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Leatherworking Encyclopedia

In this volume you will find a glossary of common leatherworking terms organized alphabetically, a visual dictionary of leatherworking tools divided by function, and leather types organized into category.


Leatherworking Terminology

  • Belly - leather that comes from the belly of an animal. On tanned hides the belly is two narrow sections along the sides, usually with shaped rough edges and a high percentage of imperfections.
  • Beveling - the process of shaving off the sharp corners of cut leather edges as part of edge finishing.
  • Burnishing - the process of creating a finished shiny edge on cut veg tanned leather edges using friction and a burnishing compound.
  • Butt Joint - a connection between two pieces of leather where the edges are parallel, not overlapping. Used mostly on thick stiff leather and sewn with a special stitch called a "butt stitch."
  • Carving - the process of creating superficial decorative cuts in leather with a swivel knife, as part of the process of tooling.
  • Casing - dampening veg tanned leather to soften in preparation for tooling, stamping, punching or transferring carving patterns.
  • Creasing - marking a decorative line or guide line a specified distance from the edge of a piece of leather using a creasing tool.
  • Cut-Edge - a type of leather seam, most commonly used on thick leather and veg tanned leather, that leaves the stitches, and the cut edge of the leather visible on the outside. In fabric sewing this would be called an exposed seam.
  • Embossing - adding low relief decorative texture or designs to veg tanned leather by moulding it around a shaped plug or other filler that is glued to the underside.
  • Flesh Side - the "fuzzy" underside of leather usually considered the back.
  • Grain Side - the smooth finished side of leather, usually considered the top or front of the leather.
  • Gusset - the piece of a leather pattern designed to go between the front and back layers of a bag to give it three dimensionality and volume. Can consist of one or three pieces. Also sometimes called the side piece.
  • Gouging - carving a V shaped trench in leather with a leather gouge to enable leather folding or create grooves to contain sewing lines.
  • Hide - a tanned piece of leather made from the entire undivided skin of a single animal.
  • Last - a positive mold that wet veg tanned leather is shaped over to create a specific shape like a shoe.
  • Modeling - creating impressions and textures in leather through free hand manipulation with tools which push and shape the leather but don't break its surface.
  • Moulding -forming wet veg tanned leather over a three dimensional object to create a shape that will remain after the leather dries.
  • Pebble Grain - the natural slightly bumpy texture of many leather hides, more exaggerated on hides like buffalo but often eliminated in the process of dying and finishing.
  • Rounding
  • Side - one side of a whole hide, divided in half along the line of the back.
  • Skin - a tanned piece of leather made from the entire undivided skin of a single animal.
  • Skiving - the process of thinning areas of a piece of leather using a knife or skiving tool to help the leather fold, lay flat or fit into certain areas.
  • Splitting - thinning an entire piece of leather by dividing it's thickness in half and removing a layer from the flesh side. Done with a specialized machine.
  • Stamping - making permanent impressions in leather, usually damp veg tanned leather, using a metal stamp which is pounded into the leather with a mallet.
  • Tooling - carving, stamping and modeling designs or images into wet veg tanned leather
  • Turned Edge - seams with the stitching and the raw edge of the leather on the inside. They are created by making a cut edge seam on the flesh side of the leather, then turning it inside out. Turned edge seams are more durable, and give your work a more polished look. They are often used in chrome tanned leather.
  • Wet Forming - moulding and sculpting veg tanned leather over a three dimensional object to create a shape that will remain after the leather dries.

Tools


Cutting Tools

Round Knife - an all around leather knife designed for cutting through all thicknesses of leather, maintaining straight lines and cutting small curves, can also be used as an efficient skiver

X-Acto Knife - a cheaper alternative to a round knife, great for details but not as good for cutting thick leather

Shears - I prefer these semi-serrated Olfa shears for cutting leather. They always stay sharp and are great for cutting out small patterns in thin to medium leather

Cutting Wheel - a good way to cut long straight lines in leather when used with a metal ruler and a cutting board

Strap Cutter - an adjustable cutter that creates straps with even width in leather of different thicknesses

Cutting Mat - a self healing cutting mat or another smooth, damageable, surface with some give is essential for cutting leather

Lace Cutter (not pictured) - similar to a strap cutter, but designed to cut strips of thin leather lace


Subtractive Tools

Stitch Groover - marks sewing lines by creating grooves a consistent distance from leather edges

French Skiver - thins leather and bevels thick edges

Edge Beveler - rounds edges of leather to create a finished look

Adjustable V-Gouge - carves variable depth grooves for creating clean folds

Skiver - thins leather in select areas by shaving off layers with a razor blade


Pounding and Smoothing Tools

Mallets - for stamping, setting snaps, and using manual punches, you always want to use a mallet, not a hammer. Leather mallets come in rawhide, wood or poly, and come in different weights. A medium weight mallet is a good all around choice

Hammer - sometimes you need a metal hammer for leatherwork, folding, setting rivets etc, it's a good idea to have one around

Bone Folder - a multi purpose tool for burnishing, grooving, and helping to create clean folds

Burnisher - used to give shine to veg tanned leather edges during finishing (mine is well loved).

Mini Anvil - as useful as it is adorable, a mini anvil gives you a stable hard surface when you need one, letting you punch holes and set snaps and rivets in awkward places

Quartz - a smooth solid base for stamping and punching. If you don't want to spend the money to get one of these a salvaged paving stone, slab of hardwood or steel will work too.

Poundo - a plastic slab like a cutting board that goes over your quartz slab so your tools aren't deformed or dulled during punching and stamping

Burnishing Canvas (not pictured) - a scrap of rough canvas will also work as a tool to burnish leather edges.

Leathercraft Hammer (not pictured) - a hammer with a wide flat head that is used for smoothing and folding. I've never used one myself, but I'm sure it can be a useful tool.


Punches and Chisels

Rotary Punch - easily punches different sized holes in leather without having to use a hammer and a punching surface, but can't punch more than a few inches in from an edge.


Manual Punches - individual punches that create holes when hit with a mallet on a punching surface. Not as convenient to use as a rotary punch, but they can make holes in hard to reach places and come in more sizes. Sets with interchangeable heads are the most economical.


Awls - poking and scratching tools for creating small holes and marking leather. I mostly use them to punch sewing holes, or trace the outlines of patterns onto leather.


Diamond Stitching Chisels - pronged punches designed to create evenly spaced sewing holes. Available with different prong spacing and prong numbers. Sets with interchangeable heads are the most economical if you want spacing options.


Lacing Chisels - pronged punches designed to create evenly spaced for leather lacing. Available with different prong spacing and prong numbers. Sets with interchangeable heads are the most economical if you want spacing options.


Bag Punches (not pictured) - manual punches with oval heads instead of round ones. Used to punch holes to attach buckles.

Strap Punches (not pictured) - punches used to shape the ends of straps into curves, points, etc.


Sewing and Lacing Tools

Leather Needles - there are a few kinds of leather needles for different applications, we will mostly be using blunt needles in this class.

Waxed Thread - thread for hand sewing leather is usually fairly thick and often waxed to help it from unraveling.

Buckstitch Lace - thin strips of leather that can be used in place of thread to attach layers of leather. Also used to create decorative effects, weaving and braids.

Overstitch Wheel - used as a marking tool to lay out stitch distance and to mark patten edges through paper. It can also be run over stitches to help tighten them.

Stitching Awl - an "automatic" tool that lets you create lock stitches like a sewing machine by hand

Stitching Pony - holds your leather project stable while you saddle stitch

Lacing Awl (not pictured) - pulls and pushes leather lace through slits in leather like a giant needle


Tooling and Stamping Tools

Swivel Knife - a cutting tool designed for leather carving and detailing. Essential if you want to do any leather tooling, fun to use too.

Modeling Tools - these tools are designed with different tips to help you sculpt shapes and textures into your leather as part of the tooling process. Some, like the ball point stylus, can also be used to trace patterns through paper onto leather.

Beveling Stamps - angled stamps used in tooling to press down leather next to carved lines adding depth to designs. Available in many different sizes and textures.

Texturing and Matting Stamps - flat stamps used to create texture in areas of a tooling project

Seeder Stamps - small round stamps of various diameters and textures used for detailing designs

Geometric Stamps - stamps with different geometric patterns usually designed to be stamped in repeat to create all-over patterns

Floral Stamps - decorative stamps in the shape of flowers, or curvaceous shapes used to create floral designs

Alphabet and Number Stamps - letter and number stamps for writing or monogramming on leather

3D Stamps - large detailed stamps with many levels of depth, work best when applied with a special heavy duty punch, or clamps.


Sharpening Tools

Stones (not pictured) - blocks made of different types of natural and synthetic stone with varying grit levels used to sharpen blades.

Files (not pictured) - metal tools with different serrations used to take larger nicks and burrs out of blades.

Strop - a piece of wood with a thick piece of leather laminated onto it. The leather is impregnated with jeweler's rouge and then used to put a finishing edge on sharpened blades.

Jeweler's Rouge - a clay like substance used on a strop to help put a finishing edge on blades.

Keen Edge Beveler - a specially designed fixture that holds a swivel knife at the right angle to be sharpened on a stone.


Leather Adhesives

Leather Contact Cement - leather glue that works when applied to both surfaces.

Barge (not pictured) - a very strong adhesive used for tougher leather projects, like gluing layers for the soles of shoes.

Grain to Grain Adhesive (not pictured) - leather glue specifically designed to create a bond on the smooth grain sides of leather.

Double Sided Tape - narrow tape with a strong adhesive on both sides that is used to adhere leather together. Comes in permanent and re-positionable varieties


Brushes Sponges and Applicators

Sponges - used for dampening or "casing" leather for folding, tooling, stamping, and moulding. Also great for applying dyes and finishes to large areas.

Rags - can also be used to case leather, apply dye, or buff dye to a sheen after drying. Generally useful to have around for cleanup.

Daubers - wires tipped with balls of wool that are used to apply dye and finish to small areas. They come in different sizes and can be re-used.

Felt - can be useful for applying dye, burnishing edges etc.

Paint Brushes - necessary for creating detail on leather when painting and dying.

Disposable Brushes - used to apply glue to leather.

Glue Spreaders - used to apply glue to leather.

Sprayers - an efficient way to apply dye to large areas of leather, create a very even color.


Hardware

Rivets - simple two part metal fasteners used to join layers of leather together. Available in different sizes and finished. Some varieties can simply be set with a hammer, others require specialized setting tools.

Rivet Setter - tool use to set certain types of rivets, usually two metal parts used with a mallet.

Grommets - two part metal rings that create a reinforced hole in leather. Available in different sizes and finished. Each size requires a specialized setting tool.

Grommet Setter - tool used to set the two halves of a grommet together, usually two metal parts used with a mallet.

Eyelets - small metal rings similar to grommets but usually smaller, and only one part. Used for smaller or less heavy duty applications, also require a specialized setting tool.

Eyelet Setter - a tool used to set eyelets, often shaped like a pair of pliers with specialized pincers to squeeze eyelets into place.

Snaps - Simple metal closures that are set into leather much like rivets. Snaps consist of 4 parts: the cap and the socket, and the post and the stud, and each pair it attached using a specialized setting tool.

Snap Setter - tool used to set the halves of a snap together, usually two metal parts used with a mallet.

Buckles - a type of metal or plastic hardware used to create adjustable connections on leather straps.

Rings - metal loops of various shapes and sizes used as connection points in leather projects.

Clasps - any of a number of styles of closures usually used on leather bags.


Leather

Leather is generally divided into three main categories, which are further defined by grain, dye and finish, hide type, and hide section.

The Three Main Types are:

Chrome Tanned leatheris leather that has already been dyed and finished during manufacturing. It is tanned using chemicals like chromium sulphate which shorten the tanning process and make it possible to create leather with more diverse colors and finishes. Chrome tanned leather does not take additional carving, stamping tooling or dying the way veg tanned leather does, and it will not be deformed by water in the same way. Chrome tanned leather is used to create most of the leather products you see, especially garments, handbags and furniture. We will be working with chrome tanned leather in the first section of this class, and I will go into more detail about the different kinds of chrome tanned leather in the next lesson.

Veg Tanned is leather that has not been dyed or finished in the tanning process and can be tooled, stamped, carved, moulded and dyed. Veg tanned leather is tanned using natural tannins that are found in organic matter, and is usually a light beige or flesh tone, the natural color of the leather. Veg tanned leather is mostly used for hand leatherwork like leather carving, armor, saddlery, shoemaking and bookbinding. We will be working with veg tanned leather in the second and third sections of this class.

Rawhide is an animal hide that has been de-haired and cured, but not tanned. Rawhide is a stiff, semi translucent material that needs to be soaked in water in order to become flexible. Once it dries, it becomes rigid and holds its shape. It is used to make drum heads, water containers, moccasin soles and parts of saddles. Rawhide is a very specialized material and we won't be using it in this class.


Leather Weight


Leather by Grain

Leather grain refers to how the leather surface is treated during the tanning process. The look of leather can vary widely even within each of these categories depending on the dye and type of leather, so these photos don't necessarily give a comprehensive representation.

Hair on Hide is leather with the animal hair still attached, like shearling, sheepskin or any kind of authentic fur.


Full-grain leather has had the hair removed but has not been structurally altered in any other way. Because this treatment leaves the leather's fiber structure fully intact, full grain leather is stronger and more breathable than other leathers, but sometimes has more visible surface imperfections. Full grain leather, has a somewhat natural look that changes with age. It is often the most expensive and is usually used for luxury items with a more natural look, like shoes and furniture.

Top-grain leather has had the flesh side (spilt layer) removed making it thinner and more supple than most full-grain leather. Top grain leather is also sanded and finished to create a more uniform grain side with a slightly less natural feel, less breathability and more stain resistance. Top-grain is usually used for very fancy luxury leather products like handbags, though it is slightly less expensive than full-grain.


Corrected-grain leather is usually made from leather that is too low quality be full or top grain leather. It has been heavily sanded and an artificial grain has been fused to the surface. Corrected grain leathers are often heavily pigmented to help hide imperfections.


Patent Leather is corrected grain leather that has been given a very shiny plastic finish.


Embossed or Printed Leatherhas been stamped to create an overall texture effect like an artificial reptile hide or other pattern. Embossed leather is often corrected grain that has been finished with a very artificial, almost plastic looking coating, but it can also be veg tanned leather or full grain that has simply been textured. Embossed leather is usually fairly stiff for its weight which makes it great for certain kinds of sculptural projects.


Split leather is the flesh side of the hide separated from the grain side. Splits are sometimes given an embossed artificial top grain to create corrected grain leather, or they can be used as suede.

Suede is split leather which has been left "fuzzy" on both sides with no artificial grain added, or full grain that has had the top surface sanded off. Suede is usually thin and mostly used for garments and footwear.


Leather by Dye and Finish

Some dyeing and finishing methods create leather with different looks and qualities. Not all these dying methods create a particularly distinctive look, so I am only including photos of the ones that can be easily identified.

Drum Dyed leather is leather that has been dyed all the way through by immersing it in dye. This kind of leather is great for projects where you will see the underside of the leather in some places and want the color to be consistent.

Aniline Dyed leather needs to be high quality to begin with, because it is dyed with a transparent dye that preserves the natural character of the leather. Aniline dyed leather is also dyed all the way through to the flesh side of the leather.

Semi-Aniline Dyed is leather dyed with the the same process as aniline, but has a pigment layer added over the top which evens out the grain and gives it more protection.

Distressed leather is aniline dyed with two colors to bring out the natural grain create an antique look.


Pull-Up Finish leathergets lighter in areas that are stretched. It has been treated in certain way to achieve this effect, and is considered high quality.


Metallic leather has been embossed with a metallic foil grain to give it very shiny, metal like, appearance.


Novelty is a catch-all term used to describe any leather that has been dyed, embossed or cut in an unusual way to add an unnatural pattern or texture. Leather can be acid washed, laser cut, tie dyed, printed, splattered or otherwise treated to create a variety of interesting effects.


Leather by Weight

Garment Weight leather is thin and supple enough to be sewn into clothing. It is usually is between 1oz to 3oz, and often comes from lamb, goat, pig, deerskin, or cowhide splits. It is usually sewn with a sewing machine, not worked by hand. We will not be using garment weight leather in this class.


Upholstery leather is leather that is designed primarily for use on furniture. Thicker and more durable than garment weight, but can still be sewn with industrial sewing machines. Usually cowhide between 3oz and 4oz. Upholstery leather is can also be used to create heavier duty leather garments like jackets and leather accessories. It is a good choice for the first project in this class.


Motorcycle and Chap leather is a little thicker than most upholstery leather and is usually given a finish that makes it more abrasion resistant and waterproof. Usually cow or occasionally kangaroo, in weights from 3-5oz. Can also be a good choice for bag and accessory projects.


Latigo is a thick but relatively flexible leather used mostly for belts, straps harnesses, etc. Latigo is combination tanned, first chrome, and then veg tanned and usually infused with waxes and oils, which helps give it it's texture. It is available anywhere from 3-5oz in thickness.


Leather by Animal

Common Hides

Cow - the most common animal leather, used to create hides of many different qualities and thicknesses. Cows also provide the largest hides about 30-45 square ft.

Calf - calfskin is thinner and softer with a finer grain than cowhide, used mostly for clothing and accessories. Hides are much smaller than cow hides, about 4-6 square ft.

Sheep - a little thicker than lamb sometimes with a light pebbled grain, and similar softness. Mostly used for garment leather. Hides are usually 7-10 square feet and 2-3oz thick.

Lamb - a soft thin leather, with a fine grain, usually used as garment leather. Hides are relatively small about 6-7 square ft.

Goat - a soft resilient leather slightly thicker than lamb leather, usually used for garments and small accessories. Goatskin had a natural pebbled grain which is sometimes flattened during the tanning process. Hides are about 5-6 square ft.

Pig - a very thin soft leather with a distinctive speckled texture called a "hair cell" appearance. Pigskin us usually used for garments or lining. A lot of suede is also pigskin. Hides are 14-15 square ft.

Deer - soft but tough and water resistant, used for garments, and accessories. Usually about 2-3oz with hides 8-10 square feet.


Bison - very thick and durable yet flexible leather with a large defined pebbled grain. Often used for moccasins. Hides range from 18-40 square feet and 3-5oz.


Exotic Hides

Kangaroo - a strong and flexible leather often used for motorcycle wear because of its abrasion resistance.

Ostrich - a popular leather for in high end accessories it's "goosebump" appearance. (Imitation ostrich is often created by stamping cowhide, as shown below).

Alligator - scaly textured and valued for its use in accessories and shoes. (Imitation alligator is often created by stamping cowhide, as shown below).

Snake - thin scaly leather, sometimes types, like python, have varied color scales in beautiful patterns. Used for accessories and shoes.

Fish - many kinds of fishskins are tanned including salmon, perch, tilapia. Fish leather has beautiful scaly textures, and is used for accessories.

Stingray - extremely durable, loved for it's jeweled "caviar" finish. Used in accessories and some motorcycle gear.


Leather by Hide Section


Sources for Leather and Leather Tools

Leather Tools

Tandy Leather - a good all around supplier of leather, tools and hardware, dye etc., though their hardware is often limited to a very western aesthetic. They are very knowledgeable about leathercraft, ship quickly and have locations all over the US. If you are committed to leatherworking, investing in their discount membership programs is a good deal.

Weaver Leather Supply - high quality and high price

Springfield Leather - all around collection of hides, tools and hardware

Leather

Napa Hide House - Large leather retailer with a great selection of hides sourced entirely from animals that are already being raised for meat or agriculture

Tandy Leather

The Leather Guy - large selection of both veg tanned and chrome tanned hides as well as hardware

Springfield Leather

Buffalo Leather Store - Good source for bison and goat leather

Waterhouse Leather

S.H. Frank - eccentric and slightly disorganized leather warehouse in San Francisco. Large selction of mostly chrome tanned leather, and they will cut hides to size for you.

Hardware

Buckle Guy - good online selection of buckles, rivets, grommets, clasps and other hardware

The Leather Guy

Tandy Leather

Springfield Leather

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project