Leather Stitching and Leatherworking as a Craft or Hobby

leather stitchingYou can do a lot with leather stitching. You can make moccasins, leather clothing, horse saddles and upholster furniture. It is a dying art these days. It is difficult to find people who know how to tan and work with leather anymore. If you take up leather working as a hobby, you can probably make a bundle selling your goods at the local flea market, especially if you hand tool leather saddles.

Hobbies That Turn Into Businesses

There are a lot of hobbies that you can do that end up turning into a small business. Woodworking and soap making are both hobbies that will likely turn into a thriving business once people start talking about your work. Something like beer making isn’t a good hobby if you hope to turn it into a business because of all of the state and federal regulations of it. It is okay to make beer as a home hobby, but you’ll run into a lot of trouble if you try to turn it into a small business.

How to Tan Leather

Before you can start leather stitching to make your saddle or reupholster your couch, you will need to tan the hide. Of course, you can purchase finished leather that is already tanned, but I’m sure you are curious as to how it is done. All crafty types of people always end up wanting to know the process from the beginning to the end.

After the animal is skinned, scrape off any flesh or fat that was left behind in skinning and then set it out in the shade to cool and dry, fur side down. Once the hide is completely cold then liberally apply non-idodized table salt to the flesh side of the hide. You will use about 4 pounds of salt for your average deer skin.

The reason you need to salt the hide is because the salt will stop the hide from decomposing. So, it is important that you don’t walk away and forget about it, because it will need to be done as soon as that hide is cool.

Lay the pelt flat and let it dry for a few weeks until it feels rather still and crisp. Add more salt if you find there are pools of liquid developing on the pelt as it is drying.

When the pelt is stiff and completely dry, put together your tanning solution. First you need to soak the pelt in cold water until it is bendable and you can work with it. This might take a couple of hours. Once the pelt is flexible then start making your solution.

Tanning Solution for 4 Large Animal Skins

3 gallons water
2 pounds of bran flakes

4 gallons of water
16 cups of non-iodized table salt

3-1/2 cups of battery acid

Boil the 3-gallons of water and stir in the bran flakes then let that sit for about an hour. Strain the flakes out and discard the flakes. You want to keep the water.

Put the salt into the bottom of a plastic trash can and boil 4-gallons of water. Add the water to the trash can and stir until the salt is dissolved then pour in the bran water that you made earlier.

When that solution in the trash can has cooled down to room temperature, you can put on your safety equipment to handle the battery acid. The battery acid comes with safety precautions that you need to read and follow.

Add the battery acid to the solution in the trash can and stir thoroughly.

Add the skins to the trash can and use your stirrer to push them down to completely submerge them in the tanning solution. They need to soak in the solution for 40 minutes and you’ll need to poke at them now and then to make sure they stay under the solution.

Fill another trash can with clean water and use your stirring stick or some other device to pick the skins out of the solution and put them into the clean water. Jostle them around in the clean water to rinse them. Change the water as needed. You are done with the rinse cycle when the water remains mostly clear.

Remove the skins from the water and drape them over something to drain. Once they are drained but they are still wet, rub in an ounce of leather conditioning oil like Neatsfoot Oil. It will be absorbed by the pelt.

While the pelt is still wet, tack it to a wooden pallet to dry. Pull and stretch it a little bit so that it is fairly taught.

It will probably take a week for it to dry completely.

If you want to use the leather without the fur on it then use a hide scraper to scrape the fur away by working in the opposite direction as the fur grows.

If you want to use the animal’s own brain to tan the hide, this brain tanning website has instructions on how to do that. The animal’s brain is exactly enough in weight to use to tan its own hide.

Leather Working Patterns

You can purchase patterns to use to make all sorts of things out of leather. You can make your own pair of boots or shoes, leather covers for books and leather vests. If you do an internet search then you will find a lot of stores that sell leather working patterns.

Essential Tools Used in Leatherworking

The Punch Leather Tool

The punch does just what it says it does, it punches holes in the leather. If you are making a belt, the leather punch will put the holes in the belt where a person can adjust the size. Punches will come in a variety of shapes, but general they have the different punch sizes on a wheel on the punch tool and you can spin it to the size hole you need to make.

The Leather Awl

This is a punch tool that makes holes that are very small so that you don’t notice them. You use an awl to make tiny holes for leather stitching. There are a few different kinds of awls. The harness awl is for punching holes for stitches in harnesses and the clicker’s awl is an all-purpose awl that every leatherworker needs to have. A stabbing awl is for working in finer leather and helps with making the holes you need for stitches in that fine leather.

Leather Knives

Every leatherworker will need an assortment of knives so they can cut leather pieces. Some of the knives are used for cutting leather and some of the knives are just for cutting decorations in the leather. The paring knife is used to pare down the edge of a piece of leather before gluing or sewing to give the project a more finished look.

Leather Needles

Leather needles are necessary to make the leather stitching that holds the piece together. They come in a variety of sizes, lengths and gauges to fit any project. Some needles are used without punching holes first and some needles do not need pre-punched holes.

Leather Edge Beveller

There are a wide variety of edge bevellers that can finish the edge of the piece of leather. Each beveller will give you a different style of finished edge on the leather. Most leatherworkers have an assortment of edge bevellers.

Leather Stamps

Leather stamps are for decorating your leather. They come in a huge variety of shapes and designs. You can even find them in the shape of letters or numbers. When you see that embossed look on leather that is maybe a string of flowers or other design it was done with stamps. You can even use stamps to stamp in color. Usually stamps are only one little piece of the design, such as a flower petal. So you would use the flower petal stamp for the petals, then a round stamp for the middle of the flower and a stamp that looks like a line for the stem.

Leather Hammers

Leatherworking has special hammers that are used with leatherworking tools. If you use a regular woodworking hammer on a leather tool then you will damage it. Leatherworking hammers are more like rubber mallets.

Cork Board

By placing cork board underneath the piece of leather that is being worked, you can save a lot of wear and tear on your tools. The cork board absorbs some of the blow which allows the tool to last longer and stay sharper.

Leather Strap Cutter

This leatherworking tool cuts even strips of leather that you will use as straps. You can adjust the tool to make the width of the strap that you need. It can also be adjusted for different thicknesses of leather. This is the tool you want to cut strips of leather to use as a belt.

Leather Stitching Clamps

These clamps hold the leather in place while you are stitching it. It is like having a helper hold the leather for you and a necessary tool if you do a lot of leather stitching.

Get Deals on Leatherworking Tools

You will probably find a leatherworking supplies company that becomes your favorite supplier eventually, but you can get great deals on tools by looking around. People will oftentimes start hobbies and then give them up just as they barely get started and their equipment will end up on eBay. So, look for used tools on eBay, in garage sales and second-hand stores. You can pick up leatherworking tools that are practically new and pay just a fraction of the original price for them.

Hobbies That Can Make You Money

Leatherworking is a great hobby because you can earn a lot of money doing it if you make things that are in demand like handmade saddles. There are other hobbies that can turn into part time or full time income like cake decorating, artisan breadmaking, T-shirt transfer printing and refinishing furniture. Most of these types of hobbies you can learn by taking classes online or find websites to connect with others who love that hobby also. You can pick up lots of hints and tricks by reading blogs dedicated to whatever hobby you get involved with.