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I’ve only been doing leather work for about a year but have come to the conclusion that this is an expensive hobby- at least the way I’ve been approaching it. I really admire the talented craftsmen that post on this site and aspire to get close to that level of work. I made a few wallets and belts - all as gifts - and found that the leather became pretty costly. I used Herman Oak precut blanks doubled up and hand sewn and the belts probably cost me $35 each with the hardware included.  The wallets weren’t bad expense wise but I did a bag and wound up spending another big chunk of change. I suspect there are much more economical ways to make these projects- I would certainly like to hear any suggestions. I was a woodturner prior to trying leather and I guess I was spoiled with the free wood. I enjoy leather but I am wondering about the long term since leather (and everything else) is getting more expensive. Do most leather crafters rely on selling some products just to finance the hobby?

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I was the same way a couple of years ago. I tried the budget shoulders, 4 for $100 oil tanned sides, and other less expensive routes. I found that while there are a few worthy mentions (maverick leather in Oregon has some great sales), I just get more value out of a side of Hermann Oak. For me, I do sell a few holsters.  This helps defray the cost a great bit. I'm looking at $250 to the door here for 7/8 oz B grade side, and the same for a 4/5 oz side. I try hard to find a purpose for all the scrap I generate,  but still have a big box under the bench. I find i can use small pieces of 4/5 for a lot of speed loader pouches, wrist bands, mag pouches etc. But, there also I have invested time in making quite a few molds for these items. So I guess yes, it is not cheap, but let me ask you. Do you fish? That ain't cheap either...

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1. don't buy pre-cut blanks or pieces. Buy the leather by the square foot. It works out waaaaaay cheaper in the long term. Buy from a seller who quotes $X per square foot, not from a place that prices $Y for approx A to B square feet because you'll most likely get a smaller piece for the money, thus the sq ft price will be higher

2. shop around to buy that leather, you can get quality leather from many places and prices can vary as well

3. If having to pay shipping or delivery to you consider investing and buying in more than you need now. Its the same delivery charge from my supplier for one piece of hide of 20 sq ft as it is for three hides that size

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Thanks for the replies and advice. I don’t mind the upfront costs for tools and machinery - it’s the ongoing cost of the raw material- Leather. As mentioned , there are better ways to buy leather than what I have been doing - mainly for convenience. Thanks again.

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Check out Wickett & Craig you buy the sides from them I have been using them for years and have had no issues. Here is a link to there website.

 http://wickett-craig.com

 

 

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... Or consider getting your pilot's license,  Just sayin'.

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Free wood?

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There is another different side to leatherwork; and that is using Chrome leather, far cheaper but uses the same skills

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G'Day,

Not sure how this compares in the US & UK, (really ex$y I'm guessing), but I pay $250-300au per  4mm veg tan butt or shoulder, its what I use for belts etc.  3.5mm veg tan side is around $300+ . The 5-6mm heavy VT ,  was $550au - for a shoulder. I was warned that will be higher by the next time I buy some more, I'm dreading it. Not all of it is Aussie, some is Italian.   I don't worry about delivery, I drive 2-3 hrs and pick it up. 

Way back when... I was kinda lucky I guess, that I started my 'hobby-to-be-business'  when tools &  materials were cheap- ish, S/H tools were still available, and so were the 'ye olde( paper)  classifieds' .  But now its all online  , tools, materials,  and delivery costs can really mount up.... especially now.  

If I was to start it as a hobby today, I might think twice about it. 

HS

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Funny that there's a parallel topic about why the hobby/craft doesn't need to cost a lot...

Everyone finds their own "happy medium".  If you cannot afford or don't have access to certain tools, you find work-arounds.  That's always been the case.  My father was a farmer in the first half of his life and there weren't any local stores where you could purchase parts for all of the various farm implements.  So if the tractor broke down, you found a way to fix it.  If you needed a part that you couldn't get but the fields couldn't wait, you figured out a way to make one.  The farmers could fabricate all sorts of things when the situation demanded it.

So some purchase top-shelf Terry Knipshieldknives and others use snap-off razor knives from The Dollar Store.  I think it is soon to be the $1.50 store, but never mind.  

Regarding leather, places like Springfield Leather offer discount sides for as little as $30.00.  You can do a lot of practice and learning with that amount of leather.  But yes, if you only buy HO pre-cuts, you are taking the expensive road.

I'm not saying the $30.00 sides are equal to the HO blanks, not at all.  But I've used several of them and had excellent results.

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To keep my costs down, as a hobbyist, I shop the sales and don't buy the premium leathers. I have so much to learn that it is better for me to get a lot of leather (a variety of weights) as inexpensively as possible, because at the end of the day, as my skills improve, the budget leather I use looks and works great. Tools are a different matter. I just pace myself and try to get what I really need. I bought a few cheap tools to start but found out that wasn't the way to go so now I am very selective and willing to pay more for better tools. I also fabricate as many of my tools as I can.

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Excellent advice. I did some searching of more budget leathers and paid attention to how they are sold (sq.ft.) and It’s clear I can get by much cheaper.

12 hours ago, Woodshed said:

To keep my costs down, as a hobbyist, I shop the sales and don't buy the premium leathers.

This is key advice for someone like me just starting out. I ordered some more budget friendly leather - we’ll see how that works out. Never tried chrome tan - I just like the look and feel of veg tan. 
 

thanks everyone for the replies and advise.

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More sage wisdom, :lol:

Get to know one or two leather suppliers. in a business sense. That relationship will work well for you in the long term.

Ask those suppliers if they have any old or odd leathers they need shot of. I mean, I once got a big hide from Le Prevo real cheap because the way it had been stored part of it got darkened by light and another part was dusty dirty. It cleaned up well and once dyed the colour was all the same

Ask for what I think you call 'close out' (?) leather. Sometimes a place has only one or two certain hides left. Too few to offer up on their website maybe but they might sell them off a bit cheaper to get room for a new order - I've got leather that way (I also got my Cadillac Coupe DeVille that way! :blink:)

Chrome tan has its place but certain leathers are suitable for only certain things.

Chrome tan was great for this hat

Basic hat, #2ss.JPG

But its no good for covering a game board

I've made book covers from both chrome and veg tan leathers

Chrome

Book cover, 05s.jpg

Veg

Book cover, type 2, Joyce, 01bLWs.jpg

 

If you are really skint, get along to some 'thrift' stores. See if they've got in some old furniture that is no good to sell and they're going to dump. Some of it might have leather on it which you can cut off and re-use

Edited by fredk

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10 hours ago, fredk said:

Ask for what I think you call 'close out' (?)

Great minds think alike. I have  supplier in Queensland that has a 'clear out' of excess stock, over runs etc. , and often  super cheap too. For example, a bundle of 5 roo hides, some imperfect,  would be somewhere around $20-30 au +P&P, about $20-30,  I order more than one bundle , and anything else worth having, still works out cheap. So it is worth asking about discounted  leather,  and 2nd, 3rd grade hides . 

HS

*love the new recruit to play  "Spock"  :rofl:

Edited by Handstitched

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I dunno, it depends what you're making really...

Personally I find it a bad idea to try and cut costs, or use cheaper leather or even buy leather at sales.  Because if you look at the cost of a bag for example, even if you use bridle leather, riri zippers, ritza thread, solid brass hardware and saphir cream, the total cost of materials is still small, almost negligible, compared to the main cost which is your specialised labour with your specialised tools.  People here are skilled, and that comes with a cost.  Ring a tiler or a carpenter or (God help us) plumber, and ask him to come to your house and make repairs 9-5 for 3 days straight, can you imagine what he'd charge you?  A lot.  And that's the cost of your labour for making a bag, no reason why it would it be any different.

There are people out there who charge more than $2k USD for a normal, basic, but well made messenger bag, made from good materials. That is actually a fair price for a large, quality item hand made by a skilled person in a western country.  If they skimped on materials it would make for an average to crappy bag, they'd have to drop their price by half or more, and for what?  to save $100?  It doesn't make any sense.

I do suspect that a lot of leatherworkers severely undervalue themselves and the value of their labour.

Leatherworking as a hobby.... Can it get expensive?  Sure, it can.   Get good at it, then get even better, then make something you'd really be proud to sell, and sell it.   Do that once or twice a month and it should cover most if not all your costs.  And use exactly the materials that you feel are appropriate for the look and feel and functionality of the thing you're making, not cheaper.   I think that's a better philosophy than letting the price of materials determine the quality and/or aesthetic of what you're making.  Or wasting time and energy trying to make use of scraps and offcuts that was never part of your plan.

Now if you can find exactly the material you want at a lower price, sure, get it.  But don't let whatever you're finding cheap determine what it is you're making, make the thing you want the way you want it.

That's my 2c anyway, YMMV

 

 

Edited by Spyros

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But the thing is, first you have to get good at it. And in my opinion and experience, cheap leather is perfectly fine for practising cutting and sewing.  Actually, I have made more out of my shitty split leather (€ 90 the double butt - should have known that something is wrong) and the chrome-tan I've had lying around for ages than out of the supposedly good-quality veg tan I bought from my local shop. Because with the cheap stuff I'm not afraid of messing up. 

And I think it's a really bad idea to start thinking about selling too early. Not to mention that some people just don't want all the hassle of dealing with customers...

 

Edited by Klara

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1 hour ago, Klara said:

Because with the cheap stuff I'm not afraid of messing up.

Yeah I know that feeling well. Don't  start with crocodylus porosus.

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Life's too short for crap leather

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There are a lot of very good leathers that don't cost what Herman Oak costs.  To read this thread one would think anything less the the best is crap leather, nonsense.  I buy what I can afford and make it look like it should cost more, it's what craftsmanship is about.  I also don't sell; I do occasionally make to order with the "customer" selecting and paying for the leather, labor is free, it's my hobby not a business.

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ANY hobby I take up (and there have been a few) always seems to turn out expensive!:rolleyes:

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2 hours ago, dikman said:

ANY hobby I take up (and there have been a few) always seems to turn out expensive!

I've been there!  The worst was woodworking.

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woodworking is strangely popular, for a hobby where you spend a tonne of money for the privilege of pushing sticks with your bare hands against scary spinning blades while filling your lungs with sawdust and spending your weekends researching sharpening methods for your endless list of planes & chisels, dust collection solutions, noise insulation for your garage so your neighbour stops complaining about your air compressor, and memorising safety lists for working on the table saw for years and ending up with all 10 fingers.

And then eventually you make a beautiful timber box that people receive with great excitement, then they open it to see what is inside, it's empty, and they look at you surprised and you're like

"ah, no, the gift is the actual box"

....."oh"

LOL

But, I've never met anybody who didn't want another leather bag :)

Edited by Spyros

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When my father sort-of gave up making cabinets and things for sale he went into 'hobby' mode. He then spent most of his time making wood stands for his woodworking machines and boxes or cabinets to hold all their removable parts

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1 minute ago, fredk said:

When my father sort-of gave up making cabinets and things for sale he went into 'hobby' mode. He then spent most of his time making wood stands for his woodworking machines and boxes or cabinets to hold all their removable parts

That's pretty much all I do with woodworking thess days, workshop cabinets, stitching ponies and jigs for leatherworking :D

Edited by Spyros

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10 hours ago, Squid61 said:

There are a lot of very good leathers that don't cost what Herman Oak costs.  To read this thread one would think anything less the the best is crap leather, nonsense.  I buy what I can afford and make it look like it should cost more, it's what craftsmanship is about.  I also don't sell; I do occasionally make to order with the "customer" selecting and paying for the leather, labor is free, it's my hobby not a business.

Cheap leather is just fine...

There is a lot that can be done with oak tanned leather or chrome tanned or oil tanned. Each one has a purpose and use...it's not "all about the Craftsman" making the items....it's about what the end user will use effectively and like. 

 

Sure I like the look and feel of certain leathers when working with them and some work better than others...but ultimately it isn't exactly about what I want...I'm just the guy putting it together. It's the people who use this stuff and like it that matters most.  

 

I have no need for a phone case to hang off my belt other than to show off my work...if I was inclined. But I'm not inclined...

These people we make stuff for...they are the ones that count. If I can make it happen...great. if it requires something special they are going to have to cough up either for the leather or tools or both.  Maybe I can find a workaround... maybe not. I can always try. My latest workaround was using a clothes iron, cheap iron letters and embossing tape.  Worked like a charm. 

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