Jame’s Flask

Sorry to abandon the blog for so long, but life got busy.  It’s still busy, so this update will be brief.

I made my father-in-law a flask for Christmas.  He’s as likely to carry one around as I am (translation: maybe once a year, or on a camping trip.  Maaaaybe.).  But his reaction when he saw my completed compass flask was an immediate “I want one!” so I thought, why not?

James is an avid trumpet player, so I decided to try and work a trumpet into the design.   I ended up using a french horn, because trumpets are hard.

Here’s a link to the photo album.  The captions tell the story.  Unfortuatly, Google has made some tweaks to Picasa, and I can’t figure out how to link to individual photos at the moment.

The main thing I learned here was not to cut my leather too small.  See, I screwed up on the piece of leather that came with the flask kit.  No problem – I cut my own piece out of my leather supply, using the kit as a template, and finished my design.  But when I compared the two pieces after I finished all my tooling, it was somehow bigger than the original piece.  “That’s weird,” I thought, and trimmed my piece down to the size it originally was.   BIG MISTAKE!  The kit takes into consideration that in the process of tooling the leather, the leather will spread out (like when you press on the edges of dough or clay).  When it came time to try and sew up the edges of the leather and attach it too the flask, I had to wear gloves to get the laces tight enough.  Lesson learned.

It will be another few months before I get back to leather work again, so I’ll talk to you all then.  Cheers!

Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Steampunk Belt

I’ve been having fun with steampunk.  First, I made a pair of nifty googles.  There was a little bit of leather work involved, but nothing you folks haven’t seen me do before.   I also started working on a gun, and I will post all about it when it is complete.  But today, I want to talk to you guys about my new belt.

A pre-cut belt blank came with the kit I was given for Christmas last year.  I had planned to use a lovely Celtic knot pattern until I saw a new steampunk belt buckle at Tandy.

It was both too ridiculous and too awesome to pass up.  I was curious to see how leather cut gears would look next to real ones.

Belt Preperation

The hardware for adding a belt buckle was already installed, but I still had a bit of work to do to before I could start tooling.  I threaded the strip through the loops on my pants and marked off the length where the belt would comfortably buckle.  Then I measured three inches shorter and three inches longer than that point.  I made a mark at the end of every inch.    I used a compass to find the center of the strap, and then used a punch tool to turn those seven marks into seven belt holes.   The final bit of preparation was to use a tool called a strap end punch to make the end of the belt into a rounded point.

Now I was ready to carve.  I cut a 1/8″ border along the strap using a tool called a stitcher’s groover.  You press the guide against the edge of the leather, and adjust the arm to the distance from the edge you wish to cut.  Then you slowly pull the tool around the piece of leather.  The result is a cut which parallels the edge at a consistent distance.  If you do it right, that is.  My lines are a little off, but happily it isn’t immediately noticable.

Next I set up my leather gears.


I picked up a new craftaid so I wouldn’t have to trace the gears by hand:

I cased the leather (wet it down so it would take an imprint), and pressed the half gear shown above into the belt.  Then I flipped the aid over, and did the same from the other edge, interlocking the gears.

I spaced six pairs of these gears down the strip of leather.  Then I cut them with a swivel knife and beveled them.  In the very tiny places between the gears, I had to use the pointy end of my modeling tool to press the leather down, because a beveler just wouldn’t fit.

I used my small and medium sized backgrounding tools to work on the inside of the gears.

Here’s what the belt looked like up to that point.

Next came the oh-so-fun step of doing background work on the rest of the belt.  This was the biggest piece of leather I had worked on to date, and I intentionally had left most of the piece blank; backgrounding took several hours.  I did most of the work at home, hammering on a granite slab on top of my coffee table.  The table is on a carpeted floor, and the slab was muffled by both a piece of rubber “poundo” board and a towel.  Regardless, my downstairs neighbor hates me now.   Here are the results:

Close up:

Worth it!

The last steps in the tooling phase were to bevel along the edge of the boarder, and use the modeling spoon to round the edges.  This the same technique I used on the border of my flask.

Staining and sealing

This time I used a gel instead of a dye.  Introducing “Saddle Tan Antique”:

I’m in love with this stuff and the way it accents the texture left by the backgrounding tools.  Expect to see more of this color in the future.

For this project, I applied a finisher that also had wax in it.  Buffing it after it dried made the leather shiny.

At this point, I was tempted to just stop.  The belt looked pretty good with just the color applied.  But I was still curious about the leather with metal effect.  It was time to add more gears, but hopefully in a way that wouldn’t look like I just glued stuff on.


Along with all the steampunk products it recently released, Tandy included some gear conchos. (Concho is leatherworker for “decorative piece of metal.”)   They matched my swanky belt buckle so I grabbed a few.  The conchos attach via a screw in the back.  Using the punch tool, I made mounting holes for the screws and tried to set up the conchos so they interlocked with the leather gears.

I also bought some smaller brass gears on Etsy.

Tandy did not have rivets small enough to attach them to the leather, so I picked up some very small screws and nuts from the hardware store

I used a small nail to punch more mounting holes in the belt, and then both screwed and super-glued the brass gears in place.

The screws were far longer than the thickness of this piece of leather, so I used my Dremmel tool with a cutting  wheel to chop off the excess.  Then I applied more superglue to keep everything together.

The final touch was adding tiny watch gears (also purchased from Etsy). The only thing holding these guys in place is superglue.  I really hope none fall off.

The Final Result

My husband is the hand model

I’m very happy with how the belt turned out. I definitely earned my gear merit badge with this one.  If you want to see the pictures in more detail, check out the album.

That’s all for now.  I’ve got plenty of projects to keep me busy for the foreseeable future.   Christmas is coming, however, and I might not be able to talk about all of them right away…

Published in: on October 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Flask complete!

I went back and tweaked the compass gear design one more time – I decided to use a gear that has more teeth.

I also gave the pattern a boarder.

Next, I traced the pattern onto the leather.  I just went over the trace with a ball point pen this time, and it worked pretty well.

Next I carved the pattern into the leather with the swivel knife.

Then beveling and using the background tool on the inside of the gear.

I used a new, smaller beveler on the gear teeth.  I like the lined pattern that it makes.  Of course, when I background the outside of the gear, those lines will go away.  I’ll have to find a project that will let me show that detail at some point.

Next, I used a “geometric stamp” on the left and right flaps of this piece of leather.

The imprint left by the tool is actually a small X shape.  But when used in succession as I did here, the strikes form a square (a geometric shape – hence the name).

Then it was time for the last bit of tooling – the background between the boarder and the central pattern.

Happily, I used a bigger background tool for this larger space, or it would have taken a REALLY long time.  I also used the spoon shaped end of the modeling tool that came with my kit to round the edges of the boarder and compass arms.

Next step: fun with leather dye.

On the background, I used a dark brown.  I used the resist technique and a light brown dye on the compass points.   The gear and the rest are dyed “saddle tan.”  And then I applied the finisher to seal in the stain.  I learned a couple of really interesting things this time out:

  • Using the background tool makes the leather quite porous.   Which, you know, I should have expected from a tool which effectively pokes a bunch of holes into a surface.   Thus, it took a lot of dye to get a good dark color, and it took a REALLY long time to dry.
  • The saddle tan dye doesn’t work the same way as my water based dyes.  I stained part of our living room table with an inadvertent spill.  I also stained part of the kitchen sink when I was cleaning everything up.
  • The finisher darkens up the dye just a bit.
The next day was Saturday, so I took my leather to class at Tandy and learned how to affix this to it’s intended home – a shiny new flask.

Super washed out background!

I used some contact cement on the flaps, and then stitched the whole thing together.   I learned that you do leather stitching with  two needles.  You center the thread at the start, and then work from both ends – like lacing up a pair of shoes.

And here is the finished product:

One steampunk flask, perfect for costumed occasions, camping, and parties of all sorts!

Now, for a test drive…

A perfect pair!

Thus ends my first completed leather project!  I’m quite pleased with the outcome.  I figure I’ll use it maybe twice a year, but it was a good sized project to go through all of the steps of leathercrafting.  If you want to see the pictures with more detail, look through the album.

Published in: on September 25, 2011 at 9:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Compass – Second draft

Today, I took another stab at my compass and gear pattern.  First, I made the whole thing smaller, because what I had before would not fit on the flask on which I eventually intend to use the design.  Second, I made the background gear smaller.  This is the trace:

And third, I did a much better job with the dye this time:

I kept the color scheme from last time, but this time I applied it more carefully.   I wiped away the excess and buffed it a bit to smooth out the color.  And this time I used regular black, instead of raisin, for the empty part of the gear.   I applied a proper coat of finisher on top of the colors when I was done.  I like it.

I need to be more careful with the cutting, though.  If the gear looks lopsided, that’s because it is – I accidentally undercut some of my trace lines and made one side thinner than the other.   I tried to fix it with the beveling, but I don’t think it worked.

Now need to figure out what to do with the rest of the flask.

Published in: on September 11, 2011 at 12:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Compass – First draft

I’ve got an idea for a steampunk design that I’d like to put on a flask – a compass over a gear.

I’m still tweaking the design, but I decided to use the general idea to practice.

Here’s the pattern on leather:

Not my best trace job ever, but hopefully some clean work with the swivel knife can save it.

That looks a bit better.  Then beveling and interior backgrounding:

And then I decided to play with color.  This is the first time I’ve tried out the dyes that came with my little kit, so I experimented with different things.

This is a crummy picture – it is blurry, and a bit of a mish mash of color.   Most of the darker sides of the compass arms are stained dark brown.   For comparison, I also died one of those sides black (not like you can tell in this picture).   In the future, I’ll save the black for background work and accents.

On the lighter side of the compass arms, I’m tyring what is called a “resist” technique to preserve the natural color of the leather.  Instead of applying a chemical called a “finisher” on top of a piece of dyed leather – to seal in the dye – you apply it directly to the leather.  It works well for what is supposed to be the lightest part of this design.

The gear is dyed a lighter brown called “saddle tan.”  I like it next to the resist – next time I try this pattern, I think I’ll use that pair the compass arms and make the gear dark brown.

The background area is stained with a dye called “raisin.”  I thought it was going to be the equivalent of the black, but it looks like it’s going to dry a very dark purple.  Hence the name, I suppose.

And that’s all for today.  Happy Labor Day weekend, folks.

Published in: on September 4, 2011 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More Celtic knots

Today, I played with more knots!

First, I did some work on that scrap I started yesterday.

I beveled around the outside edges. I’m pleased with how it turned out – a fairly smooth, even line.

Then, I beveled the interior lines, used a background tool on the area between the “strands” of the pattern

Then I decided to try a new pattern.

Here is what it is supposed to look like, and the pattern pressed into the wet leather

Pattern after carving

Then I beveled around the outside, and put a couple of mark the space between the pattern lines.  I was trying to make it easier to see the “laces” for the next part.

Interior beveling

Post background tool.   I need a smaller backgrounder for the next time I do this – the one that came with my kit is not quite tiny enough for the smallest spaces of this pattern.

Here, I used a tool on the places where the “laces” overlapped each other.  The idea is to create a subtle angle on either side of the lace, to make it look like one crosses under the other.  I did a really bad job.  I’m going to need some practice before I can pull off subtle.

That’s all I’ve got for today.

Published in: on August 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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1st Class – Walking the Line

I graduated!  And I took the bar! And now I get to have a life again!   Hooray!

Tandy Leather is where I got my leather supplies.  There’s one about a five minute drive from home.  And they have free classes on Saturdays!  So I gathered plucked up my courage, gathered my tools, and went to learn some stuff.  (The added bonus, I found out when I arrived, is that the shop is wicked air conditioned.   It was about 90° and getting hotter when I left the apartment, so sitting in a nice cool shop for two hours was wonderful).

While I haven’t posted about it, I have dabbled with leathercrafting a bit since my last post.  I’m a champion tracer, and I can cut a decent line into the leather (I thought), but what was really giving me fits was a technique called “walking” a tool.   You walk a tool by hitting it and moving it at the same time.  This is particularly important for beveling.  When you bevel along a cut in the leather, you basically smoosh one side of the line down, and it makes the other side seem taller by contrast.  It gives the leather a 3D affect that makes patterns pop.  So that was my goal today – learn how to bevel properly.

Travis, the manager of the store, was the guy giving out pointers.  He set me to work on one of the basic patterns included in the kit I got for Christmas – a western style flower.   When I finally got up to beveling, I was making a dog’s lunch of it.   Travis corrected me on the way I was holding the tool – with the toe in the cut, but with the “face” facing me – and which direction was easiest to work from – left to right as opposed to pulling toward me, which I had been doing.    It was like clouds parting.   I feel really good about my improvement in the class.  Some of the work I did today:

My crap flower, next to what it is supposed to look like at this stage.

An excellent example of the beveling technique I started out with this morning.  The edges are really rough.  I didn’t cut into the leather deep enough.

Travis said I’m pretty good with the shading tool, which is what you see on the petals.  That is also a walking technique, but because the face of that tool is round against the leather, as opposed to an edge dragging down a line, I find it much easier to walk.

Travis was kind enough to ignore my efforts with the camouflage tool – the arched indents along the right side of the stem.

Some simple lines and a swirl I cut for practice beveling.

This time I cut the lines deeper into the leather, to give me a better edge to work from.  I was also finally holding the tool the right way.

You can see a much smoother shaded line along the cut.  That’s what it is supposed to look like!  Yay!

A nice, sharp edge

By the time I did the swirl, I was finally starting to get the hang of it.

See the way the side of the swirl stands up from the leather? That’s what a well-beveled edge is supposed to look like.  Yay!

Travis then  said if I wanted to practice cutting and beveling at the same time, my next project should be some Celtic knot work.  I purchased two “craft aids.”   They are plastic sheets with a raised pattern on one side.  When you get the leather wet, and press the pattern into the leather, the image is indented.  This saves you the pain of having to trace it into the leather by hand.   I’m only trying a little piece first.

What the finished pattern is supposed to look like

The craft aid

My piece, after cutting the pattern. Yay deep lines!

I’ll post again after I bevel and beat on that little knot work pattern.

Oh, and I haven’t done anything else with Mickey yet.  When I update him, I’ll update you.

Published in: on August 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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Mickey Mouse Rounder: First Step – Tracing

For my first attempt at leathercrafting, I wanted to pick a design with simple and clean lines.  Something that would have the challenge of cutting curves, and playing with depth, but not too much challenge (I hoped).    So I went with a classic:

First, I printed out the design, and then I traced it with my spiffy light box.

The next step is tracing the pattern onto a piece of leather.   I’m using a “rounder” which is just a round piece of leather about the size of a drink coaster.  A few of them came in my starter kit.

To start tracing a pattern, you first “case” the leather. You do this by wetting the leather with a sponge so that it will take an imprint cleanly.  Then you go over the lines of the pattern with ball point pen, or the stylus end (aka, the pointy end) of a modeling tool.

After tracing:

There are a couple of lines missing – like his tail, and the lines of his shoes, which I plan to add with the swivel knife when I start cutting.

Published in: on January 7, 2011 at 6:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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The right tools for the job

Having mentioned my desire to take up this weird leathercrafting hobby to my family, they used Christmas as an opportunity to set me with a proper “shop.”  Through direct gifting and an infusion of Christmas cash, I now have:

  • A Deluxe Leathercrafting kit – containing the most necessary tools, some dyes, and some starter projects
  • A light box – one thing that attracted me to the craft is that you don’t have to be able to draw, you just need to be able to trace
  • A 12 x 12 slab of granite – to protect the table upon which I am hammering leather
  • Poundo board – a piece of rubber with two purposes: 1) for cutting on, to keep a good edge on my tools, and 2) for putting under the granite slab when hammering, to muffle the noise and keep the downstairs neighbor from wanting to kill me


Thank you family!

Published in: on January 6, 2011 at 5:34 am  Leave a Comment  

New year, new hobby

So my sister-in-law talked me into going to a steampunk costume party.    As I scoured the net looking for the perfect pair of goggles, or a good bag, it occurred to me that I could have all the neat leather accent pieces I wanted if I learned to make them myself.   And as I was researching how, I came across leathercrafting.

Leathercrafting involves the process of using special tools to carve and imprint your pattern into the leather. If you’re good at it, you can put just about anything you want into the leather.  And I want to be good.

We ended up not going to the party, but I have still taken up the hobby.  This blog will chronicle my ongoing adventures in leathercrafting, with pictures, and explanations, and plenty of screw-ups.  I’m a law student, so I can’t promise this blog will update with any sort of regularity, but putting up a page is a reminder that I want to make time for this.

Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 4:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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