Introduction: Tooled Leather Tablet Case
I've been using my drawing tablet at coffee shops, and have been worried about scratching the surface of the tablet during transit. I also hate having to dig through my entire bag to find the pen or charging cord, so I wanted to build a case that would allow me to protect the tablet while keeping what I need close by.
While this instructable will show how I made my particular case, you can easily adapt the style to different items and needs as you see fit. I did not use any plans, so I won't be giving specific dimensions, but I'm happy to answer any questions.
For some of my other projects please check out my website. Keep making!
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
Here are the tools and supplies I used for this build, as well as some suggestions of alternatives where possible.
- Head knife (an x-acto works in a pinch)
- Aluminum square (careful measuring and any straight edge will work)
- Stylus (I actually used a knitting needle in this case, but anything with a point)
- Stitching groover (a small v-shaped chisel and a straight edge, but this isn't essential)
- Maul (any kind of hammer or mallet with soft sides to protect your tools)
- Various tooling stamps (only needed if you wanted to tool a design in like I did); I used multiple versions of the following:
- Pear shader
Leather and consumables:
- 10 ounce oak side tooling leather (seriously overkill on weight, you can easily get away with 5-6 ounce leather, but it's what I had and provides solid backing for the case)
- 3-4 ounce deer skin (anything soft will work, but you don't want too much stretch)
- Pig suede (or any other material if you choose to line your case)
- Leather dye (I used Tandy Eco-Flo Hi-Lite Color stain in Briar Brown, as well as Eco-Flo super sheen)
- Waxed thread (not strictly necessary, but you want something quite strong, and ideally cotton)
- Leather safe glue (contact cement is what I usually use, barge is a classic, E600 is what I used for this)
- Wool daubers (rags will work, but you'll go through your dye quicker)
- Gloves (only optional if you like having your skin be different colours for weeks!)
Step 2: Cut Your Heavy Leather
I put my tablet down on top of the leather in a spot where I was happy with the texture, no faults or cracks, and placed the pen and folded cord where I wanted them to be stored. Using a square, I traced around the outside of my items with a pen, leaving about a centimetre (a little less than a half inch for you crazy imperial people) around the outside. Make sure you do the tracing on the rough side of the leather, not your good side. I then used my head knife to cut out my piece. The edges don't need to be perfect, as you can clean them up later. Make sure you have something down to protect your surface, I use an old plastic cutting board.
Step 3: Trace Your Design
If you want to leave the back of your case plain, you can skip ahead to step 5- dye the raw leather.
I had a sketch of the design I wanted to use, but it was a bit too small for my case. What I ended up doing was using a projector to show a larger image of the design, traced the essential lines, and then free hand drew the rest. To do that, I wet my leather with a sponge (it's trial and error as to how wet the leather needs to be), then used a stylus to draw in the details. If the artwork you have is the size you want, you can just place your design on top and trace directly over the lines. They will imprint into the leather through the paper, no free-hand work required. Make sure you keep re-wetting the leather as often as you need to get clear lines. You don't want to press so hard as to make a significant indent, but you don't want to scratch your surface either.
Step 4: Cut and Tool Your Design
Once your design is traced, you're going to go over the lines with your swivel knife. You want to make sure you're holding the knife straight up and down, rather than on an angle; your cuts need to be perpendicular to the surface, you don't want undercuts. I use an angled blade to make using the swivel knife a little more flexible and capable of detail, but straight blades are fine. You use the swivel knife by pulling the knife towards you. Best practice is to rotate your leather frequently, instead of contorting your wrist or trying to push your swivel knife blade, cuts just won't be the same otherwise. Alternate deeper or lighter cuts depending on the significance on the line.
At minimum for tooling, you will want to use a beveler to emphasize your edges, it makes the design really pop. It's helpful to have different sizes to get into tighter corners or working across long lines, but it's not essential. Using other tools like pear shaders and backgrounders will allow you to indent sections of your image for more depth, while veiners, seeders and other 'carving' stamps will allow you to get more interesting textures. Have fun with it and if you're not sure about a particular effect, experiment! I tried several different styles on a scrap of leather before settling on a tooling pattern for the scales.
Step 5: Dye the Raw Leather
You can use any sort of leather dye on your project. Tandy leather has water-based products, but alcohol based dyes work very nicely too. I started by using a paint brush to work into the details of my image, taking advantage of the beveled edges to get right to the lines. Because of the background texture, I wasn't worried about brush strokes.
For the larger areas of leather, I used a wool dauber in circular motions, overlapping with the brush work in the detailed areas. Depending on how you end up positioning your soft leather, you might want to dye the edges. I highly recommend you wear gloves when you're working with the dauber. Water based dyes aren't so bad, but you can still end up with strange colour skin for weeks if you're not careful.
For my contrast colour I wanted to just keep the raw leather colour, so I covered the entire surface in Super Shene leather finish from Tandy. This will maintain the natural colour of the leather and protect the dyed areas.
Step 6: Line Your Rough Leather (optional)
I had some lovely pig suede that I decided to use as an interior lining, but the raw leather can be nice too. I put a thin but even layer of glue all over the rough leather surface, and then carefully laid the suede over top. Working from the middle, I smoothed the surface to eliminate bubbles and folds (a burnisher, bone folder or even a straight edge can help this process). Once the glue was dry I flipped the leather over to good side up, and used a sharp knife to trim the lining to final size. On the side where I planned to put my flap I wrapped the suede around to the good side of the leather to have a neat edge on the open side.
Step 7: Cutting and Gluing Your Soft Leather
Hunting through my scrap pile, I found some beautiful leftover deerskin that I was able to arrange in a way that it covered the full tooled leather panel, with enough overlap to wrap around on to the other side. Because I was working with scrap, I just arranged the pieces so that they fit and trimmed them to rough size, rather than cutting pretty lines or having one piece cover the entire surface (obviously if you have a large enough single piece it will make your life much easier).
I taped two of the scraps together as they overlapped on my tooled leather surface. I then used a small punch to put in sewing holes, and stitched the two pieces together. The third piece was left as is to create a flap for the case.
I had previously cut a thin line around the show surface with my stitching groover, and I used this as a border for my soft leather. I lightly sanded the border to give a leather safe glue the best surface to adhere to, and applied it around the edges. I lay the soft leather down over the glue line, smoothing it to minimize bubbles and wrinkles. The large piece was wrapped around the back side and glued on three sides, and the smaller piece was glued on the fourth side as a flap. Once the glue was dry, I used the line as a guide to trim my soft leather to a neat edge.
Step 8: Stitching and Keepers
For the keepers, I grabbed two thin scraps of leather and cut them into strips. I doubled the strips over to make a loop, and glued the loop together (clamp the pieces until the glue sets). These loops were then glued to the rough side of the leather along the flap edge, spaced far enough apart so that both the pen and the cord could fit along the side.
Using a stitching chisel and a straight edge, I set stitching holes around all four edges of the tooling leather, punching through the soft leather. You can handhold your piece while you stitch, but it's easier if you have a vice or stitching pony to hold the leather. I used a simple double needle stitch, where the needles alternate sides as they weave in and out of every hole. Make sure that when you're punching your holes and sewing that you catch the keepers so that they are reinforced with sewing.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
I used Fiebling's leather conditioner on the tooled leather to polish the surface and protect it from water damage.
I'm happy with how this project turned out, I'm not worried about scuffing the surface of my tablet any more. And nothing like seeing a beautiful piece of artwork to inspire you to be creative.
If you use these instructions to make something of your own, I'd love to see it. Good luck!
P.S. If you found this intractable interesting or helpful, I'd appreciate it if you'd vote for me in the contest!