A Leather Altoids Tin Case




Introduction: A Leather Altoids Tin Case

Most enlightened folks know that the Altoids tin is one of the greatest inventions known to mankind. I have several that I use for various things and my daughter has been using one for a wallet that she keeps cards and cash in inside her purse. I decided to make her a leather case for her "wallet" and it turned out pretty good. It was also pretty easy so I thought I would share with everyone!

It can be as simple or as elegant as you want so it really is up to you how complicated it gets.

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Step 1: Tools and Materials

Leather projects can be simple or very complicated and elegant. As your project gets more elegant/refined/finished you will need more tools and supplies. The bare minimum that you would need is some leather, a sharp knife for cutting it out, an awl or something that can punch holes for your stitching, and a needle and thread. I will use more than the minimum and give some options for doing some of the extras more cheaply. I have listed a couple of sources for purchasing supplies at the end of this Instructable.

  1. Tools
    1. Sharp knife
    2. Ruler
    3. Diamond awl
    4. Harness needles (2... I use #2 harness needles but you can also buy a couple of craft needles at big box stores that should do the trick).
    5. Paper clamps
    6. Rags (is that a tool or a supply? I'll keep it here :) )
    7. Optional/advanced tools
      1. Hole punch
      2. Leather edge burnisher
      3. Pricking iron (to make evenly spaced holes... mine aren't technically pricking irons because they are designed to punch a hole all the way through the leather so that you don't need to use an awl)
      4. Overstitch wheel (another option to get the spacing but doesn't make a hole for you like a pricking iron)
      5. Fork - not pictured (the cheap option for spacing your stitches that everyone has and it works really well)
      6. Stitch groove tool for cutting a groove for your stitches to lay in to reduce wear on the thread
        1. You can also use dividers or a compass... anything that can run along parallel to the edge and gently mark your stitching line (it doesn't take much to mark leather).
      7. Edge beveler for rounding the edges of the leather
      8. Snap setter
      9. Stamps/carving tools
      10. Wool/Wool dauber for applying dye (rags work for this too)
      11. Cheap paint brush
      12. Rubber/plastic mallet - not pictured
  2. Materials and supplies
    1. Approximately 5"x12" of 4-5 oz. leather (get veg. tanned leather if you are going to stamp designs in the leather). You can use thicker leather if you want but you will probably need to adjust the dimensions a bit.
    2. Neatsfoot oil (some prefer mink oil and others go with olive oil... but neatsfoot oil is the traditional stuff)
    3. Waxed nylon thread (you can wax it yourself with beeswax if you want, it should be about 207-277 thread size for this project).
    4. Water
    5. Optional materials and supplies
      1. Leather dye (I normally use Fiebing's or Angelus professional dyes but you can: put the leather in the sun after oiling it and it will get darker, leave it natural, or use coffee or other natural dyes)
      2. Snap parts for the flap (or whatever other fastener you would prefer to use)
      3. Tan Kote (I use this on the inside of the piece to tame the fuzzy interior of the leather and it gives it a harder, smooth finish that helps the tin slide in and out of the case)
      4. Contact cement for gluing the piece together when ready to stitch (I use Tandy's Eco-Flo Leather Weld)
      5. Carnauba creme for the final finish (for more water resistance I would use Resolene diluted 50/50 with water but I don't really want the shiny finish that you get from Resolene and don't think that the water resistance is needed for this project). You could also use neutral shoe polish or some other leather protecting product.
    6. Different case options that you could use but I'm not covering here
      1. D-rings
      2. Belt loop
      3. Key ring
      4. Short strap/handle

Step 2: Pattern and Cut Out

As you can see... the pattern is very simple. Cut it out with your knife and use a hole punch, if you have one, for the end of the inset area (do the two insets AFTER you have cut out the main piece).

Some will just measure and cut but it would be best to carefully trace it out onto the leather and even more carefully cut it out. Use a straight edge if/when you are able. Trim rounded edges by taking little slices and working your way around the corner rather than trying to cut the curve (here is an example of what I'm talking about).

I mark the stitching line next and use my pricking iron to mark the holes on one part of the leather (the holes will be finished all the way through both layers after it has been glued together). When using the mallet for pricking irons or for stamping/carving you need a solid base. This is achieved by having a very heavy workbench and/or a granite slab.

I round some of the edges while it is easy to cut and trim. The flap will need a little bit of trimming but it is up to you how much you want to leave and how much you want to trim and what you want it to look like.

You can use the pattern I have here or you can adjust the sizes to whatever you want/need depending on the size of the item that it will contain. You can make this case for many different things (I might make one for my daughter's iPhone next). Hopefully you can read all of the measurements... they are all in mm and each square on the graph paper is 2 mm.

Step 3: Stamping/carving/shaping

Note: leather gets dirty and marks very easily, especially when wet, so keep your hands and work area clean and avoid having hard/sharp items coming in contact with the leather (it's even a good idea to trim your fingernails).

Getting the leather wet, called "casing", is a bit of a skill that I still haven't mastered. Fortunately, you still get a good end product for this project even if you don't do it right... so I just go for it. Take your leather and hold it under water for 20-30 seconds. Let it sit out for a while until it just begins to start looking normal color (when it is dry). It will now be pliable and ready for any stamping/carving that you want to do. I'm not going to discuss how to do that, look for tutorials online or other Instructables. Tandy has tons of videos available for free but YouTube is also full of them.

When you are done stamping you'll want to wet your leather again and then you are ready to form the leather around your tin.

  • Take your Altoids tin and wrap it in cling wrap (keeps it dry and makes it a bit bigger so that your fit isn't too tight).
  • Fit the leather around the tin with the slits/hinge area centered on the bottom of the tin. Be careful to not mark up the leather but gently work it with your fingers until you have a snug fit.
  • You will want to work it, re-work it, double/triple/quadruple check everything. It will be a snug fit but that is what we want. Remember that every time that you do something it will likely impact something else so you need to keep checking everything and re-work it until everything is the way that you want it.
  • I take some scraps of leather or something soft but firm and place it along the edges so that the paper clamps don't mark up your leather. Clamp everything in place and set aside to dry. After it has started drying up a bit I take off the clamps but leave the tin inside. I do this because I can smooth out some of the marks that the clamps might make but the case has already formed enough that it probably won't lose any of its shape. Until it is completely dried be extra careful with it because any and all contact with the slightly damp leather can lead to marks on the leather.
  • Allow the leather to thoroughly dry, for about 8-12 hours, and then use a rag to apply a very light coating of neatsfoot oil to the smooth side of the leather. Allow that to sit for an hour or two (more is better).
  • Ian Atkinson has a good tutorial that shows how he does it (I would tend to do what he says not what I do but for this thin leather and this style of case my method works fine). It's a good place to start learning about wet forming leather

Step 4: Dye and Treat the Leather

Caution: There are some strong smells from the dye so use safety precautions (I use latex gloves and make sure to ventilate)

Note: If you are using neatsfoot oil you need to know that it will naturally darken your leather. If your dye isn't quite as dark as you would like it but it is close then an application of neatsfoot oil will probably get you there. If it is perfect and you don't want it any darker then skip the neatsfoot oil or use an alternative that doesn't darken the leather.

Now I dye the leather inside and out. This is fairly thin leather so go light on the dye, especially on the inside. I mix my dye 50/50 with denatured alcohol so that it doesn't get too dark. Use a wool dauber or rag (even better yet is if you have enough that you can dip the leather into a larger container of dye or if you have a spray painting set up) and carefully apply the dye. On this project I'm using "Spanish Brown" (me gusta!) Fiebing's Professional Oil Dye.

  • Ian Atkinson has a good video about dyeing leather that you should watch before you get too far into things.
  • Go in a circular motion and try to keep the amount of dye being applied consistent. Let this sit for an hour or so to soak in. Some people don't dye the interior but I like to put one coat on the interior. Just be careful because with leather this thin it will bleed through to the other side if you apply it too heavily.
    • It is going to look raggedy after the first pass but it will get there, trust me :)
  • Next apply the dye in straight lines in one direction. Let it dry for a while.
  • Now apply the dye in straight lines at 90* from the last step. It should look much better now. Let it dry for a while.
  • See if there are any areas that need to be touched up and carefully work on those.
  • Remember that this is real leather so it won't be uniform. In fact, the natural non-uniformity of it is one of the things I love most about leather. If you want something that is even and uniform then buy some of the leather that has a coating on top that has a certain color/design/grain (but it also is the stuff that wears off and doesn't look good over the years).
  • After your final pass give it several hours to completely dry before you do any touching up. The dye will continue to spread out in the leather and some of the dark areas with extra dye (still in liquid form) will get pulled over to the dry areas with less dye.
  • After it has completely dried you should take a soft rag and buff it until you don't have any more (or minimal) color come off onto the rag. This is removing the extra pigments from the dye that weren't absorbed and will rub off anyway.

Allow it to dry over night. I apply another thin layer of neatsfoot oil (always on the smooth side of the leather) and buff some more. The neatsfoot oil helps to soften the leather and moisturize it just like you would use lotion on your skin after being at the public swimming pool (or something like that). The dye dries the leather out so your leather will appreciate it. :)

I then apply Tan Kote to the inside using a cheap paint brush. This helps the fuzzy inside of the leather to stay smooth and not turn into leather powder. It also helps to have a harder, slick coating that helps the tin to easily slide in and out of the case. You don't need the Tan Kote but since I have some and like having the inside treated I use it.

Step 5: Sew It Together

  • If you are going to use a snap then now is the time to punch the holes and put in the snap.
    • I put the male part on first by measuring the middle of the piece and then eyeballing where I want to put it. After it's installed I put the tin inside and press the flap down to make a light indentation on the inside of the leather for locating the female side.
    • An option that doesn't involve snaps is to have a strip of leather that you can tuck the fold into. You would have to sew that strip on while you are sewing the piece together. It should work fine but I haven't tried it.
  • This is also a good time (or it could be done before dyeing) to do a final cut for your flap to get it to the final shape and length that you want.
    • Make sure to touch up the newly cut edges with a little bit of dye and a Q-tip (but it just needs one pass and make sure you don't get dye onto the face... only the sides). If you burnish your edges they will all probably be black but it's best to keep colors consistent just in case.
  • Also, any areas that aren't going to be sewn together can be burnished if you want the rounded/smooth burnished edges.
    • Start learning about the finer points of edge burnishing here. It's not required to burnish the edges but it does give your leatherwork a nicer finished look and the edges are smooth rather than sharp. Edge burnishing is one of those things that there is a different way of doing it for every person so just use some of the techniques and find what works best for you.
  • Apply glue to the areas that you are sewing together. The glue dries quickly so have it ready to go together before you put some glue on. The purpose of the glue is just to hold things together for sewing. The thread will ultimately hold it together, not the glue (it just keeps things together nicely and also keeps your stitching holes lined up).
  • Make the stitching holes now. Take care to keep them even and tidy looking. The line should be 3-4 mm from the edge and about 3 mm from the ends. For most projects like this, 8 stitches per inch is fairly normal. You want to size your stitches per inch to fit what you are doing... visually. If it is big and bulky then you would use thicker thread and less stitches per inch. Small/thin items like this don't need super thick thread and they will look better with 8 stitches per inch. If you have too few stitches per inch then the likelihood that the thin leather pulls through the thread goes up.
  • Sew it together using the saddle stitch. There are many tutorials online that can show you how to do it and plenty of books and videos
    1. Saddle stitching tutorial by Nigel Armitage -- This might be the only video you need to watch
    2. The Art of Hand Sewing Leather by Al Stohlman (Amazon.com) -- This is THE BOOK that every person working with leather should own.

Step 6: Finishing

Now you are either done or almost done! It can be left as is or you can bevel the edges, burnish them, and apply a final protective coating. Or not... it's fine the way it is now, just a bit rougher around the edges... literally.

  • Bevel your edges to round them over and make them look a bit nicer (similar to burnishing). You can start learning about the edge process by looking at some of these videos.
  • Sand the edges that you are going to burnish (lightly) to smooth things out and get the leather grain going in the same direction (so don't sand back and forth... one way only).
  • Burnish the rest of the edges that are sewn together.
    • My technique is using the following sequence:
      • Water
      • Liquid glycerine saddle soap
      • Wax/finish
  • Carnauba creme on the outside for a final finish
    • You can use shoe polish or any other shoe/leather treatment product.
    • If you want a shiny finish that is also more water resistant then I recommend Resolene. If you want to use it then I recommend that you dilute it 50/50 with water, shake really well, then apply with a cheap brush (about 3/4" wide).
      • Brush on some of the liquid and then spread it out, running the brush very lightly (barely touching) to remove any bubbles/puddles/streaks.
      • Keep doing this until it is covered and then do another coating or two.
      • If you didn't get it applied correctly then you can remove it with some denatured alcohol (I think) and start over again. Like I said, I like the way it looks better without it and I don't think it is needed.
    • Buff it and you are done

Step 7: Finished & Resources

There you go! I have found that even though many of my handcrafted items look a bit like someone got drunk and made some leather goods... they are well built and I like them.

Now you just need to take care of your leather. The better you treat your leather items the longer they will stay in good shape (and continue to develop more character).

  • Try to keep it as dry as possible
  • Treat it 2-3 times a year (more if it is exposed to the elements and is getting abused)
    • You can use carnauba creme, Sno-Seal, shoe wax/polish (neutral), bees wax, any leather treatments that you can find at regular or leatherworking stores
    • If your leather has been abused and untreated for a long time then you might want to do a light coating of neatsfoot oil, let it dry for a day, and then do the finish product on top.

Here are some leather resources that you might find useful:

  • Tools/Supplies
    • Springfield Leather -- (I buy most of my stuff here)
    • Tandy Leather -- (you can get anything here too)
    • Zack White Leather
    • Goods Japan -- decent quality tools (much better than lots of the crap that is being sold elsewhere but definitely not great) at good prices
    • Barry King tools -- expensive but very high quality and worth it (in my opinion)
    • There are many others... Google is your friend :)
  • Education
    • Leatherworker.net leatherworking community (LOTS of good information and nice people)
    • Tandy Leather - lots of good free videos
    • YouTube
    • Books (Al Stohlman is the godfather of leatherworking but there are lots of people that have great books out there)

Have fun!

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    4 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Love it. This is my next project. I like the way you did the bottom seam


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Good luck and have fun! Let me know if you have any questions.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Indeed... that's why they work so well for just about anything :)