I have been convinced (told) that I should present a breakdown of what goes into some of the work I do. Since the majority of what I do right now are flask covers, and that IS what I’m working on right now, I thought I would start with that. These pictures are of an item I am making for Nerdtacular, later this month. I will show the steps and give an idea of the time involved. I will have the grand total at the end of the post. This is, by no means, a comprehensive guide on each step of the leatherworking process. This is meant to be a quick, and less technical, overview of what is done.
The first step is cutting the leather to shape I need to work with. It is cut a bit oversize, since there will be changes in the leather due to getting wet and drying, as well as human error. The dimensions depend on the size of flask being used. After the leather is cut, it is necessary to apply packing tape to the back to reduce the amount of disfigurement that occurs. Most people use the tape because it is the cheapest and best option for this. The disfigurement results from cutting and striking the leather while carving. It will stretch and shrink from the abuse. After the tape has been applied, I use a specialty tool to smooth it down on the back of the leather. Improving adhesion and reducing the amount of bubbles. This is a very expensive instrument that is difficult to find. (Yes, it’s just an offcut of a piece of wood)
Now it is necessary to add water to the leather. This is done in order to get it ready to be carved. There are many factors that go into this step: humidity, type of water, condition of leather, phase of moon, etc. It is slightly different every time. I add a small amount of leather conditioner to the water. The process of wetting, drying, stamping and coloring removes a lot of the durability of the leather, so this helps keep it soft. This part is tricky, also, it is one of the most important steps.
Once the leather has achieved the proper moisture level, it is then cased. I use zip lock bags to do this. The leather needs to be kept air tight while the moisture evenly distributes throughout. This should take at least 4 hours, but overnight is best.
When the leather is in the proper condition, it is time to transfer the pattern that will be tooled onto it. This is done by giving an impression on the surface of the leather, sort of like drawing but without ink. Think of making pictures in sand with your finger, just smaller.
When the image has been set, it is then time to cut into the leather. This is necessary to allow the various tools their effect on the leather. I have a very deep style to my knife work, so it gives deeper impressions. This is where learning how to correctly strop and sharpen the blades is essential.
Once the cuts have been made, it’s time for the hammer. Various leather tools are made to create different impressions in the leather. This gives the various contours and textures that work together to create the image you are going for. There is an enormous variety of tools, as well as ways to use them, far too many to discuss right now. This is when you find out if you cased the leather correctly. If it is too wet, the leather will smash down almost like clay and look terrible. Too dry and you won’t be able to leave any impressions. The change in color of the leather, burnish, will also be an indicator of the moisture content.
The leather must dry out completely once all the tooling has been finished. The leather sits out overnight to do this. The tape is removed from the back and the surface of the leather is deglazed to remove any oils from your hands or other things that may have contacted it. This will prepare it to receive color and dye. I use acrylic paints to apply color to my designs. It normally takes a few coats to get the color even, some colors take more, like white and yellow. (I hate yellow) The paint actually bonds and seals the leather. When the color has dried completely, I apply a clear leather seal over it to protect it from the dye. At least two coats are applied. Once again, the piece sits overnight to ensure it dries completely.
Once the leather has dried, it is time to apply the stain. I normally use Tandy Leather Companies Gel Antiques because I like the contrast it gives my work. It is applied with a sponge and the piece is once again left overnight to dry. You can see how putting the sealer over the paint protects it from the dye.
The next day a final process of sealer is applied. Since these will likely be around liquids, I add a little extra protection to them. This final sealer is allowed to dry overnight. They are then given the final sizing for the flask and stitched and glued into place.
The total hands on time for each flask cover averages between 4 and 5 hours, depending on the complexity of design. The total time for the process to complete, this includes drying times, averages about 6 days. Each step is much more involved than I listed here. I will break down each step in the future. I hope this overview gives you a little understanding of some of what I do.