Introduction: How to Make a Beautiful MesoAmerican Skull Bracelet
Today, I am going to provide information to make a hand-crafted and tooled leather bracelet. For this particular bracelet I decided to do a MesoAmerican skull. You can design whatever your heart desires but always go with your passion. The shape of the bracelet is up to the crafter as well. I wanted to do something different from a normal rectangle shape. To give it a character all of its own. Most of these items can be found at Tandy Leather and craft stores. For this project you will need the following items:
1. 8 to 9 oz Leather Piece. (The weight you use depends on you but note that thicker leather will not bend as easy and that thinner leather may not be thick enough to tool correctly. And size of leather will vary upon project)
3. Cloth Tape Measure
4. Pencil/Pen and Eraser
5. Graph Paper
6. Tracing Paper
7. Strap Cutter
8. Gridded Cutting Mat
9. Rotary Cutter, Exacto, Razor Blade and/or Box Cutter
10. Sponges (various sizes and multiple)
11. Pondo/Cutting Board
12. Marble Slab (It really makes tooling leather easier to do.)
13. Modeling Tool Point Stylus (preferably one with a point for tracing and a modeling spoon for smoothing after tooling.)
15. End Punches and Hole Punch
16. Leather Dye, Leather Acrylic Paint and Gel Antique (Colors depend on your taste.)
17. Paint Brushes
18. Buffing Cloth/Wool
19. Wood Slicker
20. Acrylic Resolene and Leather Sheen (I like to use the sheen when I use acrylic paint for a first coat.)
21. Line 24 Snap Rivets
22. Snap Setter Kit
23. Glycerin Saddle Soap Bar or Gum Tragacanth (either/or will work, I prefer the saddle soap.)
24. Rubber Mallet, Poly-Hammer or Rawhide Mallet
25. Nitrile Gloves
26. Containers (some open and shallow and one that has lid)
Step 1: Drawing Out Design
The first thing that needs to be done is to draw out the design of the bracelet on graph paper. This will ensure the lines are straight and also the graph paper is a good reference when making a custom bracelet for you or anyone you want to craft for. Sizing the bracelet correctly is the most important objective to get done right. Without properly measuring around your wrist or whom you are making this bracelet for the effort you put into this will be wasted. For 8 to 9 oz leather, I found that it is usually the size of the person's wrist plus 1-1/2" to have a proper taunt fit for a typical Rectangular Shaped bracelet. If the person/you want the bracelet a little loose, I would suggest adding another 1/4" to the total length of the bracelet. Example: My wrist measures 7"; so I make the bracelets for me 8-1/2" in Length.
For this particular bracelet design since it is not a typical rectangular shape, I made the total length when graphing out 10-1/2". 2" extra on each side where a snap rivet was required. The width of this bracelet is 2-1/2". So I initially made a rectangle 10-1/2" x 2-1/2". Then I made the length of the snap-rivet part 3/4" wide, this is to ensure that the Line 24 Snap Rivets I am using will properly fit on that part of the strap. Make sure when mapping the image on the bracelet design you leave some space around the edges. This will help keep the integrity of the edges when finishing up and also make sure your design is not beveled off when trimming the edges. Usually leaving an 1/4" space from the edge and where you will put the rivets is pretty good to keep the design intact when finishing up the bracelet. For Line 24 Snaps, making a square that is 1/2" on each sides is a good call when graphing out your design. Also make sure the image/art you will be tooling is resized/drawn to fit on the bracelet.
Step 2: Cutting Leather to Size
As stated in the previous step making sure you have the right measurements for your bracelet is a MUST.
The first thing you want to do is make sure the starting edge of the leather you will be using the strap cutter on is level and straight. Otherwise the strap will not be uniformed in shape. Using a L-Square Ruler and Gridded Cutting Mat will help you get a straight edge on the piece of leather you will be cutting the strap from. (Note: You can purchase Straps in various lengths and widths from Tandy Leather.) After getting a straight edge on the leather, take your strap cutter and adjust the width to the 2-1/2 mark. Now for best results try to have the leather on a flat surface and be somewhat level with the leather when cutting the strap. Place the Strap Cutter at the top of the leather. Pull the Strap Cutter by its handle with your right hand while gently pulling the leather with left hand. Maintain this movement until the end of the leather is reached. Then when the strap is cut to its proper width, measure the length of the bracelet (Mine is 10-1/2 long.). Now level the L-Square Ruler with that measurement and use the Gridded Cutting Mat to make sure the strap is straight. Then take your Rotary Cutter and cut along the edge of the leveled L-Square to ensure your cut is straight.
Step 3: Tracing the Design Into the Leather
Transfer the graphed bracelet onto Tracing Paper. Then either free-hand the design or trace the design onto the tracing paper as well. You can mess with the image to get proper placement on the traced-out outline. Keep in mind a clearance of 1/4" from the edge and where the rivets will go is ideal for the image to be traced within. After you are done tracing the bracelet design on the tracing paper, take the Wood Slicker and with the conical side rub it along the smooth side of the leather. This is known as burnishing the leather; it will help to compound the fibers of the leather together and make it easier to trace and carve the image into the leather strap. After that take a clean sponge and dampen with water. Then dampen the leather with the sponge. This will make tracing the design into the leather possible and easier, too. This process is known as "Casing The Leather". Now take the leather to a flat well-light surface. Place the traced design on top of the cased leather. I usually tape the traced outline onto the surface so that it doesn't move will tracing the design into the leather. Now carefully trace the outline onto the leather with your Modeling Tool Point Stylus. For the square shape where the rivets will be placed carefully try to make an indention in the middle of the square. You do not want to trace out that square shape because it will always be there and it is really just used a guide to where to place the image on the bracelet and not overlapping the design onto where the rivets will be placed. After you are done tracing the design into the leather remove the tracing paper and prepare yourself for the next step.
Step 4: Carving, Tooling and Smoothing Out the Design
This step will require a lot of patience and possibly time. Now after the image is transferred, you want to take out the Granite/Marble Slab. You will need to possibly case the leather again and during carving, tooling and smoothing the leather. It is important not to over saturate the leather with water. Then take your Swivel Knife and carve the image into the leather carefully. After carving the image into the leather take out your leather stamps to tool the outline of the image into the leather deeper. For this project you will use just a Smooth Beveler Leather Stamps. Take the edge of the stamp at the handle end and place on the outer edge of the carved design. Then hit the top of the handle with Mallet/Hammer to indent the Beveler into the leather. Use enough force to ensure the beveler is "bringing out the design" into the leather. Too much force might puncture through the leather and ruin your project and damage the Marble Slab and your tools. And too little of force will not pop the image enough. So use the proper amount of force. It is really a trial and error sort of rule to learn. But be patient and you will learn with ease. After the entire image is tooled into the leather, you will need to use the Modeling Tool Point Stylus again but you will be using the Spoon side to smooth out the edges of the image and the indented opposite part to smooth the overlaps of you tooling the beveler into the image. Really get into the sides to smooth them to an uniformed indentation. Taking the Modeling Spoon against the image will help pronounce the design and help to really define it more. Make sure all the tooled outlined parts are smoothed enough to make the design to look flawless.
Step 5: Cutting Out the Final Shape and Beveling the Edges
After the carving, tooling and smoothing is all done, you will need to get your poundo/cutting board out and put it on top of the marble slab. Now the traced outline of the bracelet should be noticeable enough for a guidline of the final shape of the bracelet. Find the intersection of where the 3/4" "strap" part and the adjoining edge is at. Take a Semi-Round Hole Punch (10mm one works well for this project.) and place it so that the traced outline meets to the ends of the punch. And hit the punch with your mallet/hammer to cut the punch through the leather. Now take your L-Square and line up with shapes that will need to cut out of the strap. Run your Rotary Cutter to cut the strap part to the ideal 3/4" width. You will need to cut through the leather with the Rotary Cutter. Now cut along until you reach the end to where you used the Semi-Round Punch on. After that you will need to cut the top portion so that it meets with other end to where the semi-round punch was used. Now that small and somewhat rectangular piece should be cut out on the one side of your bracelet. That cut-out piece should be about 1-3/4" x 2". Now do the same to the opposite side of the bracelet so that the final 8-sided hexagon shape of the bracelet is there. Now take the Semi-Round Punch again and cut the edges off of the bracelet to make them all round. There should be six sides to do at this point. You can discard all the cut-out pieces of leather or reuse them (if big enough) for other projects or test pieces to test dye, stamps and/or finishes on. After the final shape is cut-out and the edges are rounded off, you will take the Edge Beveler (not to be confused with the Smooth Beveler Stamp) and run that tool on the outer edge of the bracelet at an angle to make the edges of the bracelet not a 90 degree angle anymore. (I prefer to do both the smooth side of the leather and the unfinished side.) After this you can now take the hole punch and punch out the holes to where the Snap Rivets will be attached. There should be four of these in total. Now you are ready to move to the next step.
Step 6: Slicking the Edges and Cleaning the Leather
After the bracelet's shape is cut out and the edges beveled, you will need the Wood Slicker again to slick the edges to make them smooth and more rounded. You can use either a Glycerin Saddle Soap Bar or Gum Tragacanth. (Please Note: if you use the Gum Tragacanth you will skip this step of slicking the edges until after you dye all the leather. If you do not the dye will not adhere correctly over the edges and be blotchy.) Now if you are using the Glycerin Soap you will need to dampen that sponge again and run it against the edges of the bracelet and also the unfinished back of the bracelet. Do the back first and dampen it well. Then take the soap and rub against the back until the fibers appear compounded together and a the leather will darken slightly. Take the rounded edge of the Wood Slicker and rub it against the back in circular and back and forth motions. Keep doing this until the back is smoothed/slicked back. The color of the leather will darken dramatically as compared before. Now after you are done doing the back dampen the edge of the bracelet (doing one side and a little at a time). Take the soap and run it against the dampened edge as you did to the back. Now take the Wood Slicker and with the grooved out middle portion place the soaped edge into a fitting groove and run the Wood Slicker back and forth repeatedly until the edges are smoothed out. The edge will become rounder and the leather will darken there as did the back when you slicked it. Now continue to do this until all the edges are slicked, smoothed and rounded. After this dampen the carved finished side and rub the soap against it until a slight lather builds up. Then take that damp sponge and wash off the soap. Now take a clean cloth and buff the cleaned finished side. Make sure you do not use too much soap and water to clean the leather. After you are done doing this you will need to let your bracelet dry before you start dyeing and painting the leather.
Step 7: Dyeing, Painting and Antiquing the Bracelet
After the leather is cleaned and dried the next step is to apply the dye, paint and antique gel to the bracelet. You will Nitrile Gloves and various pieces of sponges for this step. Besides the dye, paint and antique gel. Make sure you have your gloves on and take your leather dye that you want the bracelet to be dyed with. (I chose Tandy's Tan Waterstain.) Shake the bottle well and pour some of the dye into a container so that you can dip a sponge into it. A little dye typically goes a long way. Soak the sponge in the dye and rub the sponge on all sides of the leather in a circular motion. Try to achieve an uniform color on the bracelet. It is fine to dye the carved image because the Leather Acrylic Paint you will use will cover over the dye. Now after each coat allow the dye/waterstain to dry and then buff the piece with a Clean Cloth or a Piece of Wool. Also after you are done buffing bend and move the bracelet around. You will need to apply two or three coats of this dye to the leather. Make sure you do not over saturate the piece of leather with too much dye or will not have an uniformed effect. And buff after each coat of dye applied. This will also help for the excess dye to come off and not make a tacky/blotchy appearance to the end bracelet. After you apply and buff the last coat allow to dry again before applying the Leather Acrylic Paint. Use the colors you want to paint the image. And remember these colors can be mixed to make a desired shade or color that may not be available. Paint with one color at a time using a fine bristled Paint Brush. After one color is done, clean the brush with water and apply the next color. It will take around three or maybe four coats of each color to get a vibrant and solid color on the desired image. Allow each coat to dry before applying the coat. After the tooled image is painted and dried, the next thing to do for this step is the Antique Gel (I used the Black color for this bracelet). Get another sponge (preferably one just used for the Gel Antique.) and apply the gel directly unto the sponge. Apply the Antique Gel unto the bracelet in a circular motion. Making sure you get the gel into the grooves as to bring the image out even more. After the Gel is completely applied, take another clean sponge or cloth and wipe the excess away. This is important because you do not want the whole bracelet to be covered in this gel. After this is done please allow the bracelet to dry completely and buff again before moving onto the next step.
Step 8: Applying the Finish Coat
For this you will need the Fiebing's Leather Sheen or Master's Quick Shine and Fiebing's Acrylic Resolene. And some more sponges as well. First make sure the bracelet is free of dust and dirt. Then spray (with proper ventilation) a thin coat of the Sheen or Quick Shine. This a good thing to do as when applying the Acrylic Resolene the colors may smear without doing this. After that coat of sheen/quick shine has dries completely, take a container with a lid and mix 50% Acrylic Resolene and 50% water and close the lid and mix together. Now open the jar back up and dip another clean sponge into the mixture. Now cover in a light coat across all sides and edges of the bracelets. Wipe off the excess and allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat. It is good to do at least two or three coats to ensure the bracelet is sealed and water resistant. Using the water down mixture of Acrylic Resloene is preferred by me. It seems to seal the bracelet nicely without worry of the dye bleeding through with use. Other finishes are fine but since the bracelet is going to be worn the sweat from your skin can wear away other finishes and make the dye bleed. It is also not suggested to soak your bracelet in water after it is finished, the top finish coat is pretty water resistant but it doesn't make the bracelet water-proof. Now after the coats of finish are dried completely next is one of the last steps to finish your awesome bracelet.
Step 9: Attaching the Snap Rivets
You will need the Marble Slab, Poundo Board and Mallet/Hammer again. Along with the Snap Rivet Setter and Line 24 Snap Rivets (they come in various finishes; I used the Antique Gold.). There should be instructions with the Snap Rivet Setter Set to show you to properly install the snap rivets. Use the kit's anvil and mallet to install the Snap Rivets properly into the bracelet. Making sure when you install this not to use too much force but enough that the rivets cannot spin around on the surface of the bracelet. Make sure the end strap part has the "domed" part on the top of the finished side and the female part on the back of it. Then on the opposite side attach the flat rivet on the unfinished side with the prong of it being attached to the male part of the rivet. Doing this correctly will ensure the bracelet can snap together as for you to wear it. Not do the same to the other strap and opposite end. Now my friend is the final, easiest and most fun step of all....
Step 10: Enjoy the Bracelet!!!!!
You are finished with the project. Rejoice in your artistry and wear your bracelet to accentuate your personal style and flair. Making this for me is a labor of love. The art/image used cannot be whatever you would like; the sky is the limit. Remember no matter what Keep Moving Forward. Let your passion engulf the world and your life will prosper. Thank you for taking the time to do this Instructable. It has been my pleasure to help you.
*****Any questions about this project feel free to message me and I will help you the best I can.