Introduction: Hand Tooled Cowboy Cuff Steampunk Watch

I have previously made an Instructable for a hand tooled leather bracer, unfortunately I felt it was rather lacking in actual tooling instructions, so I decided to document my latest build and show everyone how I achieved the effects and the products/tools used.

Things you'll need for the cuff (everything I use for leather work is available at Tandy Leather Factory stores, and they will be more than happy to help you track down all items needed, and even demo them for you!)

1 square foot of 8-9 oz. veggie tanned leather

1 square foot of 3-4 oz. veggie tanned leather (or buy a pre-cut 1" wide veggie tanned leather strip of at least 24 inches in length)

Some scrap black pigskin lining (you need a total of like, 4x1 inch)

Granite slab (if you don't want to buy one at Tandy, hit up any place that manufactures granite countertops, they will give you scrap polished granite for free)

Maul or mallet (poly or rawhide only, don't bother with the wooden ones)


Tailor's tape measure

Heavy paper or quilter's plastic sheet


Cotton wash rag

Compass or wing divider

Hobby knife of choice (I prefer #11 Exacto knives)

Cutting mat/board

Hand held strap cutter (optional)

Strap end cutter (optional)

Rotary punch (cheaper versions that work just as well are available at Lowes or Harbor Freight. If you get the one from Tandy, make sure you don't get the cheap one as it sucks)

Edge beveler (optional)

Floral Craft Aid plastic pattern

Craft Aid roller (optional) or spoon (this will make sense later)

Fine mist water sprayer

Swivel knife (I use a standard swivel knife for long/straight/less detailed cuts, and a 1/8" filigree blade for detail work)

Pattern tools - seeder, smooth beveler, textured beveler or backgrounder, veiner, convex smooth oval, gear embosser (I have included pictures of each tool used along with their resultant pattern)

Eco Flo Top Finish

Eco Flo Evening Blue and Forest Green leather dyes

Gold, copper, and silver chisel or fine tip paint pens

Eco Flo Black antique stain gel

Eco Flo Medium Brown antique stain gel

Fiebing's USMC black alcohol based leather dye

Eco Flo Gum Tragacanth (optional)

Edge slicker (optional)

1" foam brushes (pack of 25 at Wal Mart for $4)

Short tipped chisel bristle brush(es)

1 bag each of x-small and medium double cap steel rivets (your choice of color, mine are silver)

x-small and medium rivet setters and anvil

3/4" oblong hole punch

2x one inch center bar buckles

Things you'll need for the watch portion

Watch (the one I used is an automatic mechanical Lige movement. I recommend automatic movements for this build because they don't need to be removed for battery replacement)

1.25"w x .25"h wood strip (I used poplar, available at Lowes)

Fine toothed hand saw or miter saw

1/8 brass round (Lowes)

18 ga. bare copper wire (in the picture hanging section at Lowes)

400-600 grit sandpaper

Drill press or hand drill

1/4",1/8", 1/16" drill bits

1/2" Forstner bit


2x #6 .5" brass wood screws and washers

4 sets Chicago screws (available at Tandy)

Loctite Go2 gel glue

Loctite liquid super glue

If this list seems like a lot, that's because it IS! If you don't want to put all that time, effort, and money into this build, but you still want a cuff and/or watch, I do sell them as well. Hit me up!

Step 1: Prepping the Cutout and Pattern

Unfortunately I did not document the process of making a template to make the blank cutout, but it's not difficult.

Measure around your wrist and write that number down. Then measure around your forearm 4 and a half inches up from there, and write that number down. On your template material, draw these lines 4.5 inches apart, parallel to each other and aligned centrally. This will give you an even trapezoid. Next, draw a gentle arc outward from the vertices of the long line, and a gentle arc inward from the vertices of the short line. This will give you a pattern similar in shape to the first picture in this step. It's important not to make the arc lines too round or it will adversely affect the fitment of the cuff

Use a pen and draw around the edge of your template on the back of your 8-9oz. leather (the rough side, also known as the flesh side)

Place your leather on your cutting mat, and cut along the lines, being sure you keep your blade at a 90 degree angle to the cutting surface. This will prevent an uneven, angled edge.

Optional but highly recommended:

If you bought an edge beveler, bevel all edges of your piece, top and bottom.

Take your wing dividers/compass and set the tips to roughly 1/2 inch apart. Use your fine mist sprayer to moderately dampen the outer edges of your piece, then place one tip on your granite slab against the outer edge of your leather, and the other tip on your leather, and drag around the outside to get a nice evenly spaced line like in the picture. You may have to go around more than once.

Next, use your swivel knife to make a cut along this line. I recommend pushing the knife rather than pulling as it always helps me get a smoother line.

Note: Swivel knives are not designed to cut all the way through leather, so if you're managing to cut through your piece with a swivel knife, PUT THAT RABBIT DOWN LENNY

Now, dampen your leather in the area where you'll be imprinting your Craft Aid pattern. Two to three passes should do it. Your leather will be darker but with no standing water on it. Place your Craft Aid with the raised pattern side down against the leather. Hold it firmly in place with the pads of your fingers (using your finger tips runs the risk of leaving fingernail impressions in the leather) and roll over the pattern with firm, even pressure. The pattern may scoot a bit whilst you're imprinting it, but a little won't hurt as long as your pattern is defined well.

Optional: If you didn't want to shell out for the roller, using the convex side of a large spoon works fine too, just slide it around over the pattern until it's imprinted.

Step 2: When the Clock Strikes TOOL TIME

After you've imprinted your pattern, it's time to get carving. I highly recommend getting the 1/8" filigree blade for your swivel knife for this type of detail work. Some of the old pros that trained me can do this type of work with a standard swivel blade, but I ain't them. Grip it however feels best to you. I'm also a pencil artist so I held mine as such, rather than using the standard saddle grip. Honestly, there's no wrong way to do it if it achieves the desired effect.

Carve along each line imprinted by your craft aid with medium to firm pressure. You want good defined cuts for everything that comes next. I recommend wetting the leather again for this part as it helps keep your cuts more controlled and smooth. When you're done, your piece should resemble the first picture.

The next step is optional, but I find it makes the rest of the tooling a bit easier. Use a smooth angled bevel tool to separate and define your cuts. Hold it like a pen, keep firm pressure, and slide it along the outside of the pattern as in the second picture.

Recommended for those inexperienced with this type of tooling: Use some scrap leather to test out all your tools to get a feel for how much force is needed when using them and what sort of imprint they will make on your leather before actually starting on your piece. Can you imagine how awful it would be to ruin your gorgeous piece that you spent hours on with a few poorly executed tool marks? Me, I don't have to imagine. Nope. Been there more times than I care to admit.

For the next steps, I highly recommend finishing all tooling on only one area at a time. You won't be fast enough to do all the tooling on the whole piece before it dries out, and wetting your leather multiple times without working it can suck out the natural oils and make it stiff and dry, and also runs the risk of causing water spots.

Wet your leather again, 2-3 sprays around your pattern. Take your maul or mallet and your textured angle bevel, set it in your cuts, begin tapping the tool with your mallet, and go around the outside of the pattern. This process will make it seem more 3 dimensional once your final stains are applied (I will explain why in that step, but trust me for now). I also went around the entire flower with this tool, to make it appear further forward than the leaves.

Note: I recommend holding your maul or mallet close to the middle or even by the head during this process. It greatly reduces strain on your forearm, increases accuracy, and helps ensure a more consistent tooling pattern.

If your leather has dried out too much by now, you can go back over it with a single spritz. Take your veiner tool, and set it in the leaf stem cut, tilted toward the center, and give it a single light tap for each. If you've done it right, your veiner impression will be stronger towards the leaf stem and lighter towards the edge of the leaf. The purpose of this is to keep your veiner from marking outside the boundary of the leaf and onto the background.

Now you can take your smooth oval tool and use the fatter end to make indentions around your flower petals and give them a more 3d look. You will want to hold the tool closer to the business end and give it a single medium force tap.

For the flower centers, take your seeder tool and give it a single light tap for each impression. The business end on these is small so not much force is required for a good imprint.

Finally, and this step is optional, you can take a flat textured backgrounder tool and go around the outer edge as pictured. I like the look of it and I feel it helps frame the whole piece better. It's important to hold this tool at a slight angle so the imprint is lighter away from the cut.

I stuck the last pic in to show how you can space your holes using the rotary punch. It didn't seem to merit its own step, so there it is.

Let your leather dry completely before moving on to the next step. This may take several hours.

Step 3: Dyeing to Be Finished

The colors you choose to use for this step are really personal preference, as is the type of brush you use. I prefer an angled short chisel tip brush as it gives me the most control over where the dyes go.

It's important to not over-dye these parts as they can get very dark and lose a lot of definition.

You may notice when applying your dye that when it reaches the swivel knife cuts, it will flow into them. This is a good thing, and I recommend filling in all those cuts with the appropriate color dye for the area you're working on. It's okay if the dye bleeds outside your tooled area (you'll see why later).

Go around the borders of your tooled areas as in the second picture, then fill in the rest. This makes the edge a bit darker than the rest and adds a dapple effect.

Optional: Use your metallic paint pens to highlight portions of your tooling to make it pop! I used copper on the leaf stems, gold in the centers of the flowers, and edged the flower petals with a bit of silver. It's important not to apply too much as it can get on other parts of your design, and there's no removing it.

Now, go find something to do for at least an hour while the dye sets and dries.

Now it's time to add your top coat. I highly recommend using the type pictured. It is superior to everything else I have used in the past, has no fumes, and dries quickly. Top coat functions by sealing the area of the leather it's applied to. In this case, we will be using it as a resist. A resist is what keeps the stain we will be using from discoloring the area that you spent so much time perfecting. As such it is VITAL that you make sure every part of each leaf, stem, and flower has a good coating of this stuff. Learn from my mistakes!

I used my preferred short chisel brush again for this. This is very delicate work, even more so than the dye application, because you don't want the resist to get on any part of the leather other than the tooling. Additionally, you want to make sure that the resist doesn't get into the outer border cut of your tooling, only to the very edge. This is why it's important to use only a little at a time, and keep track of what you have and haven't coated. Once it dries, it leaves a glossy sheen where it has been applied.

Step 4: You Might Be Instain at This Point

This part is pretty easy. I used the Eco Flo Black antique stain. I'm not entirely sure it's still available, but I'll bet Tandy has some sort of analogue to it.

It is VITAL to only use antique gel stain for this step. The top coat resist will not stop anything else and your piece will be ruined. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES

Shake the stain thoroughly, then apply a generous amount to a 1" foam brush. Using a circular pattern, apply it to the entire surface of your piece. Make sure it gets into every single cut, groove, and impression of your tooled areas. Pat your brush into these areas to make sure it gets in all the way.

Don't give it time to dry. Once it's all covered and in the cuts, immediately take your rag and buff the ever living crap out of the whole thing. Keep buffing. More. No, you're not done yet. More buffing. Is your arm tired? Switch hands and keep buffing. You're done buffing when the entire piece is GLOSSY AF.

If you're done everything right, your tooled areas will be vibrant with color and untouched by the stain, and the rest of your piece will have a nice, rich, aged appearance. You'll notice around the edges of your tooled areas that where the dye bled into the leather is no longer visible. You'll also notice that the textured areas and cuts held more of the stain and really made your design pop!

Note, be sure to apply the stain around the edges of the piece as well.

Optional Step: I'm a stickler about this because it irks me when leatherworkers don't finish their edges, especially if they are selling their wares. This step will give your piece a professional look that will stand out from all other such work.

Dip your finger in the gum tragacanth and apply it liberally around the beveled edge of your piece. Go around once, then twice. Let it dry until tacky to the touch, then take your edge slicker (the vaguely inappropriate looking device pictured), place the leather edge into the appropriate groove, and using firm pressure, rapidly slide the slicker back and forth. More. More. Check the edge. Is it shiny? No? MORE DARN YOU

Some leather may require this process be repeated to achieve the desired result.

Step 5: Rivets and Straps and Buckles, Oh My

At this point, I set all my x-small decorative rivets around the edges, then moved on to strap and buckle attachment.

This part is relatively easy if you have a strap cutter or just bought the 1 inch wide strip from Tandy. If not, take the 3-4 oz. leather and cut two 4"x1" pieces and two 2"x1" pieces.

If you have a strap end punch (pictured above), you can use it to give your straps and buckle tie downs a nice finished look. if you don't have one, no worries, just cut them to whatever shape you like with your hobby knife.

Punch evenly spaced holes on the long straps, and two holes at one end (see pic) for the attachment rivets.

Use your 3/4" oblong punch to punch out the center on the 2" piece. Fold it in half and punch a hole for the rivet.

Use your Fiebings USMC Black dye on the fronts, backs, and edges of all strap pieces. Allow to dry.

Set your straps roughly 1/2" in from the edges of the cuff, and on the margin as pictured. Use a pen to mark through the holes, then use those marks as a guide to punch the holes on the cuff. Use the medium rivets to attach the straps, and set them.

Wrap the cuff around your wrist and use the straps as a guide to where your buckles should anchor. Unfortunately some of your tooled design may get covered up, but such is life. The best way to do this is to wrap the buckle anchors around the buckles, stick the straps through the buckles and use that to determine where to punch the hole for the anchor rivet. use your pen to mark the spots, punch the holes, and set your rivets. When you're finished, your buckles should look similar to the pic above (depending on how big your forearms are).

Note, the buckle anchor rivets can be difficult to set. Be sure to hang the edge of your cuff off your granite so you can bend the leather and move the rear buckle bar out of the way.


Do you want to add the watch? Keep going from here!

Step 6: Better Watch Yoself

Now for the watch piece!

Measure out 3.5 inches of your wood (and keep your mind out of the gutter!) and cut it off with your saw.

Set your sandpaper on your granite slab and hold it with one hand, and run the top and sides of your wood piece over it until they are all smooth. If you want to go a step further like i did, you can bevel your wood for a more complex and rustic look.

Use your 1/2" Forstner bit drill roughly 1/3 of the way through the top of the wood at the corners (see pic), then swap out for the 1/4" and drill through the center of those cuts. This is where your Chicago screws will attach the wood to the leather.

Note: You can use wood stain on your wood, but a much less toxic and quite as effective method is to use the leather antique gel. In this case I used medium brown, then rubbed it on the washcloth until it was shiny. This stuff is miraculous.

Take your 1/8 brass rod, and bend it into a U shape with pliers. The brass can bend unpredictably so I don't have any exact measurements for you; you'll have to eyeball it. Press the ends of this shape firmly into the woof until it leaves indentions. Drill partway into the wood with your 1/8" drill bit at these indentions.

Coil your 18 gauge copper wire around the middle part of your brass rod as shown. make sure the coils are tight together and to the rod. Clip the wire when it's close to the corner, then press the excess down with your pliers.

Place some liquid super glue in the 1/8" holes you drilled, then jam your brass rod into them. You can tap it into place with your mallet if it is being stubborn.

Cut a couple strips from your scrap pigskin roughly 2 1/2" long. You can use the watch pins as a good guide to the width of the strips, as different watches will vary. Fold the strips around the watch pins and set the watch face on the wood. Pull the straps to the sides of the wood to mark where your holes should be. Punch the screw holes in the pigskin strips, put them back down, and mark where they need to go on the wood.

Use your 1/16" drill bit to drill pilot holes at these marks, for the screws that go through the pigskin strips (watch anchor straps). Do not skip drilling pilot holes or your wood will split.

Optional: If you're using an automatic mechanical timepiece like I did, I highly recommend permanently affixing it to the wood using the Loctite Go2 gel glue.

Put the washers on the screws, then screw the screws into the screw holes until they're thoroughly screwed.

Position the wood on your cuff so it is centered, and use a pen to mark the holes for the Chicago screws. Use the largest size on your rotary punch for these. You wouldn't do bad to jam your pen in the holes to stretch them a bit (good lord with the innuendos here. By the way, did you know there's a leatherworking tool called a peener? I double dog dare you to go ask for one with a straight face).

Ok, now attach the wood to the leather via the Chicago screws.

Look at the 2 last pics to see my cat's contribution to this project.

Step 7: Now You've Got More Time on Your Hands

Well, I mean, technically on your wrist... but... uhhh...


*runs away*

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