In a recent article, I talked about the tools I purchased in order to hand-stitch some of the leather items I make. I also mentioned my family had done some forms of leather working, when I was a kid. The only stitching that we did at that time, or my family did, used leather lacing rather than the waxed threading that I’m using.
I have completed a number of hand-stitched leather items since obtaining my updated tool kit, and something I did prior to my last piece, made a huge improvement! I was laying out the location of the stitching on my last piece, and was next to my inside bench, where I have my new magnifying work light. I gathered the tools I use for creating the stitching holes, and was getting ready to shift to my larger and heavier bench in my shop. My work light reflected off of one of the chisel’s bevels, and what I saw led to a more efficient tool.
As I moved the chisel (thonging tool) under the magnifier, so I could get a more detailed look, I was somewhat amazed. The bevel area(s) all were much more rough than I expected, which really shouldn’t have surprised me at all, with my experience with woodworking hand tools. It was like everything finally started to make more sense. Whenever I’d driven one of the chisels through any leather that had some thickness, I had to spend a fair amount of time working to get it back out. I’d read about others applying some wax to the chisels, to make the process work better, and I still struggled even with some paraffin added after every other time it went through the leather.
For those that don’t know, I’m a woodworker that knows how to sharpen tools. I’ve both demonstrated and trained well over 1,000 woodworkers on sharpening, so why didn’t I think about sharpening these thonging tools (leather punching chisels)? I guess I never noticed my family sharpening this type of tool, and was stuck in some sort of “kid”-mode, where if your parents didn’t do it, it must not need to be done! Well, that changed immediately upon seeing the thonging tool’s bevels under magnification. I have a couple of folding diamond hones I would use, since the individual chisel teeth are really narrow, and I didn’t want to create grooves in my good water stones.
I held both the thonging tool and diamond hone, so I could see them together, through my magnifier. As the bevels on these little tools are very tiny, it helped me see when the bevel was aligned on the hone. At this point I let my sense of touch take over, and I could feel when the bevel’s flat was engaged as much as possible. On the first 3-tooth tool, when the bevels were touching, all other parts of the tool were “floating”. This required me to lock my wrist and really focus, in order to keep a constant angle, as I moved the tool over the hone. Surprisingly, the second side of this same tool, had yet a different bevel angle, so it kept me on my toes.
I worked both bevels until their previous coating of oxide was replaced by a the diamond’s scratch pattern, and I felt a burr form on the opposite side (for some reason, my camera didn’t get a good image showing this stage). I applied some honing paste (from my Tormek T-7) to a small flat piece of wood, and repeated the same movements over the wood, which acted to remove all of the scratches on the bevels.
I was finally just about ready to work the next leather piece, which had fairly thick leather for both sides. As I was working the previous leather pieces, most of the time the stitching holes looked great from the side that was facing up when I was punching it. The rear side was a different story and seemed to have a mind of it’s own, and at times, the punched holes were so close to the edge that they almost missed hitting leather. I decided I’d purposefully only strike through the top layer of leather on the current piece, using the 3-chisel head, working around the piece creating an appealing template. I noticed that even with two lighter-blows of my mallet, the chisels advance further, yet still came out of the leather extremely easily without any paraffin!
Next, I came back through with my single-chisel head on my thonging tool, aligning it in each of the individual holes, and while maintaining vertical as much as was possible, strike the tool with a straight downward force. Using this technique with additional focus, created a much more consistent hole layout, on both sides of the piece.
So what have I learned? I’ll treat any future leather working tool just like I do any woodworking tool, where the first step is to always sharpen and hone, before they ever touch wood (or leather). Remember that as the tools go through a medium (wood or leather), they are likely to move either towards the least amount of resistance, or due to the bevel(s) on the tool. I need to give my leather working the same attention as I always do my woodworking, as it is another skill activity.
Hopefully you’ll find this useful, supportive, or even enlightening! What ever you do, don’t ever give up on anything, and always strive for your best. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
@LeeLairdWW on Twitter
I know, when I write, I have a tendency to generate some really long articles. This article, will be so different, that I’m almost done! Ok, not really, but it will be super short, for me.
I’ve written about completing my Stitching Pony, and it was doing its job, but there was one aspect that needed tweaking. When I was securing some leather in the Pony’s jaws, it would begin to tighten, and then it almost required a tool to hold the head of the bolt while I further tightened the wing-nut.
When I stitched up the second head-cover for the Plumb hatchet (see here, if you’d like to read the article), the simple solution just flooded over me. I got me a nut (what we called Aircraft nuts with the nylon on one side of the threads, as they were used on aircraft, so they wouldn’t loosen due to vibration) that fit the 3/8″ – 16 pattern of the bolt, and another washer.
I took the wing-nut and washer off of the existing bolt, pulled the bolt back so the thread-end was only through one of the Pony’s legs, and put the other washer on followed by the new nut. I snugged it up against the inside surface of the Pony’s leg (the first one the bolt passes through), which held the bolt secure, while allowing the second leg to remain unimpeded by this setup.
Now, with the Pony’s base held in my vise, I can easily snug up the jaws, with only dealing with the wing-nut. If I find that I still want extra holding power, I still have another idea to handle that issue, but that’s for another day.
If you’ve made a similar Stitching Pony, or have something else along the same idea, this is a really simple modification that makes it much more friendly to use. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and as always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
#Woodworking #Leather #Leather working #hand stitching #Lee Laird #Aircraft nuts