Leather tankards have been in use for many years. They’re much less likely to break when dropped (unlike clay) and used to be much cheaper than glass! These days, if you were looking to buy a handcrafted tankard, it’ll set you back about £35-50 ($100?) rather than those pint glasses you see for about 10p ($5c) kicking about.
The template and skills I use I learnt from Eric Methven. He runs leather workshops from time to time and it’s well worth getting on one.
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You’ll need some good quality 3mm veg tanned leather.
- curved awl
- straight awl
- stitching wheel (I used 6 per inch, but 4-5 would be better)
- Stanley knife or similar
- Various pans for a bain marie
- Type '2' blunt needles
- Waxed Sinew
Step 1: Download a Template
Download your template and make sure you print it properly - the edges should be just off the side. If you print it smaller, you'll have a smaller tankard obviously!
You can get the template from here:
Step 2: Scoring Grooves
Using the groover, make groves about 0.5cm from the edge all the way round. Double that for the 2nd groove along the base. you'll fix the base into the 2nd groove later.
You also need to do this on the handle section including the V at the bottom and all the way round the base.
Step 3: Run the Stitching Wheel
The stitching wheel adds equally spaced stitching holes all the way round. You won't make all these holes, most of it is decorative! The weather needs to be wet to take impressions - any slight indentation including a finger nail will scar it for life so be careful!
Repeat for the base and the handle!
Step 4: Stamping (optional)
Soak the leather until all bubbles stop coming out. Then apply a stamp, preferably with a proper stamping tool. I used a clamp. As before, be careful, even dropping the stamp onto the leather will mark it for ever!
Step 5: Awling
Awling is very difficult to show. Essentially you're sticking a curved needle through the stitching groove hole, out the side of the leather.
You need to make these holes with the curved awl down both flat sides of the main tankard body. You also need to do this down the sides of the handle (leaving the first 4-5 holes - they won't be stitched) and the base.
Don't awl wet leather, you'll rip it.
Step 6: Butt Stitching
You need two blunt nose needles (blunt so they don't spear through the leather) and some artificial sinew. Or cotton cord. I use sinew.
Thread both ends of the needles, start 4-5 holes down. You can sew one up, then one down, then all the way to the top and then back down, but the images I've drawn show going straight up and straight down. It's up to you, both seem to work very well, the cup is only holding beer after all. The fuller the holes are with thread the tighter the cord will hold.
Work all the way to the bottom, come back up 4-5 stiches, then back down again.
You do the same with the handle, except you start 10 stitches down and don't go all the way to the top. To allow the handle to bend properly you need to gently wet it. This'll make it much more flexable and allow you to shape it!
The base is the hard bit. I recommend pushing the preawled leather base up to the 2nd ring you made. It should be fairly tight. Then use the needle to mark where each hole should be. You can't just run the stitching wheel round, awl and sew because the diameter is slightly bigger. Use the straight awl to go through once you've marked all the base holes. Make sure the awl goes into something soft like some waste leather. (I've added a base step on the next page)
Then sew as above.
Step 7: Attaching the Base
A few people wanted to know more about how to affix the base.
The base is one of the more tricky parts of the tankard to do. Once you've run the stitching wheel around the circle of the base and awled it, you can't just run a stitching wheel around the outside of the tankard, awl and stitch because the holes will get out of alignment as you go round.
There's various different ways of doing this, this is my way.
Start by lining up the base. If you've got a stamp, I try to customise it for the person I'm making it for - right handed people will lift the tankard in the right hand, so I want the logo to line up and show off to the person who's looking at the base.
Make the first hole from the outside in with the awl, lining up with the hole. I then thread a needle into the hole to hold it in place. Then, by eye I line up and work from outside in. This means I can keep the stitch in line along the scored line on the outside. Each hole is custom awl'd for the corresponding hole on the base. Where the leather is perfectly aligned, you might even see the tip of the awl pop through the hole you've awl'd in the base.
When you've done a few, start your stitching to keep the base aligned all the way round. Once you've done four or five you can awl the rest, but I tend to do a small run at a time. The base will take about an hour to awl and stitch.
Other ways involve using a fine tipped pen and pushing it through the holes in the base, which you can then awl through the tankard body, similarly you can use a straight awl through the holes in the base to the outside of the tankard. I've found both methods tend to leave a less than straight line on the outside and the straight awl (diamond) can rip the base if you're not careful.
To finish your stitching, just continue round four or five from the start, go back three, then forward one. I then finish off with a reef knot on the base.
Ideally you want no light what so ever when you look inside and hold it up to the light (no gaps). If you have gaps, you'll need extra wax in the bottom to fill them. You can always reflow using a hot air gun or similar if you don't seal it first time.
Step 8: Handle Work
People often ask what's in the handle. The answer is 'nothing' - it's just a tube of leather stitched exactly the same as the side of the tankard.
If you want an almost seamless tube, chamfer the inside (rough) side of the leather. This means the two sides can fit together much more snugly as you're pulling it into a tube.
Wet first so you can form easily into a tube as you go.
I start 5 stitch holes from the top, go down four, back up four, then all the way down. Go back up four, down two, up one. I just work with as much sinew as I've got left, if it's a bit short, I work with what I've got.
Make sure you pull tight after every saddle stitch. This'll keep the previous stitch nice and tight. Don't worry if the one you've just sewn seems to loosen a little, you'll get it on the next one.
Whilst the handle is still wet, bend it into a handle like shape. Flatten the top end and the tail as in the last pictures
Step 9: Attaching the Handle
The basic idea of this is to punch through the handle into the tankard. I tend to pre awl the handle, then use the straight awl to mark the tankard, then awl the tankard where marked. Then sew.
I go over the stitches at least three times and finish off on the outside of the tankard with a small reef knot.
You're ready for waxing!
Step 10: Waxing
Make sure you're getting proper beeswax. You can tell this is the real stuff as it has dead bees in it.
Breaking it is best done over a wooden spoon (a trick having a 5kg bar of cadburies chocolate taught me)
The wax should only ever be melted in a bain marie. If it gets too hot, it'll catch fire and that's bad m'kay?
Wear some rubber gloves, wax is hot. Dip using a spare thong of leather and pour out. You don't need to preheat the leather in full immersion dipping, just leave it in the wax for a few moments. Rub off the excess wax and fill with water. If it leaks, add a teaspoon of hot wax in the bottom and run it around.
Step 11: Fill With Beer and Enjoy
Fill with beer and enjoy. Or water. It'll taste vaguely of honey!