taketothetrees

Beginner's Questions...Again

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Hello everyone

 

I'm brand spanking new to leatherwork, having only ever made stuff (bags & tool rolls) out of canvas up until now. I'd like to progress into leather; making tool rolls and ditty bags to compliment my canvas ones. I'd also like to start making belts too. As with every other newbie I'm totally confused about the tools out there and what I need / don't need. I've read forum posts here, checked out websites and  watched YouTube and have a rough idea of the basics. However, I also have a lot of questions and hope to find answer here. 

I understand the opinion of 'Buy The Best Tools You Can Afford', but I'm not 100% committed to the cause yet, so feel that shopping at Tandy here in the UK could be a good place to start. I read both good and bad things regarding Tandy, but to me the prices are affordable and the convenience of using one shop instead of sourcing tools from all over the world is preferable at this time.

  1. Am I making an error with this idea? 

I'm favouring the use of Tandy's Craftool Pro Stitching Chisels. I like the idea of punching neat, clean holes straight through the leather ready for stitching (and using a stitching awl for single holes in the corners). They had a favourable review from Armitage Leather so think they'll suit me just fine. My questions here are: 

  1. If I use wing dividers to score a line in the leather do I really need a dedicated adjustable groover as well? Is it a handy enough tool to use elsewhere in projects?
  2. If I use a smooth-faced hammer / cobbler's hammer on the stitches afterwards do I need an overstitch wheel? 
  3. Should I get a diamond awl as well? Just in case? 

I can't quite justify spending money of strap end punches, even though I can really see the benefit of them; quick, clean cuts every time! I'm thinking of using templates, just for now, instead. Would a head knife be the best choice in cutting the leather, or could I get away with a Stanley knife / box cutter? 

 

I think that's the main questions I have for now. Thanks for taking your time to read this far. All the best. 

 

Pic attached in the kind of thing I make now and would like to try in leather. 

 

 

20180713_105020.jpg

Edited by taketothetrees

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Welcome. I hope you enjoy your leather experience. As far as your questions go...    #1 (first #1) Tandy tools are a good place to start. Better tools are available, but until  you get some experience, expensive tools aren't needed yet. #1 (second #1) Dividers will make a nice line to follow on wet leather for stitching. Plus they have other measuring uses. A groover will remove a small amount of leather from the surface, and allow stitching to be a little more protected. Both will make decorative lines on projects #2 No need to overstitch if you use a hammer. #3 An awl would be nice to have. I have a 4 prong and 2 prong chisel and they cover all my needs for stitching. But sometimes an awl will be needed for special projects. Even though I use chisels, I use an awl while stitching to open the holes slightly, and help line up the needle on the backside of the hole. Strap punches make life a lot easier, but cutting with a Stanley knife will work. A round knife, or head knife will work, but sometimes there's a long learning curve with those. And they could be very expensive. As you progress, they might be more attractive to you, but get some experience with the entry type tools. Good luck.

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Welcome to the fun!

As with any hobby or craft it is easy to get caught up into buying expensive tools and equipment, but at the start cheaper to average kit will do the job well enough. As you gain experience you can, if you wish, purchase better or more expensive items with a bit more confidence and understanding. I'd say that Tandy are as good a place as any for a beginner. Do your maths & homework and it will very probably be worth buying into one of their discount schemes. Also get on their email list as they have offers each month.

So I think that's answered you first question

Next - Dividers or stitching groover? You will see the name Nigel Armitage mentioned frequently on this forum; he is an acknowledged expert in leatherwork. I was fortunate enough to go to a lecture & demonstration by him last year. He definitely came down in favour of dividers. I have changed from a stitching groover to dividers and I think my stitching is better; certainly no worse

If you use a hammer you won't need an overstitch wheel. In fact if you use chisels & a hammer you won't need an overstitch wheel at all. No need for a cobblers hammer either, just use the same hide or wooden mallet you use for hitting the chisels

In theory a stitching chisel will make your holes, but you might find you sometimes have to do extra work with an awl, so yes, get an awl, but don't get the 4-in-1 awl sold by Tandy, it's not very good, and expensive

The traditional way is to buy the blade and haft/handle separately then mount them & sharpen them yourself. This is a right pain and takes ages, it's much easier to get an awl that's ready to go. Tandy's Craftool Pro Awl is nice, but a bit pricey at about £38 I think, but check. They also do a cheaper fixed blade awl at about £11. Even though they're supposed to be ready for use they can be improved by sharpening on a strop; plus they will need sharpening occasionally anyway. It's much cheaper to make your own strop from oddments of wood & leather, and just about the easiest piece of leatherwork you'll ever do. Treat yourself to some proper stropping/honing compound from someone like Veritas or Tormek

 A head or round knife is the ultimate, traditional knife for cutting leather, but good ones are expensive, and it takes practice & experience to learn how to use them. A stanley knife is good enough to start with; although the blades are disposable they seem to improve if you sharpen them, probably because you reduce the shoulder of the bevel, and give them an extra polish. See if there's a secondhand tool shop or market stall near you, you could probably get one for £1

For knives you have two routes - replaceable/disposeable like stanley knives; rotary cutters such as Olfa; & clicker knives. Or resharpen, like a head knife or a leather trimming knife. Search Google & YouTube for Japanese Leather Knife; they have an offset blade which takes a while to get used to, but you can get them reasonably cheaply. I use one for straight cuts and skiving

Search YouTube for Leodis Leather; he produces excellent items using a rotary cutter and a stanley knife 

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Most of this seems to be answered but I'll just toss in 2 more cents. 

Tandy should be perfect to start. I've been using their stuff for about 2 years now and most of it has managed to hold up. for single punches a good stitching awl can get a bit expensive for a nice one. I've managed to get away with a scratch/saddlers awl to punch individual holes, not poke through it. 

Don't get a round knife yet.

Watch discontinued items at tandy, I picked up a belt end punch from there for like 12$

Wing dividers are a bit more versatile, and an overstitch wheel you can get pretty cheap and they are nice for if you are doing some hand sewing with different spacing than the chisel you may pick up. The process for that would be to set a line with your wing divider, go over that with the overstitch wheel to set your spacing then individually punch it out with a saddlers awl. Works for me, not for everyone.

Great looking stuff! best of luck

 

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Thank you all for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. I appreciate the feedback.

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Welcome to the forum!
You might also find additional answers to your questions in Ian Atkinson's video links, done from a UK perspective (he lives and works in Leeds): <http://ianatkinson.net/leather/videos.htm>

He features topics like the following:

Beginners’ Videos

And I see you live in Cardiff -- I spent a couple days in Cardiff on my way to a summer Welsh course in Lampeter, back in 1988.

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Not much to add except that you can use the bare basics for quite a while. Then you can upgrade a piece at a time. I've tried to let my skill level pace my tool buying. As I am held back by my tools I upgrade them. One day we'll meet a harmonious balance.

Ah! Needles! In my opinion, there is no reason whatsoever to spend money on anything other than John James harness needles. I've broken one in the last year since I switched. I've broken more of the other brands harness needles than I can count....a few a day sometimes. JJ's are where it is at in the needle game.

Regarding an awl...I have the Craftool single blade one that was like, 11 bucks US. It took me a good 2 hrs to get the blade in shape but it works well now. I have chisels and they are used for proper spacing more than hole making; just dent the leather with them and use the diamond awl to make the hole. After all Stohlman outlines using the awl in his book which is a holy relic in how to saddle stitch. Again, as others mentioned, I'm gonna mention Nigel Armitage here, both of his saddle stitching videos are excellent and they happen to be a video version of Stohlman's book.

Another name drop is Don Gonzales on youtube. He uses an injector blade in an exacto knife holder and a trim knife and this dude is a saddle maker by trade. I've watched most of his videos and don't recall ever seeing a head knife. I have an Olfa click knife and a Stanley utility knife and they have been sufficient for much of what I've needed. I do have a skife and one of those offset Japanese knives for skiving. I use the skife more than the Japanese skiver.

I have all but given up on my groover for the wing dividers. They are quite utilitarian. They make circles, scribe stitch lines, make a great consistent double line for borders, etc.

Get a frosted quilters ruler by Olfa. Excellent for making straight lines. Also, a Veritas ruler stop is a good thing; I still don't have one but they look like an answer to a lot of problems.

Welcome to the addiction and I can't wait to see you down the rabbit hole!

One last bit from me: anything from Olfa is pretty amazing gear. They don't give it away but it is really good quality.

Edited by battlemunky

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Yes to JJ needles

On Nigel Armitage's recommendation I stopped using a stitching groover and started using dividers. I got a pair from a second hand tool stall for £2-50

I changed from Tandy's 'big eye' needles to John James 002, which are only about £3 a packet

I think that both of these things have improved my stitching

What sort of thread do you intend to use? Most leatherworkers now seem to be using synthetic thread,. of which Ritza/Tiger thread is very popular, but I don't like it, I prefer linen

The usual thickness for linen thread used in leatherwork is 18/3, and is mostly in traditional colours like black, brown, or natural, but this lady supplies several makes of coloured linen thread - https://www.kurzke.co.uk

Although I like linen thread, I think Tandy's ready waxed nylon thread is good; it is cheap and underrated

Even if you buy ready waxed thread, get a block of beeswax; it is cheap enough and used for all sorts of jobs in leatherwork, including lubricating the prongs of stitching chisels 

If you Search Google for 'Tandy Leather Manchester' you will get the prices in £. I live close enough to visit their Manchester shop, the staff are pleasant and helpful, so phone them if you have any questions

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Hi @taketothetrees, love your ditty bags. Do you sail?

I've never been struck by Tandy. I have a trade account which gives me their Elite pricing and even then there's very little I purchase from them. Their prices are, frankly, ridiculous even when on sale and the quality of the tools I've had off them is not great. That's not a dig at the staff -- I've had great service from both UK franchises. Perhaps my opinion would differ if/when I visit a branch in person.

For mail order I far prefer Le Prevo in Newcastle and Abbey England in Cheshire. I can very strongly recommend both of these suppliers, and for a beginner I especially recommend Le Prevo. If you want a one-stop shop they will sort you out for a good deal fewer beer tokens than Tandy.

As to the stitch groover, save your money. There are very few occasions when a sunken thread is actually required -- the main ones being shoe soles and certain horse harness applications (e.g. the inside of shaft tugs). A stitching groove pulls all of the stitches into a straight line which can help the beginner make a neater job, but IMHO this is a blind alley and a bit of a crutch. Better to learn how to saddle stitch neatly first time than have to unlearn bad habits later down the road. You'll probably also find an overstitch wheel superfluous.

Cobblers' hammers are great. They have a very large radius convex face which prevents marring the leather. However since tidying up my workshop I can't find any of mine so I've been using a ball-pein hammer for months. Works fine, as would any slightly domed hammer so long as the face is free of any marks and is polished fairly well.

Round knives are, frankly, brilliant. Le Prevo and Abbey both sell the Barnsley/Woodware brand which is a no-nonsense English made workman's tools. Under £30. I have round knives from Dixon (old and newer) and Osborne and it's the £15 quarter-round Barnsley that I reach for every time. However there is a learning curve to round knives, which includes sharpening as well as safe/correct technique. You can do a lot of work with a Stanley knife, though a round knife is a better option in the medium-to-long term.

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I concur with battlemunky on the knives. I've gotten by just fine with just a general purpose utility type...and a large Xacto with #2 which I use for my pattern work (learned this trick from a YouTube video watching Sam Andrews cut out his holster pieces). As others have said, these blades come 'sharp' from the factory but can be improved and maintained to last longer than the common user would normally expect. Thus far on my leatherworking journey, I have no reason to purchase a head knife...TETO!

Another thing that stays on my bench is a plastic bin full of wooden clothes pins...purchased at the local Dollar Tree/General...they provide just the right amount of tension for small projects during glue-up without leaving marks on most any decent quality VT leather. Around the mouth of said bin I keep black metal binding clips (also purchased in bulk at the same stores)...I use those for slightly heavier clamping needs.

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Whatever knife or knives you get, you will need at least two

The first one should be kept razor sharp for use on leather only, and look after it

The second one can be almost anything you like; use it for cutting string; opening parcels; sharpening pencils; and so on. Its purpose in life is to make sure that you use the first one exclusively for leatherwork. 

https://www.gandmtools.co.uk have some old George Barnsley tools, including several types of leatherwork and paring knives, and awls, all at reasonable prices. Well worth having a look through

The link doesn't seem to work, but you can find gandm if you enter it directly

Edited by zuludog

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Is that why my stitches look like a five year olds?!? I’m not happy with the discolored line that a stitching groover leaves, and while I have a wing divider, nobody talked to me about using it to mark the stitching lines. They are straight enough, and not bumpy, but you guys are talking about using a hammer on the stitches? Does that push them down for a smoother look?

Edited by ScoobyNewbie
Misspelled word

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Thank you all for the answers - there's a lot of info for me to take in and I'm slowly piecing together my starter kit. Great feedback. 

Matt S - Thanks for the compliment and the info on the other retailers. I don't sail but have an interest in nautical knotwork and related marlinspike seamanship. I'm a tree surgeon and a lot of what we use as tree climbers comes from (even tenuously) the time of tall ships. 

DJole - Thanks for the info. on Ian's vids. I have previously subscribed to his channel, but have yet to find the time to watch them all. I hope your trip to Wales was enjoyable! 

 

 

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4 hours ago, taketothetrees said:

Matt S - Thanks for the compliment and the info on the other retailers. I don't sail but have an interest in nautical knotwork and related marlinspike seamanship. I'm a tree surgeon and a lot of what we use as tree climbers comes from (even tenuously) the time of tall ships.

Marlinspike work is beautiful -- I frequently resist the urge to get into it. Do you use the backstitch when sewing canvas? If so you can use this with leather too, even heavy stuff. I think it's just as strong as a saddle stitch but slower and takes more thread. Canvas needles may work in place of glovers needles on thin, soft leather but I've not tried it.

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Quick question: large or small rawhide mallet? Is the large too large for everyday general stuff? Is the small too light for punching and stamping? Thanks! 

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On ‎03‎/‎08‎/‎2018 at 8:09 AM, zuludog said:

What sort of thread do you intend to use? Most leatherworkers now seem to be using synthetic thread,. of which Ritza/Tiger thread is very popular, but I don't like it, I prefer linen

I prefer using natural fibre cordage with my current projects, and would like to do so with leatherwork too. With the ditty bags and tool rolls that I make I use polished flax hemp, but this will be too thick for leatherwork, so I'll probably use linen. Does synthetic thread leave a nicer finish though, I wonder? 

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The problem is that there's only one way to find out what thread you like, and that's to try it, which could get expensive

The most popular synthetic thread is made by the Danish company Julius Koch under the name Ritza, but as it has a picture of a tiger on the label it is also known as Tiger Thread. It is normally only available in large rolls, 500m, and costs about £55, but shop around on t'Net and you will find people selling shorter lengths. It is available in several diameters; I'd say start with 0,8mm or 0,6mm

The thickness measurement for linen thread is a bit confusing, but all you need to know is that for leatherwork the most common thickness is 18/3

Bowstock have 180m reels of black/white/natural 18/3  for £ 4-75. Their website has some useful tutorials including an explanation of linen thread thickness

Kurzke has full rolls of coloured linen from several manufacturers and offers mixed/sample packs at reasonable prices

I would stay away from anonymous packs of 'linen thread' or 'thread for leather' sold on your local market or t'Net, including Amazon; some of it isn't that good, and Bowstock or Kurzke's samples are cheap enough to try

Here are some useful websites

https://www.bowstock.co.uk 

https://hwebber.co.uk

https://abbeyengland.com

https://kurzke.co.uk

Don't forget that whatever thread you choose it should be waxed, either ready or DIY

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Regarding mallets @taketothetrees, I only have rawhide and have a large and a small. I use the small (12 oz I think) for most tooling work and the large (16 oz) for those "one hit" type stamps and for setting ez rivets and snaps. I also have a 24 oz ball peen hammer for brad rivets.

There are some great youtube videos on hammer vs. mallet. vs. maul. Each has it's own pros and cons and there is a ton of subjectivity so like thread, it is a "feel" thing and you don't really know which you like until you try some and on some of these items, the admission price can be a bit prohibitive. I'd love to have a Barry King round maul but I don't know if I'm ready to have a really pretty $70 bill sitting on my bench not being used, so I haven't sprung for one just yet.

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Love this forum. I have a twist in my knickers about getting a thread groover so started a search this evening. I shall now contain myself and tomorrow start practicing with a set of dividers that I have in my kit to mark my sewing line. Grand. I spent some time  on practicing saddle stitching this afternoon and almost went around the bend trying to cut a groove in the practice piece with an old groover when I came to my senses and said why don’t you go to Leatherworker and see what folks suggest. 

Thanks again to all of you

Patrick

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This thread was a good read. Great job guys.

I noticed a few days ago that Wuta has some beginners kits on eBay. I have always had good luck with his stuff.

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Quick question. When marking your stitch line with dividers do you normally dampen the leather before the scribe? I'll try it both ways today as I practice but thought I would check to see what the consensus maybe.

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So far I haven't dampened the leather. All I want to do is to mark a scratch line so I can place my stitching chisels evenly

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I don't wet mine either. Just grip it and rip it. I use the scribe line exclusively for keeping my holes straight and not for recessing the thread, I only do that when I'm amaking a sheath for a hard use knife or some other item that will see abuse or at least a lot of abrasion if not abuse.

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Knew I had an old Osborne wing divider that uses interchangeable tips. Those tips include a point tip, and also groove tips. Inserted the point tip and gave it a try for scribing a piece of scrap dry leather. With a little practice I do believe this old girl is going to make my day. Maybe I should try cleaning it up a bit. I picked this tool up way back when...……. but don't know from where. Out to the shop to do some serious practicing now marking and stitching. 

Thanks again gents.

Mq63kIWl.jpg

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Yes, that stitching line is just the sort of effect you want

The thing obviously works, but it would be a nice touch if you cleaned it up a bit

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