I have two of the screwdrivers that are offered by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, the No. 4 which is the stubby straight blade used on the chip breaker’s screw, and the No. 2 which is another stubby used on the split nuts on Lie-Nielsen’s hand saws (I’ve found it doesn’t fit all of my vintage saws, but that isn’t a ding, as they made it to fit their saws). When I take some hand planes or hand saws with me to another site, I of course bring these screwdrivers along, but they’ve always just been loose.
I was thinking about another potential job last week, and I had a little spare time, so I drew up a pattern for a leather holster with which I’d carry my Lie-Nielsen screwdrivers, and they wouldn’t get banged around, nor accidentally ding another tool. When you are dealing with leather, it can be very simple to lay out your pattern if the item isn’t too complicated. When you look at these little screwdrivers, they really don’t look like they should be much trouble, but lots of little details play into how easy the leather behaves. If the leather is super thin and flexible, I find it quite a bit easier, as the leather will just conform to the shape you ask of it. With thicker and not as flexible leathers, it can get a bit more tricky! I had leather that was fairly thick, but also somewhat flexible, so I was hoping it would kind of balance out.
Ok, back to talking about coming up with a pattern, which again seems like something that you just draw some lines and get going, right? Well, on cylindrical or conical items, like these screwdrivers there are a couple of ways. I initially went with a very simplistic method, which was to take a piece of paper, and wrap it half way around the screwdriver, and mark the two end points. This would, in theory, match up to exactly half the shape of the screwdriver, and since I was making it from two pieces (or halves), the two together would be the perfect fit for the screwdriver.
Ok, before I talk about the other details that also need acknowledgement, let me share what it probably the more precise method for obtaining measurements for your pattern. This second method will use a little math from school, but don’t go run and hide just yet, as I’m giving you the equation and will explain. With the shape of the screwdrivers, if you cut straight across the handle and look at the end, you’d see a circle. As some of you may recall, to get the distance around a circle (the circumference), the equation is 2πr (you multiply 2 times Pi, times the radius). Since this holster is made from a front and back piece of leather, each will deform to fit half of the shape of the screwdriver, changing the equation to πr, for each piece. If you aren’t sure how to get the radius of the handle, just measure across the thickness with something accurate, like a digital caliper. Whatever value you measure, will need to divided by 2, as your measurement is the full diameter, of which the radius is half. And if you don’t have a fancy calculator that has a key on it for Pi (π), you can just use 3.1415 which will be plenty accurate enough. Ok, that was the toughest part, and you made it through. (Or at least I hope you did. Maybe another cup of coffee??)
With the information we now know, we can draw out our pattern. After laying out the location for the stitching on one sider, measure over the distance you calculated, and mark for the stitching down the center of the holster. Measure the same distance again, away from the first line of stitching, and this will create the space for the second screwdriver. I chose to have stitching across the bottom of my holster, to keep the tip-ends completely protected. I physically laid the screwdrivers on my developing pattern, to decide how much room to allow, when the leather deforms when the screwdrivers are pushed into the completed holster. Just remember that as the two sides are pushed outward, the closed system of leather, will cause the bottom stitching to pull in towards the tip. If you have really flexible leather, this could be a decent amount, but it wasn’t too bad with the thicker leather I used.
Before I talk about the actual creation process of this holster, let me share one more caveat in the pattern/design phase of leather working. As I’ve mentioned, the leather thickness and stiffness can readily affect the end results. Even with the ideal leather and the calculated measurements I spoke about above, remember that as we hand stitch the leather with the saddle stitch, we pull both lines nice and taut after each hole. This is the best practice, as it keeps the thread/sinew/… down and protected from damage, but this also can add something to this design. Since it is taut, the stitching is keeping the two pieces together, and the force spreads out slightly, so it isn’t just at a single point. This is along the lines of sharpening when you are attempting to reach a zero radius at the tip of the blade to have perfect sharpness. In this leather, the spreading of force causes the measurements on which we based our design, to in essence shrink slightly, as the force spread is causing leather that was anticipated available to flex and shift, to be bound down. So what I’m saying, is you need to take this occurrence into consideration, so you can have a fudge factor (or whatever you wish to call it), providing enough flexing material between the areas under force, as you would have in the perfect world. Unfortunately I can’t give you a value that will always work, as the differences in the leather you may use will have a fair contribution in the amount of this behavior. Ok, so you’ll need to get busy testing and trying different materials and keep a log, so you’ll know what to expect when you again use a certain type of leather. On with this creation…
I cut out two pieces of leather, with the first the size of my paper pattern. For the second piece (the back of the holster), I added a little over an inch to the length of the front piece, so the handles wouldn’t stick beyond the leather on both pieces. I marked where I planned to stitch, along the three edges, and then also for the center row of stitching. Before using contact cement to lock to two pieces together, I always use a multi-toothed thonging tool to create the stitching holes in the top piece.
I’ve had too much variation in how the thonging tool behaves, when trying to go through multiple layers of leather, at the same time. After all of the holes are created in the front piece, now the contact cement is applied. Its a workflow that is good for me, so give it a try if you’d like. After the pieces are cemented together, I use the single-toothed thonging tool, going through the holes in the top piece that I made earlier, and creating the holes in exact alignment on the back piece.
From this point, almost everything is exactly the same as in my most recent leather project, which you can read here, except for one thing. Rather than stitching from the start to end, with one continuous thread, on this piece the outside perimeter is handled in this way, but the center line of stitching is accomplished after the other stitching is done. This center section is stitched with one continuos line of thread, but is not attached to the perimeter stitching. As I still used the saddle stitch, it is still just as strong as any other leather stitching I’ve done.
I hope this article is helpful with understanding just how to calculate where to stitch for a given item. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments. You can also check out my Instagram page at @LeeLairdWoodworking and my Twitter at @LeeLairdWW.
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.