Beginning Leatherworking Class
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Introduction: Gouging and Folding Leather

When you're working with leather, you sometimes need to create a fold or crease as part of a pattern. You might need to fold over a strap to create a loop, fold pattern pieces to fit together along seam lines, create folds to add volume to a bag or pocket, etc. Folding leather is not as simple as folding paper or cloth because leather is thicker and harder to crease, but with the right tools and techniques it's not that hard.

I'll show you how to use the adjustable V-gouge in the next step and then we'll use it to gouge and fold our wallet.

In this lesson I'll be using:


Gouging

The tool we are going to use to make grooves that enable folding is called an adjustable V-gouge. The V-gouge is like a wood carving tool, it carves a V shaped trench in leather at different depths depending on how you adjust it. Turning the wheel at the base of the metal shaft changes the depth of the cut by moving the blade.

You need to adjust the depth of your cut based on thickness of your leather so you don't cut too deeply and make your leather weak. It is usually a good idea to test the gouge on a scrap of your leather before you use it on an actual pattern piece. If your gouge cuts all the way through, or even creates a visible ridge on the opposite side of the leather, as you can see below, you've probably cut too deep. It is also a good idea to always gouge on top of a cutting mat, because you can easily cut through or over-cut and damage the surface underneath.

If you can, it is best to make your groove by pushing the gouge along the leather in one smooth motion. This will always be easier if the blade of your your gouge is sharp. However, sometimes the texture of the leather makes it difficult to cut smoothly, especially when you are gouging on the flesh side of the leather as you do most often. In this case, you sometimes need to create your cut by working the gouge along the leather in short choppy "sawing" motions, and even going back over the line a few times until you've made a deep enough groove. Hold your leather down firmly with your other hand as you gouge, and flip your leather around if you need to to get better leverage on different areas.

When you are using your gouge to create a fold, you almost always gouge on the flesh side of leather so you won't see the gouge, and also because leaving the grain side intact will help the leather maintain structural integrity.

Folding

Once you've gouged a deep enough groove into your leather, you will be able to feel it fold more easily along the gouged line.

Now you need to help define a permanent crease along this line by pounding the fold with a mallet. Using a mallet to crease leather is basically the leatherworking equivalent of using an iron to press fabric during sewing. To prevent the mallet from making marks in your leather as you pound, take some scrap pieces of stiff cardboard or leather and place them over the fold. Pound hard on top of the cardboard until you have formed a good crease in the leather.


Gouging and Folding Quiz

{
    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "When you are gouging leather for folding you usually gouge on the:",
    "answers": [
        {
            "title": "flesh side",
            "correct": true
        },
        {
            "title": "grain side",
            "correct": false
        }
    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's right, you usually want to hide the gouge mark by putting it on the flesh side.",
    "incorrectNotice": "No, guess again."
}
{
    "id": "quiz-2",
    "question": "To solidify a fold in leather, you need to:",
    "answers": [
        {
            "title": "press it with an iron",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "soak it in water",
            "correct": false
        },
	{
            "title": "pound it with a mallet",
            "correct": true
        }
    ],
    "correctNotice": "Yup, pounding a fold into place with a mallet and some protective cardboard is the best way to create a fold in chrome tanned leather.",
    "incorrectNotice": "Nope, try again."
}
{
    "id": "quiz-3",
    "question": "Before you use a gouging tool on your leather project, you should always:",
    "answers": [
        {
            "title": "adjust the depth of your gouging blade for your leather",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "make sure your gouging blade is sharp",
            "correct": false
        },
	{
            "title": "mark the lines you are going to gouge",
            "correct": false
        },
	{
            "title": "all of the above",
            "correct": true
        }
    ],
    "correctNotice": "Yes! Those are all important steps.",
    "incorrectNotice": "No, not quite."
}

Gouge and Fold the Wallet

We are going to use this gouging and folding technique to fold up the internal flaps of the wallet that will contain the card slots.

First you need to mark where you are going to fold. I have marked the fold line in red on the pattern, and as you can see it runs along the bottom of the gap between the two flaps. Turn the leather wallet piece over so the flesh side of the leather is facing up, and use a ruler and an awl to mark where the fold line will be.

Make sure you've tested your V-gouge on a scrap of the same leather before you gouge the lines on your actual wallet. Remember, you want to gouge deep enough so you can feel the leather fold fairly easily, but not so deep that you come close to breaking through the grain side of the leather. When you think you've gotten the hang of using this tool, gouge along the lines you marked on the flesh side.

Because this leather is a bit stiff, and I noticed that the dye tended to crack a little when folded, I decided to help the folding process by applying a little water. Take a sponge and dampen both sides of the leather along the gouge lines.

Now place a piece of cardboard over the folded up flaps and pound the fold with your mallet, until you have created a crisp clean crease.

If you have a moment to leave your wallet sitting before moving to the next step, you can help solidify the fold by clamping it between two pieces of cardboard with binder clips. Leaving the wallet clamped like this until it dries in a few hours will make the folds lay extra flat, but it isn't absolutely necessary.


What We Learned

I hope this lesson has shown you that gouging and folding are important skills in leatherwork and can be used to create some really interesting shapes and details. Later in this class we'll use these skills again to add a pleat to a pocket. I've also seen some great bag and small accessory designs that use almost origami-like techniques to create pieces that can be assembled with very little sewing or hardware. Designs like this Leather Clutch Bag by RouterMan and my Leather Beer and Wine Carrier are good examples of how you can use folding to create functionality in a leather design.

In the next lesson we'll learn how to assemble our folded wallet using rivets.


How's Your Project Going?

If you have any problems as you construct your wallet, feel free to ask questions in the discussion section below.

{
    "id": "homework1",
    "actionMessage": "Share a photo of your gouged and folded wallet pattern to complete this lesson!",
    "actionCompletedMessage": "Nice folding! You can move on to the next lesson"    
}

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project