Introduction: Simple & Slim Leather Wallet in 3 Hours
Can You Make This Wallet?... Well I believe in you anyways.
This simple wallet is an easy project for someone who is first beginning leatherwork. If you’re new to the craft or this is your very first project, expect it to take about three hours to complete. Even though three hours isn’t too long, making this wallet will help you develop some important skills for leathering working like cutting, stitching, and edge finishing. You will also make a killer wallet to make your friends jealous.
If you’re the guy who is thinking, ‘Leatherworking sounds like fun, but I don’t know if I could pull it off or even afford it.” Let me assure you that you can pull it off. This is a fairly simple project and a great project to get your feet wet. Let me also assure you that, comparatively, leatherworking is a pretty inexpensive craft to pick up. You can spend a lot on tools, but if you buy the right ones, know where to look, and just get the basic tools as your starting, you can keep costs down. I’ve written a guide on my blog to help you buy your first leather tools and another guide to give you confidence when buying your first piece of leather.
What You Need
Here's a quick list of everything you'll need for this project:
-Something to cut with (Rotary Cutter/X-acto Knife if you are new. Round Knife if you already have one).
-Leather Glue (I use this, but any glue cement should work.)
-Burnisher or a Piece of Canvas
-Dye and Carnauba Cream (if the leather isn't pre-dyed)
Make sure to use a leather that is 4oz or less, any bigger and your wallet will be bulky and not hold many cards. If you’re trying to save money, buy a single shoulder. It’s a smaller cut of leather and this project doesn’t require much. Springfield leather will also sell by the square foot.
A quick description of the wallet: It holds 3-5 cards depending on how stretchy the leather you’ve selected is. While you cannot always tell from online descriptions, how much the leather will stretch is fairly easy to tell just by handling the leather. If you need it to hold more than 5 cards, don’t worry, that’s an easy fix. You will just need to wet form the leather prior to creating this wallet. Wet forming is basically wetting the leather and forming it around what you need it to hold. I’ve yet to write a guide to wet forming, but a quick google search will point you in the right direction.
Step 1: Get the Template Ready
How to Print Out the Template
Go ahead and download the template and print it out. Use a heavy paper, like card stock, because we will be tracing it later on… just make sure you print it to 100% or ‘actual size,' so it doesn’t shrink during the printing process. I did this once, and I’m still recovering from the sadness I felt upon completing the wallet only to find it was too small to hold anything.
Also make sure you cut out the template correctly. A small mistake in cutting at this point means a big mistake on leather later on. Make sure to use a straight edge and a rotary cutter for this part because it’s much easier to achieve straight lines. Normal scissors can be used to cut the rounded parts, just take your time to make the curves as smooth as possible.
Step 2: Prep the Leather
Set the template aside for a moment, because now it’s time to dye the leather. Dying is a really tricky and a hard thing to do well. While it’s a good skill to develop, no one is going to judge you (well, I won’t at least) for buying finished leather (dyed and waxed). If you did that, you can go ahead and skip this step. If you didn’t, it’s time to dye.
Dying the Leather
Even though I didn’t in these pictures, I suggest using some rubber/latex gloves. If you don’t people will ask you why you always have cheetoh fingers. This is another one of those things that I know from experience.
I have the best luck dying using a high density sponge. If you don’t have a sponge lying around and are lazy like me, you can also use an old shirt, just know it’s not near as easy to get an even coat. I was using a black dye, which is more forgiving and allowed an even coat even though I was using a t-shirt. If you plan to use any other color I really suggest getting a high density sponge.
I also suggest using Fiebing's Professional Oil Dyes. I’m not usually this specific about things, but the professional dyes that Fiebings makes come out much more uniform than the others. It cost a bit more, but this small increase is worth the difference in outcome.
Quickly turn the bottle over with the sponge pressed to the opening three times to load the sponge up with dye. Do not press hard when you first put the sponge to the leather. At this point the sponge has a lot of dye on it, so gently rub the dye in small circles. As the dye disperses and the sponge becomes drier you can press harder to release the dye left in the sponge. Once the sponge starts creating streaks instead of blocks of color, fill it back up with dye. Repeat this process until the entirely of your leather has been dyed.
Waxing the Leather
Give the dye some time to dry. I’m sure the bottle of dye has a suggestion, but I usually wait about 30 minutes to an hour. In my experience, the dye dries pretty fast. Once it is dried, apply a leather finishing cream or carbanua cream and rub it in using an old t-shirt or rag (no need to use a sponge here). When the wax has dried, buff the leather by briskly rubbing the t-shirt in circles. At this point your leather should be looking good and shiny. If you need an example, check out the last picture in this step.
Step 3: Cut the Pieces Out of Leather
Trace the Template
Pull out the template again and place it on the leather. I use a divider to create my lines, but almost any slightly sharp object will do. Some other suggestions include: a butter knife, the back side of toenail clippers (gross I know), and a pen cap. Use what you can find, just make sure it can make clean lines and an impression on the leather without cutting into it.
If you are having trouble tracing the template because it is sliding around, you can tape it down with tape. Just make sure you’ve given extra time for the dye to dry or the tape will pull some of it up. Also don’t use anything near as strong as duct tape, masking tape will do just fine.
Cut Out the Leather
You should be able to clearly see an outline on the leather now, as shown in the second picture. If it is not easy to see or you are unsure where the edges are, retrace using more pressure.
If your outline looks good, go ahead and cut it out. If you’re new, I suggest using a rotary cutter for the straight parts and an x-acto knife for the corners and curves. If you’ve done leatherworking for awhile or are certain you will be doing it a lot in the future, use or buy a round knife which can be used for straight lines, sharp edges, and curves.
Lay a straight edge along the outlines to make your cuts. I suggest cutting out the piece with a curve in its entirety and then cutting the curve out afterwards (as shown in the 4th picture). When cutting out the curve, lay our template back on top of the leather and trace the curve with your X-acto blade. If you don’t do this, you will have a very hard time creating a nice smooth curve.
Cutting in general can be tricky, and mistakes made at this stage are amplified during the edge finishing process. If you’re looking for some tricks to improve your cuts, you can read them on my leatherworking blog.
Step 4: Mat Down Fibers
If you're new to leatherworking, it is advisable to use a cheaper leather. Cheaper leathers generally have a messier backside due to loose fibers. Look at the backside of your leather. If it does not look flat or clean, now is the time to clean it up. Apply Gum Tragacanth to the backside and rub briskly back and forth until the entirety of the backside is smooth and glossy.
Just a warning, if the fibers are very large, rubbing back and forth could make things worse. If you see this start to happen, only rub in the direction of the grain to mat the fibers down. This will prevent them from coming out.
Step 5: Dye and Burnish 'Inside Edges'
Edge finishing is the last thing you should do, unless the edge is an ‘inside edge.’ I call any edge that is not on the outline or perimeter of the object an ‘inside edge.’ These edges do not touch the other edge of the piece it comes in contact with, and instead sits in the middle. The only inside edge in this project is the curve. All inside edges must be finished prior to gluing and stitching the item together. So, you need to finish the curve at this point in the project.
Finishing an edge is a multiple step process and would require an instructable of its own. For the sake of space I will only list the process below. If you need instruction and explanation on each step, please read this more in-depth overview.
Edge finishing process:
Sand with a low grit sand paper to even out the edge out.
Bevel (I skip this step on thinner leathers, like the leather this project requires).
Sand with a higher grit sand paper to round out and eliminate large fibers.
Sand with an even higher grit sand paper to make it smooth.
Dye the edge and let dry.
Wet with Gum Tragacanth and Burnish with the wood burnisher or canvas.
Step 6: Glue the Pieces Together
Now it’s time to glue the project together. To glue use some sort of gluing cement. As I mentioned earlier, I use Siewa Leathercraft Glue from GoodsJapan.
Apply the Glue
Using a paintbrush, apply a thin layer of glue to the edge of the leather. Do your best to only glue the space in-between the edge and the stitching line.
Once you’ve done this around the perimeter of the wallet (making sure not to glue the tops edge of the back piece) go ahead and place the two pieces together. Apply pressure to make sure the glue adheres. I usually just set a few heavy books on it and wait a minute. Glue dries pretty fast too. Then glue the strip of leather half way down the backside of the wallet to create the 'money clip' part of the wallet (as seen in the 4th picture). Again apply pressure to make sure the glue adheres.
Check the Glue
Once the three pieces are all placed together, check the glue. Make sure all edges are glued all the way to the edge. If any part is already starting to part open, it will really come open when you finish the edges. To fix this just apply some more glue in that area, press it together with your fingers, and quickly wipe away the excess glue.
Step 7: Even Out Edges
Now that the piece is glued together, check the edges. If they don’t line up perfectly, take the time to cut off the excess using a rotary cutter, X-acto, or a round knife. If all your cuts prior to this were clean, this won’t be a problem, but it’s easy for this to happen, so don’t sweat it if it did. If the excess isn't too much or not that noticeable, do not cut it. Instead use 150 to level it out. In fact, at this point, you should hit all your edges with 150 grit to make sure they are nice and flat.
Step 8: Prep the Wallet for Stitching
If your edges are even and flat, the next step is to prep the leather for stitching.
Create a Stitching Channel
Pull out the template again and look for the stitching lines, which are dotted. Align your stitching groover to the stitching lines so that when setting the groover on the edge, the hole in the small arm rests on the dotted line. Now run your stitching groover along the edge of the wallet, making sure to pull down and in towards the wallet as you go. Once you’ve done one side, flip it over and do the other. If you did not make sure your edges were even and flat, these stitching lines won’t line up, so make sure you didn't skip the previous step. At this point you should have a small channel for the stitching to rest in on either side of the wallet.
Create the Stitching Holes
First, you need to find where to place the first hole. To do this, set the diamond chisel in the channel you previously created, leaving the last tooth on the chisel just over the edge. Notice where the second tooth rests in the channel, now move the first tooth to this point. You've found your starting point.
Now, using a rubber hammer, hit the chisel completely through the leather and pull it back out. Check to make sure that it has created a clear diamond shape on both sides of the wallet. It is easy not to punch the chisel far enough through the leather. This will create a clear diamond shape on the top side, but only a small slit on the bottom side.
Set the first tooth of the chisel in the last hole you previously made and line up the chisel for the next punch. Then repeat this process until you've created holes all along the stitching channel.
If you're using a chisel for the first time, it can be a bit tricky to navigate around curves and corners. This quick guide will walk you through that process.
Step 9: Saddle Stitch
If burnishing requires it's own guide, then stitching requires a few. Stitching is probably the most skill intensive part of leatherworking, it takes a bit of practice, but once you've figured it out there's a great sense of accomplishment that follows. Seriously, getting good stitching took me awhile to learn, but is generally my favorite part of making something.
If you're new I suggest taking some of your scrap leather, punching out a few separate lines of stitching, and practicing a few times to get a feel for it.
Thread your Needle
But first, you're going to have to thread your needle. Here's a quick tutorial (not done by me) that will walk you through it: https://www.instructables.com/id/how-to-thread-a-l...
Once your needle and thread are ready, it's finally time to stitch. Follow along with the embedded video as you learn how to do it.
Ian Atkinson also has a great (and generally quick) video that walks you through it as well. He's a great source for leatherworking information, and I've watched many of his videos while learning leatherwork.
If you decide to look at a stitching tutorial outside of the ones suggested, that's ok, but do make sure they are teaching a lock stitch. This is what sets apart saddle stitching from the stitching you'd find in most things. When a lock stitched it is used, there is a knot at every hole. This way, if the thread breaks somewhere along the chain, the rest of the thread stays intact, as opposed to falling out.
It's always good to take a look at your stitching once you've finished and see what you love, and don't love, about it so you can improve. I've written a guide that will help you identify your mistakes and explain what you need to change to fix it for your next project.
Step 10: Finish the Edges
For projects that use thicker leathers, it is a good to use a beveler to help round out the edges. I think that 4 oz is too thin to bevel, which is why I skipped beveling on the curve of the wallet. But, one the rest of the edges its two pieces of 4oz leather that meet. In my opinion, 8oz is thick enough to bevel.
Luckily, beveling is pretty easy. Hold the beveler at 45 degrees to the surface of the leather and run it along the edge. Then flip the wallet over to bevel the other side.
Some leathers tend to snag a bit when you are beveling. If this starts to happen, stop and lightly wet the edges with water. If this continues even after wetting the edges reduce the pressure you are putting on the beveler and reset the beveler on the leather when you see the beginning of a snag.
Finish the edges
At this point your edges will be ready for the same edge finishing process used earlier in this guide. Again, edge finishing is a multiple step process. Here's the same article that I linked earlier to help explain this process: http://www.goldbarkleather.com/sourceblog/2015/12...
The edges should look like the 3rd picture when you've completed the edge finishing process.
Step 11: Feel Like a Champion
You did it, now go have a beer!
Thanks for checking out this tutorial. If you have any questions, just want to say hi, or want to show off your killer new wallet in picture form just drop it in the comments below, or send me an email at email@example.com
If you haven't figured out by this point in the tutorial, I'd love it if you checked out my blog: http://www.goldbarkleather.com
It's a great place to learn the basics of leatherworking alongside others and will help you go from beginner to skilled craftsman in the art of leatherwork. This is my first tutorial, but I'm already working on others. They will be posted on the blog, and of course, on instructables.
Here's to your new wallet, and new/improved skill; now it's time for me to go get my beer.