Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How To Make Leather Tools

     Tools for working leather are highly specialized and therefore costly.  Also, a leathersmith needs many different kinds of tools, and even the lesser types still add up dollar-wise, making the craft cost prohibitive for many people.  Not all leather tools lend themselves well to home made processes, but some do, and by making as many tools as you can it is possible to save a lot of money, and even make better tools than you can buy. 

     Leather itself is one of the most costly materials to use when making garments or cases or even footwear, though because of its durability it is the best deal over the long haul.  By FAR the best deal.  Leather is a natural material as well, and thus biodegradeable; if you are worried about the landfills growing gigantic from the amount of plastic deposited in them, as many of us are, then leather will help you do your part in decreasing the problem.     Also you can bring American work home, literally, by crafting some of your own goods, and you can easily make items to wear which are far superior to a lot of the imported goods you see around town.  You can even go into the business of making things, or trade what you make with your friends for other things you need.  It is very much a win-win situation.

     Many leather tools can be made without heat treatment, but by heating metals and learning to temper them you can make a greater variety of tools, and you can make stronger tools too.  If you want to learn how to heat metals to make tools you can study blacksmithing.  There are numerous books around concerning that vocation, and I highly recommend the online pdf called BASIC BLACKSMITHING  by David Harries and Bernard Heer.  It is simple and to the point, and it covers all the techniques and tools you will need to learn blacksmithing.   To make most leather tools blacksmithing is not a requirement though.  The variety of metals available to people today makes tool making a lot easier than it ever has been before.  Stainless tableware like knives, forks, and spoons can be used to fashion many useful tools for the leathercrafter, and things like old golf clubs and bicycle parts can be repurposed easily to make excellent leather working tools of high quality too.

     To begin you will need a few basic power tools, like an electric drill, and a motor powered grinding wheel.  Some people use just the drill with attachments, clamping the drill to the bench when needed.  That does work and I have done it myself in the past.  Small grinding wheels and bits are available for all drills in most hardware supplies.

     Many electric motors can be had very cheaply or even free if you are a good salvage person, and there are lots of mandrels now being made and sold by shops such as Harbor Freight which slide over a motors shaft and are fastened with set screws.  These are threaded mandrels and will accept grinding wheels and buffing wheels.  They are made to fit all kinds of motor shafts, from 1/4" up to 5/8" and even larger. Harbor Freight also has flex shaft chucks you can actually put on your drill or grinding motor, and they are a worthy investment for this kind of tool making.  WHEN WORKING WITH MOTORS MOST TIMES SMALLER AND SLOWER IS BETTER.  Modern mandrel attachments also accept muslin or felt buffing wheels, to polish metals and other hard materials, and there are even expandable sanding drums in miniature made for motor chucks and mandrels.
     As for other tools, a hacksaw is somewhat of a necessity for this type of tool making process, and some good heavy cutting pliers, like lines-man pliers.  Line up a few small files for sharpening your tools, a round and flat file will get you buy in the beginning, and some good silicon carbide sandpaper or cloth.  Get a few pieces of steel plate to work on as well, things that can be hammered upon without worry of deformation.  A bench vise will also be very handy, and sometimes these incorporate a horn and a flat surface for forming metals.  If you do not have a bench vise you can use regular C-Clamps or other types of clamps which will securely hold your work onto a bench top.

    Always use safety glasses and be careful not to get clothing or fingers or jewelry near moving wheels.  Especially keep jewelry away.

Below is some of my past leather work.

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