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Best Quality Leather Stitching Awl Available?


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#1 Tallbald

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Posted 05 October 2012 - 09:55 PM

Hoping for relief from my arthritis in the hands and elbows, I'm looking at alternatives to an expensive leather sewing machine. right now all I use is a saddle stitch for the holsters I make. I'm hoping a more hand friendly stitching method is out there I can afford that will give me a strong durable stitch. Who makes a good heavy duty stitching awl with the spool outside the handle down near the needle (don't know the correct name of this style) ? I'd rather buy quality and buy once. Thank you so much. Don

#2 Chief31794

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 07:11 AM

Tallbald,

It sounds like you're looking for a hand stitcher, I have never seen one of those that was quality, I wouldn't waste any money on them, the best way to hand stitch is with a stitching awl and harness needles. If you are unable to stab the leather with a stitching awl, an alternative is to use diamond punches to make the holes or mount a needle in a drill press and punch the holes with that. Just my opinion, there maybe others who will chime in.

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#3 TwinOaks

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 07:38 AM

Ditto what Chief said. The common opinion on here is that the best awls are made by Bob Douglas. If you're having trouble stabbing through the leather, see if the tip has a burr on it. Even though you aren't cutting with it, it still needs to be stropped and occasionally be sharpened. .
The "stitching awl" is decently handy for emergency repairs because it's a compact yet complete unit. I'd carry one in a saddle bag if I was on a calvacade, just in case. If I'm at home, I'd stick to diamond awl and two needles. The saddle stitch has an advantage over most other stitches because it has two threads interweaving between the stitch holes. If one of them breaks, there's still the other one holding the seam together. A lock stitch is two threads as well, but each thread stays on it's own side. Inside the stitch hole, the threads wrap around each other and come back out of the hole on the same side it went in. If one of those breaks, the only thing holding the stitch in place is the 'lock' (the wrap around the other thread), and it's more prone to unraveling than the saddle stitch.
I'll give you a personal example. I used a Tandy kit to make a Leatherman pouch, and used a stitching awl to sew it. When I wore down one of the threads ( I am in an aerial bucket truck most days) it unraveled to the point the tool fell out. Later (and before I learned about welts) I made a pouch for my electrician's knife and sewed it with a saddle stitch. Since I didn't have a welt, I end up cutting the threads at the mouth of the sheath where the blade dragged across them. It didn't unravel. Sure, the seam was 'open' where the blade passed it, but it never unraveled past that. When I noticed it, I decided to see how bad it would get.
3 months of daily wear later, it hadn't unraveled but the seam had opened up another two stitches. So, I started a loop two stitches back and restitched the 6 that had been cut and now it's back to proper condition.
Mike DeLoach

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#4 katsass

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 09:33 AM

Talibald, you've heard from two good leather workers already, so now here it comes from just a grumpy old man - - I agree. Those hand stitchers aren't worth playing with. They'll cause you grief and consternation more than anything else. A good diamond awl (and Bob Douglas does make some of the best) sharpened correctly ('You-Tube has a good tutorial for that) will do the best. I use a pair of smooth-jawed pliers for pulling my needles through the leather, which may help you out a bit. I also have semi permanent calluses on the outside of each little finger from stitching. I happen to use an old (40 or so years) Osborne single bladed awl, less than a tenth of an inch wide. As said though, you can use a drill press (don't turn the damned thing on though) with an awl blade in the chuck, and old heavy sewing machine needle in there, or even a very skinny brad or nail (smaller than 3/64") chucked up, to punch holes for stitching - - and there are a pot-load of folks out there doing just that. One thing about using one is that you'll always get straight, vertical holes with that kind of setup. No drill press? A friend of mine just got a five speed table top press from Harbor Freight for right at $60 - he used a 20% discount coupon found in a magazine to get that price - - I've seen their coupons in a lot of publications. Mike

P.S. I don't recommend scanning the grocery store magazine rack, finding the Harbor Freight advertisement, ripping out the page and running like hell, but I suspect that it has happened.

Edited by katsass, 06 October 2012 - 09:41 AM.

NOTE TO SELF: Never try to hold a cat and an operating Dust buster at the same time!!

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#5 Chief31794

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Posted 06 October 2012 - 01:45 PM

Katsass does a lot more sewing than I do, I lace quite a bit, but do sew from time to time, look at some of his posts and the work he does, you could never achieve anything close to that with one of those stitching thing-a-majigs. There is a good book you can get from lots of sources, it's "The Art of Hand Sewing Leather" by Al Stohlman, Tandy carries it, you can even download a digital copy fpr a nominal cost. Other places have the hard copy as well. I would read it two or three times, keep it for a reference, and then practice, practice, practice...

Chief

Edited by Chief31794, 06 October 2012 - 01:49 PM.

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#6 Tallbald

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 01:08 PM

OK so I see the stitching awl is not the answer. I had fears that wearing of one stitch could lead to a cascade of raveling. I should have explained to the forum that I do predrill with a 1/16 inch drill. I'll post my setup in another thread. I have modified a Harbor Freight 1 ton arbor press to be a stamping press, hole punch driver, and best of all, a bracket holds my Proxxon rotary tool dead vertical to drill 20,000 RPM holes for stitching. Could be I need to up the size of the holes a bit to make insertion of needles easier during the thread bypass move. I sure don't want raveling of a gun holster. No to sound prissy, but I'd rather quit than make something sub-standard , and I fully respect opinions here. Thank you, and further input appreciated. Don

#7 katsass

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 09:05 AM

Don. Sounds as though you fully understand that the small drill bit needs that extra speed, most folks don't seem to, and wonder why the bit 'wanders' on them. My one suggestion would be to drop down a size in the bit, to 3/64". Back when, I tried the 1/16" and found that due to the amount of leather removed, the thread was looser in the holes than I would like. That, even after moistening the leather and running the overstitch. When I get a student (that can put up with me) I start them out on stitching by having them drill their holes with the 3/64" bit, (basically, it's a pilot hole) then opening them slightly with the awl. The holes are still pretty tight, and I (along with them) find the pliers a help. I was taught, back as a kid, that if you can pull the needle through the leather by hand, the holes are too damned big. Ultimately they 'get' how to use the awl and continue without the pre-drilling. I feel that when doing this initially, it boosts their confidence by producing pretty decent stitching sooner than trying the awl alone. For those of us getting a little long in the tooth and experiencing the nasty discomfort of arthritis (that the younger generation has no understanding of) anything we can do to assist ourselves is fair game. I personally have a couple of bad disks in my lower back, and have experienced four leg and knee surgeries and a knee replacement. I also find that my hand strength isn't what it used to be. The products of 5 years of service during the S.E Asian thing, and 35 years in law enforcement. Standing at my bench can become rather painful. I think, however, that the smaller bit and the use of pliers, even though slower, will produce a tighter, better appearing stitch. The holes will virtually disappear. Pics of some of my stitching. Mike

Posted Image

Posted Image

Edited by katsass, 08 October 2012 - 09:12 AM.

NOTE TO SELF: Never try to hold a cat and an operating Dust buster at the same time!!

At my age I find that I can live without sex..........but not without my glasses.
Being old has an advantage.......nobody expects me to do anything in a hurry.

#8 St8LineGunsmith

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Posted 11 October 2012 - 10:01 PM

you are thinking about a sewing awl I have one but rarely use it
this one is as good as any oothers the market plus about 15 bucks cheaper
http://www.harborfre...-awl-91812.html
sewing awls are good for making loop stitches in heavy fabric like canvas and light leathers like upolstry leather and makes a good stitchbut not the best tool for heavy gun leather
the other posters who already posted gave sage advise.
a sharp dimond shaped sewing awis old school method but very effective method however dremmel tools make the task of making stitching holes 100 times easier and faster
here is my procedure for stitching first I will make the stitch line with dividers then I will groove the stitch line then I will use an over stitch wheel tomake my tstitch hole spacing thenI will use rubber cement or barge cement or sometimes 3M 77 spray adhesive to glue the stitch line then I will clamp the two pieces to be stitched together and allow the glue time to cure then I will use a dremel and drill all the stitch holes with a bit the same size as the needle shaft Ialso use the dremel if two corosponding holes become disaligned.
I think you will like this method because you cant beat a saddle stitch.

#9 St8LineGunsmith

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Posted 12 October 2012 - 01:30 PM

OK so I see the stitching awl is not the answer. I had fears that wearing of one stitch could lead to a cascade of raveling. I should have explained to the forum that I do predrill with a 1/16 inch drill. I'll post my setup in another thread. I have modified a Harbor Freight 1 ton arbor press to be a stamping press, hole punch driver, and best of all, a bracket holds my Proxxon rotary tool dead vertical to drill 20,000 RPM holes for stitching. Could be I need to up the size of the holes a bit to make insertion of needles easier during the thread bypass move. I sure don't want raveling of a gun holster. No to sound prissy, but I'd rather quit than make something sub-standard , and I fully respect opinions here. Thank you, and further input appreciated. Don

:oops:
oops sorry for the previous post, i see your method is similar to mine.
do you glue the join at the stitch line before holeing?
if not your two pieces of leather may be shifting enough to make it harder to align the holes when making the needle passes which ill make it harder for the needles to pass through the leather, plus the cemented joint keeps the piece from separating if you get a busted stitch and I think helps to prevent stitching from busting and coming unraveled.
you cant help that stitching does wear in time that can cause the stitch to deteriorate to the point it will eventually wear into but the remedy for stitch wear is to make a stitch groove but you probably already know that. just throwing that out for the reader who might be starting out and not know. now they know :)
but Ya a slightly larger hole will make it a little easier for the needles to pass through. then dunk the stiched part in water will make the leather swell around the stitch and shrink the stitch slightly tighter with some threads when the water dries.
you can also make awls out of pieces of piano wire sharpened on the end to pass through the stitch hole to slick down the fibers in the hole this will make less friction on the needles.
piano wire comes in a multitude of sizes so you can make any size haft you might need. the larger sizes are also great for making stamp tools and modeling tools.

EDIT: now that I am thinking about it a piece of sharpened piano wire could possibly be used as a bit to make stitch holes with a dremel tool
I hear of some people of using needles in their dremel to use as a drill bit for making stitch holes so I am sure a piece of super sharp piano wire would work even better for I think piano wire is harder steel than sewing needles and will hold that sharp point better.

just a few thoughts I wanted to share.

Edited by St8LineGunsmith, 12 October 2012 - 01:44 PM.


#10 Tallbald

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Posted 12 October 2012 - 04:25 PM

Thanks St8line. Yeah, I do glue the eges to be sewn. Learned that from a few youtube videos. I too think that swelling takes place after sewing, if I wet the holster after stitching. Actually, all my holsters get a soak because the only dyes I use are vinegaroon and homemade walnut stain (learning the latter as we speak). Even if I am leaving a holster natural, it gets soaked and wet molded. I think that I will just have to keep doing what I'm doing, meaning 1/16 inch drill and a pair of bent nose needle nose pliers. Thin leather gloves like bikers use do help me. I don't want to sacrifice the saddle stitch strangth for a lock stitch. Although both are good, the saddle is best for me I believe. Thanks all. Don

#11 Rayban

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Posted 17 October 2012 - 09:46 AM

Best Quality Leather Stitching Awl Available?

the answer is Bob Douglas.

Edited by Rayban, 17 October 2012 - 09:50 AM.

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