leatherwork, and didn't know all the steps involved. I am self taught, having read one book and watched some videos on youtube, so I am by no ways saying this is the correct way to go about things. This is just how I do it.

For starters you have to make a pattern, unless you are talented enough to draw it right on the leather with a stylus and not make any mistakes. I do paper tracing patterns, and once I get an idea I like laid out I cover it with masking tape so it doesn't tear or stretch when I trace it. The leather has to be wet at this point, so the masking tape makes a big difference in the life of your pattern.

Side note, when I make these patterns I usually draw the larger elements like the flowers or leaves on a manilla folder and cut them out. Then I can trace them over and over. For repetitive patterns this makes it much easier to be consistent and balanced.

So the leather has been wet down, you lay the paper pattern on top and trace it with stylus, which leaves a faint impression in the leather. The next step is to cut the pattern in with a swivel knife. The knife is the tool in the 2nd picture. The barrel is on ball bearings so it can swivel. You pinch it between your fingers and swivel the blade to guide it.

I am still getting the hang of it, but ideally you cut halfway through the thickness of the leather for your bold cuts, like the edges of the leaves. Interior cuts like the petals on the flowers or stems on the leaves you want to lift the knife out gradually as you cut so that the line tapers off. The depth you cut dictates how bold the lines are.
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Old 02-12-2016, 02:59 PM
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The next step is to use the beveling tools. This is kind of like a blunt chisel and you tap it with a maul or mallet. The leather needs to have dried to the point that the surface is its normal color again to do the tooling, but not completely dry. If the moisture is right, the tool will have a burnishing effect. The impressions will turn darker than the face of the leather.

You use the beveling tool to go over all of the lines. The side that you bevel determines which element is in the background and which elements stand out.
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Old 02-12-2016, 03:06 PM
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Next tool in the lineup is the thumbprint or pear shader. These come in different sizes, some are lined and some are smooth. You use these to give the pattern depth, it puts wrinkles in the leaves, depresses the center of the flowers etc. Basically just go over everything trying to make it look natural and add depth.


You can hit the tool squarely to make a single impression or you can tilt it and walk it along with the mallet making more of a groove.
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Old 02-12-2016, 03:16 PM
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After that I go to the veining tools. Some of these are also called a camouflage tool if you look in a catalogue but in this case I am adding veins to the leaves.

On a leaf you don't want a square impression, you want it to be more bold towards the stem and taper off towards the edges, so you hold the tool on a slight angle. You can also use these tools to make border patterns and for that you usually hit it square.

After that I go back to the swivel knife and I add finish cuts. I missed getting any dedicated pictures of this step, but if you look closely you can see I added extra lines to the flower petals, and added a crease to each of the small leaves on the vines.

At this stage I think I would be happy adding a coat of oil and calling it done, but I have found that a lot of people prefer darker finishes so the next step will be to do the dye work.
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Old 02-12-2016, 03:25 PM
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I have started experimenting with using multiple stages of finishing things. I do a base coat with colored dyes and then I add a coat of gel antique over top of it, then oil, then sometimes a clear coat.

So here I have added water based dye to certain elements of the pattern. I used timber brown on the leaves and vines, and scarlet red on the flowers. At this stage I think it looks awful and I always feel like I ruined it.

When you add the gel antique overtop of everything, it starts to look a lot better. I think the different colors in the base coat give it a neat effect.
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Old 02-12-2016, 03:32 PM
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This particular piece is an inlay for a picture frame so the last few steps are to cut out the openings for the pictures, finish the edges, and rub it down with some saddle oil.

Thanks for following along. Maybe I'll do something with steel again soon.
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Old 02-12-2016, 03:59 PM
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Looks good Matt!

Having had horses in the past I got into leather work, not carving, but fixing tack, sewing, making the odd replacement piece for bridals and so on. I did end up a bunch of stamps and such in a package deal, but never got around to using them.

It's certainly a different medium for art than most use, and totally different to work with.

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Old 02-12-2016, 04:12 PM
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Very nice Matt. The important thing is that you like doing it.
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Old 02-12-2016, 04:19 PM
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Very cool stuff. I wish I could get into this as I have an infinite amount of raw material at my disposal. Unfortunately I don't have a shred of artistic ability
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Old 02-12-2016, 11:19 PM
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That was very well done. Thanks for the step by step pictures and explanation of the procedure.
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