JenGranger

Questions about awls and thread. Looking for guidance.

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Hi.  I'm sorry I ask so many questions.  I google everything and use the search engine on this site for hours HOURS before asking questions.  I have only been learning about leatherwork for 2months, but I feel very passionate about it, but my resources are very limited.  I am permanently disabled, so my income is fixed and very low, so I'm not able to buy a lot of tools and supplies at a time or books. I would love to get ahold of all the books I've seen mentioned on this site. I've already checked out all the books in our library system that had anything to do with leather and most of them were not helpful at all.  The only way I can watch video tutorials is to go to McD's parking lot and use their wifi on my phone lol.  It would be nice if I had some sort of mentor that could give me a little guidence.  Even though I feel very passionate about leather,. I'm starting to feel discouraged.  I don't have the money to buy everything I need.  I don't totally understand what I'm doing.  For example;. I Bought a C.S. Osbourn diamond awl from Amazon because I seen the name mentioned on this site many times. I didn't realize the awl blades came in different sizes.  The awl blade I have is 3mm wide and seems much too big for what I need it for. I want to make things like billfolds, ladie's long wallets,pocketbooks whatever you want to call them, eyeglass cases, checkbook covers, a kindle case for Mom,etc.. Can someone please recommend an awl for projects like these? And can someone please recommend the kind and size thread I should use for these projects?  I ordered some 1mm nylon (I think) thread from China (through Amazon).  I may not get it until sometime in February.  After doing some research, I'm guessing the 1mm thread is going to be too thick for what I need it for.  I'm also curious about the stitching chisels.  I know most of you are against them, but on Amazon they are cheap and I figured I could use them just until I get the hang of using an awl.  What size stitching chisels would I use for the projects I want to do? 3mm?

Thank you for this wonderful site.  I have learned a lot here so far.

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Boriqua   

There are more than one right answer but I will offer a little guidance. You mentioned you are on a tight budget so I will approach it from there.

Your awl that is 3mm is tapered so a section of that will be narrower. I would hang on to that awl now that you bought it and perhaps if you sell a few things or squirrel away a few bucks from your income you can get another. The projects you are talking about doing will probably not exceed 6-8 oz total. When using the awl be sure to have your head right above  the work so you can see that you are sending the awl in at a good right angle to the piece and only insert to say 1/3 of the length. Mark the depth on the awl in your mind and be sure that every hole after that you sink the awl to the same depth. If you sink the awl to different depths you will get an ugly stitch. I used that method for years and still do on some smaller inlay pieces. What is nice about this method is you now have a awl that will work over a broad range of work. You can test the depth on a scrap to determine the size hole it will make.

The next method were I certain I wouldn't work on anything other than a smaller narrower range is to take the awl carefully to sharpening stones and basically shrink the width. It requires a steady hand and some skill but not very hard to do.

Lastly .. Siewa awls are interesting because they are straight sided and come in specific sizes. I think they are about $20 and a number 1 is about 2.2mm

I have some of the Chinese thread from ebay ... It is thinner than advertised and is more like .08. For the projects you referenced it will be fine dont sweat it. I use the Chinese thread for my more delicate stitching jobs.

I havent seen a negative leaning toward chisels here but regardless... I love chisels. I have been through many ways of marking and stitching and I use a chisel awl combo. I have three sets of Chinese stitching chisels and they work great and are much better than the Seiwa and Tandy chisels I had previously at 1/4 the cost. For the projects you mention I think you can be well served with a 4mm which is easier to find. 3mm looks great on some of the smaller projects but again, thinking about wanting to keep initial cost low, the 4mm will get you from the projects you mentioned and give a little room to go up to some larger items. The 4mm will give you about 6spi and is a nice medium stitch that covers a broad range. You didnt mention the nature of your disability but if it impacts hand strength then use the chisel to give a good started hole. It can be kind of a pain to remove the chisel even if treated with wax if you punch it all the way through heavy material. I tend to tap it hard enough to go through the top layer of my project and mark all my holes to about that depth then get my work in a pony and with awl in hand stitch my piece.

I am sure you will get other good suggestions but I hope I gave you at least a start.

Enjoy your new hobby

Alex

Edited by Boriqua

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Some good advice there from Boriqua!  I've attached a picture of some different awls that I have, including the three sizes of Seiwa straight sided awls mentioned above pictured on a pretty thick piece of leather to illustrate how awl taper can give you different holes front and back on your leather.  

The leftmost awl is the Tandy 4-in-1, and it's pretty much useless - Soft metal that dulls quickly, and I don't like the shape, although it is close in shape to one that saddlers traditionally use.  I find it hard to use, even when sharp, and it took a bit of work to get it sharp initially - it came dull as a butterknife. You have to really control the depth with these blades. I call these spear point awls. 

 The next three are the Seiwa awls from goodsjapan, and the ones that I use most of the time - I generally use the #1 with .6mm or .8mm thread, and #2 with .8mm or 1.0mm.  (Yeah.. There's a little crossover there depending on the thickness of leather and the look for a particular project).  The #3 is rarely used, but would be most suitable for 1.0mm or bigger.  Kyoshin-Elle makes a very similar set of three, but I have not tried them.  goodsjapan carries them as well.  These came sharp enough to be usable, but a little work made them better. The only problem I've had with these is that the blade eventually startsto sink into the handle - A little epoxy will take care of that problem.  You can also find a similar set of awls from leathercrafttools.com for $20 for all three, but I have not tried them.  I call these broadsword awls. 

The last one is an Osborne, and probably looks like what you have.  It came almost usably sharp, but some work made it usable.  As you can see, the taper isn't as drastic as the first awl, but it's still a factor and takes some depth control.  I use it on occasion for really thick leather - as you can see, the blade is longer.  Some have suggested snipping off the tip of these awls to give a broader tip, but that requires a lot of sharpening and re-profiling.   I call these rapier awls (Like the weapons analogy?).

The big advantage of a broad tip is when you are using a pricking iron the tip lays in the slit and helps guide you to the proper angle.  Not so much with the rapier point.  The straight sided awls give you the same size hole front and back, which I like.  

Notice that the Japanese awls have a flat sides on the handle?  That does a couple of things for you.  It keeps them from randomly rolling away when you set them down, but more importantly it allows you to feel the position in your hand without looking at the blade!  I have since flattened the sides of the Osborne handle for that reason.  Don't hesitate to modify tools to suite YOU! - That goes for handles, blade, and whatever else you want to change.

Another little help for your awls is to cut a small piece of leather and punch through it with your awl.  This will prevent the ferrule of the awl from marking your work if you slip and push it in too hard/deep. I took them off for the pictures to give a little clearer picture of the blades.

Whatever awl you use, make sure it's really sharp and shiny to help penetrate the leather - and if not careful your finger.

So, what's the cork about?   That is a very useful multi-purpose tool, my friend.  I have several - one for each awl - and use them to protect the awl from damage and keep them dry (they'll rust if wet) and safe from damaging the awl or myself, when they are not in use.  They are also useful for thinner leathers when sewing.  Use the cork for thinner leather to keep it from "flopping over" as you push the awl through the leather and into the cork - rather than your finger (blood is NOT a project enhancer)!  They do sort of wear out after awhile and need replacement, making them most enjoyable tool in my entire kit since I get to drink a bottle of wine to get one.  :lol:  If you don't drink wine, ask friends that do to keep corks for you.

As for stitching chisels, some old-timers and particularly saddlers do not like them for various reasons.  I, and many others, find them very useful, however.  You get perfect spacing and consistent holes with them.  I also prefer the cheap Chinese chisels from ebay over some of the others.  I have a set of Seiwa chisels that I find make a bigger hole than I want, while the Chinese chisels are more suitable for the thread that I use and as mentioned above they are much cheaper.  They do all need a bit of sharpening and polishing when you get them, tho.   As an added benefit they can be used much like a pricking iron to mark spacing and give you some angle guidance with an awl if you decide to use them that way and not punch deeply/through the leather.  They are most useful for thinner leathers if going all the way through, since they have limited length on the prongs.  Do be sure to get at least a six(or so) prong and a two prong in each size that you want and from the same maker to ensure the same prong size.  Single prongs are mostly useless, and four only a bit more useful.  

Pricking irons are pretty useful, and reasonably cheap if you get the Chinese ones.  Expensive ones are REALLY expensive!  They are not meant to penetrate very deeply into the leather but more to make a shallow mark to guide your awl for spacing and angle, although a few do use them to go all the way through thin leathers.  They do a better job helping you get your awl angle just right than other methods, but are not as versatile as chisels so it's a trade-off.  Pricking irons from ebay sometimes look a bit crude, with machine marks along the prongs, but I don't see that as a problem as long as you're not penetrating the leather very deep.  Just sharpen and polish the first 1/16" or so .. If even that.

Whether stitching chisel or pricking iron, do be careful with these tools.  If the metal is soft, they are easily knocked out of alignment if dropped - and you may or may not be able to get them back into alignment!  If the metal is hard, prongs can break off.  

And lastly - +1 for Chinese thread!  As Boriqua mentioned, what is sold as 1.0mm is more like 0.8mm, but still pretty nice stuff.  I like that I can buy a good assortment of colors for the same price as a single spool of other threads and it works quite well.  There are other, and better threads but at a great deal more $$.  Sometimes that extra money is worthwhile, but mostly not.  

 

 

 

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Thank you so much for your response!  It was very helpful.

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Would it be ok to use a sharp scratch awl to punch my holes for smaller things, like card cases?  And is E6000 glue ok to use to glue things together before sewing?

Edited by JenGranger

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A scratch awl is round so it won't give you the angled stitch. A lot of people will use the round awl for Going around a 90 degree corner though.

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As Mattsbagger said, the round profile of a scratch awl may not give the angled stitch that so many of us like.  Additionally, they are tapered along most of their length, so like the Osborne awl, you'll need to pay attention to how deeply you push it through - and it may need some sharpening.  You might try some bits of scrap leather from the project that you are working on, glued up like the edge of the project and experiment to see what works best with that and the thread that you are using.  Once you find the depth / hole size that works best a mark on the blade or a bit of tape can help you get the same depth consistently.   It awl just takes practice!   Since I don't sew daily or even weekly at times, I usually do a small scrap piece as mentioned above as practice before I start sewing on most of my projects - Just to shake off my rusty technique.  

Note that Tandy leather kits all come with round holes - and much too big ones for most thread - but they work.  

Also, keep in mind that the holes to be in a nice straight line and the same distance from the edge all the way around.  There are specialized tools around for this, but you can get by with a straight edge and your scratch awl, or a drawing / machinist compass if it's not too flimsy.  You just need to get a straight even line to work along.

I'm not familiar with E6000, but it might work.  If it's really thick and goopy, it may be difficult to work with - glue needs to go on somewhat thin.  If the leather is pretty smooth, you may need to roughen it up a bit with a little sandpaper or a fingernail file.  If you have it already, try it out - you might try applying it with one of those junk credit cards that seem to come in your mail with annoying regularity.  If you don't already have glue, you might look for Weldwood original contact cement in the red can / jar at a local home improvement store.  Many of us swear by it.  It's a meant for wood working, but works great for leather - it's pretty stinky stuff tho, so use it in a ventilated area.  

Bill

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Thank you very much.

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E6000 does NOT work for leather in my opinion.  I tried it and its a mess.  Never dries firm enough to give clean edges and its not very strong.  You can use white glue in a pinch though.  

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I use E6000 for jewelry making and already had some, so I was just wondering.

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Boriqua   

If you choose to use the scratch awl ... which I dont recommend if you already have a diamond awl then you should still make sure that on every stitch if you put the needle in from the back/ front first then do it the same every stitch and to make sure if you place the first thread in the lower part of the hole then be sure to always place the second thread on the top. Consistency is the absolute key to a good look stitch. So long as you do every stitch the same you will be ahead. .. but if you already have the osborne ... that is the way to go.

Tandy has a contact cement that is supposed to me non stinky but weldwood works great and is available almost everywhere locally for a good price. It is available in wee little bottles at hobby stores if you dont want to buy a quart.

I only use the scratch awl "round hole" on hard right turns otherwise its the diamond awl.

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I love barge cement. And dont mind the way it smells.lol And Tandy has it in little tubes.

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Thanks guys

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I share your pain. The leather craft hobby is expensive.  I purchased my stitching punch from the other side of the world. Hong Kong with free shipping and guess what? The inexpensive $10 punches I purchased save me big money and were packed well and are sharp enough that they work. Some light tapping or light pounding depending on the leather thickness and I have some stitching holes. I don't have the fancy board for punching holes. I just glued 2 heavy pieces of 8-9 oz leather and put them under the project to protect the sharpened tips. The other product I personally like is the inexpensive name brand Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl that has a bobbin inside the handle. Making the stitching pony was the easiest project me being a woodworker. Just some scrap 3/4" plywood, a belt sander and some wood glue and scrap leather for the jaws and a big bolt. A ratchet wrench makes tightening it quick. Hey an adjustable or open end will do fine too whatever you have.

Just do a search for leather stitching punch.

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2 hours ago, ContactCement said:

I share your pain. The leather craft hobby is expensive.  I purchased my stitching punch from the other side of the world. Hong Kong with free shipping and guess what? The inexpensive $10 punches I purchased save me big money and were packed well and are sharp enough that they work. Some light tapping or light pounding depending on the leather thickness and I have some stitching holes. I don't have the fancy board for punching holes. I just glued 2 heavy pieces of 8-9 oz leather and put them under the project to protect the sharpened tips. The other product I personally like is the inexpensive name brand Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl that has a bobbin inside the handle. Making the stitching pony was the easiest project me being a woodworker. Just some scrap 3/4" plywood, a belt sander and some wood glue and scrap leather for the jaws and a big bolt. A ratchet wrench makes tightening it quick. Hey an adjustable or open end will do fine too whatever you have.

Just do a search for leather stitching punch.

 A few hours later this evening I found The Thread Exchange website. Maybe use library computer if available. From home page hover over industrial thread and select red nylon thread guide and to the far right under information is nylon thread guide buying guide.  Nylon Sizes....Low number is smaller in diameter and not as visible. As thread numbers increase more force will be needed. Purses, handbags 46, 69, 92,138 Wallets 33, 46,69,92,138  Needles 110/18 & 110/19 for threads 69, 92 ... Needle 80/12 for threads 15, 33 .....Needle 90/14 for threads 33,46  Needle 130/21 for thread 138 

Hopes this helps.

 

Edited by ContactCement

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Brianm77   

I can't speak to the awl much.  I don't use mine unless I need to make a hole bigger for what ever reason. However you mentioned the chisels and I have a little experience with those. I bought these on amazon for about $13 for the set. IMG_1201.JPG

For 1mm thread I use the 5mm version. Pictured is  the 4mm.  They seam to be pretty good quality. I have been pretty happy with them.  And I pound all the way through at least 10oz maybe more, no awl needed.  I put a piece of scrap leather and a soft 1x4 under my project. You don't want to drive them into you work bench or your stone.

You have to be careful with the cheap Chinese thread on eBay. I bought some to try, what I got in I was not really happy with. You can make the color fade with just a little pressure of your finger. There are sellers on eBay and rmleather supply and also egyptianleather on Etsy sell small quantities of tiger thread. It costs more per foot but is less money up front. I am also thinking about doing something similar with some thread that is a very close kin to tiger thread called serabraid. 

Hope that helps at least a little,

Brian

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