Introduction: Vegetable Tanned Bifold Wallet

Final product shot. This wallet has 6 card slots and 2 larger, hidden slots behind them, and the standard cash slot. From start to finish, this wallet took me about 5 hours.

Step 1: Preparation

You can see the leather and basic tools that I'm using for this wallet. I left out a few things, but I'll cover those along the way.

The minimum list of things for this project is as follows:

  • a piece of 4-5 oz vegetable tanned leather
  • a piece of 2-3 oz vegetable tanned leather
  • steel ruler
  • pencil
  • a sharp blade
  • a wing divider
  • a stitching chisel
  • waxed thread
  • leather glue
  • cotton swabs

The follow are things that I'd highly recommend, but are not absolutely necessary:

  • gum tragacanth
  • neatsfoot oil
  • sandpaper
  • small clamps

Step 2: Cutting the Pieces

I've cut down a few more manageable pieces from the two sides of
leather. The darker piece (for the exterior) is 4-5oz vegetable tanned leather which has been oiled and set in the sun for several days to give it a rich colour. The lighter piece (for the interior) is 2-3oz vegetable tanned leather, fresh from the tannery. They'll both get some more oil later.

Here is a list of the pieces you need:

  • 1 piece 3.5"x9" (from the 4-5oz)
  • 1 piece 3.5"x8.5"
  • 2 pieces 3.5"x4"
  • 6 pieces 2"x4"

Most of the pieces are the same width (4") so I make strips and cut the pieces from those. You'll also need 2 strips that are 3.5" wide. I use a rotary cutter, but any sharp blade works.

For the 2"x4" pieces, you can make cutouts (.5" in and 5" from the top, like seen in the photos) to reduce a bit of bulk.

Step 3: Rounded Corners

If you want round corners on your wallet, use a corner punch or a sharp knife to round off the following corners:

  • all 4 on both large pieces
  • the 2 corners on the short sides of the 3.5"x4" pieces
  • the lower left corner on one of the 2"x4" pieces (without tabs) and the lower right of the other

Step 4: Edge Finishing

This step is optional but with greatly improve the look of you wallet.

Any exposed edges should be burnished smooth. I use a combination of gum tragacanth and beeswax. Any edges that don't need to be glued (and then sanded) will be done now. Apply the gum tragacanth with a cotton swab and let it soak for 20-30 seconds before rubbing it quickly with a wooden burnisher.

Step 5: Oiling the Pieces

You can now optionally give all of the pieces get a thin coat of neatsfoot oil before they are assembled. This makes piercing the holes for stitching cleaner and lets me get to areas that won't be accessible later.

Step 6: Laying Out the Pieces

All of the pieces ready to be assembled.

The second photo is a rough layout of how they'll go together.

Step 7: Attaching the Pockets

You can see where the glue will go for assembling the pockets - on the tabs and bottom of the pocket / where they will meet the back piece. In terms of layers, you need to work back to front.

After the pieces are glued together, a line is marked with a wing divider. This is how all of my stitching lines will be marked.

A chisel is used to make the holes, 6 at a time. This chisel helps produce straight, and consistent stitches.

A technique called "saddle stitching" is used. A single, long piece of thread with a needle on each end makes a sturdy and aesthetically pleasing stitch. It's hard to explain exactly how it's done, but needles pass by each other, in opposing directions, through each hole and lock every stitch. First need goes through front to back, the back needle goes through the loop and comes back out the front. Repeat until you reach the end. Snip the threads and singe the ends.

Step 8: Finishing the Pockets

The inside lines of stitching are done before the backing piece is attached, so that the hidden pockets are accessible. Make sure you stitch the side without the rounded corners.

Glue is applied around all sides of these pockets, except the side where the stitching is, and they are attached to the 3.5"x8.5" piece.

I forgot to take photos, but you now need to stitching across the top of the wallet.

Step 9: More Edge Finishing

After the top is stitched, I square up the top edge with some sandpaper. This edge is now done and ready to be burnished, in the same method as before.

Step 10: Attaching the Interior to the Exterior

The exterior piece is half an inch longer than the interior, so that it can fold nicely. These pieces will get glued together from the outside edges and squeezed inward, toward the center.

The exterior wants to bend back open, so some clamps keep it in line while the glue dries. Scrap pieces are used between the clamps and the wallet as to not leave marks.

Time to square up the edges before stitching begins, edges that aren't square will make the holes come out closer or further from the edge on the other side of the piece.

Step 11: Stitching the Exterior

Just like all of the stitching up until this point, use your wing divider to mark a line down the sides and bottom of the wallet.

With 4 layers of leather, sometime the chisel gets a bit stuck.. Elbow grease may be needed.

Saddle stitching the wallet up and you're almost done!

Step 12: Final Edge Polishing

Polish up all of your outer edges and you'll have a beautiful wallet all done!

Step 13: Final Product

All done! Like I said, it takes me about five hours from start to finish. This is a great project for who has tried a few simple leather projects and wants to take on something a little advanced, but doesn't require any complicated tools or expensive materials.

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