I posted a Tweet yesterday that had some shaped leather, and a few tools, on a leather-working board from the 1960’s. It’s interesting how different certain items can look, especially when they are in their basic 2-D form (even though the leather of course has it’s thickness, making it 3-D, I’m referring to the flat nature), prior to completion.
The leather will end up as a more fully-formed head-cover design, for my old Plumb hatchet. I wanted to get the “what is it” question out of the way early on, so this article would put more focus on the design and/or how it’s made.
I’m betting some may wonder why I’d spend more time making a second head-cover, for this old hatchet, when the first one seemed to “cover” the bases. (Ok, ok, I won’t give up my day job!) While my previous leather head-cover allowed me to add some “chops” to my repertoire, as it was my first hand-stitched piece, it almost immediately became obvious that I needed to pay closer attention to the order of my operations. I was so excited to get after the “meat and potatoes” of the stitching, that I didn’t fully take into consideration how I would handle attaching rivets, straps or snaps, after the two main pieces were essentially locked together. For those who have never installed any rivets or snaps, it can be an interesting experience, which I’ll provide a tip or two a bit later. I may still play around with modifying the first head-cover, at some time, even if just to test ideas.
As some of my followers will know, I made the first leather head-cover for this hatchet out of some really heavy-duty saddle leather. I used this type of leather for two reasons: it is very robust and strong, and it’s what I had on hand! I’ve since purchased a range of leather types and colors, so I can make more of my decisions based on design rather than simply inventory of materials. As I examined a range of commercially made leather head-covers, the differing designs and heft of leathers used seemed to run the gamut. This was time well spent and definitely broadened my thought on the matter, which at the very least aided my choices for the updated head-cover.
I started the new head-cover in much the same way I do for most projects, with a sketch of my design, laying out all of the parts and any perceived pitfalls. The learned pitfalls are important in most every type of creation or design work, and some are avoided purely using your logic, while others take time doing the work. After my initial sketch on paper, to scale, I cut my design out and compared it directly to the Plumb hatchet. The design looked like a decent fit (the 3-D nature of this type an item can add complexity, so keep that in mind), so while the pattern was around the hatchet’s head, I marked where I would place the rivets and the snap. Marking directly from your workpiece is so much more accurate than measuring one and carrying it over to the other.
Now that I had confirmed the pattern looked viable, a quick trace onto my chosen leather, and then I cut to my line. As information, the leather I used is decently textured, and even though it is a very light color, no pencil lead showed up on it. I ended up choosing a super fine-tipped Sharpie to mark this puppy, including where the rivets and snap would attach.
After I cut out the main part of the head-cover, I took it to the hatchet’s head to test, just to make sure I wasn’t wasting time on a piece that would never work. As everything was still in the green, I found a piece of dark leather to use for the strap. I used the head of a snap I purchased for this type of project, to help determine how wide I should cut the leather, for this strap. After using the grooving tool to mark out the width of my strap, I used a metal ruler as a guide for my X-acto knife, while cutting the leather. Just remember that many similar blades have bevels on both sides, which can require a bit more attention to follow your guide. I cut the strap intentionally long, as I planned to trim it to final length, after the head-cover was complete and on the hatchet.
I had an old adjustable-headed punch that was having some trouble cutting cleanly through materials, and when I examined it, the jaw that has the anvil was bent so the punch only hit on one edge. As this tool wasn’t very robust, I upgraded to a heavy-duty design, that still has a similar adjustability. I knew I needed holes for a snap as well as a couple of rivets, and I decided to use a scrap piece of leather, to determine which of the punch’s cutters would be the correct size. It turned out the shaft of the rivets was a bit smaller than that of the snap, and there was a one-size difference, on the punch’s head. Now that I knew which punch number related to each, it was time to punch a couple of holes in the leather. I punched the hole for the snap first, as there was only one at this point. After changing the punch for the smaller size of the rivets, I punched only at the mark that was deepest from the leather’s edge. Then I punched the same size hole in the strap, just centering the hole across it’s width, and slipped the shaft of a rivet into the leather body and placed the strap down onto the rivet. This will keep the two pieces aligned, while I punched the second hole through both the body and the strap, at the same time. Before I pulled the trigger on the second rivet hole, I compared the strap’s orientation with a mark I made on my pattern, which pointed toward the intended pathway of the strap.
With all three of the holes punched, it was time to set the rivets and the male portion of the snap. Both the rivets set and the snap set came with small anvils and a driving tool each, to apply the pressure in each’s needed manner. *(Tip: Make sure you are working on a really solid surface, when setting the rivets or snaps, as it can make a huge difference. I initially was setting the snap, while on a workbench with a 1/4″ plywood top. Even with a strong smack, the snap wouldn’t completely seat. I took my setup to my shop workbench, and using the same hammer and strength of blow, the first hit almost completely snugged it up. The thin top of the other bench was absorbing enough of the impact to effect the outcome.) Make sure you choose and orient the snap parts correctly, as a snap is made up of four individual pieces. The anvil is slightly curved on one face and flat on the other, so you will also want to make sure the correct side is facing up. The curved surface is used when setting the female portion of the snap, and the flat surface for the male portion. On the rivet kit that I have, the anvil is like that included for my snaps, but the flat side is the only one used, when setting the rivets.
With the rivets both set, and of course the strap attached, and the male portion of the snap set, its time for some pre-stitching work. I planned to use some contact cement along the stitching edge, to prevent the parts from moving around, like occurred in the last head-cover. On the inside surface of the mating edges, where I will later stitch, I drew a line about 3/16″ from the edge. This was just as a visual guide for me, as I was applying the contact cement, and no one would ever see it again. I used the corner of a small paint brush, to keep the contact cement into such a small pathway, and lightly covered the designated areas. The directions for my contact cement says to wait 15-25 minutes after applying, so it is no longer tacky, but no longer than a couple of hours, before bringing the two surfaces together. I tested it after about 40 minutes, and it was perfect, so I very carefully aligned an edge and then gradually brought more area together. After all of the mating surface was together, I gave it a good squeeze, and set it to the side for a couple of hours. I had something else on my plate at that time, or I would have moved forward on the stitching, without the extra delay.
I set my grooving tool so it marked where I wanted the stitching to occur, and ran a line between my start and end positions. I setup my Thonging tool with the thin 3-toothed head, and placed my backer board on my bench top, to keep both the tool and the top protected. I used a little paraffin on the chisel tips of the Thonging tool, every so often, to reduce the effort of removing the tool from the leather. I placed all three of the chisel tips into the line I made with the grooving tool, and made a couple of hits with a Japanese hammer, piercing both sides of the leather. I found it was better for me, if I made one pass over all the stitching area, just barely coming out the back piece of leather. Then coming back for a second pass and going deeper. It seemed more difficult to remove the tool from the leather if I went deep on the first pass. Your milage may vary. On this cover, the placement of the Thonging tool was perfect, as I didn’t end up needing to change to the single-chisel head as I reached the corner. Its nice when things work out like that.
With all of the stitching holes created, the cover went into my Stitching Pony, and I put some waxed thread into my needles. I followed the same stitching pattern that I used on the previous cover (seen here).
After the stitching was complete, I put the cover onto the Plumb hatchet, so I could determine where the female portion of the snap would go. I pulled the strap so there was no slack, but not stretching tight, and made my mark between 1/8″ – 1/4″ shy of directly on top of the male snap below. I took the cover back off the hatchet and used the punch, set again for the snap’s shaft diameter, to make a snug hole. Since this is the female portion of the snap, the curved face of the small anvil faced upward, with the cap of the snap resting in the center. A few focused blows with the hammer set this part of the snap.
I again put the head-cover onto the hatchet, and brought the strap up under the shoulder of the head, and snapped it in place. Since I offset the location of the snap slightly, there is a little tension when you reach the attaching point, which is just what I wanted.
If you have a hatchet or an axe, currently without a head-cover, you may want try making one, too. I personally love that feeling of accomplishment that comes from making what I have, even better!
I hope you enjoyed the article and let me know if you have any questions or comments.
I finally found a little time to finalize the basic head-cover for the old Plumb hatchet, from the design I spoke about a couple of days ago (if you haven’t already, you can check it out here).
After amassing some leather stitching tools (while I got beginner versions of most items, I still got a couple of tools that someone that will only do this one time, could likely leave out of their purchase), I was really chomping at the bit to get on with completing the head-cover. As many likely know, I was also “on hold” as I needed to complete my Stitching Pony before I could really do any real stitching. With the Pony 95% complete (check the build out here, and the tools in my possession, I was only lacking some contact cement or rubber cement. This morning I picked up some of both, to see which worked better with leather stitching, but at the last moment I decided to try the first piece without either (I’d have to think our ancestors had to have done without any adhesives at one point or another).
I’d already used my Glen-Drake Tite-Mark around the edge of my leather blanks, to mark the sections where I planned to stitch and making a light scoring cut. This was before I picked up the stitching tools, which included the grooving tool that will certainly be my go-to on future leather projects. For this first one, the Tite-Mark worked just fine and the light cut provided a nice guide to follow when I created my stitching holes.
I used my Thonging tool (before working with this tool on my bench, I placed a piece of softwood down on top of the bench, and it was ONLY here that I used the Thonging tool on the leather) to create the stitching holes, and the first side of the head-cover went as close to flawlessly as I could imagine, while I used the three-chisel head and followed an overlapping pattern as I advanced. The only slight issue was when I came to the corner. I’d already planned in advance, to use the single-chisel head in the Thonging tool for the hole where it changes direction, so kept that in mind as I was getting closer to the corner with the wider head. There is obviously no way to overlap with the single-chisel, so the actual placement of the chisel, for that one hole was eye-balled to try and keep a consistent distance between holes.
Now it was time to create the stitching holes on the second side of the head-cover. After aligning the edges of the two side pieces as best as I could, with the side with the holes I just created facing up, I decided to try using the single-chisel head to go hole by hole, placed into a hole I previously created and drive it part way through the second side. The single-chisel head was easier to withdraw from the leather, so it made sense to use it while following my “pattern”. There were a few “almost” issues, actually more like true issues, when I decided to check progress before making it to the end of the piece. Even though I was holding both pieces down firmly, the two were sliding ever so slightly, likely when I struck the Thonging tool. So I went back and re-aligned, and used the three-chisel head to follow the holes on the first side. This was still with the first side on top of the second side. For some reason this retained the nice hole alignment better, and I started striking it so it completely pierced the second side. When I had retraced all of my holes, I took just the second side and flipped it over so the smooth side was up. I made one more pass with the three-chisel head, as the holes created while the two pieces were together were less obvious, and driving the chisel head through from the outside surface made it easier to see the holes for the stitching process.
To prepare for stitching, I again aligned the two sides, but this time I could use the holes rather than the edges as I did before, shifting the pieces slightly until I could sight through the holes of both pieces and see my light source. With the two sides in the proper orientation, I held them tightly while I slipped the two-piece unit into the jaws of my stitching pony, and tightened the wing-nut. I placed the pony/leather unit into the face vise on my bench, and applied enough pressure until it was secure.
I wasn’t exactly sure how much of the waxed thread I’d need to stitch this small project, but I was sure I didn’t want to run out part way through, so I decided to start with a piece approximately a yard long (36″). I based this on the distance from one end hole to the other, doubled that, and then added some extra as a cushion. I fed each end of the thread into a separate stitching needle, and following the guidance from associates at Tandy, twisted the loose end of the thread around the main part. At first this actually seemed to do a decent job of securing the thread, but after a few holes, I was working hard to prevent the thread from slipping out of the needles (which it actually did a handful of times, during the stitching). With this small project, I decided to just deal with it and finish, rather than spending extra time messing around to find a better way to lock the thread to the needles.
I like the look of leather pieces that were stitched using what is called a saddle stitch, so I decided I’d use that technique on this head-cover. Initially you feed one needle through the first hole (I could choose either end hole on this project) and pulling the thread lightly until there was an equal length on both sides of the leather. On the first actual stitch, the left needle is fed through the next hole and pulled so there is no slack in that side’s thread, and then the right needle is fed through the same hole as the left, from the opposite side. After taking up any slack from the right needle’s thread, you pull both threads from the needle end until taught. Each time the left needle is fed through the leather and all the slack is removed, I held that needle/thread with tension, back towards the previous hole in the leather, before taking the right needle so it passed the left’s taught thread and fed into the same hole as the left just went through. By using the same repeating technique, it creates what is a knot of sorts, which helps prevent unravelling, even if one section of thread is accidentally cut or damaged in the future.
When my stitching reached the corner of the piece, I loosened the nut on the stitching pony, repositioning the leather for stitching the other edge and retightened the nut. After repositioning the leather, I again pulled the two loose ends of the thread, to make sure no slack crept in while moving my piece. When I reached the last of the stitching holes, I worked my way back the opposite direction through the same holes, until I had re-stitched three holes. This helps lock the stitching so it should never come undone, by itself. I cut both loose threads so there was about 1/8″ of thread sticking out from the leather, on both sides of the last hole stitched, and with a small butane lighter, heated each end until they melted slightly and shrunk back to the leather surfaces. This only require a few moments of flame on each end, and by keeping the flame so it just reached the thread, the leather did not get scorched.
After removing the head-cover from my stitching pony, I was rather amazed how nice the stitching actually looked. I know, I’ll probably break my own arm, patting myself on the back. Haha. But seriously, I had fairly low expectations on this first try at hand stitching, so it was great to have such nice results.
I planned to use some rivets to provide some extra support at the corners, and I think I may give that a try in the next couple of days, if time allows. I also included a strap on my original design drawing, but I reassessed the direction of force it would apply, and have redrawn a couple of designs that I believe should work better. While I can still attach a strap at this point, in the future I think it would be wiser to attach the strap to the rear piece of the head-cover, before stitching the main pieces together. These are details that you learn, as you go through any work process, but something I’m glad to share as well.
Thank you, as always, for stopping by and checking out this article. Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or comments, and I’ll answer as quickly as possible.