At Pennsic this year, two of the leatherworking merchants got together and held a Leatherworker’s Roundtable – a simple gathering of leatherworkers, to meet, ask questions, and discuss techniques with one another for two hours. It was fantastic! Here are my notes on the new tips I learned.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has very detailed photos of leather goods, including shoes.
Square is a great business for running your own credit cards (for small business owners who sell items in person).
Weaver Leather sells leather wholesale only (need a business license), but they have great prices on leather. They sell minimal amounts of soft leather, though.
Ohio Travel Bag is a good source for closures, including micro-rivets. When buying hardware, consider stainless steel hardware – it doesn’t corrode like nickel plated hardware does.
Spotted Pony Traders is a great supplier of deer and elk leather – better than Weaver Leather.
Notes on Materials
Leather glue: DAP Contact Cement is similar to Barge Cement, only it’s cheaper and will glue to more things than just leather – it will grab onto wood and bone better than barge cement. 3M spray adhesive also works great for light leathers.
Eco Flow dyes are discouraged by one leatherworker. They are very environmentally friendly, which is great, but they are ~90% water: the colors run if the leather gets wet. The color is also not very reproducible. Eco Flow dyes also don’t permeate the leather all the way. These leatherworkers prefer to use alcohol based, oil based, or acrylic based dyes. (I will have to experiment with this. So far, I’ve noticed no problems with using Eco Flow dyes.)
Saddle soap: two versions. Glycerine based and wax based. Glycerine-based saddle soap will set off TSA alarms (they search for nitroglycerine).
Neatsfoot oil will soften veg-tanned leather. It’s used before stretching leather in making saddles.
Make your own edge smoother: buy a wooden knob from Home Depot, cut a notch in it, sand the notch down.
Notes on Techniques
Add a welt to heavily used seams (pouches, shoes): add another piece of leather between the seams to keep the seams from ripping through the leather. Looks like piping, with the leather coming out of and then going immediately back into the seam (folded over leather).
When dying and painting, it’s best to dye the leather, then sheen the leather (with a wax-based product) to lock in the dye, then apply acrylic paint on top of that. Another leatherworker in a previous year told me to paint and then add a light coat of oil on top to lock in the paint, so there are different recommendations on how to do this.
- Stibbling: Uses a blunt tool to hit damp leather over and over again. Compresses with small bumps.
- Pricking: Uses an awl to hit damp leather over and over again. This pricks the leather, making it more porous. This will dye very differently than the rest of your non-pricked leather.
How to make sword sheaths that don’t hurt blades
- Use veg-tanned leather, as this has no acids in it.
- Don’t dye the leather where it will touch the blades. Don’t use oil-based dyes (the next soaking step will ruin the dye job).
- Oil the crap out of the leather, to remove all the water from the leather.
- Lightweight kitchen oils work, like olive oil and clove oil, because these don’t spoil. Vegetable oils will spoil and collect dirt, as they aren’t as filtered as olive oil and others.
- Soak the leather in it. Can marinate the leather in it if you have a basin it fits into. Can also take the sewn sword sheath, hold it over a sink, and pour oil into the sheath until it oozes out of the leather. Do this twice. Can get a piece of PVC pipe and fill that with oil and soak the sheath in that.
- Viking sheaths sometimes were lined with sheepskin, with the wool side towards the blade. The lanolin in the wool oils the sword.
Use fire to melt wax on sinew knots – carry around a lighter to do so.
Cleaning well-used boots: once a month, scrub with a glycerine-based saddle soap. Then oil them with mink oil. A couple days later, add a wax-based saddle soap for top coating (for waterproofing).
How Period is the Modern Leatherworking?
Fastening: We use the same stitches that they’ve always used. Essentially all of our hand-stitching is period. They didn’t really use rivets in period. Some cobbling was used (using nails to hold leather together).
Decorating: Leather was more often embossed instead of tooled. Also, they didn’t have swivel knives, even when things were tooled. There is some incising done in period work, but all with straight knives (the curves turned with the hand). Less incising (less tooling) in period leatherwork. Embossing, stibbling, and pricking were used.
I’m excited to learn how to make sheaths that are safe for blades that rust easily – like our rapier swords. I will be playing with that at some point in the future, for sure. 🙂 ~Kell