Tooled Leather Wallet

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About: Woodworker and maker in Central Illinois.

I have some scrap leather laying around and wanted to make myself a new wallet and try out some tooling techniques. Hence this project. It's not too complicated.

The outside is 3-4 oz veg tanned leather. The inside is pigskin liner. This isn't really an ideal inside because it's pretty loose, but I figured the flexibility would give me some room for error on the card slots. In the end the card slots could have been a tad wider, but I can fit all the essential cards in there.

Materials:

  • 3-4 oz veg tanned leather
  • pigskin liner
  • thin waxed thread (I used white for the visible stitches and black for the hidden stitches)
  • brown dye
  • jojoba oil
  • 1/8" double sided tape

Tools I used:

  • Rotary cutter
  • Cutting surface
  • cutting board/pounding surface for the chisels
  • stitching chisels (9 and 2 prong)
  • stitching needles
  • Basic tooling kit (specifically I used the larger half moon thing, the beveler and the pear shader. And of course the swivel knife)
  • mallet
  • clear ruler
  • Shears
  • stitching awl

If I used any other tools, I'll mention them in the steps

Step 1: Design

For this wallet I used the super complicated design method of measuring my checkbook cover for the outside and fitting the inside to that and to my credit cards. After trying to jam some money into my checkbook and failing, I opted to make the wallet a bit wider. I also allow 1/4" for stitches (1/8" per side). This will be a long wallet that folds over, so it won't crease the bills.

For the inside there are three layers. The first layer will be the bill pocket. The next layer is two card slots and the third layer is too more card slots. I stitch a card stop into the bottom of the middle layer to keep the card from disappearing into the slot. This stitch is hidden by the top layer. To determine the height of the top layer, you'll want to measure against your cards. You want about 3/8" to show. I actually messed this up a little so I ended up adding a slope that angled toward the middle to give me room to get the card. The next layer is slightly higher. I cut it to the same height as the top layer and just positioned it up, but it could stretch to the bottom. So it should be 3/8" higher than the first layer. The bottom layer is another 3/8" higiher than that and should stretch to the bottom without interfering with the center crease of the wallet. I added a strip along the top of each bill holder to stiffen those edges slightly.

I'll leave it to you to get the exact measurements you want to fit what you want to hold. You could also do something like stitch a pocket on the outside back for your ID or allow for a strap with a snap to keep it closed.

Cut out all your pieces and arrange them to make sure it looks right. Use an actual card to test that things will work the way you expect. I added in a pic of what I used for the slopes. I made it quickly on Illustrator and traced the angles with an awl.

Step 2: Dyeing and Tooling

Before dyeing, I apply a LIGHT layer of jojoba oil. I used a wool dauber and dyed the outside of the wallet. My liners were white, so I dyed them too. I think pigskin is chrome tanned, so it took a few coats of dye to get the color I wanted. I didn't dye the entire pigskin part, just the visible areas. I didn't dye the outside edges until last. I didn't dye the flesh side at all of any pieces.

Once the dye is dry, I applied another layer of oil to the outside.

Before tooling I rounded all four corners to a small radius of about a dime using a marking awl and a pair of shears.

When everything is dry, I turned to the tooling. I cut a 1/8" stitching groove along the outside of the cover. Before tooling an area, dampen it with water. The corner detail was done simply with the crescent tool. I placed it a little ways from the corner and tapped with the mallet. From each end, I placed one end of the crescent at the end, the other end just touching the stitching groove, then repeat on the other end. That gives you the border of the corner detail. Then I went in with the pear shader and worked the inside of the border carefully with taps from the mallet until I filled in the area.

For the two corners on what would be the front of the wallet, I also traced just outside the outside of the border with the swivel knife, then beveled the edge. Just to give it a different look. For the initials, I used Illustrator to make the letters, finding a font I liked. I traced the letters using a stylus onto the cover, then cut with the swivel knife on the outside. I beveled the inside of the letters. They were probably a little small for that technique.

I find the swivel knife to be tricky to use. This was really my first time. Take your time and go slow. With the beveler, you don't have to pound it as hard as you can. Make a firm tap, walk it down a bit and give it another firm tap. Your taps should overlap. Make sure you hold the mallet in a consistent way and keep the bevel straight up and down. Consistent force and angle are the keys to getting a uniform look.

After tooling I applied another coat of dye to the cover and a subsequent coat of oil.

Step 3: Sewing the Inside

To sew the inside, start with the bottom layer, which will hold bills, and lay the second layer on top, then the top layer. Line up everything the way you want. Attach the middle and top layer with a thin piece of double-sided tape along the bottom edge. Now remove the top layer. Put a card in between the bottom and middle where you will want the card to be when it is inserted. I used my finger nail to mark the middle layer at the bottom of the card. Remove the card and use a clear ruler to make sure you make your stitch holes parallel to the top and bottom. Pound a few stitch holes approximately in the middle of each pocket through the middle and bottom pieces. Stitch those holes with a thin thread. This will stop the card from sliding down.

Now place the top layer and attach with double sided tape. Make stitching holes in the middle of the inside through all three layers (my stitches go up higher than necessary because I decided to slop the pockets after I had made the holes. Stitch those in place. Now attach the strip along the inside of the bill pocket along the top, flesh side to flesh side. This part is optional. Repeat with the other inside part. You could do something different on the other half, like have a clear plastic panel for ID and vertical card slots instead of horizontal. Or have a checkbook holder or whatever you want.

Step 4: Bringing It All Together

The final thing to do is to stitch the insides to the cover.

First I attached the bottoms and sides of each inner part with double-sided tape. You can also attach the card pocket layers, but this isn't strictly necessary. Then I flipped it over and used my chisels in the stitching groove and make holes around the outside. I used a 9-prong for the long parts and a 2-prong for the corners. I put holes around the entire perimeter because I like the look of the continuous stitch, though strictly speaking it's only necessary to stitch where the actual inner pockets are.

Stitch the entire thing. I got lucky and only needed one string to finish it all. I had to use my awl in a couple places where the chisels didn't go all the way through.

For a finishing step, I burnished the edges with gum tragacanto and a wooden burnisher. The pigskin doesn't burnish as well as the tooled leather, but it improved the look. Then I applied dye to the edges.

To fold the wallet, wet the inside part and fold it over. I didn't use a bone folder because I didn't want as sharp a crease, so I just set it with my fingers. Maybe forming it around a 1/4" dowel would be a good idea, but I don't have one. It stays closed reasonably well and I think with time it will improve.

That's it. Just a quick project to eat up some scraps. Let me know if you have any questions.

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    seamster

    10 months ago

    Looks good. I think every person needs their own hand-tooled leather wallet! :)