I recently got a pair of Hand Chisel Pliers (mentioned in my previous post here) from my local Tandy store, as I was experiencing some negative issues when trying to pierce two or more layers of leather, from one side. This tool looks like it would be one of the most simple tools to use, and while the actual functional aspect is quite easy, I learned really quick there are some nuances everyone should know.
If you were to ask me if I could use a set of pliers, before knowing about these chisel pliers, I would have laughed so hard that I’d truly roll on the floor. The idea that I might not know how to use pliers would have seemed so absurd! So this set can take a little bit to get used to, especially if you are someone that is detail oriented.
When I got home with the Chisel Pliers, I was ready to tackle the world, and nothing could cause the rare outlier of holes that was out of line with the masses (or almost missed the edge of the leather completely, jeez!). I’ll give you a brief run-down on my initial plan of action, and then the solution to get the best results.
Most of my work is using two layers of leather, although I have added a third layer on certain pieces. This work-flow will handle either. After I’ve cut my leather into the desired shapes, I mark a line along the edge where I will punch, so my results are as consistent as possible. I use the actual 4-toothed thonging chisel to lightly cut into the leather, creating my layout, by pressing the sharp chisel teeth gently into the leather. I follow this using my Japanese hammer to drive this same chisel deep enough so the teeth just come out the other side of the leather. I shift to my single-toothed chisel as design and shape require. After all of the stitching holes are complete on the first side, I apply contact cement to the inside mating surfaces of both pieces of leather (assuming just two layers on this example), and leave them to dry for about 25 minutes. When this time has elapsed, I carefully align the two pieces of leather, and press the areas that received contact cement, bonding them together. It is now time for the Chisel Pliers.
On my first piece, I put one of the plier’s teeth into one of the existing holes from my chisel, and squeezed the handles together. How much easier could it get, right? Well, I did this on four or five holes, since I “knew” this was so simple. Then I flipped the piece over to see my handy work. OMG! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It looked all snaggle-toothed, with one hole above my intended line, and the next below, and one really close to another. Wow, talk about brought back to reality! I grabbed a scrap piece of leather, from an earlier piece, that was already two layers thick. I laid out my stitching line on both sides, and then tried to make the chisel teeth from the pliers, hit the line on both sides. After a couple of tries I found something that worked. (I repeated this test, but on a single layer of leather, to show the difference.)
If I place one of the plier’s chisels into the pre-chiseled hole (on the first side), and sight along the top of the Chisel Plier’s head so it is in line with my stitching line, the rear chisel hits my line or so close that after stitching it is irrelevant. At first it may feel like this is adding a lot of extra time to the work, but after a couple of pieces, I noticed it has become automatic and flows at least as quickly as before, with better no damage to either side’s holes. (The results aspect is related to the thonging chisel not needing to cut as deep, and the damage from the chisel’s shoulders when using the multiple-head thonging chisel.)
On two-layer pieces, I don’t usually need to follow behind the Chisel Plier’s cut on the rear piece with my single-toothed chisel. This tool was extremely sharp out of the packaging, and required no additional sharpening or honing, and as it arrived, cut the leather as though it was butter; And this is with very minimal squeezing pressure on the handles. When I have 3-layer pieces, I still create the holes on the first side, glue up and then use the Chisel Pliers to generate the rear hole/alignment. I follow up with my single-toothed chisel, to connect the two outside holes, and as long as it is sharp, it only requires a gentle tap. Even though you’ve already created the alignment with the earlier process, you can potentially drive the chisel in a position that isn’t in alignment, and cut through at another position on the first side. Just try to be light-handed at first, and pay attention to how you hold the chisel and it’s alignment.
These Hand Chisel Pliers are a great addition for my work, since everything I make is hand-stitched. You might want to get yourself a pair if you’ve experienced any of the random error holes like I did, which can quickly cause a super leather piece to diminish in worth, or even kick it to the discard pile!
I hope this will help others to better use this type of tool, or perhaps give one a try, if you haven’t already. Thanks for stopping by to check out my article. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comment. You can also check out my other social sites, and reach me at them, too.
@LeeLairdWW on Twitter
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I’m sorry its been a while between articles, as it seems I’ve had less periods of contiguous time to knock out a full thought. For those who don’t know, I am (somewhat recently) active on my InstaGram account (@LeeLairdWoodworking) and as it is a more brief scenario, post quite regularly which hopefully can help fill any voids. Ok, lets get on with it…
I made a small detailing knife, using a repurposed blade, and wanted to make a sheath to keep it (and anyone around it) from getting dinged or nicked. I have a small range of leathers from which to choose, and decided on a fairly thick and supple dark brown piece, that was large enough for my pattern.
I used a white-leaded pencil to draw the pattern onto the dark leather, so it would be easier to see while following the line with my take-no-prisoners Fiskar shears. Ok, so I cut it out, blah, blah, and marked along the edge on the top side of the piece, where I wanted my stitches to go. I used my multi-tooth thonging chisel to create the stitching holes on one side, and then applied my contact cement on the mating surfaces. After it dried, I aligned the edges and pressed them together with my vise, to activate the cement.
I’ve always used the single-toothed thonging head (from my little kit from Tandy, that came with six heads), to go back through the holes I punch before the cement was applied, so the alignment between the two layers would be spot on. When I used some of the “old standard” basic tanned leather for this type of process, everything went beautifully. With the leather for this current sheath, the soft and supple nature comes with a caveat, which is it can get damaged a bit easier. I noticed the surface of the leather, around the stitching holes (after the second pass with the single-tooth head), looked a little different, but figured it was no big deal.
I put the un-stitched sheath into my stitching pony, and used my usual saddle-stitch pattern to stitch it up nice and secure. After I’d removed the sheath from the pony, I was giving it a good once-over, and I noticed something odd. The stitching, on what was the second surface to get it’s stitching holes, looked great, but on the first side, not so much. The stitches were almost getting lost down in the leather. I thought this was strange, but it was the first time to work with this type leather, so thought it was just a one-off type thing.
After I’d used this same leather for another couple of projects, I noticed the same issue was recurring, with the stitching on the top surface looking different than on the bottom surface. I finally realized what was causing the issue, and devised a work-around, which is providing a better product.
Since the leather I’m using was fairly thick (about .130″), and the thonging chisel had to go through two layers, the shoulder on the chisel was actually going into the leather (on the top surface of course) and damaging the area between the holes. As the length of the chisel’s tooth was fairly short, it was very difficult to make it pierce the rear leather completely, while also keeping the shoulder from contacting the leather.
My solution is a two-pronged, which provides me options. I went and looked at the single-toothed thonging chisels that were one solid piece (read you can’t swap out the head), and saw the tooth was quite a bit longer than the multi-bit counterpart. I bought one of the solid chisels! While at Tandy, I’d also seen a tool that looked sort of like some type of pliers, but had a chisel on each jaw, that came together upon squeezing the handle. After assessing this tool, I bought this, too!
So with these two new tools at home, and with a quick sharpening of the single-tooth chisel, I was ready to test my “new work-flow”. Check back in the next day or so, and I’ll update you on the new tools in use.
Thanks for stopping by and checking out the article. I really appreciate everyone for their continued support. And as always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
@LeeLairdWW on Twitter
@LeeLairdWoodworking on InstaGram