Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Starter Tools #1



 The above is my box of starter tools from 1978.  

It is not for sale - you don't have enough money.  

 And it is NOT the starter set of tools I am going to recommend in this blog - you will have to read further down.... 

 This post is going to be a continuous effort to advise new leather crafters.   I will first discuss the very basics, and then go on to a second tier of tools that can be expanded to.  

The tools that will work well for each person will vary a bit depending on the projects that you mostly engage in.   I am going to focus on working with vegtan, or tooling, leather.


 I see the surface of vegtan leather as very vulnerable, until you have it sealed or conditioned.  

So I never bring pen or even pencil close to the leather surface (not even greasy hands). Therefor all the marking I do, is done with a scratch awl.  The photo below shows a big red handled one I used until I acquired the small model, that is still available.

 With the scratch awl you can easily trace around templates, poke holes where your pattern indicates holes to be punched and you do not have to be scared that ink will smear in places where it can ruin your project.

 I seldom use the big red one any more and do most work with the smaller one.  


 There is a gazillion cutting instruments out there with a gazillion and ten opinions about what works best.  

But let us focus on starting out. The breakoff blade knife at the top of the photo is the one I started off in 1978 - it is semi retired now and just used for the sake of sentiment.  The second white one, also with the breakoff blade is new at Tandy.  This is my absolute go-to knife for the following reasons:

  • It is always sharp - you simply break off the dull tip and carry on cutting.  I do strop my blade from time to time to be a bit more frugal and give the blade a slightly longer lifespan.
  • It is not very expensive.
  • You have a lot of control over this tool, because you hold it like a pencil.
  • You do need a cutting surface like a self-healing cutting mat, under it.  This does add to the stability with which you do cutting. TIP: do not use stone or wood as the cutting surface.  Hard plastic that does not grip the blade, seems to work the best.  

There are other breakoff blade knives available - the one I bought at a hardware store however, had a too wide opening for the blade and so the blade would "flap" from side to side and make accurate cuts difficult. 

 The third knife in the picture is a recent gift from a good friend - it is a very old knife with a removable blade.   The blade has the same shape as the other two, which makes it easy to cut with and I almost have it honed to the point where it cuts soundlessly, and as if it is going through soft butter!  It will have to be stropped regularly to stay a joy to cut with.



 Two tools I keep within reach, is a square and a compass.

The square is not a big one, but serves its purpose most of the time (a bigger one comes in handy, but needs a big work surface as well). 

 I don't want to say too much about how to use the tools - that is probably a few separate posts - just what they are for. The compass has two fairly sharp metal tips and is used for drawing lines parallel to edges.  This has various purposes.


 On the photo and edge beveler at the bottom - used to round off the square 90 degree corners where leather was cut.


 The other two tools - slickers - are then used to smooth the edges of the leather.  The plastic circle has been around for a very long time, but the multi sized wooden one is the only one you need to start with.   

Edge burnishing is quite a science / religion with many leatherworkers, often with impressive results, but if you master the basics first, you will continue to get good results. 


 Many projects require holes - for rivets, snaps and other hardware attachments.   

To start I propose a set like the one shown here - a handle into which your screw the tip you desire, depending on the hole size. 

 The advantage of this set over a revolving head hole punch is that with this you are not limited to a throat depth (with the pliers-like tool you can only punch holes about inch and a half from the edge or less). 

It is also cheaper, because if you do want to get a revolving head hole punch, you need to buy the top end solid steel handle punch - the lower end models will only last if you do ten very careful holes a year....;   the frames of those tend to bend easily. 

 Also note the accompanying plastic cutting board to use underneath the leather when you punch holes through.  To do this on wood would dull your punches very fast.   

 And I think that concludes this post! I will start a new one looking into the starter tools for tooling and a different one for starting with lacing and stitching. 

 I hope this helps!