Simple Leather Molded Mask Without Tooling




About: No specific knowledge or skills. If I can do it, anyone can.

This is the basic way to make molded masks that fit perfectly to your face, as well as some leatherwork tips that I learned through trial and error. You don't have to make this one exactly so of course feel free to make whatever kind of mask you want. This one is based off an animal, but you can use some techniques for any design. Sorry about the lack of crafting pictures, I made the mask before I took any so I just used a failed base for show. If you like tooling then go ahead and do that, I haven't got the hang of it yet.

TIP: Remember that when it comes to leathercraft there is no substitute for good quality, so I recommend you never just glue things on, you stitch everything and don't cut corners. I am not a pro yet so don't criticize too harsh on my methods. If you make crap, you will always know you could have made it better whenever you look at it.

TIP: While making mask, keep trying it on and correct for any discomfort along the way, a painful mask is just a mantelpiece because you will hate to wear it.

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Step 1: Cut Out Basic Shape

I strongly recommend that before you ever cut out pieces of leather that you first cut a template out of paper so that you get it right the first time. After making the outline in paper, trace it onto your leather, including the holes for your eyes. For my mask I used some heavier leather because I like the thickness and stability it offers. If you are making a very intricately shaped mask you may want to go for a thinner leather. If you want to have finished edges (cut to be smooth and round) do that before you soak.

After cutting out the eyes and you have the basic shape, soak the whole thing in some warm (it could be cold I guess I just prefer warm) water until most of the bubbles have gone away. You do not have to wait until the bubbles are completely gone, just make sure the leather is soaked well.

Step 2: Mold the Leater to Your Face

After taking the leather out of the water and using a towel to get the excess water off the surface, just put the wet mask of your face. Nothing fancy, just push it against your face until it is mostly dry. Make sure you get around the nose just right so that it rests on the entire bridge as well as where your nose meets your face, if you neglect the nose it will be at a shallow rise and put pressure at the end of your nose while you wear the mask and it will put distance between your eyes and the eye holes, which you don't want. Use two hands, one to get around the nose right (don't forget between the eyes) and the other to go over the forehead and the outside of the mask to make sure it is the right curve for your head. Don't neglect that or your mask will stick flat off the side of your face and look bad.

This takes a while, so I recommend you sit there with your head back a little while you are watching television or something so you aren't too bored. Just keep it in the shape you want until it is dry enough to hold its own shape.

At the end you should have something like the second picture.

Step 3: Dye and Shapes

You will want to dye the mask its base color before you add any other pieces onto it. You need to make sure the leather is completely dry (unless you dye it while it is wet if that's the way you do it but I recommend dry) this may mean you leave it overnight after it has been formed. Black is a fairly easy color to dye with because you cant even tell if it is uneven or not and it doesn't look bad if you just apply it straight on out of the bottle. Tired of your light brown dye looking like dark-brown wood because it is so uneven and crappy? Here is a tip...

BEST DYE TIP YOU WILL EVER LEARN if you are bad at dye with any color except black: Always mix your alcohol based dye (I don't like eco-flo and their water based stuff) with Neatsfoot Oil. You can get that just about anywhere they sell leather. Always put a small amount of dye to a larger amount of oil. I use some small plastic containers to mix them in so that I can shake it up and mix it well, no need to dedicate your entire bottle of oil to one color. I recommend you try your mixture on some scraps of leather to see if you have the right shade of brown (or whatever color) that you want. Too light, add more dye, too dark, more oil. NOTE: You need to have prepared this a few days ago to have it fully mixed. Shake occasionally and check up on it. Or you could skip it and buy expensive oil-base dye.

So yeah dye the mask after you have cut any holes that needed cutting. This oil mixture is easil applied with the cotton ball on a stick that Fiebing's dyes come with but you may need more if you make different shades of the color. It will look a little uneven when you first apply it, but wait five minutes for it to soak in and you may not believe your eyes how even it can be.

Use paper stencils you made of any shapes you wanted to put on the mask. Dye them before you put them on the mask.

Make sure you always buff (rub a clean cotton rag or something over the surface) to remove excess dye especially with black, it will get all over your fingers and onto your not black pieces and it will look so bad. Be careful.

After that, you can attach your pieces (you know if you want quality that you better stitch them on) and I like to add a little contact cement to the bottom of the pieces just for good measure. If you notice your contact cement always dries up in the can pretty fast...

TIP FOR CONTACT CEMENT DRYING: Apply a little coat of Vasaline to the threads of the can to make a pretty good seal without it being tough to open, then store your can upside-down to prevent air from coming in.

If you don't like the nose shape, just cut one to go on top of it that makes it look good, its just another piece.

By the way, the ear shapes were cut out then a piece stitched behind them on my mask for some depth variety.

Step 4: The Eyes

If you don't want a black see through cloth to shade your vision and make it impossible to see at night, a good alternative is a mesh. I like this stuff that is called Contour Mesh which a good brand is WireForm. They sell it in a little box for about 8$ not including shipping :( that gives you a good amount. it is good stuff but is surprisingly expensive. With one layer you can see out almost as if nothing were over your eyes and in great detail. You may be able to see through to your eyes if you use one layer though which looks a little funny and for real who wants to have people see their eyes behind their mask? So I use two layers with the mesh turned in opposing ways when it is layered. No one can see your eyes then, but it sacrifices just a little bit of detail when you look through two layers. It is not bad, so it is worth it (at least to me). The only bad part is that you do get a little bit of light glare if you are looking in the direction of a light source. Not too bad though. Make sure you curve the mesh a little to prevent it from being right against your eye. self explanatory, but don't forget it or your eyelashes will bother you while you wear it.

You will want to have it fit over the eyes and then some so that you can secure it with some lining leather that you contact cement over the mesh that goes around the eye holes. I just use some thin lining leather on the back of my mask that hides the stitching for the rest of the pieces and keeps those mesh parts in place, you will get the feel for it when you use the mesh, there is plenty in that box for a few errors so do not worry. If the design around your eyes calls for stitching around them, stitch through the mesh on the other side as well for added durability.

Step 5: Final Step: Add Straps and Lining

On this mask I just cut some 1" milled leather (because that stuff is soft and flexible yet very strong) straps (dyed and finished) and stitched them straight on, if you want to make something adjustable then go ahead. The stitched on ones have to be mostly trial and error shortening the straps for optimal (not too tight) fit. If you feel pressure from the mask on your nose, then try adding a strap that comes from the top (as you can sort of see on mine) so that it relieves nose pressure and distributes it to your forehead and top of your head. Comfort is key or you will be wearing it for five minutes at a time.

Lining is optional, but I recommend it because you will want something covering the edges of the mesh that tend to get a little sharp and prickly. Buckskin and other soft, thin leathers work great for lining. If you used a cloth of some sort then I guess you don't have to line the back if you don't want to. It also covers up the back stitching to make it look better and more uniform. I had to line it to keep the black dye from rubbing off onto my face. Just contact cement one spot (forehead maybe?) and press the thin leather out around it while applying more contact cement as you go. once it dries, just trim around the edge to make it even. If you can, it would be best to stitch the lining in a few spots (especially edges) to keep it secure. I stitched it through the straps in some spots.

Make sure the front of your mask has had a finish applied to it. I like Acrylic Resolene for its shine and it keeps the dye in the leather better than most other finishes. You could use Tan Kote or whatever you like the best.

There you have it.

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    21 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Great Job. Especially love that you proved you can make a leather project wo much tooling and still look amazing!

    1 reply

    4 years ago on Step 2

    if u using leather over 3/4 oz wait till you can sit outside on a nice sunny day it wont take but 30min or so. trust me im Barry Wagoner owner of or you could sit in front of a fan or heater on the winter but thick leather drying with no help is a more than over night thing even just to hold its shape.

    I have not tried using an awl before while stitching. If you have a rotary hole punch with interchangeable tips, Tandy had a very small one that was sold separately that is the one I use most of the time. If you find that you can not punch a hole where you want due to limited reach for a rotary punch, a 1/16" drill bit works just fine for me. I know they have punches you hit with a hammer, but a drill can work better if the leather is already shaped.

    I simply use a durable, straight needle ( the are either called harness or saddle needles at Tandy and come in a pack of 10 or 12, I think) with braided artificial sinew, which is probably the best all-purpose stuff due to its durability. Then I just stitched over and under until I reached the starting point, then went the other direction to fill the gaps until I was back at the start. Some people put a needle at each end of their sinew and do their technique where you don't have to backtrack over the same area, but I don't mind it. Tie your knot where you cant see it (back of the mask, covered by the lining).

    TIP: Put a touch of super glue on the knot so that it never comes undone.

    I hope that answered your question

    Another point I forgot to mention was if the leather is thick and the hole is small, it gets tough to push the needle through. Tandy sells a harness for your hand that has the equivalent of a thimble attached to the palm of our hand. You could use that to push it through, or if you are tight on cash, you can use a scrap of thick leather to help you push the needle through from behind. If it is stuck in the hole and you cant pull the needle all the way through, you could use some pliers to grab it and pull it through. That puts considerable wear and tear on your needle though, so to help out you can rub beeswax on your needle to reduce friction from the hole. That is why Tandy sells it.

    No, they cannot be found anywhere and I think I threw away all my paper cutouts. You will have to experiment with sheets of paper and different designs until you have what you want. Sorry I cant help you out with that one since this entire mask came straight from my mind. You could google "silent fox anbu" and the first picture that shows up is what started me in this mask design.


    5 years ago

    I was sort of wondering what kind of leather was used im just starting out on leather working and "ibles" and am trying to find the best kind for this type of project

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I just used some thick tooling leather. It was on sale when I got it too since it is best to buy around the sales at Tandy. Wonder if anything people regularly get will ever be on sale, like contact cement or braided stitching sinew... Anyway, just go find some thick stuff with a smooth side that does not bend much. You could try saddle leather or armor/sole leather. If you want tighter, more intricate shapes though, get some that is not as thick. The people at Tandy could help you out if you ask them.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I love your mask.

    I used to work at Tandy Leather <mumble-> years ago. I don't know if they still do it, but back then they had us all take classes in leather crafting so we would know how to use the tools. One of the things that stuck with me that is applicable to your project is wet molding the leather using the back of a spoon. When the leather is still wet and drippy, you can use the back part of a spoon to stretch the leather and mold it around your nose. That way, the bottom part of your mask will be closer to your chin.

    2 replies
    The Rambler

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I really like this mask, both the style you've used (as opposed to the overly fanciful tooling and wet-forming style) as well as the strapping method. Really cool result!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I like the mesh for the eyes. Your mask looks great! Thanks for the post up!!


    5 years ago

    Nice mask! What does the fox say? Lol:D