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What is Tooling Leather?

What is Tooling Leather?

tooled leather bag

We all know for a fact that leather is beautiful. Other than its unique patina, how do we turn leather into something equally mesmerizing? A technique that people use to give the leather a bit of style is tooling. Tooling leather is what you may commonly see on book covers, wallets, belts, holsters, and other leather goods. They are those fascinating detailed ornamental works that you see on leather. While almost all types of leather can be tooled, tooling leather is the best leather for the job. Let us get to know more about tooling, tooling leather, the process of tooling, and many more.

What is Tooling Leather?

What exactly is tooling leather? To answer that questions we must first get a few things straight. We must first understand the difference between tooling and tooling leather. Tooling is the process of engraving or embellishing designs on leather. Tooling leather on the other hand is the leather that we use to make those beautiful designs. Think of tooling leather as the canvas.  Conclusively, tooled leather is the leather that has gone through the tooling process or creative design.

Going back to the question, tooling leather can be any leather available. However, they generally use vegetable-tanned leather. Of all the types of leather, why would they prefer vegetable tanned leather? The answer is quite simple. Unlike other methods of tanning, the vegetable tanning process produces leather that is a bit softer and easier to work with. Likewise, since you are trying to etch designs onto the leather, you would generally need softer leather. Besides vegetable tanned leather, there are also other types of leather that can be used as tooling leather. For example, you can use bridle and rawhide as substitutes. However, the final product will not be nearly as good as the vegetable-tanned leather.

Moreover, tooling leathers also come in different thicknesses. The thickness of the leather will vary from one project to another. For example, a belt will require a thicker cut of leather than a knife sheath or wallet. Likewise, different layers of leather can also be glued together to create thick leather. These are usually for designs that require more thickness than the normal cut.

How Is Tooling Leather Prepared to be Worked

To create those beautiful designs and patterns we need to prepare the leather. While technically any leather can be tooled it does not produce the best result. This is because some types of leather are too stiff to cut with leather stamps and tools. Likewise, we would not want leather that is too soft, flexible, or bouncy that it erases the stamp impressions. What we need is a type of leather that is soft enough for cutting yet firm enough for stamping. This leather is vegetable-tanned leather.

The Dagny Weekender

To work with vegetable tanned leather we must first prepare. The preparation process is pretty simple. In order for the leather to be workable, it needs to be moist. What better way to moisten leather than to use water. This process of moistening the leather is what we call casing. Wetting the leather will make the fibers swell and soften. This step is necessary for us to shape and manipulate the leather's surface.

To moisten the leather we rub a damp sponge on both the flesh side and the grain side of the leather. It is important that we apply the water evenly as possible on both sides. When leather is moistened it will begin to return to its natural color so do not be alarmed. Moreover, we can only work with leather once it is moist or wet. If tooling is not yet complete while the leather is wet you can always repeat the steps to remoisten the leather.

Leather for Tooling, Carving, and Engraving: What is?

Leather for tooling, carving, and engraving can be any type of leather. However, if we just use any type of leather for tooling and carving, the results will likely vary. Tooling needs to be done on leather that is soft enough to cut and carve, but firm enough for stamping. Vegetable leather is therefore what many consider the best leather for tooling and carving. It possesses the characteristics and quality that allow us to manipulate leather surface easily. Moreover, vegetable-tanned leather also maintains certain features even after a sharp object has been forced over it.

How to obtain good results in leather carving?

To obtain good results there are certain things that need to be done. First, you must have the right leather for the job. While it is true that you can use other types of leather for tooling, vegetable-tanned leatherwork is considered to be the best. Moreover, it is easier to work with, especially for beginners.

Next is to have the proper leather working tools. Without the proper leather tools, manipulating the leather's surface would be a very difficult task. It may not also turn out as great as you want it to be if you do not have the proper tools. There are various tools that we use in tooling leather. Each tool has a unique function that will affect the surface differently.

small leather camera bag
The Calista

Lastly, you must possess the proper skill and knowledge in tooling leather. You may have the right tooling leather and the right tools but if you do not know what you are doing then what is the point. Proper skill and knowledge are necessary, and so are experience and practice.

In conclusion, to obtain good results, you must possess all three. Perfecting tooling takes time and practice. Enjoy the process and express yourself as much as you can on this beautiful canvas.

Difference between leather engraving and embossing

Leather craft is not only a profession but can also be a hobby. For the untrained eye, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between leather engraving and leather embossing. For those who are not familiar with leather crafting, engraving and embossing may look the same. While it is true that they bring more life and character to the material, both, in a way, are different.

The main difference between engraving and embossing is the procedure. To get those beautiful patterns, embossing uses a machine called presses. The machine engraves a pattern on the leather by applying heat and pressure to the surface. Embossing is usually done if you want uniform designs on the leather. It is also widely used in mass processing because it is easier and faster. Embossing is, therefore, a mechanical way of leather crafting.

Corporate leather gifts

For leather engraving, we use our hands. No machine, just tools, skill, and a lot of practice. Maybe a little bit of sweat here and there. Leather engraving is a long process in comparison to embossing. It takes time to perfect. Most of the time, its designs are left to the creativity of the craftsman. Unlike embossing where the pattern is predetermined. It may therefore come out as unique in a way. Leather engraving also offers great satisfaction once you master it. It, likewise, makes a great hobby!

How to engrave, tool or carve a leather hide?

To engage, tool, or carve a leather hide you will first need the right leather. The starting leather material that many generally use is "crust leather". It is usually a semi-finished full grain hide whose surface is still in the natural stage. At this stage, the hide or leather is perfect for engraving.

To start the process, the hide or leather needs to be moist. It is important to moisten the leather so that its fibers become ready for tooling. Moreover, it is only when the surface is moist where you can carve the leather. Once the leather dries out, it would be difficult to manipulate the leather's surface. You can, however, just re-apply water to the leather's surface from time to time, or for as long as the project takes. It is also important to remember that you must apply or moisten the surface as evenly as possible. We usually apply or moisten the surface by rubbing it with a damp sponge.

Once the preparations are complete, you are now ready to engrave, tool, or carve the leather hide. There are different techniques that you can apply. Many patterns and textures are also available to carve on the grain side of the hide. However, you must have the proper tools to properly engrave, tool, or carve the leather. These tools are not that expensive. Likewise, there is no need for you to spend a fortune on tools. Just have the right tools for the right job and you will be fine. Some people only need a swivel knife, a background tool, and a hammer.

Appearance

Tooling leather vegetable tanned leather
Vegetable Tanned Leather

Since we generally use vegetable tanned leather as tooling leather, its appearance will largely depend on the whole tanning process. Vegetable tanning uses natural tannins that come from leaves, branches, the bark of trees, and plants. This natural process of tanning produces natural earthy colors like browns, beiges, yellows, and even red. Vegetable tanning also produces a distinctive smell on the leather. The leather usually has a sweet, woody fragrance. Something that you normally associate with real leather. It also produces a unique set of shades and other nuances on the surface, making it look and feel genuine.

Products Tooling Leather is Commonly Used For

Since engraving, tooling, or carving leather is typically by hand, its use is more personal. Many treat tooling leather as an ornamental item for their personal collection. Since it is a labor-intensive process, it is generally expensive. Its price is also due to the use of high-quality leather necessary and equipment for tooling. Tooling leather has many uses. From shoes to bags, belts, holsters, life sheats, clutches, wallets, and many more. As long as you use the right leather, the right tools, and creativity, tooling leather will have infinite uses!

saddle tooling leather

Advantages of Tooling Leather

The main advantage of tooling leather against other types of leather is that it is perfect for engraving, tooling, or carving leather hide. It is also the ideal leather for embossing designs on leather. Using other types of leather will not produce the best results. High-quality tooling leather on the other hand will produce edges that are sharper, clearer, and more well-defined. Moreover, since this type of leather is generally vegetable-tanned leather, it will develop a beautiful patina over the years. This type of leather is also strong and durable, and will typically last for a long period of time.

Disadvantages of Tooling Leather

The process of creating leather from the vegetable tanning process is slow and labor-intensive. It is also an expensive process. It likewise, requires a lot of time and a great deal of patience. Another disadvantage of tooling leather is its inconsistencies. Because it uses hides from different animals, its quality will differ greatly. Some may not be the same qualities as the other just because it comes from a different animal. Furthermore, there is no artificial protective agent coating on this form of leather. As a consequence, it's vulnerable to the elements.

How to Care for Tooling Leather

Tooling leather is an ornamental item. It is personal and unique. It is likewise expensive. You wouldn't want anything as exquisite and expensive as tooling leather to deteriorate too easily. Even if the tooling is made of high-quality leather, it will need some tender loving care. Here are some ways to properly take care of tooling leather.

A big disadvantage when it comes to this type of leather is that it has no protective agent coating whatsoever. It is therefore vulnerable to the elements like water and the sun. It is best to avoid getting the leather wet. In case the leather does get wet, you can wipe it dry with a soft dry cloth. Allow it to dry in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Do not dry your leather by exposing it to heat or hot hair.

cleaning tooling leather

Of course, other than the elements, leather is vulnerable to dirt, dust, and grime. There are many ways to remove and clean them. The easiest method is to wipe it off with a damp cloth. You can also dampen the cloth with mild soap or baby shampoo. Be sure to wipe it dry after! However, since this leather has carvings on its surface, dirt, dust, and grime can get into difficult-to-reach places. Brushes are usually the right tool for the job. We recommend using animal hair brushes for cleaning. Brushes that have synthetic bristles tend to be stiff. We likewise recommend cleaning the leather at least once a week, especially if you use it often.

Finally, add leather conditioner to the leather. This will nourish the fibers while also providing a protective coating. We suggest that you wax the leather on a regular basis if you want it to stay in good shape.

Tooling a Simple Leather Bag

We mention how leather tooling requires skill to do. However, it is a lot easier than you think. With the right tools, a little bit of guidance, and practice you can make beautiful leather carvings yourself! In fact, all you need is a few tools, vegetable tanned leather, a sponge, and some water.

The Felman Backpack

Once again, you do not need to spend a fortune on tools to tool leather. Especially if this is your first time or if you are new to tooling leather you might want to start small. You will essentially need a few tools. These essential tools are a swivel knife, a background tool, and a mallet or a hammer. A shader of some kind would also be a good tool to have. However, if you are not ready to invest in one or if there are none available there are alternatives. A spoon is an easiest and most common replacement.

If you have your tools and leather ready let us start tooling! The most common designs for tooling leather are usually leaves and flowers. While these designs are beautiful and look elegant, we encourage you to be creative. If you are not that confident in your creativity yet, that is okay. There are numerous designs on the internet for you to follow or for inspiration.

Step 1: Transfer Your Design to the Leather

Before you actually transfer the design to the leather, you must first moisten the leather with your damp sponde. Once the leather is wet enough you can start your design. Generally, there are two methods to design the leather.

The first method and probably the safest thing to do for newbies is to print out a design. Place the design on the leather ink-side up and trace the line with a stylus. A stylus is a special tool we use to trace the printout onto the leather. If there is none available you can always use a pencil or anything that will dent the surface of the leather.

The second method is to freehand the design. You may either refer to a design on the internet or get creative. Make a custom design yourself. Be sure to get the leather wet so that it will leave a dent where you run your pencil or stylus.

Step 2: Cut the Lines

After the design is clearly indented on the leather it is time to use your swivel knife. Use the swivel knife and trace along with the design. You will actually cut the leather here wherever the bold lines and edges are. A swivel knife blade is sharp, control is very important. Make sure not to cut the leather all the way through. We recommend you cut it halfway through. First-timers or those who have not had enough practice tend to make shallow cuts. That is okay, however, shallows cuts usually end up looking flat in the end.

tooling leather tool

At this point, your leather will look really nice with all those cuts and the design. However, this is just the second step. There are still a few things to do to make the leather more beautiful.

Step 3: Bevel the Edges

In this step, we will use a shader or a special beveling tool. However, a spoon is really great alternative. Use the spoon to bevel the edges that you want to stand out. This will add depth to the design and make it look even better. After beveling the cuts, we are more than halfway done.

Step 4: Add Little Cutesy Stuff

After the third step, the leather and your design will probably look like the final product. However, there are a few steps that will make the tooling leather look better. This step is not necessary and will require a specific tool for the job. If you have the tool available, then better. If you have none, it’s okay, just move along to the next step.

In this step, you will need a seeder. This tool makes little circles on the leather for added design. We usually use this to add “seeds” in plants or flower designs. Another tool that you may also use is a camouflage tool. this tool makes little dimple on the leather, commonly used in leaves.

Step 5: Fill in the Background

The next step is fairly simple however it is time-consuming. This is also an essential step, so you can’t skip this out. Use your background tool and stamp down all the backgrounds on your design. This will make your design really stand out, so do not hold back on stamping it down.

Step 6: Add Finishing Touches / Edits

Take a look at what you have accomplished so far. Take a look at the design, get a closer look or take a step back and see the whole picture. Make finishing touches such as cutting, beveling, or stamping.

Step 7: Finish the Leather

Finally, is to add a finishing. You can either opt not to do this since it is not really a necessary step. However, you can always add a protective layer to your leather once you are done tooling. We suggest you condition the leather and really get in the cuts and edges. This will protect the leather, especially if you don’t have time to clean it regularly.

Enjoy Your Masterpiece

Tooling leather and leather crafting, in general, takes time to perfect and master. Be proud of your work, especially if this is your first time tooling a leather bag. With dedication, practice, and creativity, you can master tooling in no time. This also a great time to appreciate the process that goes through tooling leather.