Leather Tooling Tutorial
By Kirby Records
I am writing this tutorial to show how I make a bracer, or arm guard. It is also a tutorial on tooling leather with what I consider to be the main tools you need to create all sorts of beautifully tooled designs.
A pair of sharp scissors, do not use your wife's or Mothers sewing scissors, you will regret it. Get a pair of your own from any store.
A ruler/straight edge
For the leather specific tools you can get them at either Tandy Leather or leather Unlimited.
A Leather punch, I have had this one for over 20 years and it is still working well
See Tandy #3240-00 for a similar one.
A rawhide or poly mallet See Tandy #31821-00 or 3301-03
A heavy desk top or smooth surface to pound on. Experts will use marble, I just make sure I won't be disturbing anyone when I hammer on my desk.
An edger, This one is a number 4 I would get at least a number 3 for the heavy leather used here. See Tandy #8076-04 or Leather Unlimited #GA0477
Three leather punches will do most of what you need
1/8x1/16 rounded triangular shape with a flat edge for tiny curves and corners.
Tandy# 6890-00 or Leather Unlimited #QF890
7/32x1/4 triangular for feather edges, distant trees and sharp corners. Tandy # F941 or Leather Unlimited# QF941
7/32 x 7/32 square for stamping outlines of your drawings. Tandy # B198 or Leather Unlimited # QB200
The most important tool I believe is the stylist. There are several shapes to choose but this one has the pointed end for drawing out your pattern and the spoon end for smoothing out your stamping edges.
See Tandy # 8036-00 it is the closest I could find to this one. I did not find one listed in leather Unlimited.
Leather, you need oak or vegetable tanned leather. I like 7/8 weight for arm guards and quivers as it is thick enough to handle the sharp broad heads and outdoor wear.
I would recommend Leather Unlimited as I find their prices agreeable, and I have ordered from them on line several times with good results. Their top of the line tooling leather is p/n AE1507 this is a side of a cow, and is enough to make 3 or more quivers and matching arm guards if you cut your straps first. Also available for smaller projects are "Vegetable Bellies, LU p/n AF1550. less money, plenty to make bracers and maybe enough for a small diameter quiver. These bellies may have some blemishes that will become part of the character of your project.
You will also need 1 72" leather shoe lace that can be bought at most grocery stores or shoe stores, or Walmart etc.
Also you will need 3 or four large buttons. I make mine out of antler, you could use wood . bone, they have to be sturdy and have 2 holes in each large enough for the shoe lace to go through.
Making a bracer/ armguard
I like my arm guard to be the length of my fore arm from wrist to elbow when both are bent in my case 7"
I will make the wrist end the same length , 7" and the elbow end 4 inches longer. Or 11"
Fig 7 ltt009 and ltt010
Using the straight edge ruler cut a piece of leather 7" Long and at least 11" wide. Then find the center and mark both edged with your stylist (pencil or ink will leave permanent marks. Measure out from the center marks 3-1/2" both ways for the wrist end and mark the point and measure out 5-1/2" for the elbow end and mark the point. Draw a straight line from elbow to wrist on both of these sets of points to define the edges of your bracer and cut out your pattern with your sharp scissors. Your bracer should now be in the shape of the leather in fig. 7
Round the edges by finding a handy round object to trace in this case I used an Elmer's glue stick but you can free hand the corners
as well. Just make them to your liking.
With the wrist end to your Right and the elbow end to your left, measure along the top edge to equally space 3 or 4 groups of 2 holes that will be set approximately ¼ inch apart from each other. Set the holes in from the top edge no less than ½ inch. These holes will be where we tie on our buttons. Once you have the hole locations marked with your stylist, punch them out with the hole punch. I am using the largest setting on the punch because I will tie the buttons on with a leather shoe lace that fits this size hole nicely.
Fig. 9 ltt015
Now do the same along the bottom edge opposite the top button holes only this time set the holes ½" apart from each other. These will be the lace guide holes and take a lot of the stress of tightening your bracer onto your arm.
Fig 10 ltt016
Now use your edger to go completely around the edges of both the carving and flesh sides.
Fig 11 ltt017 & ltt018
This will give your arm guard a very nice finished look.
Wet your leather evenly on the carving side just enough to make it flexible. This takes some practice and you will not get it right the first time. Just right is when the leather stamps down well and is darkened or "burnished" when you hammer your stamping tool with a moderate hit. If it is not wet enough it will not stamp without a very hard hit with your mallet. If it is too wet, the leather will rise after stamping and your lines will fade. Not to worry, if you get it too wet at first, walk away and let it dry for a few minutes before you try tooling it again. If it dries too much while working, use a sponge to dampen it again.
Fig. 13 ltt020
A clean slate! Draw out your pattern or trace it through a piece of paper with the pointed end of your stylist. Draw lightly as mistakes can be rubbed out if they are not too deep.
Fig. 14 ltt021
As you can see I struggled with the design, if you look closely you can see the outline of a bison I tried but then rubbed out gently with the spoon end of the stylist and drew over it with an eagle pattern.
Fig 15 ltt022
First pass around the eagles head with the square stamping tool. Notice the roughness of the lines.
fig 16 ltt024
Using the spoon end of the stylist I rubbed the edges I just stamped and smoothed them up.
I used the tiny 3 sided stamping tool to go around the eye an make the nostril in the beak.
Progressing I add some feather lines on the head by using the pointed end of the stylist.
Fig 18 ltt026
Smoothing out my stamped outline with the stylist.
fig 19 ltt027
I have extended the lower wing line an smoothed it and now continue stamping down the Eagles back.
Fig. 20 ltt028
I use the triangular shapped stamping tool to give the ruffled feather look to his legs.
Notice the consideration of the talons on the branch. I was keeping in mind the talons would stand out from the branch but the branch would stand out from the inside of his foot.
Stamping the outline of his long wing feathers then filling in the detail with the stylist.
Filling in some detail on the branch as well.
fig 22 ltt031
Using the triangle shaped stamp I ruff up the edge of the log feathers by just a bit. Starting some detail in the shoulder feathers with the stylist.
Fig 23 ltt032
Now I add some depth to the shoulder feather by using the sharp point of the triangle shaped tool to stamp randomly throughout the feather deatail. Not too much and sort of evenly spaced out.
fig 24 ltt033
Eagle looks good, lets add some background.
Fig 25 ltt035
The leather has dried too much so I dampen the areas I want to wok again.
I rough in a couple mountain tops.
Fig 26 ltt036
After tooling the outlines of the mountains I used the triangle stamp to make the tops snow crested, and the stylist to give a bit of depth. I drew in two Pine trees to the right of the Eagles head.
Fig 27 ltt037
Flipping my leather upside down I use the triangle stamp to outline the trees,
I also use the square to outline the ground beneath the trees and the stump.
Using the edge of the stylist spoon I press hard and stroke away from me to create distance for the sky I do this at an angle for the best effect, all across the sky in one direction. I do the same for foreground only side to side.
Fig 29 ltt039
I notice the mouth needed a bit of tongue showing so I added that. I think it needs some continuity to the foreground with the trees on the left side of the bird.
Fig 30 ltt040
I added some more trees, and a smaller hill behind them, to the left side of the bird.
Now, for the artists signature! I had to wet the lower corner again.
Fig 31 ltt041
My roughed out 3 toed bear print signature.
Fig 32 ltt042
The tooling is completed. Let us finish the Bracer!
Now I didn't document this part but run out to the woods, wrestle a bull elk to the ground and cut of one of his antler tines. Bring it back to your shop and slice it into buttons , drill 2 holes in each button to fit the shoe lace. Sand the edges smooth and the top and bottom smooth. Ready? Good.
Fig 33 ltt043 & ltt044
Tie a knot right at the end of the shoelace. Run it down through one of the holes in a button, and one of the holes on the top edge of your armguard. Come back up through the paired hole and back though the second hole on your button. Pull it tight and work a knot on the second side down tight . cut the lace and do the next button. See Fig.33
Fig 34 ltt049
After you finish tying on the buttons, tie a knot in the end of the remaining lace. Flip your guard, flesh side to you with the lower edge now up. Feed the lace through the wrist end hole. Loop it back through the next hole until the end is now at the elbow end of your bracer coming back through the last hole towards you, (See Fig 34) Tie a knot in the remaining end of the lace.
Fig 35 ltt048 & 047
You can now loop the loops from the lower side of your bracer around your arm and over the corresponding button. Cinch it up tight, and wrap the end of the lace around a couple buttons and tuck it under the loops to keep it secure. This bracer will adjust to fit over any thickness of clothing, and, You will look fabulous! You could even let your Uncle Thor the barbarian try it his arm which is twice the size of yours!
Fig 36 ltt046
Tooling leather starts out real light in color. But as the quiver in back of our bracer shows, the leather will tan in the sun to a beautiful buckskin color. You may have to replace the lace but your bracer will last a long time. The quiver is nearly 20 years old, I never treated it with any water proofing etc. I just let it tan in the sun while it was being used. I did stain the moose body a bit so it would be darker than the face and antlers.
Now go make one for yourself!