This is a “Rerun” post from the original blog – I’ll be putting these up here and there alongside the new posts but with their original date of publishing.
In part 1, I talked about how I figured out the design of a belt pouch for a Leatherman Squirt mini multitool. Here’s how I actually go about making a pouch:
I start with the template, which I now make in Inkscape. It’s a vector graphics program, not technically intended for design to build but it’s free / open source, powerful, has a nice interface and most importantly I’ve spent hundreds of hours using it to design website and print graphics, so I can use it to sketch and tweak a design faster than pencil and paper. Printing straight from Inkscape to my laser printer results in templates that are consistently accurate to less than half a millimeter.
This time all I’ve changed is to add an internal box to both tabs – this will make it easier to see my lines when cutting out.
I started out cutting leather with a traditional leatherworker’s “clicker’s knife”…
…and also tried a rotary cutter for a while. I know a lot of people who swear by them but I’ve always struggled to cut a really straight line with either, even guided by a straight edge.
I find I work best with a simple craft knife, the kind with a blade that snaps off in sections. I always break off a new edge before I start cutting leather, which blunts it very quickly.
Cutting out the template. This is where the new boxes on the template make it much easier to see where to start the cut when the straight edge is covering the pattern. I could flip it round and work with my right hand but I’m much more precise with my left.
The leather comes off a roll – a whole hide, and is keen to curl up again.
There’s a knack – and a fair bit of finger exercise – to keeping the template and leather pinned flat and square under the straight edge long enough to cut a line, particularly when each cut takes 2-3 strokes.
I still form all my pouches around my own Leatherman Squirt, wrapped in clingfilm. I tried to make a wooden form around version 6 but it’s a more complex shape than it looks, and I got bored sanding it. A future project for another time (and possibly a belt sander).
The leather is soaked for a few minutes in lukewarm water, and the excess water pressed out.
The leather is formed around the tool…
…and then clipped in place. Having tried every possible elaborate way of clamping these, the best solution turns out to be a simple bulldog clip with a couple of scrap bits of leather to pad the jaws.
The biggest improvement to quality I’ve found from taking real time at this point to position and adjust the thing, getting it perfectly square and aligned before leaving it to dry. The last few versions I also added about 15mm to the side and top tabs to give room to better clamp (and later sew) the shape. I realised that a little extra hide was more than worth it for the extra ease in manipulating the shape and getting a really neat end product.
The long tongue is folded up behind the pouch and clipped with a small bulldog clip, and the whole thing is left to dry for 24 hours.
Once it’s dry, the slightly hardened “shell” holds the shape it’s been given. I spread a thin layer of leather cement between the halves of the tabs, and put the bulldog clips back on so the glue can dry for another 24 hours.
Time to groove and stitch. The glue holds the layers together but for the pouch to last through a lifetime of use as I hope it will, it needs stitching with strong waxed thread.
I support the tab with a piece of scrap leather and use more to pad the steel ruler to the same level – this makes it easier to press down and grip the tab in place, stopping it moving around as I use the stitching groover.
The stitching groover cuts a neat groove in the leather which will let the stitches sink in slightly, protecting them from wear as well as looking neater.
The top tab is the one place where the inner, suede side of the leather shows, and it always looks a little scruffy, although once it’s dyed and waxed it’s much improved. There’s a technique for coating and burnishing the suede side with a piece of glass which I may try for pieces with larger suede areas (like the portfolio case I’ll be writing up at some point in the future), and once I’ve got the bits for it I may start applying it to these pouches if I’m still making more.
I mark out where the stitch holes will go on both tabs with a fineliner and the ruler. A lot of people use an overstitch wheel/pricking wheel here, which is certainly quicker and more precise, but with only a few holes to make it’s hardly worth it and likely to run off the end of the groove.
I drill the holes with a 1.6mm drill bit in a cordless drill/driver.
For stitching, professional leatherworkers often hold a piece in a “stitching pony”, holding it between two beveled pieces of wood gripped between the knees. For this piece I find it easiest to grip the tab I’m not currently sewing in my vice, padded with more scrap leather. I don’t have to exert much force so I don’t even need to bolt the vice to the bench and can move it around for ease of access.
The procedure for saddle stitching (which means something a bit different for leather rather than print binding) is explained well elsewhere. It’s a fairly simple back and forth with both threads going through each hole once. The leather grips the thread very firmly and often requires pliers to pull it through, although pleasingly I’m finding my fingers getting strong enough (and calloused enough) that I have to pick up the pliers less and less each time.
The final stage is cutting off the ends with the craft knife.
For a long time I tied them off which always left an ugly bump, but the consensus among leather workers online seems to be that just cutting them and heating the area quickly with a lighter to melt the wax coating on the frayed ends makes a finish that will hold indefinitely.
I trim the excess leather off the tabs with the craft knife, padding the ruler again and taking multiple gentle strokes (as many as 10) to get a clean cut all the way through without dragging the piece around.
I fumbled around with sandpaper (and sanding wheels on the Dremel) through several versions of this design, and finally made these double-sided (medium and very fine) sanding sticks by simply gluing sandpaper to some pine stripwood I had lying around – they’ve made the process vastly easier, and because the edges are bare (unlike commercially available sanding sticks and blocks I’ve had before which were usually glued then dipped in grit) I can get right into the corners without cutting into an adjacent part of the pouch. I’ve run into several metalworkers online who grind one face of their files smooth for exactly the same reason.
Oddly I have no problem working with hides (which are, of course, literally preserved skin), but getting leather dust on me makes me feel mildly unsettled…
Sanding leather is very satisfying though – much softer than wood, it’s a relatively quick job to round off the tabs and bevel all the edges, giving a nice soft, finished profile.
The edges are still quite “fluffy” with loose leather fibers, so I burnish the pouch all over with a piece of denim which smoothes it out quite a bit. The dye and final wax will resolve the rest.
Ready for the final stage!
…which requires some PPE. You only have to try using leather dye with bare hands once to become intimately aware that it is designed to INDELIBLY COLOUR SKIN.
I use a sponge to cover most of the pouch, and a brush to fill in the hard to reach areas. The whole thing takes three or four goes-over to make sure it’s thoroughly saturated and give a beautiful rich black finish.
I plan to do some of these in brown or oxblood in future but I really like the black – it’s so tactile.
The very final stage is a couple of coats of carnauba creme, applied with a soft cloth.
Given a few minutes to dry it looks matte, but a little buffing brings it to a nice sheen…
…and finally to a lustrous shine that really brings out the natural grain of the leather.
A message from the far future of 2020!
These little pouches are very special to me, as they were the first thing I’d made that I actually set up to sell seriously. Originally I listed them on Etsy, but you can now buy my leather pouches from my webshop Uncommon Works. I’m currently running down stock as I’m focussing on other things for a bit, but if you’re particularly keen to own one I may be up for making some to order – and I’m finally going to release a template and easier to use instructions in the next month or so. Thanks for reading!