Introduction: Leather Map Carving

About: I am a young leather worker who always enjoys a new challenge. At our house, we have a machine shop, wood shop, blacksmith shop and a leather-craft shop.I love seeing things that I envision to be made into rea…

Leather carving can end up being a very complicated craft, but it is incredibly useful for making a beautiful, piece that can either be decorative or functional (ie, wallets bags armor, etc.) I will show you the basics on how I carve maps into leather. It is incredibly easy and fun, so lets get started!


First, you will need Leather!
I use an unfinished Vegetable Tanned Leather that is between 2-4 ounces in thickness (.8-1.6 mm) YOU CAN ONLY CARVE ON VEG TAN LEATHER!
You will also require a leather carving swivel knife, a stylus or awl, tracing film, and I like to use either a surgical scalpel or a rotary cutter for cutting my leather, though, a regular utility knife will do the job.
For the color, I use Pure Neatsfoot oil to darken and condition the leather (optional) and Fiebings Medium Brown Antique Finish. As a Resist and Finish, I use Neat-Lac Leather Finish.

I get all my supplies from my local Tandy Leather

Step 1: Transferring the Pattern

I like to use acrylic templates to cut a nice size piece. Once you have your leather cut, and the map you want to carve, you will first trace the map onto a tracing film. Once this is completed, you will want to wet your leather with water. I use a spray bottle to get it on there evenly. This is called Casing your leather. What it does is moistens the fibers in the animal skin, and makes it sensitive to pressure. You can then use your tracing film and a stylus or awl to transfer the pattern onto the leather. For this map, I am doing a map of Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings.

Step 2: Carving the Map

All right! Once you have your map traced onto your leather, you will go ahead and case the leather again.

Before I go any further, I just want to let you know that there is only ONE hard and fast rule to leatherworking, and it is that if you are happy with the result, then you did it correctly. Because of this, there is one thing, and only one thing that ALL leathercrafters can agree on, and it’s that we can’t agree on anything. I will tell you my preferences, but everybody has different style, different technique and different favorite products to use.

When you use the swivel knife you want to make sure that it is always perpendicular to your leather. You ARE NOT cutting all the way through. At most you want to cut two-thirds of the way through the leather. Since I like to use a 2-4 oz leather, I cannot push down very hard, or else I will cut clean through into my cutting mat. If you tilt the knife side to side, you will get an angled or undercut mark in your leather. Always draw the knife toward you, so you can always see where you are cutting; and keep the blade polished, so that it glides smoothly through the leather. I am using a filigree blade- this makes it easier to do cuts on rivers and shorelines, as a larger blade is a bit bulkier, and can get in your field of vision. One thing to keep in mind is that the harder you push down on the knife, the deeper and wider the cut you will end up with. For the forests, I just used the tip of the knife to make very small dots, just to give it a different texture.

Step 3: Coloring and Finishing

Before I do anything with actual leather coloring, I sometimes like to oil the leather with Neatsfoot Oil. You can apply this with a paper towel or a rag. This will darken it slightly, soften it, and give it a slight patina.

Next, I will use a leather finish, such as Neat-Lac, Super Shene, or Pro Resist. Again, you can apply it with a paper towel or a rag. You can apply this to the entire map, or just paint it on bodies of water, or just paint it on land masses. What it will do is repel the Antique finish so that it will not penetrate into that specific area, but still allow it into the cuts, making where you painted it on lighter than where you left it off. For this map I applied it to the entire piece, but in the pictures, I provide a couple examples of the specific blocking technique.

Now you get to goop on the antique, and smear it all over the top of the map. You let it sit for a few seconds, then wipe it off, and buff it.

After the Antique Finish, I go ahead and apply another coat of Neat-Lac to seal it.

I then trim the edges, and either incorporate it into wallets, bags or just hang it on the wall as a display piece.

I hope you enjoyed this instructable! If you have any questions please feel free to comment!
Thank you!

Maps Challenge

Participated in the
Maps Challenge