Tuesday, November 5, 2013

13 Workshop Tips & Tricks

A collection of 13 tips and tricks I’ve found helpful around the workshop. 

Another tip I found on leather craft forums is to use super glue to lock the thread ends in place - a technique that could be used for machine or hand stitching. You would just have to be very careful not to get any glue on the front side of the workpiece. 

The main reason I purchased an anvil was to have a firm curved shape I could use to help shape and flatten the seam allowance on hoods - particularly around the nose and chin areas. 
The horn on this 24lb. anvil is just the perfect shape for this type of work. 

The face (the flat part on top) is also great for setting the stud and post (flat) side of your snaps. A useful thing to have for about $25!  I got mine here.

I use double-sided tape to hold the zipper in position while sewing. If this was cloth, you could machine-baste but that doesn't work on leather - because it would leave holes behind. I used to use masking or blue painter’s tape for this, but have found the double-sided sewing tape works even better for a couple of reasons: It’s less wide than the other two, and easier to remove when you’re done sewing. 

Make thread changes quick and easy:

I have to credit the technicians at Artisan who shared this tip with me. It saves a little bit of time each time I swap out thread colors. 

Sometimes you want to strengthen an area, and there are different ways of approaching that depending on where you are working and the kind of seam you want to leave behind. Shown
below are four levels of reinforcement:

Everything starts out fine when you first open your new can of glue. It’s all smooth and just the right consistency - not too think, not too thin. It just flows out of the brush. 

After a while, the glue in your pot will get thicker as the air inside takes up more space when you close the can, drying out over time. I try to keep this thickened (but still usable) glue for use on straps or thicker pieces, where the spread-ability isn’t an issue and application of the glue doesn’t have to be as precise. 

You should also keep a couple of disposable brushes around for spreading glue - in 1 to 3-inch sizes. Even though this glue is supposed to be soap and water clean-up-able, I usually only get a few uses out of a brush before the glue dries in the brush and renders it unusable. 

I came up with a simple way to help hold layers in alignment when setting rivets: just use nails! It really helps hold the layers in place, as they can shift around easily when handling the workpiece and placing it in the bench riveter. 

 Mark hole locations in both workpieces with a template.
 Punch holes in both pieces. 
 Align pieces and insert nails in "unused" holes (the one that won't be receiving the rivet).

And hold everything together tightly while setting the rivet. 

Make a clear envelope to hold your smaller templates and patterns. 
This heavy clear vinyl is only $4.75 per yard at the fabric store. It's a great way to keep your small templates organized and easy to find. 

I found these at the local art supply store for 95¢ each. They keep little parts organized and at hand while you’re working with them, and stack neatly when not in use. Great for 4-part snaps, and 2-part grommets - all those little parts that like to roll off the workbench. When you're done, it's easy enough to empty the parts back into their boxes for storage. 

Use wine corks to protect your awl points!

I got the idea from watching the video of JnK making a camera case below: (Worth checking out for the precision craftsmanship!)

These are fun to make out of scrap veg-tan leather and are rather useful for quick reference. They can help you determine the right size hole punch, bag punch or grommet needed for a particular project. I usually punch at least one large hole so they can be hung up out of the way. This one came out nice:
In the case of the boot hooks below, you can have examples of the different types of finishes that are available on the hardware. Some of the different finishes can be kind of subtle. 
A stitch-length sample can help as well, since at least on my machines the numbers don't seem to correspond to anything at all. The only truism is: larger number on the dial equals longer stitches, but after that, all bets are off. The only sure way to know how the stitch is going to look is to run a test. 
Hope you found something useful here - these are little things that I use almost every day in the workshop! Until next time...


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Maskenfreund! I'm already working on the next set...

  2. You have your own stationery!
    Manage every detail......

    1. Yep, I'm a bit particular with all the details. It's the only way to get things just right...

  3. Thanks sooo much for this! I love the way you are multitalented and use your photography as well as graphic design skills (nice design and layouts and typography et al.) just as tools to convey information on the leather crafting project you are working on. That is so cool and deft...

    I have recently picked up leatherworking again (as a hobby) after a big hiatus.
    I will reread this article many times. Thanks for the tip on protecting the awls with a cork.

    Any tips on how to protect edge bevelers? I am frantically after them with jeweler's rouge now, every time they give signs of wear...

    1. Thanks Maid Heather! It's good to know the extra work putting it together is appreciated!! =0) It definitely takes a bit of time to make it look nice. These are all things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out.

      The edge bevelers are tricky. I think the most important thing is what you are already doing: use a leather strop and jeweler's rouge before each use. Just like woodcarving chisels - keep 'em honed as you go. I've been keeping the wax-like (dipped?) edge-coating handy to protect them between uses.

    2. Wax like edge coating? Are you referring to the wax like substance they came in when shipped? Darn, I burned that off in ignorance I'm afraid :-) Oh well...

      This pic in itself almost looks like a piece of art, Squint your eyes and look at it again :-) http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-2lzMUSnmkaw/UnnaSP6kqdI/AAAAAAAAHiw/D5TaMIYPd_U/s1600/TipsNTricks36aFLAT.jpg

      Could I enquire what kind of cutting board you use? I can just make out "made in Japan" and I have the distinct feeling I need one of those. Tx!

      And don't forget: 99% of the people enjoy your outings. 1% actually comment.

    3. I was thinking of that wax coating that comes on the tool, although they do start to fall apart eventually. This guy shows how to make a kind of removable protective coating using "Plasti Dip": http://youtu.be/LSk6XViPQ3E

      The cutting surface is something I picked up at Michael's craft supply store. It's a self-healing mat, and great for cutting parts and patterns. They call it a "rotary mat", and they're kind of pricey. Be sure to use the 50% off one item coupon (usually in the Sunday paper) when you buy it! Also, be careful with the mat when it comes to heat and storage. It can easily warp out of shape if you don't store it flat. I learned that one the hard way...

      Thanks also for the 99% comment. I know most people don't take the time to comment, but it does really help to hear from the few who do! =0)

    4. Cool! Tx loads for the youtube link. I might actually give that technique a go any time soon.

      Also thank you very much for the heads up on the cutting surface. 50% off coupon won't work in my case I'm afraid. I am from Amsterdam, Holland. Lol! :-)

      I'll do an an ebay sweep. I love these cutting boards with ruler templates on them and definitely want one.

      Oh BTW with re: tip #4. I got an anvil, albeit a small one. Don't know how I ever managed to get on without it!!!

    5. The anvil definitely comes in handy, and it's not too expensive. Those cutting surfaces should be available wherever supplies for scrapbookers or quilters are sold. Those seem to be the main applications for it.

  4. Thanks for great and useful tips. They are definitely helpful for us beginners.

    1. Thanks, hope they do help. I've been doing this a while now, and am trying to share the one's I've found most useful!

    2. And come to think of it, I feel like a beginner in a lot of ways (still)! There is a lot to learn when it comes to leather. I swear sometimes the more I do it, the less I feel I know. Ass-backwards, I know...

    3. I think that's a good thing. When you cease to learn or think you know it all is when life and skills become stagnant and boring. I recent watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which is about an 85 year old man who has made sushi nearly his entire life but still works on trying to make it better. I think dedication like that is what separates the great from the good!

    4. "The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know…"

  5. Great series of tips. For the rivets, are you still using Weaver 104 rivets? I recently picked up their Little Wonder, but I was a bit surprised to see that the 104 caps aren't surface flush like the Tandy rivets are.
    And then, if I want the bulbous cap to be on the outside of the piece, you have to do the riveting a bit blind, with the reverse side up, since the Weaver setter has the cap on the bottom.
    Only solution so far as been pre-punching the holes, and still setting from the back side.

    So, if there's room in the next series, please more examples of best practices for rivet application, incorporation into design, etc!

    1. Dear apullin,
      Thanks for the comment! I do use the 104 rivets from Weaver, and I know what you are saying about the caps. They don't taper down at the edges of the cap - it's more of a rounded shape in profile. I haven't had a problem with it though, as usually they sink into the leather I use, and end up pretty close to flush with the surface once set. I did notice that the set of rivets from Ohio Travel Bag had that more tapered shape, but I'm not sure if I like it because I think it might bite into the leather more? I won't know for sure until I try them out.

      I definitely pre-punch my holes, as I found when I didn't the layers had more of a tendency to skew, and that could also bend the rivet post if it was out of alignment with the cap. Pre-punching seemed to eliminate the skewing problem, and kept the cap and rivet in line as pressure is applied.

      Rivets can definitely be kind of tricky, and there are a few more things I need to figure out: namely I need rivets with a larger head diameter. But I will definitely share what I know once I do...

  6. Greetings, I have been looking at your blog for a while and have been inspired to get back into making things in leather, canvas, rubber, etc. I have a few concerns however, what types of leather do you recommend? What weights work well for things like heavy sleepsack straitjacket, normal to heavy hood, etc? Any glue, thread, or hardware recommendations? Do you think older cast iron Singer sewing machines will hold up for light to moderate work until I can locate an HD or industrial machine? Also do you have any sewing machine recommendations? Thanks in advance.

  7. Dear Onegus,
    The type of leather depends on the properties you want. I use everything from lightweight lamb leather for hoods to medium weight cow (lamb-tan) for straitjackets and armbinders to heavy-weight (chap weight) leather for sleepsacks. Those are just the chrome-tanned leathers - there are veg-tan leathers as well, used for cuffs or molded designs.

    I mostly use a #69 bonded nylon thread (http://www.thethreadexchange.com) for sewing, although sometimes heavier weights depending on the project.

    For glue, I mostly use contact cement. See the sleepsack or armbinder tutorials I've posted for gluing tips.

    For hardware, I go to Ohio Travel Bag, Springfield Leather, Weaver, Tandy, Sav-Mor and Landco (on eBay). Many stores carry the same stuff, so it's all about who has what you need when you need it.

    The older Singer machines can be incredible. I had a patcher from the early 1900s, and I loved it, but it wasn't practical for real sewing - it had a foot treadle and the lower bobbin capacity was very limited.

    I always recommend the Artisan 1797 AB-LTHR that I purchased as a good all around flatbed compound needle feed leather sewing machine at a decent price, but I've heard good things about Consew, Juki, and Durkopp-Adler as well.

    eBay can be a way to find used machines, but I would recommend getting your hands on as many machines as you can before you buy. Aim for something that can go through 6 thicknesses of the leather you hope to sew. That is the amount you need to get through when setting a D-ring in a seam...

  8. Christopher,

    Hello! I so randomly stumbled across this site while looking for patterns and inspiration for a hood project I'm looking to undertake. I make all my own equipment and have in the past focused mostly on furniture and larger objects while limiting my leather work to braiding out floggers, cats, and a dragon tongue or two. I couldn't find a way to contact you but if you'd be able I'd love to pick your brain about forming a pattern for my hood. I've located your patterns on DA, what size paper/print settings should those be printed off on?

    If I wanted to do my own pattern with tape, I would love some tips on how to get started. I have in mind definite features I want, it's just a matter of getting it from my head to paper to leather :)

    1. The DA patterns work very well just by printing them on to plain paper then attaching clear plastic self adhesive laminating sheets to them to give them some structure. Your printer program may vary but all should have a way of printing a large image in multiple parts. I think I used poster mode to print with mine.
      I'd like to try one of these in 2 layers so you could have the smooth side inside as well as out but I'm afraid that would be pushing my machine's capacity so I might do it in pvc instead. Will probably reduce the pattern size by 10% to account for stretch.

  9. Dear Olivia,
    First off, you can always reach me directly at Christopherfetish(at)gmail.com. Feel free to contact me there for brain picking, I'd be happy to help.

    The deviant art patterns are PDFs, and made to be tiled out as they won't fit on standard letter-size paper. In my version of Acrobat you'd select "tile pages" in the PRINT pop-up window under "Page scaling."

    As far as getting started, there are a lot of tutorials I've posted here on making patterns from duct-tape wraps. Just select "patterns" from the "labels" tag-cloud and it will take you to both posts with finished patterns as well as techniques on making your own. Good luck!

  10. " That is the amount you need to get through when setting a D-ring in a seam.."

    I don't suppose the computerized controllers have found their way to the industrial walking foot machines. (re: setting position with the handwheel)
    I stumbled onto a huge bargain in a Janome DC3018 computerized sewing machine at Goodwill for just $35. (the manual had the original sales receipt for $600 in it) I have gotten it to go through 4 layers of thin split grain in a pinch. Use it mostly for PVC though (which has to have the top sprayed with a soap and water solution or it sticks to the presser foot)
    Anyway the computerized aspect is great, I used to think the only benefit was sewing fancy patterns with ducks and similar nonsense. Nope, the real beauty is you can set it to stop with the needle up or needle down- and one light touch of the pedal advances it exactly one stitch.