How to Tool Leather

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A tooled leather piece is created by first cutting a design into a piece of leather. Various tools are then used to create depressions in the leather to give various design elements a raised appearance. Add a tooled design to any leatherwork project that uses vegetable-tanned leather.

Things You'll Need

  • Flat Work Surfaces
  • Vegetable-tanned Leathers
  • Sponges
  • Swivel Knives
  • Wood Or Rawhide Mallets
  • Water
  • Empty Ballpoint Pens
  • Tool the design before any dye or paint is applied to the leather.

  • Decide on a design and draw it onto tracing film.

  • Dampen the leather with a sponge and water, and position the tracing film onto the right side of the leather. Trace over the pattern with a ballpoint stylus or empty ballpoint pen. Press firmly. Trace all the lines.

  • Remove the film. The design should be replicated on the surface of the leather.

  • Trace over the outline with a swivel knife. Hold the knife so that your index finger rests in the U-shaped portion at the top of the handle and the body is held between your thumb and the inside of your middle finger.

  • Turn the knife by rotating its body between your thumb and your middle and ring fingers.

  • Keep the knife upright - at a 90-degree angle to the leather - as you cut. Cut with the corner of the knife toward you and cut only once.

  • Make sure to cut only deep enough to penetrate the grain of the leather.

  • Place the leather on the work surface and use a wood or rawhide mallet and a beveler, pear shader, and camouflage tool - the basics - to add texture to the piece and create depressions in the leather.

  • Place the wide edge of the beveler into the cut made by the swivel knife and strike the end of the tool with a mallet. Continue along the outside of the design in order to give the design a raised appearance.

  • Make sure to place the beveler along the design so that ridge lines are not formed each time you strike the tool with the mallet. This applies to the use of all the other tools as well.

  • Use the pear shader and camouflage tool to add texture to the design and background.

Tips & Warnings

  • Look for suitable designs on the Internet and in books on leatherwork and leather tooling.
  • Start with a simple design and then move to more complex designs and projects.
  • Practice using a swivel knife on small scraps of leather to begin with. Make sure that you can cut both straight and curved lines before you begin to tool your project.
  • Do your stamping on a very hard work surface. Many leather toolers use a marble slab.
  • Look for other tools that will give you the desired effect. For example, a veiner will create the veining on a leaf design and a seed tool will create a seedpod in the middle of a flower.

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