How to Fold Leather
by Willow Enright
Clamps or Stack of Heavy Books
Scrap Leather Pieces and your Work Piece of Leather
There are times when you need to fold your leather to get the best results. Making belts, wallets, art book covers, journals, or whatever else you might fancy. There are more than a couple ways to fold leather, however I'm going to cover folds with V-Gouging, and folds done by wetting the leather.
One of the ways you can fold thicker leathers is by using a V-Gouge tool. You want your leather to be a minimum of 5-7 oz to use this method, otherwise it will compromise the integrity of the leather where it is used. The V-Gouge tool can be helpful when using a 8-12 oz leather with buckles, or making a satchel or messenger bag. The buckle area doesn't recieve extra wear so it's not as compromised. The satchel or messenger bag are meant to be glued and then stitched and gouging can allow pieces to fit together better while they are reinforced by the glue and thread.
To V-Gouge your leather figure out where it needs to fold and mark it with a stylus. Then using clamps and a cutting board, secure the leather on either side of your fold before using the V-Gouge tool. You can adjust the V-Gouge width and depth to ensure a smooth fold. I recommend trying it on scrap leather first to ensure the size of the gouge that you need.
When you begin the gouge, place the tip of the V-Gouge a few millimeters away from the edge of the leather and be sure to stop the V-Gouge a few millimeters before reaching the end of the leather. This will help retain the integrity of the leather at the fold despite being gouged. If you are using this method for buckles, V-Gouge before you use an oval hole punch for the tongue of the buckle.
The other method for folds in leather is by wetting the leather. You can use this method for all ounces of Vegetable Tanned Leathers, plain or colored. Depending on the thickness of your leather, your folds will require different amounts of attention. Either way you will need a spray bottle, clamps or several heavy books, a scrap piece of leather, and a ruler or bone folder. Thinner leather will fold quite nicely while thicker leather is more work.
Start by creating a line on the underside of the leather, or the flesh side. Spritz water from the water bottle along the line until the wet begins to soak through to the grain side, or front of the leather. If you are folding thinner leather 5 oz and under you can simply line your ruler up on the drawn line and fold the leather over the ruler. Use the scrap leather to create a barrier between the wet leather and your stack of books, remove your ruler, and leave it until the leather dries.
When you are folding thicker leather, 6 oz-11 oz, it is likely that you will need clamps to hold the thick leather in place better while it dries. Place a scrap piece of leather around your fold before applying the clamps or they will leave marks on the leather, but use as many clamps as you need to achieve the fold. Just make sure that your fold is clean and straight, otherwise it will dry in the wrong position. You can also use a combination method of a V-Gouge with a wet fold for the extremely thick leathers, 12-16 oz.
Regardless of which method you use, folding your leather can give you clean straight edges that don't require sewing. It will also place less strain on your rivets and let your buckles sit more flush. Using the wet forming method takes advantage of the leather's natural capabilities, and leaves you with a brilliant edge!
by Willow Enright
Leather workers have different ways of achieving similar techniques when it comes to working with leather. On the subject of casing your leather prior to tooling designs into it you will find a variety of opinions on which method is preferred. Some say that you can only do it one way, others utilize what suits their style and needs. I'm going to cover what I refer to as the down and dirty method of quick casing.
Leather casing is basically the process by which you prepare the leather hide for stamping, carving, or tooling of designs into the hide. To do that you introduce moisture to the dry leather in order to open up the pores in the hide making it more malleable. The trick is to get the leather the proper amount of wet, and this is where the variation in opinions occurs. Proper casing takes an extreme amount of dedication time-wise, and most people don't want to wait overnight before working on a project, hence the down and dirty method.
Using a spray bottle spritz your leather evenly until the entire piece has stopped absorbing the water, or little puddles begin to form on the leather's surface. Once that starts to happen flip your leather piece over to see if it has begun to soak through to the other side. As soon as you see that it has, stop spritzing and leave the leather to partially dry again. The amount of time necessary varies on the leather being used or the thickness of the piece. Basically, wait until the leather appears to have lightened in shade again but is still slightly damp to the touch.
Once the leather is slightly damp but appears to be dry again either trace your design onto the leather with stylus and tracing paper, or free hand draw with your stylus. Use a swivel knife for better control over curves, and an exacto knife to get fine details, both will carve your design into the hide. I prefer the swivel knife because you can get a nice petina along the cut line if you hold the knife at a 45 degree angle and press hard as you carve. If your design is small or simple you should have time to continue to the next step without rewetting your leather. However, if your project is detail oriented or large you'll likely want to stop at this point in the process to respritz your hide as previously discribed, before waiting the appropriate amount of time again for it to achieve proper moisturization.
Last but not least, tool or pound out the design, this can be done with a variety of tools depending on the outcome you want to achieve. I mostly use the square beveler and small background stamp from the Tandy 6 piece Craftsman Tool set. There are stamps with designs and letters, embossing rollers, and a whole plethora of inividual tools for flower viens, backgrounds, edges, ect. A lot of awesome tooling work can be done with the 6 piece set. The square beveler is great on any edge where there is enough space to fit the tool, and the small background stamp tends to be good in the places too tight for the square beveler. Again, the tools used depend on what you want to do.
I started crafting out of leather in 2011, and now I am making it my life's work. I am writing this blog to help myself remember some of the small steps in past projects, sharing my triumphs and failures, as well as my love of leather.