I have wanted to get into leather working for quite a while now. I even bought a side of leather and some basic leather working tools last year. I just not got around to making my first ever leather project: an iPad mini case. Take a look at the video of how I made it or follow along below. More details about this build can be found at http://www.bruceaulrich.com/blog/how-to-make-a-leather-ipad-case
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Step 1: BACKGROUND
My wife has an iPad mini that she used for work, and the case she has had for it has recently worn out. This was the perfect opportunity for me to try my hand at some leather working.
As I mentioned above, I've had the tools and leather for a while to get into this craft, but have just never taken the plunge. I don't know what the hold up was...maybe it just seemed too intimidating? It's like when I got the whole side of leather, I just didn't want to cut into it for fear I would mess it up? This happens a decent amount of the time to me with trying new things, and I bet I'm not the only one. (Leave me a comment below and let me know if you have the same things happen to you.) The leather I had was a perfect match for this project though, especially since it was already gray. My wife loves the color gray, and her previous case was gray. It is only fitting that this one should be too.
Step 2: TOOLS & MATERIALS
Utility knife - http://amzn.to/2zWyWJd
Waxed thread - http://amzn.to/2gII0Jc
Edge beveler - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Leather chisels - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Leather needles - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Edge burnisher - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Leather - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Edge kote - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Glycerin saddle soap - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Yarn or string of choice (I used 100% cotton yarn, 5 oz) PVA glue or contact cement - http://amzn.to/2gJO2cI
Step 3: MARKING OUT PIECES
I started off by assessing the leather that I had. I ordered a side of leather (about 21 sq ft), and this particular side was already stained and finished with a gray color. The top also had kind of a waxy, polished finish. I didn't know any better. I know people have often mentioned that they use veg tanned leathers, but I didn't go that route.
Step 4: LEATHER RESOURCES
The thickness for leather is measured in ounces. This particular leather was 4-5oz, so it was a nice thickness for what I was wanting to do. Come to find out, this leather would be too thick to make a wallet probably, because with a wallet, you typically put multiple pieces together to make the compartments. I think much thinner leather is typically used for that. This would be for bags, satchels, etc.
A couple of resources that I found to be good for ordering leather were as follows:
Maverick Leather - Their instagram account is very active, and you can often find specials there. This is where I ordered from, but I just called them because I had a few questions.
Acadia Leather - Another smaller shop that sells all kinds of leather. They are also pretty active on instagram.
Tandy Leather - This is a well known source for leather. They have pretty much anything available as far as leather and tools (many of the tools I have are from Tandy) and multiple locations across the US. I find their site a little hard to navigate, not knowing more about the different types and cuts of leather than I do.
I wanted to use the irregular edge of the leather I had for the flap on this iPad case, but all of the spots ended up just being too flimsy. They were thinner toward the edge, probably as a result of harvesting the leather. I used a Sharpie to mark out the rough dimension of the pieces I needed. Remember, I'm using the previous iPad case as my template, so if you don't have something like this, you'll probably want to sketch out a template to use.
Step 5: ROUGH CUT
Then, I used my straight edge to cut out the pieces. When I first started, my utility knife blade was not as sharp as it should have been, so it took more passes to get through the leather. It is typically the best practice to not try to cut all of the way through something like this with one pass. You have more of a chance of slipping and hurting yourself with the knife or messing up your cut. Just use moderate pressure on the knife and make a pass next to the ruler. Then, continue to do this until you've cut all of the way through. I noticed once I switched out the blade for a fresh one, I could do each cut in just about two passes, rather than more.
Step 6: FINAL SIZE
After the pieces were cut off of the large roll in rough dimension, I came back with the previous iPad case and used it as a template. I marked with a finer Sharpie the exact dimension of what I needed. Then, I cut those out. This just helps the pieces to be more manageable, rather than trying to cut such exact pieces out of a large roll of leather.
Step 7: FRONT POCKET
For the pocket on the front, I wanted a bit more detail, so I used a quart can I had lying around and put a curve in the front of the pocket piece. Then, I just cut along that curve with my knife.
Step 8: TEST FIT
I grabbed the iPad mini and tested it out, before I stitched anything together. I wanted to kind of see how it would look, and if the dimension were still good. They should be, since I used a previous case that fit this same iPad, but I just wanted to double check. Everything looked great!
Step 9: GLUE PIECES
Next, I started to glue the pieces together. I just used a clear, PVA glue that I've seen some people use with leather and book binding. It dries clear, so I like that part. The part I didn't like with using it on leather was that the leather was really hard after the glue dried.
To clamp the pieces together while the glue dried, I started off using these spring clamps. However, they proved to hold too tightly, and made some marks in the leather. After I saw that, I switched to using only the clothes pins. They hold just enough, and they don't leave marks on your work piece.
NOTE: Be sure NOT to get out of order or ahead of yourself when gluing these pieces together. Take into account that you need to two two pieces together at a time, so you can punch the holes and stitch them. I actually glued everything together before I thought about it, and later had to take some of the pieces apart again.
Step 10: ROUND EDGES
I then used a No. 2 edge beveler to take the corners off of all of the edges on both sides. This leaves you with a nice, rounded edge.
Step 11: SAND EDGES
Then, I sanded the edges. Be sure when you do this to only go in one direction. I sanded in both directions, and it didn't work very well. I was not pleased with the result. It was just not as smooth as I would have liked.
Step 12: EDGE SLICKING
If you look at most leather works, there is a nice, click edge on the finished piece. To achieve this, there are multiple methods you can use. I tried quite a few, and didn't get really great results from some. I tried one that seemed to work well for me though.
I picked up some glycerin saddle soap in a bar, and after I wet the edge using a q-tip and some water, I would rub that bar of saddle soap onto the edge. Once it dried a little, I would take my edge burnishing tool and rub it back and forth, creating some heat from the friction. As long as you have a smooth edge left from you sanding, this should work well.
Step 13: MARK STITCH LINES
I used a large compass to mark where I needed to punch my holes. Some people will use a tool called dividers which do a very similar thing. I had a compass on hand, and I just used to scratch a tiny line that would guide me as I punched my lines. Don't try to just do this by eye, because your stitching will look very uneven.
Step 14: PUNCH HOLES
Next, it was time to punch some holes. I used these "diamond chisels," and they seemed to work just fine. They are called that because they leave kind of a skewed hole in the leather that loosely resembles a diamond. I got the cheap set, so they're a little more like lines than diamonds, but like I said, they worked just fine. I was really surprised at how the leather closed back up after punching the holes. Some of the holes closed up enough that I had to kind of punch them out again.
Oh, and be sure to have some wood or something underneath you don't mind getting pierced by the chisels. They have to go all of the way through the piece a pretty good bit.
Step 15: STITCH
Next, it was time to stitch. I don't have a stitching pony (thing that helps hold your work piece so you can use both hands), so I just put a couple of clamps together to work as a makeshift stitching pony. This worked ok, but the thread kept getting hung on parts of the clamps that stuck out, so it was not ideal.
What I'm doing is called a saddle stitch, where you actually put a needle on both ends of the same thread, and cross both through each of the holes from a different direction before moving on to the next hole. If you want to know more about saddle stitching and how to do it, I will leave some resources that I found to be valuable later in this post.
After you're done stitching, use a hammer to flatten the threads down. This gives the piece a more uniform look.
Step 16: BURN THE ENDS
After you're done stitching, burn the ends of the threads briefly with a lighter. They are nylon, so this seals the ends so they cannot come unraveled.
Step 17: THE RIGHT ORDER
Remember how I told you earlier that I didn't do tings in the right order? Well, here is the proper order you should do things. And when I did this last piece in the right order, it worked very well. Here are the steps:
1. Cut your piece
2. Bevel the edge
3. Sand 4. Apply water
5. Apply saddle soap
6. Edge burnish
7. Apply edge kote (optional)
Step 18: BUTTON ENCLOSURE
The way I decided to close the iPad case was using a button closure. I think the original case had two buttons that you could wind the string between in kind of figure eight pattern. However, I'm going to stitch the string into a small piece of leather, attach the leather to the upper flap of the case, and then just have the button on the lower part of the case where the string can be wound around it.
II just modeled where the button would go on the iPad case and how it would close exactly. This took some figuring out, but it is better to do this ahead of time instead of rushing through it and putting holes in the wrong places.
I marked where the button needed to go, glued it down using some contact cement, punched holes for it, and stitched the button on in a similar way as the other stitching I had done.
Then, I used a dab of glue on the end of the yarn to keep it from fraying. This was 100% cotton yarn, so I could not use a lighter to burn and melt the ends.
Step 19: IT'S FINISHED!
I really like how it turned out. I just eyeballed the holes I punched for the final little piece, and I'm sorry that I did. It looks a lot more handmade than the other stitching, which is very precise. I wish that I would have used my compass to lay out these lines as well.
My wife is happy with the end result, and so am I. it works really well with the iPad mini and I think it looks great!
Step 20: RESOURCES
There are a few resources that I found helpful as I researched for different ways to work with leather:
1. Ian Atkinson - he has YouTube channel that has a lot of good info
2. On the leatherworker.net forum, there is a ton of information. I found this pdf particularly useful: http://leatherworker.net/bob-park/FinishingEdges-...
3. The Red Smith - he has a YouTube channel that is really enjoyable to watch, and he does quite a few leather working projects there. Go check him out.
4. SimpleCove - This YouTube channel has a few leather working projects and Sean does a great job explaining things about what he is doing and why he does that particular thing.
Thanks for checking out this project! Be sure to let me know if you have any questions or comments!
First Prize in the
Leather Contest 2017