Valentine’s Day Custom Leather Wallets

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  Are you looking for a unique Valentine’s Day gift?

A Valentine’s Day Custom Leather Wallets Special!

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and we have a special offer for the loved one in your life.  Now through January 27th we are offering a special on Valentine’s Day custom leather wallets and billfolds made for your loved one.  If you order a custom made leather wallet, bifold or money clip we’ll take 15% off the price and still make it in time for Valentine’s Day.

Clutch Wallet with silver ponchos.

A Handcrafted leather wallet, billfold wallet, clutch wallet or money clip can be an excellent gift that is custom made for your loved one with care and quality so it will last a lifetime.  But making wallets like this doesn’t happen quickly.  It takes time to design and construct a hand made leather wallet, so contact us as soon as possible to get the process started!  

Please note that this Valentine’s Day Custom Leather Wallets promotion can fill up.  After all there is only so much time in a day and only so much crafting our chief leather worker, Bob Blea, can do.  So as a result THERE ARE LIMITED SPOTS AVAILABLE in our order books for this event.  Spots in promotions like this tend to fill up quickly so let us know as soon as you can what you would like to have made for the special someone in your life.  And if you need any ideas be sure to visit our wallet page in our shop to check out some pre-made items we have in stock.

We can make you many different styles of clutch wallets, bifold wallets and other custom leather wallets.  Talk to us today about the special artwork or personalization you would like for your loved one and we will do everything we can to make it happen!

Custom Leather Wallets 15% off!  

Now through January 27th!  Offer valid on new custom orders only.  Preexisting custom orders and Etsy shop listing are excluded.  Get your order in today by contacting us!

Happy National Leathercraft Day August 15th!

National Leathercraft Day was created in 2018 by Tandy Leather as a way of celebrating the art and craft of working with leather.

Hand Sewing Leather
Hand Stitching a Leather Wallet with a traditional saddle stitch.

Leather has a long history going back to the stone age.  Leather was probably one of the first materials mankind learned to work and take advantage of, and it’s been a major part of all our lives ever since.  As time has moved along leather work has developed from being utilitarian to being an art form and form of expression.

Leathercraft is still a viable craft practiced by people all over the world.  For some of us it is even a business and profession.  But it’s also a hobby that is open to all ages and skill levels.  4H has classes for kids to start working with leather as do Boy and Girl Scouts.  There are also leather supply stores like Tandy or Standing Bear’s Trading Post that have regular in person classes for people to try their hand at various skills.  There are Leather Guilds across the US and the world dedicated to expanding the art form and that have regular classes or meetings with the purpose of educating people who are interested in the hobby.  And of course there are many online resources like videos and tutorials, including several here on my site.

So today in honor of National Leathercraft Day I invite you to try out leathercraft for the first time or work on improving some skill. Maybe you would like to make yourself a belt.  Maybe you want to make a sheath for a knife you have.  Maybe you have always wanted to learn carving or stamping leather..  Give it a try!  I have tutorials here on my site and Tandy Leather sells some of the best beginners books out there. There are tons of video resources by leather suppliers.  Springfield Leather is not only a good source of supplies but they are one of the largest producers of online teaching videos.  There are a lot of resources available to everyone these days and picking up the craft is easier now than ever.

For my own little contribution to National Leathercraft Day, I’ve got a free carving design for you.  This is a corner floral design you can feel free to use however you would like.  

Floral Carving Design free to use.
Floral Corner Design

I’ve included a PDF version of the design here.  You can download the JPEG image above or the PDF version by clicking the link below:

Corner Design

Use it however you like.  And if I get enough requests I might even do my own carving tutorial video for that design.  Enjoy the day and get to the bench and make something!

What Goes Into Making a Custom Leather Belt?

The Artists Method (for Custom Leather Belts Anyway)

So you’re in the market for a custom leather belt?  Wondering why they cost so much more than a belt from the department store?  Read on.

Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle
Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle

Having a belt custom made to your specification takes a surprising amount of work.  This is especially true for the carved or stamped belts that I make.  

Usually the process starts off with a question about making a belt with a specific kind of design.  Maybe it’s a basket weave design or maybe something more complex like a floral carving.  One of the first important questions is what length the belt has to be.  There is a specific process I follow to make sure the belt is the right length for your waist and it goes beyond just knowing what size jeans you wear.  People are usually surprised to find out their belt length is longer than their pants waist size!

Once we work out the belt dimensions it’s then a matter of determining the design.  Sometimes this is easy as the customer is ordering a standard design from my shop such as one of my standard floral designs or a particular geometric design.  But sometimes they are looking for something more custom.  I’ve had a request for a grape vine design from someone that owned a vineyard.  Or someone might want me to make a design that matches something else I’ve made for them like a carved notebook or wallet.  In those cases I need to draw a belt design that will work on the size of belt they want and that matches their request.

A custom belt design including carving artwork and belt templates.
Custom belt being designed on my bench.

The width of the belt is a consideration too.  Some people like wider belts and some like narrow belts.  Or maybe they want something that is mostly wide but is tapered around the belt buckle.  We can do that too, and those changes in width may need to be taken into account when designing the artwork for it.

And do they want it personalized?  Maybe they want their name on the back or initials on the billet?  Maybe they want their brand on the belt?  These are all considerations when working with a customer to develop a custom belt for them.

So there are a lot of design steps and things to consider.  This is what you are paying for when you work with a professional leather crafter who is making you a custom belt, and it is reflected in the price.  But the end result should be a belt that will last you many years and that you will be happy to show off.

If you want your own custom leather belt, contact us now to get the process started!  We would be happy to work with you!

Outstanding Custom Leather Belts

Making Outstanding Custom Leather Belts


Leather belts can be a very personal part of your wardrobe.  They can range from a plain but elegant dress belt to something carved and personalized with your name, and anything in between. 

Here at C and B Leather, while we can make a plain dress belt for you our specialty is a more personalized and artistic approach.  Our custom leather belts are made of Full Grain leather and usually have a design stamped or carved onto the belt.  The leather we use is tanned by a specific process that allows us to make carving designs on the surface of the belt that have depth and will show off the artwork extremely well.  It’s also leather that will last for many year’s of service.

Many of the belts that you get at departments stores or big box general merchandise stores are made with lower quality leathers.  They will be marked as Genuine Leather, which is actually a very low grade of leather.  It is also usually just a thin leather outer layer and the bulk of the inside may be a fabric or even cardboard! See my recent blog post about the different kinds of leather that you will find in most retail stores.  Genuine Leather doesn’t wear well and it cracks and breaks after only a little while of use.  It is an inexpensive product but its also not something that will last.

The Full Grain leather we use has all the strength and durability that leather is known for.  Each belt is made to fit your waist.  We tailor it to your measurements.  After carving or stamping your custom design into the leather, we treat it with multiple finish steps, each applied by hand, to enhance the artwork while conditioning and protecting the leather.  This allows your belt to have many years of looking good and serving you well.

 

Quality Custom Leather Belts are available now!

If you are ready for a quality custom made leather belt, tailored to your waist and that fits your style, we are glad to help.  Contact us with your ideas so we can get the process started.

Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle
Hand carved leather belt with floral design and silver and turquoise buckle

 

What does ‘Genuine Leather’ mean?

What’s up with Genuine Leather?

You will often see the term ‘Genuine Leather’ on items you find a stores, but what does this really mean?

If you go to a department store or other big box retail store, you will often run across leather items like belts or wallets that are stamped with the term ‘Genuine Leather’ but is this really any kind of quality guarantee?   Not really.  In fact it is one of the lowest grades of the types of leather you can purchase.

Genuine Leather is usually made from the lower quality parts of a hide that are removed from higher quality leather hides.  Often it is made from the parts shaved off of the back of a leather hide that are then glued together for strength and have a leather texture embossed onto the surface.  These are basically rejected parts from higher quality items that are recycled into something useful for the mass consumer market.  This kind of leather doesn’t have much strength or the ability to wear well because it doesn’t include the grain surface of the leather from the original hide. The grain surface is where most of leather’s strength resides.  Thus items made from ‘Genuine Leather’ won’t hold up well and tend to wear out or break down quickly.  It’s only suitable for items where strength and durability are not required.

 

Other Types of Leather

Top Grain is the next step up and while it’s better, it still has some drawbacks.  Top Grain still has the grain surface on the leather but that surface has been ‘corrected’.  Leather naturally has slight imperfections on the grain surface.  These are usually marks or scars the animal picked up on its hide over it’s lifetime.  On Top Grain leather the gain surface is sanded to remove these marks so it looks like a higher quality leather but this removes some of the strength from the leather.  To repair the damage to the surface, paints and sealants are sprayed on the surface.  Often a grain design will be embossed onto the leather as well.  These treatments can make this leather hold its color well and be water resistant, but often lower quality hides are used because the finishing steps mask the imperfections.

Top Grain leather is the kind of leather used in most luxury brand handbags, wallets or briefcases.  It wears better than Genuine Leather but that’s partially due to the surface treatments that are added to it.  It doesn’t have the strength and resistance to wear that Full Grain leather does because the top of the grain surface has been damaged by the sanding.

 

Full Grain Leather

Full Grain leather is the highest quality of the types of leather used in making personal items.  This leather has the original grain surface of the hide intact which gives it all the strength and wear resistance leather is known for.  It may have slight blemishes and imperfections but a skilled maker can work around them in the hide.  Full Grain leather is preferred for heavy duty items that need to be rugged and wear resistant.  However in a skilled craftsman’s hands the same leather can be used for handbags, wallets, belts and other personal items that will wear very well and last for many years.  If you want an item that will be durable and last a long time, this is the leather you want to use.  Full Grain leather is usually more expensive because it has to be a higher quality hide to start with.  This initial expenses is usually more than offset by the lifetime the finished product will have.

 

Understanding these differences helps to explain why hand crafted items from a reputable maker like C and B Leather cost more than the mass produced items you find at a department store.  The quality of the full grain leather we use is one reason for a higher price, but the experience and skill we bring to your project are also a factor.  If you have a personal item you would like custom made out of high quality full grain leather, please contact us to make your idea a reality.

 

5×8 Floral Carved Notebook

 

Common Types of Leather

There are a lot of different types of leather and many terms that can be confusing even to those who normally work with the stuff.  Here is a short list of some of the more common terms you will find on this website or in the industry.  This list doesn’t cover all the types and terms used in the industry but it does cover many of the common ones.

Carved Leather Purse

Cordovan

Back leather from horses tanned with special processes to make it withstand water and wear well.

Full Grain Leather

The grain side of the leather is not sanded or otherwise treated to hide scars or marks.

Chrome Tanned Leather

Leather that has be tanned with chromium salts.  This kind of leather often has a blue-green center and is somewhat water repellant.  It is one of the most common types of leather consumers see on a day to day basis.  Almost all your clothing leathers are made by this technique.

Suede

Leather cut from the back side of a hide of full grain leather and is often brushed or abraded to give it a velvety surface.  

Napa

Usually an aniline dyed calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin.  Usually a very soft leather.  These types of leather are used when exceptional softness and a luxury feeling are needed.

Nubuck

An aniline dyed leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side.  Sensitive to dirt and hard to clean.

Elk 

Soft and durable leather made from Elk hides.  

Deer

Soft and durable leather made from deer hides.  Generally does not come from wild animals but instead from animals raised in captivity.

Kangaroo 

A durable and soft leather commonly used in braiding items like whips.  Also useful in high wear items.

Ostrich

Made from ostrich hides and frequently used in fashion items.  The leather has distinctive surface with raised bumps where the feathers used to attach.  Sometimes this also refers to leather made from the legs of the ostrich which has a bumpy or almost scaly look.

Rawhide

Untanned leather that is scrapped, soaked and treated with lime to make it stiff and brittle when dry.  Used in some leather products for its toughness.

Split Leather

This is the bottom of a full grain hide that has been cut off with a long sharp knife.  This can be used to make suede or it can be stained and finished to look like full grain leather as a low cost alternative to a full grain hide.

Vegetable Tanned Leather

This leather is tanned using plant extracts that give it special properties that allow it to be carved or stamped.  The process is lengthy and sometimes takes months.  This is the kind of leather I use for all the carved or stamped items I make.  It’s also the kind used to make western saddles.

Alligator Leather

Leather made from the skins of alligators.  Recognizable by the large scales and can be easily mistaken for Crocodile leather.

Crocodile Leather

Very similar to alligator leather except crocodile hides can often have knobby projections from the surface.

Crust Leather

Crust is a term used for leather that has been tanned but has not had dyes or finishes applied.

 

Basket Weave Leather Stamping Tutorial

Basket weave leather stamping is really intimidating to many people but it doesn’t have to be difficult.  I have been working on a way to explain the techniques I use in my basket stamping (and really any stamping with a basket weave or geometric stamp) and I’ve come up with this tutorial as a starting point.  I decided to begin with the simplest form of basket stamping where you are stamping in a straight line across the leather.  Later I’ll write up a tutorial on angled basket weave stamping, which is more complicated but what I use most of the time.

Step 1:

Here is the cased leather I’ll be using for this tutorial.  It’s a money clip wallet back and I’m going to place a straight line of basket weave stamping down the length of it.

NOTE: I am right handed so all the descriptions and directions are what works for me.  If you are left handed most likely you will do everything in the opposite direction from what I’m writing here.  

I start out by making a faint line across the middle of the leather.  This will be my guide line for the first row of stamps.   Note that I made this line very bold for this picture.  Normally I would try to make this a faint mark but in this case the stamp will always be placed over the line so no part of the guideline will be left once I’ve stamped the whole piece.

I’ve also marked the border on the piece because later I will need to make sure I don’t stamp past the border lines.

Step 2:

Basket stamp on leather

I start by placing the basket stamp with one side right on the line and with the back edge right up against the border.  Take your time and line this up carefully.  This first row is the base for all the stamping on the rest of the project and any problems here will lead to more problems across the rest of the project.

 

Step 3:

Here is the first stamp impression.  Note the legs of the basket stamp are right on the line I marked on the leather.  You want to keep the stamp aligned straight with the guide line as much as possible.

 

Step 4:

Time for the next stamp impression.  Move the tool so you are making an impression with the other side of the stamp on the guideline as shown in the picture.  The next impression will still be along the guideline but with the back leg of the basket stamp overlapping the first impression.  The leg of the second impression should drop in perfectly to the leg of the first impression.  As long as the side of the stamp is lined up along the guide line, you will keep your stamps going in a straight line.

Here is main secret to how I stamp and keep the whole project straight and uniform.  Note the black arrow in the picture pointing at where the back of the stamp is sitting.  There is a slight gap between the back of the stamp and the center bar in the first stamp impression.  This is very intentional and it’s about the width of the leg of the stamp.  This extra space is a bit of play we will keep between all of the impressions.  As things get a bit off or crooked, this amount of play will allow us to adjust and keep things from getting far off.  If we stamped the impression right against the center bar there would be no room for error in the stamps around it and eventually you would end up with stamps crowding each other and the overall project would be crooked.

 

Step 5:

Here is the second impression.  It’s on the other side of the guide line but still has its legs lined up with the guideline.  Again, take you time making each of these first impressions and make sure they line up.  The time and patience you show here at the start will pay off in the end.

 

Step 6:

Now it’s time to repeat back on the other side of the line.  Again place the legs of the stamp in the last impression and make sure you have the same small gap between the back leg of the stamp and the center bar of the last impression.  It’s important to try and be as consistent with each impression as possible and to try and keep that slight gap the same for each impression.  Again your patience will be rewarded.

Also note that while I’m stamping this first row this is basically my view.  I’m always looking from the side to see how well it lines up with the guide line.  Once I finish this first row I’ll change how I look at the leather but for now I want to focus on making sure each impression lines up along the line and has the right spacing.

Step 6A:

First three impressions made.  About a few hundred to go.

 

Step 7:

This view shows more stamps running along the line as I continue to work my way across the piece of leather.  Again, keep the legs of the stamp on the guideline and try to make the space consistent between each impression.  

 

Step 8:

This pictures shows how even when you are trying to carefully line things up slight accidents will still happen.  The black arrow is pointing to where the previous impression was slightly off the line and you can see it is not quite lining up with the next impression.  We are all human so slight errors like this are UNAVOIDABLE.  This slight error causes the row next to it to be slightly off.  As you expand the stamping the errors like this compound which is why we tend to start off nicely but end up with our basket stamping being all over the place by the time we finish.  It’s that slight gap between the back of the stamp and the center bar that allows us the freedom to correct this kind of problem as we go along.

 

Step 9:

Once we reach the other side most of the time the stamp isn’t going to line up with the border.  In this case I tip the tool on end so I’m just making a partial impression.  I line up the legs just as before but tilt it up slightly so that when I strike the tool I only make an impression inside my border. 

The second picture here shows the tilt from the side and I’ve exaggerated how much I tip it, but you do need to tip it more than you think.  If you don’t you’ll end up accidentally making faint marks on the other side of the border.

Step 9A:

Here’s the impression of the tipped stamp.  Don’t worry that there is a pretty large gap between the partial stamp impression and the border.  We’ll fill that in with a border stamp later.

 

Step 10:

Now that I have my baseline across the project, I start stamping the area to one side of it. To do this I’m going to reverse the direction I’m adding new stamps.  I now will be stamping from right to left (I’m right handed but you are left handed you will most likely reverse this) I start by lining up the legs of stamp inside the two stamps that are already on the leather.  Note that I’ve rotated the project about 90 degrees and this is how I view the project in these two views.  This way I can most clearly see where the stamp sits in the existing impressions.

Here is another key trick I use to keep things straight and neat.  In the closeup picture you can see I’ve lined the stamp up with equal amounts of extra space on either side of the stamp.  This is where having that small gap between the stamps pays off.  From now on whenever you make an impression always try to keep the extra space on either side of the stamp equal, or stated another way keep the stamp centered between the two existing impressions.  Also try to keep the stamp running in a straight line with the existing impressions.  If you do these two things each time you stamp a new impression, it will help average out any slight errors we’ve made already and keep the stamp impressions form crowding each other.  Paying attention to these two key details will go a long way to improving your basket stamping.

 

Step 11:

This shows several impressions I’ve made as I follow along my existing row of stamps, working from right to left.  On each one I try to center the stamp between the two existing stamps and keep the stamp aligned with the existing stamps.   This stamping will go faster than the initial row.

 

Step 12:

I’ve reached the end of the line again and again the stamp is running over the border.  Just like before I tilt the stamp so I only make a partial impression.  The second picture shows I only get an impression of the legs of the basket weave, but that leg impression is what I’ll use to line up the next row.

 

Step 13:

Here’s where we are at this point.  We stamped a straight line across the project from left to right and then stamped one row of stamps back across from right to left.  For the next row I’ll go back to the right and stamp another new row, tilting the stamp up at each end as necessary.  I’ll keep doing that until I have filled up that side of the project and it looks something like…

 

Step 14:

Here I’ve added all the full rows I can on one side of the project and I’m bumping up against the border.  For each stamp I’ve followed my process of making sure each new impression is centered between the two existing stamps and I check to make sure I’m keeping the stamp aligned straight with the existing rows.  Fortunately it has come out pretty even with the border.

 

Step 15:

Now I am working on stamping as close to the border as possible by tilting the stamp towards me and making partial impressions.  I still make sure to place the stamp centered between the two existing impressions and keep the stamp straight with the other impressions.  I just want to be careful to leave as few marks as possible in the border area.

This closeup shows the partial stamp impressions and if you look carefully you’ll see I left a slight impression of one of the legs in the border.  You can get rid of this by using a modeling spoon to gently rub the mark out.

 

Step 16:

Now I flip the whole project around and repeat the process on the other side.  Again I start on the right and add impressions moving toward the left.

Just like before I center the stamp between the two impressions and keep the side of the stamp aligned straight with the existing impressions.

 

Step 17:

The other side is filled with impressions just like we did on the other side.

 

Step 18:

This time the whole stamp impressions came out pretty close to the border.  I could probably get by without stamping any more but I’m going to go ahead and stamp partial impressions along the border by tilting the tool.  I always try to get my stamps as close to the border as possible.

Step 18:

The basket stamping part is finished.  Now to finish things up I bevel the border all around the edges of the basket stamped area.  

Step 19:

Finally, pick a border stamp and stamp it around all the edges.

That is all the steps I go through,  Yes there are a lot of details to keep track of and at first things go pretty slowly but after a little practice doing these steps becomes routine and it goes much quicker and 

How To: Northwest Style Flower Carving Tutorial

This tutorial will show you step by step how to carve a traditional Northwest style four petal flower in leather. Grab some leather, your tools and follow along!

Floral carving in leather

This flower is different from the one in the first tutorial and different from the kind you normally see in Sheridan Style Carving.  Instead of using a flower center stamp the center of this flower is made with a tool called a seeder.  The center is much bigger and the flower is viewed at an angle instead of from above like we usually depict them in floral carving.  This flower comes from a different style of floral carving called the Northwest Style because it was developed in saddle shops of the US Pacific Northwest.

Be sure to go back and look through the first tutorial in this series that I published previously.  I won’t cover all the details I brought up before while discussing the tools this time around but you can find all those details by clicking here.

A note on tools:  As I said in the first tutorial it’s more than likely you won’t have all the tools that I show here.  For the most part I’m staying away from very specialized tools as much as possible though for doing traditional floral carving there are a couple of fairly specialized tools used to get very specific effects (like a center shader.)  If you don’t have all these tools don’t worry.  Where possible I’ll point out alternate tools you could use.  In almost every case these tools are available at your local brick and mortar leather shop or online at your favorite tool maker.  It’s sometimes possible to find these tools used from reputable online sources for very reasonable costs.

Leather and swivel knife
Initial carving with the swivel knife

Step 1:  Tracing and carving.  Again I traced the design onto the damp leather and then carved it in with my swivel knife.  A note about how damp your leather should be:  let it dry out to the point where it almost comes back to the color it was before you dampened it.  Most people start off tooling their leather when it is far too wet and they don’t get burnishing when stamping it.  Properly cased leather should darken like a bruise when a tool strikes it hard.

Step 2:  Outlining the flower center.  Again we’ll start with the flower center even though in this case technically the bottom petal is closer to the viewer.  Think of it like you are viewing this flower on edge. 

I always start with the center and work on the petals moving out from it.  I still use the center shader to outline the flower center like I did before.  When I traced the design onto the leather I put a dotted line where the edge of the flower center would be and now I’m using the center shader to bevel that line.  Of course if you don’t have a center shader a checkered or lined beveller will work.

Step 3:  Seeding the center.  Here we introduce a new tool, the seeder.  They come in different shapes and sizes but most of them make a small round ‘seed’ that we will use to fill in the flower center.  I will stamp them in rows as neatly as I can, starting with the outer edge and working my way towards the center.

Step 3A:  After the first row I add another behind it, trying not to stamp over any of the seeds I already placed of the edge of the center.  It takes some skill to place these all in nice evenly spaced rows, a skill I am still trying to master.

Step 4:  Beveling the petal in front of the seeds.  Once I’m done with the center I start on the petal directly below the line of seeds.  This represents a petal the viewer is seeing edge on, and I’m beveling the line that runs along the base of the flower center seeds into the petals on either side of the center. 

You want to bevel this line on the side that is TOWARDS the flower center because this petal is supposed to look like it’s opening from the center.  Beveling the other side of the cut would make it look like it’s below or behind the flower center, which would just look weird.

One reason I do the center before beveling this line is because you can get some seed marks on this petal and I’ll clean them off either with the beveling or with a little work from a modeling spoon.

Step 5:  Stamping veiner marks on the petals.  Next I’m ready to add texture to the petals with the veiner. 

See the first tutorial for more details on this.  I’m doing the same thing here that I did on that flower.  The only differences on this one is that the long narrow petal just below the seeds doesn’t get any veiner marks.  Also I did put them on the petal at the very bottom, but I added them after I took this picture.  But you can see them in the next step.

Step 6:  Shading the petals.  Just like the last flower I am using my thumbprint or pear shader tool along the petal edges to add relief to the petals.  I start at the tips and walk the tool back toward the center making lighter impressions as I go.. 

Notice on this flower I started the thumbprint right at the very edge of the petal.  I’m actually extending the tip of the tool just a bit past my knife cut.  This is another part of the Northwest style of carving.  The shader goes all the way to the edge of the petal.  Traditionally in Sheridan Style carving (which is the most common style these days) the shader or thumbprint mark stops just short of the edge of the petal.  Take a look at the flower in the first tutorial to see an example of the Sheridan style. 

Step 7:  Starting to bevel the petals.  First I’m going to bevel the bottom of that petal we’re seeing on edge.  This time we want to bevel the side of the cut line that is away from the flower center.

Step 8:  Next I’m going to use my undercut beveller in all the small scallops on these petals.  There are a lot more of these scalloped areas on this flower and it will end up with a lot more depth and movement than the flower in the first tutorial.  

Step 8A:  All of the places I needed to lift up with the undercut beveller have been tooled now.  You are beginning to see the ripple effect along the edge that this flower is going to develop.

Step 9:  Beveling the tips of the bottom petal.  Now I’ve switched to my small standard beveller (see step 8 in the first flower carving tutorial) to bevel the small rounded tips of the petal. 

It takes small movements of the beveller to follow the tight curve here and not leave tool marks in the leather and get a smooth bevel.

Step 10:  Looking at the bottom petal I thought it looked kind of plain where it met the petal above it, so I decided to come back with my thumbprint tool and add some shading from the center towards the thumbprint marks I had already made on the petal tips.  I made the new marks so they lined up with the ones from the tips.

Step 10A:  This shows what the marks I added look like on the petal.

Step 11:  Now to bevel the two petals on either side of the flower center.  I did this the same way as the bottom petal using my small beveller.  

Step 12:  Beveling the edge of the top petal.  Since it is the ‘farthest’ part from the viewer and parts of it lie behind the two side petals it gets beveled last.

Step 13:  Decorative cuts.  I finished the flower off with some decorative cuts on the petals.

Floral carving in leather

Note I actually skipped a few steps on this one.  I didn’t matte down the beveling ridges on the flower petals like I did in step 9 of the first flower carving tutorial, and I didn’t background around the flower either.  This was mostly because I got in a hurry and forgot.  But if you want to see those steps done properly, check out the first tutorial.

Northwest Style Flower Carving Tutorial – In a nutshell.

There you have it! Another complete and simple flower carving tutorial. Feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to answer all of them.

Great Leather Craft Books

Walt Disney is quoted as saying “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island. And best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”

Leather working may be an old art form but it has embraced modern technology. Since the inception of YouTube people have posted how to videos on every subject imaginable, including leather craft. There are some good and some not so good videos out there, but I wanted to talk about some of the great leather books.

Craftool Tech-Tips by Al Stohlman

One of my favorite books is a simple book called Craftool Tech Tips by Al Stohlman. This book (more of a large magazine type format) is only 22 pages but packed into those pages were hundreds of tips and techniques from Al Stohlman on floral and figure carving as well as stamping with geometrics. In addition to showing how to use the stamping tools there are side notes about proper use of the tools. When I was just starting out this simple book was a treasure trove showing me how to use the tools I had and teaching about tools I discovered I needed.

Flower Carving in leather with a veiner tool
Using the veiner on flower petals.

When I first started working with leather by main interest was in carving and I used to spend hours going over this book to learn the techniques. I can still pick up pointers from it to this day and I consider this to be one of the best books I own. I was fortunate to pick up a copy early in my leather carving career.

This first book has been around a long time (it was first published in 1969) but my second favorite book is much more recent.

Leathercraft by Nigel Armitage

Leathercraft by Nigel Armitage is a much newer book, published in 2020, and its a much different book from the first one. While the first book talks all about carving leather this book talks about basic construction techniques, particularly hand stitching leather. It is written by a master leather worker with over thirty years experience and it gives a really good insight into English leather working techniques. Since my early education in leather craft had been focused on carving and stamping, this book was a catalyst to improving my construction skills, refining hand stitching and improved pattern making. It is a well written book that is easy to follow and understand and will improve the skills of any leather crafter. It has exposed me to techniques and skills that I did not know about and it has broadened my capabilities as a leather crafter. I can’t say enough good things about it.

These are both excellent leather craft books that will serve you well during your journey to explore leather crafts and arts. I highly recommend adding both of these books to your library! And check out many of the other books out there. Some of them were written over 50 years ago but they contain descriptions of techniques that sometimes aren’t documented any where else. With so many leather craft books out there you can find something that informs you on the areas of leather crafts that interest you and will enhance your skills.

Where to get these leather craft books?

Leathercraft by Nigel Armitage is available through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or through your local book seller. Craftool Tech Tips was published by Tandy Leather but as of this writing seems to be unavailable through their website. You can find copies available on both Amazon and eBay but you might also be able to find a copy at a brick and mortar Tandy store if you get lucky. Hopefully this book will be available again soon on the Tandy site.

How to: Leather Carving Tutorial!

This is a step by step process showing how I take a blank piece of leather and create a floral carving on it. In this particular case it is a simple flower but the same techniques work for any kind of carving in leather.

Leather carving tools and veg tan leather
This picture shows a piece of leather to be carved and some of the tools to get started including a swivel knife.

For this leather carving tutorial I’m just going to carve and tool a simple flower with seven petals. The picture above shows the piece of leather with the flower outline already carved into it with my swivel knife. I’ll go step by step over each tooling step that I make to get the final flower.  Feel free to grab a small piece of vegtan leather and follow along. Though it looks like there are a lot of steps and details here, it really doesn’t take too long to do each of these. Stay with me through this whole post and I guarantee you will pick up something useful!

A note on tools:  It’s more than likely you won’t have all of the tools that I show here.  For the most part I’m staying away from very specialized tools as much as possible but for doing traditional floral carving there are a couple of fairly specialized tools that are used to get very specific effects (like a center shader.)  If you don’t have all these tools don’t worry.  Where possible I’ll point out alternate tools you could use.  In almost every case these tools are available at your local brick and mortar leather shop or online at your favorite tool maker.  It’s sometimes possible to find these tools used from reputable online sources for very reasonable costs.

Leather Carving Tutorial: Step by Step

Step 1:  Trace the flower outline onto your leather and carve it with your swivel knife. The picture at the beginning of this leather carving tutorial shows this step. I transfer my carvings to tracing paper but I’ve also taken the paper drawing and traced it directly to the damp leather by putting a layer of kitchen plastic wrap over the leather to protect my paper. Also, this first picture shows the design carved in with the swivel knife.

Step 2:  Work from the foreground to the background!  There are a lot of good reasons for this but the main one is to keep from having to redo any areas you have already tooled.  

Floral Leather Carving with flower center tool
Flower Center stamped.

When looking at a flower like this, we treat the center as the closest part to the viewer and stamp that first.  It also helps to guide the beveling of the flower petals that will come next.  We want the impression that the petals (or more correctly their edges) come down to the flower center.

My flower center in this case is a stamp, but you can do something similar if you have a seeder and can stamp the seeds in a small circular area.  In one of the later tutorials we’ll actually use a seeder to make a more complex flower center.

Step 3:  Center shading.  This was one of the first ‘Sheridan Style’ tools I got once I could get more professional tools.  When I saw how this tool changes the look of the flower center I had to have one. 

Leather Floral Carving with Center Shader tool
Center Shader used on the flower center.

It’s a lined tool designed to work around the flower center stamp and matte it down, making it look like a cone shape.  It really enhances the depth the flower center has and makes it look like center is deep down in the center of a real flower.  You can’t really tell from the picture but this stamp has a slightly curved heel to help it fit around the center stamp and press the leather down right up to the edge of the center.  The lines on the stamp help to enhance the illusion of depth and will capture antique later (if you antique the piece.)

If you don’t have a center shader, a small beveler used carefully around the center can get a similar effect.

Step 4:  Using a veiner on the petals.  Floral carvers do this to add a visual texture to the petals as well as enhance the appearance of roundness and depth in the flower. 

Flower Carving in leather with a veiner tool
Using the veiner on flower petals.

You can use either a veiner or a camouflage tool for this.  Originally the camouflage tool was the tool of choice for this but as Sheridan Style developed using a veiner for this job became more common.  It’s a matter or your preference and style as to which you prefer.  I usually use a small veiner like the one shown here.

Step 4A:  Petals after all the veiner lines have been stamped.  I usually try to have my veiner marks line up around each petal though I’m not very precise about this. 

Floral carving showing veiner usage
All petals lined with veiner.

Also, I try to put the marks a little closer together near the center and have them gradually space farther apart as I get closer to the edge.  I think this enhances the visual illusion that you are looking at a 3D cone shape that gradually opens up and flattens out as you get close to the petal tips.

Step 5:  Thumbprint or pear shader on the petal tips.  This is one of the steps that is very stylized for floral carving and doesn’t really represent a feature in a real flower.  We do it to give texture to the petals and more visual impact. 

Thumbprint tool used on leather carved flower
Thumprint tool shading flower petals

This tool goes by several names.  Typically in Tandy Craftool catalogs it is referred to as a Pear Shader.  Most Sheridan Style carvers will call this a thumbprint, and the two do have some differences.  Pear Shaders are actually ‘pear’ or teardrop shaped and often smooth.  Thumbprints are usually longer, shaped more like a loaf of French bread and they are usually lined.  Thumbprints also are designed so that the inner end is narrower that the outer end, giving the user two sizes of thumbprint in one tool.  That is a nice benefit!

This particular tool is a thumbprint.  Notice how I start at the outer edge of the petal and walk it back toward the center, hitting it a little lighter as I go.

Step 6:  The undercut or undershot beveler.  This tool makes it easy to bevel those round concave areas on the flower petal.  Also, because of the way it is shaped, it pushes the leather up above the cut line, giving a lift to that part of the petal.  That is why these tools are often called ‘petal lifters.’  This was another one of those floral carving tools that I had to have once I saw how it was used.  To me this was the key tool that made professional carver’s work stand out.  

Floral carving with a petal lifter
Petal lifter for the petal edges

I’ll use this tool inside the slight inward curve on each flower petal to lift that part of the tip up.  Compared to the areas on either side of the lifted area where I’ve already used the thumbprint, that center part of the petal will really look like it’s standing up above the leather surface.

Petal lifter in place to lift a petal
Showing how the tool fits at the petal’s edge

Step 6A:  After stamping in all the scalloped areas of the petals.  I do this as the first step in the beveling process.  

All petals have been lifted using the petal lifter
All petals lifted

Step 7:  Beveling the petals.  First I focus on the long cuts to the flower center.  I use a wider beveller for this because you get smoother beveling when you can use a wide beveller.  The smaller the width of your tool the easier it gets to have uneven beveling and to leave undesirable tool marks.  You always want to use the widest tool you can.  The beveller in this picture is a ¼ inch wide.

Beveling the flower petals in a leather floral carving
Starting the petal beveling
All the central parts of the flower have been beveled
Flower center beveled all around.

Step 8:  Beveling around the petal tips.  To do the more rounded petal tips my larger beveler is too big to easily do the job, so I switch to a 1/8 wide beveller.  This makes it easier to go around the curves but you do have to take more care to use an even amount of force so you get an even and smooth beveling line.

Beveling the tips of the flower
A smaller beveler is used for the flower tips.

Step 8A:  Petal beveling complete! The flower is almost done at this point.

The flower petals have been beveled in this example
Beveling complete!

Step 9:  Matting down the beveling ridges.  Notice that there is a very pronounced ridge on the flower petals where I beveled the petal edges that lead down to the flower center.  I want to smooth out that ridge so the petals look more flat and I’m going to use the figure beveller at the top of the picture to do it. 

Figure beveler used to matte down the ridges left from beveling
A figure beveler to knock down the beveling ridges

Figure bevellers were specifically designed to matte down leather in figure carving and are great at removing ridges like this.  I stamped an impression of the tool next to it so you could clearly see the shape of the tool.  If you don’t have one of these tools a modeling spoon will do the same job for you.   Really any smooth rounded tool could be used like a modeling spoon to smooth the leather out.

Step 9A:  Everything smoothed down.  The petals now have a much smoother and more natural looking surface.

Flower Carving in leather showing all the beveling steps
Beveling ridges smoothed out.

Step 10:  The same kind of ridge exists around the outer edge of the flower thanks to our beveller and the carving will look better if we matte that down too.  Since this will be the background of the flower, we usually want this surface to be textured to make the flower stand out from it.  The texturing will capture antique when you antique your piece making it much darker than the flower, but even if you don’t antique your work the texture itself will separate the background from the floral carving.  

Starting to background around the flower carving
Backgrounding the flower.

First, I’m going to start with a small pointed checkered backgrounder to matte down the small pointed areas between the petals.  For this carving I’m going to use a checkered backgrounding tool. You can see an impression of the mark this backgrounder leaves next to the tool.  It is true that some floral carving experts will say that the only ‘professional’ backgrounding tool for floral work is a bargrounder but I say use whatever you are comfortable with.  I’ll have an example using bargrounders in a later tutorial.

Step 11:  Once I matte down the tight spaces I’ll switch to a larger tool so I can cover more area.  I stamped the larger tool next to the smaller one for comparison and I’ve started matting down the area along the top of the flower so you could see the difference.  

More backgrounding tools to shade around the flower
Expanding the backgrounded area.

Step 11A:  Here I’ve matted all the way around the flower.  Please note for this leather caring tutorial I wasn’t taking the time to do my best to matte this area down evenly and fade the edge out as smoothly as I could.  As a result, the matting on this background looks choppy.  If this was something I was making for a customer I would spend more time making the matting look smooth.

Matting around the flower has been completed.
Backgrounding completed.

Note how the backgrounding makes the flower stand out, like it’s actually above or separate from the leather. Because of the texturing in the background if you antique this leather it will make the flower stand out even more.

A side view of the floral carving showing off the backgrounding
Closer view of the backgrounding around the flower.

Step 12:  Decorative cuts.  Typically this is the last step in the project.  I usually finish all the carving before I come back and do this step.  Decorative or ‘dress’ cuts are intended to give extra detail to the flower and are another stylized effect for floral carving that doesn’t quite match a part on a real flower.  I for one think the flower looks much better with the cuts than without.  

Decorative cuts suggest veins on an actual flower and add visual interest to the carving.
Decorative cuts on the flower petals.

There are lots of different styles and ways to do these cuts.  Each carver usually find one that he likes and can do well and sticks with them.  I’ve never felt I was very good with these cuts and I stick to these basic ones most of the time.

That’s the whole thing!  Any questions?