Man, from the earliest ages, has used hides for clothing and utensils. The Indians and pioneers used leather for many types of articles that are used in camping today- belts and ax sheaths, carrying cases and pouches, moccasins and jackets. For older boys and girls, the experience of tanning a hide will be a satisfying project, although it requires time, effort, and patience. Most campers, however, will make use of leather that is already processed. Leather work calls for few tools, and scrap leather may be purchased to provide excellent material for beginners and for the making of small articles. These two factors contribute to the value of leatherwork in the camp program. Leather for large articles or for extensive projects is a relatively expensive material, so it is best for campers to begin by learning how to handle leather with scrap pieces. Progressive steps will lead to a great variety of activities that will warrant the use of the lovely textures and colors of larger pieces of leather.
Creativity in leatherwork comes in planning the article and in assembling and decorating it. After learning the simplest techniques in cutting, joining, and decorating leather, the camper will find many ways to develop skills. Nature provides appropriate designs for decorating leather, and many types of leather articles are useful in outdoor living. The commercial kits of leather articles have no place in a creative handcraft program, as they merely give the camper an experience in assembling an article, with none of the learnings, explorations, and satisfactions that come from creating his own article for use and for enjoyment. Such kits are more expensive than similar articles cut from whole or half hides.
Leather is a material processed from animal hide by tanning. The hides of various animals make different textures of leather; the various types are used for different purposes. Some leathers are soft and pliable; some are smooth textured, others are rough; some are soft enough to be used like cloth; some are natural color, and some are dyed in the skin. The hair is usually removed, but is retained on a few leathers.
Tanning prepares hide for commercial use either by the vegetable process, using tannic acid, or by the mineral or chrome process, using chemicals. These processes produce different textures of leather: vegetable-tanned leathers are used for tooling, stamping, and carving; chrome-tanned leathers are tough and water-repellant and are used for shoes and garments, without decoration. Tanning a piece of hide is a good project for older boys, but for most practical craft purposes in camp, the process is too long and too involved, and it is best to buy the leather ready to cut. Kephart's Camping and Woodcraft, Vol. II, has interesting material on tanning.
Leather is classified in three ways: by name of the animal (i.e., sheepskin); by the tanning process (i.e., chrome tanned); by the thickness and weight of the leather (i.e. medium-weight-3 ounces per square foot).
Various types of leather may be used in camp handcraft:
Tooling calf has a firm surface; it is durable; it is available in varying thicknesses and colors. It is used for all type of projects, and is best for tooling and stamping. It is a relatively expensive type of leather for campers' use.
Tooling sheepskin is a good material for beginners, since it is less expensive than calf, but used in the same general way. It may be tooled or stamped, but stretches a little in tooling. It should not be confused with the sheepskin used for parchment or diplomas, which is a thin, stretched, stiff skin. Sometimes sheepskin has the wool on one side, and is used for caps, mittens, slippers, etc.
Tooling steerhide or cowhide is similar to tooling calf, but is heavier. It can be flat-tooled, stamped, or carved, and is used for articles like belts and ax sheaths.
Suede is usually lambskin which is tanned so that it has an "undressed" or rough surface not suitable for tooling. It is soft, easily sewed, and available in many lovely colors.
Pigskin is a rough-surfaced leather, not suitable for ornamenting, but with an attractive grained appearance.
Goatskin is usually used for lacings, which may be bought in varying widths and colors.
Deerskin, elkskin, and horsehide are usually chrome-tanned, as shown by the blue-green edge on the skin. These are good leathers for moccasins and garments, but they cannot be tooled, stamped, or carved.
Skivers are very thin leathers, generally used for linings.
Rawhide is hide from which the hair has been removed, but which has not been through a tanning process. Instead of tanning, the hide is dried on a frame and becomes stiff. To be used, it must be rubbed with neat's-foot oil and tallow, which makes it waterproof, soft, and oily. It is often used for thongs and shoelaces (obtainable at hardware stores) which are useful for many projects.
TOOLS USED IN LEATHERWORK
Scrap leather may be bought in bundles, by the pound. It is suitable for practice of techniques, and for many beginners' articles. Bundles are inexpensive, but before purchasing it is important to be sure that the pieces are large enough for practical purposes.
Lacings may be cut from the same material as the article (see Fig. V-4), or purchased in contrasting colors and leathers. Plastic lacing, under many commercial names, may also be purchased; it is used for braided articles, such as lanyards, and for lacing. It is less expensive than leather, but does not have the wearing qualities. Some plastic is flammable, and this type should not be purchased for campers' use.
There are many craft supply houses that carry all types of leather and leatherwork supplies and tools. These companies have good advice on types of leather needed for various purposes. The companies are not listed here, as there are so many throughout the country; companies in any locality may be easily contacted through such publications as Camping Magazine.