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Stamping Toolmakers

Art

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If you get two or more leatherworkers together, there will probably be three or more opinions on the best stamping tools. Opinions about who made or still makes the best tools are like mothers, everybody has one. It is hard to pay homage to all the toolmakers that have come and gone, but I'll try and list some of them.

Various saddlemakers. These were custom made tools, often from a nail or if necessary from a piece of tool steel. Almost NEVER signed and seldom marked with anything, they nonetheless could get the job done. Most of these were made circa 1946 or before, but some later. If you see three hash marks at the top of the stamp it was made from a nail, but you won't always find these..

Dick McGahen made tools or had them handmade by skilled artisans like Ken Griffin, Ellis Barnes, and others. These were quality tools seldom marked. Although this was the beginning of Craftool, few were marked with the maker or Craftool and no two were really "alike". Saddle makers could see what the tool actually was and nobody would look at the numbers if the tools had them anyway. This was in the later 1940s and early 1950s, mainly in California.

Craftools really brought leather carving and stamping to the masses (that's us). When Craftool started numbering the tools sometime in the 1950s (I think), they were marked "Craftool Co" and the number. This pretty much stayed the same up through 1962. These were handmade as far as I can tell. In 1963, Craftool started adding a letter prefix to the tool number, so now they were marked "Craftool Co", a prefix (for tool type), and then the number. This marking continued until sometime in 1969. To this point, these were really very good tools. In 1969, the marking changed to "Craftool Co. USA" and retained the Letter Prefix and tool Number markings. They eventually changed the name to "Craftool USA" the letter tool type identifier prefix and the tool number until they stopped production in the US in 1999. Even toward the end, they were decent tools, well worth their cost at Tandy. After the demise of Tandy, the production of Craftools moved offshore. Tools that I have seen and used were in my opinion lacking in impression, quality, and plating. Metal under the plating was not impressive, but hey, for the cost, what do you expect. However, the beveling tools are acceptable and a good entry level product. Buy it, if you like it and use it a lot, get a custom maker to make you a better one.

Ray Hackbarth made tools in the late 1940s and 1950s for the carvers at Porter and also advertised in papers and Magazines in the Phoenix area. Ray made great tools, you see them occasionally, but not often. He made some of the first swivel knives of what we could be called the "modern" design.

Gomph-Hackbarth Tools, 10754 Martineau Rd. N., Elfrida, AZ 85610 520-642-3891 are neither Gomph or Hackbarth. This company was started by Ellis Barnes who I talked to on the phone a lot. A lot of the knowlege of the history of stamping tools was locked-up in his head and he would spend hours on the phone talking about it. He was one of the original Craftool machinists or makers. I can only wish I wrote all that down when talking to him. Ellis made a line of tools under the Gomph-Hackbarth name in various steels, some 1018, and some stainless. I have about 20 or so of these tools and they are very good. I have one problem with them, I have big hands and they are too short. It isn't an all the time problem, but maul to finger interference does occur, enough that I just keep them in my collection. Ellis passed several years ago, and I miss him now that I have the time to spend on the phone. Lonnie Height was Ellis' assistant, and he took over for Ellis and seems to be doing a pretty good job of producing tools. Try them at a show, you may like them.

Robert Beard, http://robertbeardtools.scalabledata.com/catalog.html is a custom maker in New Mexico. Bob travels the county and internationally teaching classes, and his time in New Mexico handmaking tools. I say handmake here and that is exactly what happens. The handle of the tool is profiled by his assistant, and then Bob sits with his rotary handpiece and files and constructs the business end of the tool. Bob is the consummate artist, and can make anything you want, but you will have to wait a year or more to get them. His basic tools like bevelers and such are available at shows and if you take one of his classes, tools for that class will usually be available. Bob's tools are usually O1 tool steel, hardened and blued, beautifully blued like on a Beretta shotgun. Are these my favorite tools, yes, most definitely. Bob also makes arguably the best swivel knives and blades on planet earth in addition to a skiving knife I particularly am fond of. His edgers are very good also. Bob also makes videos that when available are excellent. Visit Bob at a show to see the excellent tools he makes and some of his artwork.

Barry King, Sheridan, WY 307-672-5657, http://www.barrykingtools.com/index.htm is a custom maker of stamping and other leatherworking tools. Barry makes it to most shows and his tools definately have glitz, but that ain't chrome pardner, that's stainless steel. Barry is the grandson of Don King but he's not locked into that era. Barry uses CNC machinery to make his tools and does it himself and with help in his own machine shop in Sheridan where everything from manufacture to quality control is right where it belongs. His tools are perfect and identical which is a good thing, and his geometrics are prized all over the leatherworking community. Barry also makes mauls and mallets for stamping or whatever. I have several of these up to a 96oz one for really whacking things. Again, these mauls are world renowned, and can be seen and tried at any show. Barry also makes some edgers that are pretty fine, and a good nuts and bolts swivel knife and blades that ain't elegant, but it sure works. You would not go wrong if you had only Barry King tools.

Jeremiah Watt, Horseshoe Brand Tools, Coalinga, CA 559-935-2172 www.ranch2arena.com is another long standing high quality toolmaker. His stamping tools are first drawer, but his saddlemaking and other general leatherworking tools are things of beauty, quality, and function. You can tell this man takes pride in his tools. His findings, or fittings are also first rate and will function perfectly on any saddle or other leather item.

Jay Gore: Gore Tool Route 1, Box 306-B Caddo Mills, Texas 75135-9801 800-859-8338 who is renowned for his geometrics. I don't think these tools are being produced at this time, they are fine tools.

McMillen Leather Tool Company 864 Four Waters Drive Sunrise Beach, MO 65079 phone: 573-374-7880, formerly of Kansas City is another excellent tool company. Don't try to make sense of the numbering system. This company has been producing for a long time and builds a fine product.

Craft Co. Japan has made stamps since at least 2009. The ones I have seen and used have been of good quality and execution. I have not found a supplier for them recently, but I keep seeing the stamps.

This is not by any means a list of all the toolmakers. This is just an overview of what you can reasonably expect to get or be able to find. Frank Eberle, Bill Woodriff, Roth, Barnes, Stohlman, and others all made tools but your chances of running across these are slim and they are probably not marked that well anyway. You occasionally run across RBS tools (I mean VERY occasionally) in a bunch of Craftools, Ellis told me they were some tools he and Stohlman made in collaboration with Mr Roth who bought Craftool in the beginning. It is unfortunate that most of these early tools are no longer used but only collected.



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