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
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 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), […]
I totally intended to have a quick article together, relating to yesterday’s little teaser, but more than the usual “unexpected” stuff flew at me today. Ok, so with no further delay, lets take a look at what I picked up at Tandy. I have a leather hole-punch, which is one of the type that has […]