How to Do Leather Craft

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How to Do Leather Craft

Leather craft is the art of shaping and colouring leather to make craft items or works of art. Leather is tanned and cured animal hide, most commonly bovine, and has been used throughout history by peoples in many areas of the world. Ancient societies used it as a form of currency. It is a remarkably strong and durable material that can maintain its structure and texture for many years.

Leather crafting encompasses a wide variety of items such as shoes, clothing, belts, bracelets, saddles, furniture, and art. Leather craft is both an art and a skill. Many people find leather crafting an enjoyable hobby, while others make a living out of it. There are numerous techniques used to create leather items, some of which take many years to master. There are a variety of leathers used, and a number of methods and tools necessary to create items from leather. It is important for anyone interested in learning the basic skill of leather craft to get familiar with terminology, techniques, and tools before trying their hand at this unique art form.

Leather and Tanning Methods

Before getting started on a leather craft project, it is important to know the basic types of leather and tanning methods used to achieve the desired results. This ensures the appropriate supplies are purchased for a given project. Leather is manipulated in a number of different ways. Techniques include tanning, painting, dyeing, carving and stamping, stitching, and adding metal hardware. Commonly, more than one of these methods are used on a single item.

Types of Leather

The most important component of leather crafting is leather. Leather is readily available in most countries, and its price varies depending on several factors, including the type and overall quality of the hide. The type and size of leather pieces needed depends on which kind of leather crafting is to be done. Patterns and guides are often available for more complicated leather crafting projects to help a person decide how much leather is needed to complete it.

There are a few terms used to describe the different types of leather sold. Shoppers should be familiar with these terms before purchasing leather for stamping or practising new techniques. The chart below outlines some of the most popular types of leather sold for use in crafts.

Type of Leather

Description and Uses

Stamping Leather

Thick, hard leather used for punching and stamping; at least 4 mm thick and rigid; used to make sturdy items like saddles and boots

Non-Stamping Leather

Thin, soft leather used for clothing and upholstery, usually less than 3 mm thick

Whole Skin Leather

Refers to the entire skin of the animal as opposed to pre-cut pieces normally sold for leather craft

Leather Scraps

Inexpensive pieces of leather in various shapes and sizes, sold in bundles; sometimes referred to as offcuts and useful for practising technique

Leather Straps

Wide pieces of stamping leather used for creating belts and similar items; this sturdy leather is perfect for punching holes and adding decorations

Leather crafters encounter other types of leather and terms used in the trade, but the terms listed above are some of the most common. Familiarity with these terms allows shoppers to purchase the most appropriate type of leather for a specific project. Selecting leather according to project type is the best way to ensure satisfactory results.

Tanning Leather

Tanning is a process in which leather is soaked in a solution which changes the chemical structure of animal skin to prevent deterioration. The tanning process gets its name from the tannins present in the chemicals used. Tannins bond with the animal skin creating a strong, flexible, insoluble material which is then known as leather. Some experienced leather crafters tan their own pieces, while others purchase leather that has already been tanned. Often, leather is dyed as part of the tanning process. The dye permeates the surface of the leather, changing its colour. Raw leather that has never been tanned is referred to as rawhide.

The table below shows the most commonly used tanning methods along with a brief description of each. Each chemical compound imparts a specific look and feel to the leather.

Type of Tanning

Description of Process

Alum Tanning

Uses aluminium salts to alter the colour of leather; since traditional tanning acids are not used, alum tanned leather returns to rawhide state if soaked in water

Vegetable Tanning

Also called bark tanning, since the tannin used is derived from tree bark and leaves; creates flexible leather that is primarily used for furniture and luggage items

Aldehyde Tanning

This process employs aldehyde compounds to make white leather; retains its colour and texture through repeated cleanings

Synthetic Tanning

The synthetic mineral compounds used absorb well and hold up to soaking and washing

Chrome Tanning

Sometimes called mineral tanning, this method uses chromium sulphate to change the colour of the leather

Tanning methods differ based on the chemicals and processes used. Colour and texture are the two biggest considerations when choosing a tanning method.

Learn the Basics of Leather Craft

Leather craft techniques include dyeing, staining, and painting leather, as well as carving and stamping. Each of these techniques requires certain tools and skills, as well as practice. Crafters interested in trying their hand at these techniques should be familiar with the basic steps involved in each before beginning a project.

Dyeing and Staining Leather

Dyes and stains can be used to create leather in a variety of different colours. Leather can be purchased already dyed, but some leather crafters enjoy dyeing their own pieces. Crafters can mix their own dyes and stains, or purchase them pre-mixed.

Antiquing and highlighting stains are used in addition to dyes to add interest to leather crafts. Alternatives such as oils or shoe polish are also used. Oils preserve the leather, but also darken the colour of the leather. Shoe polish can be used as both a dye and leather preservative. Oils and stains are rubbed into leather after dyeing is complete.

How to Dye Leather

There are several steps to dyeing leather. Leather must be deglazed and cleaned before any dye can be used, and a protective coating should be added to preserve the colour.

Use leather deglazer to remove any protective finishes on the leather. Squeeze deglazer onto a sponge or cloth and rub gently into the leather, covering the entire surface.
Once the deglazer is dry, apply leather cleanser with a soft-bristled brush, following the directions on the bottle.
Use a sponge or spray bottle and lukewarm water to lightly dampen the leather. Use a clean, soft cloth or spray bottle to apply the first coat of dye. Cover the surface with long, even strokes.
Use a cloth to dab off any excess dye to ensure even coverage and speed drying.
Allow the first coat to dry up to two hours before applying a second coat of dye. Repeat the process, then dab off excess. Carefully stretch the leather as it dries to keep fibres loose and pliant.
Once dry, buff the leather with a soft cloth. Apply a protective leather spray to seal the dye and repel stains. Wait at least one hour before wear or use.

Painting Leather

Unlike dye, which penetrates the surface of the leather, paint sits on top of leather and is generally used for decorative leather crafting. When moved or bent, painted leather tends to crack easily, making this an unsuitable technique for pieces that receive a lot of wear and tear. Leather paint can be applied to both raw and tanned leather and comes in a wide variety of colours. Painting leather is similar to painting any other surface.

Carving and Stamping Leather

Carving or stamping designs into leather is one of the most popular methods of leather crafting. Stamps are available in a variety of shapes and sizes to create a number of artistic designs. To stamp leather, the head of the stamp is placed on top of the leather piece and the handle struck with a mallet or maul to drive the pattern into the leather. Follow the steps below to ensure a lasting imprint on every leather project.

Dampen the leather with a sponge. A good measure of the amount of moisture necessary is to wet the leather until it is evenly darkened and cool to the touch.

Place the desired stamp in the appropriate spot on the leather. Use a mallet to firmly strike the stamp, leaving the impression in the leather.

Repeat until the design is complete, adding more moisture if necessary. Allow the leather to dry.

For more intricate designs, try leather carving. Carving leather requires a number of tools, to include swivel knives, veiners, bevelers, seeders, cams, and pear shaders. Leather punches can also be used to create designs in leather.

Leather Craft Tools and Accessories

There are a number of tools and accessories associated with leather crafting. Basics such as punches, mauls, mallets, shears, and knives are enough to get a beginner leather crafter started on most projects.

Punches

There are several sizes and shapes of leather punches. The purpose of these tools is to punch through the leather, leaving a hole.

Traditional punches consist of a long-handled tool with a punch head on the end. This kind of punch is used similarly to the way a stamp is used, employing a mallet to drive the punch through the leather.

A rotary punch, or plier punch, has two handles that are used to clamp down onto a piece of leather. This creates pressure and forces the punch head through the leather.

Stamps

Leather craft stamps are used to impress designs and patterns into leather. Most stamps consist of a shaped head affixed to a long handle. Stamps come in every conceivable shape including letters, numbers, symbols, and other pictures. Specialty stamps like bevelers and seeders allow leather crafters to achieve any look or texture possible.

Mauls and Mallets

Mauls and mallets are hammer-like tools used to drive punches and other leather craft tools into the leather being worked. A mallet has a flat striking surface, while a maul has curved head. Mauls typically come in heavier weights than mallets. Some leather crafters prefer mauls to mallets, but either one is acceptable in most applications.

Stitching Tools

A big part of many types of leather craft are the tools needed for stitching and lacing. Heavy duty thread is used in leather craft. Traditionally, sinew (or animal tendon) was used, but there are several alternatives available today. Thick, strong needles are needed to stitching leather, and often an awl is used to punch holes in the leather piece prior to running the thread, thong, or lacing through.

Metal Hardware

Stitching is just one way to connect individual pieces of leather. Metal fasteners offer an alternate method for attaching two or more pieces of leather. Most metal fasteners are both useful and decorative. Studs and rivets of varying sorts are used to add additional decorative elements to leather pieces. Crafters can also employ functional metal hardware like snaps, rings, buckles, loops, eyelets, and clasps, depending on what is being made.

Cutting Tools

Knives and shears are two types of tools used to cut leather. A swivel knife is used to carve out patterns on a leather surface. The blade on a swivel knife is very thin and can be used to outline any type of pattern or picture. Leather crafting shears are serrated, heavy-duty scissors used for cutting through thick leather. Leather shears are sold according to the thickness and rigidity of the leather they must cut. Always read product descriptions to make sure a pair of shears is strong enough to handle the leather being used.

How to Buy Leather Craft Supplies on eBay

There is a wide selection of leather crafting supplies for sale on eBay. Novices can pick up a starter kit complete with leather and some beginner-level tools. From there, it is easy to add to one's collection of leather crafting implements as needed. The customer reviews and ratings on eBay make it easy for a buyer to determine exactly which tools and supplies they need to complete the leather crafting projects they wish to work on.

There are a few ways to find leather craft tools and implements on eBay. From the site's home page, users can enter general topic search terms like "leather craft supplies" or more specific terms like "leather craft studs and rivets". Additionally, buyers can navigate through the many individual categories associated with leather craft and related supplies. Once a buyer sees an item of interest, he or she can view detailed product descriptions, customer reviews, and information about the particular seller who has listed it. Finding a seller who is located nearby can be especially beneficial, since shipping rates can be substantially lower.

Conclusion

Leather craft, the process of creating art using leather using a variety of special techniques, has remained popular throughout much of the world's history. Products made from leather, such as gun holsters, belts, wallets, and satchels, are consistently in high demand for their beauty, durability, and timelessness. A quick introduction to the basic techniques involved is enough to get most beginner leather crafters started, however, experienced leather crafters receive years of training and practice in the trade. Anyone interested in learning more about leather craft can research techniques and methods by reading books, watching videos, or joining a class at a leather store.

Consumers wanting to learn leather crafting should begin by choosing the exact techniques they want to try. Deciding this ahead of time ensures the correct tools and supplies are purchased. eBay is a thriving marketplace for leather craft enthusiasts, both novice and experienced, due to the wide variety of items available to buyers. With a bit of knowledge and the right tools, novice leather crafters are on their way to creating beautiful, useful items.

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