The natural beauty of leather and its adaptability to many articles of common use have made leathercraft one of the most popular and profitable pastimes. It is also one of the easiest in its simpler forms and has the advantage of requiring few specialized tools. These are discussed under the various operations below; they may be purchased, or many of them can l>c made from nails and other improvised materials.

Leather can be stained, painted, and decorated in many ways, several of which are described in the following chapter. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the attractiveness of the natural surface of most leathers is s|>oiled by too much decoration. In many cases, it is more satisfactory to leave the leather entirely plain and to depend on careful workmanship and polishing for the finished effect.


It is important to know the various types of leather so (hat you can select the proper one for the article you make. The chemical or chrome-tanned leathers cannot be tooled. Vegetable or bark-tanned leathers arc best suited for this purpose. Usually the back is the best part of the skin and should 1m? used for fine work, the neck and sides for less finished articles. Small skins coming from young animals are always the most supple and of the highest quality.

Tooling Calf

This is suitable for nearly every type of leather work. It comes in various shades and thicknesses and is ideal for tooling and modeling. It has a fine natural tone which takes on a darker color when tooled.

Cowhide And Oxhide

These arc very durable leathers especially adapted to articles that receive hard use. Cowhide comes in either a dull or glossy finish. Both can be tooled.


Steerhide is also a durable leather which will take tooling. It comes in several colors, black, brown, or russet, and is often used for purses, handbags, book covers and similar articles


Sheepskin is the most inexpensive of the different leathers and is good for beginners. It is loose in texture and can be easily stretched. Velvet sheepskin is an inexpensive suede obtainable in many colors. It cannot be tooled, but is suitable for pillow covers, book covers, moccasins and various smell articles.


This is close-grained and very firm. Morocco leather is made from goatskin and is widely used for fine book bindings, ornamental boxes and ladies' vanity cases. The better grades are excellent for tooling.


Pigskin is another tight-grained leather which will stand up well under hard use. It is not satisfactory for tooling, but can be decorated by hot stamping.

Vellum Or Parchment

This is produced from sheep or calfskin. It is stiff and thin with a paperlike surface and is used for book binding, diplomas and certain types of decorative work.

Deerhide, Elkskin, And Horsehide

These are not often used for small articles, but they are well suited for leather garments such as jackets or moccasins.

Crocodile, Snake, Lizard And Fishskin

All of these are used occasionally, but are chiefly limited to decorations or lacings on articles made of other leathers.


Skiver is sheepskin split by machine into very thin sheets. It is extremely pliable and is excellent for linings. Novelties such as buttons and tassels can also be made from this leather.

Patterns For Cutting

Before touching the leather itself, a paper pattern or template of the article must be prepared. An easy method for the beginner is to take an old object of the same kind, rip it apart and place it on the paper as a guide in drawing the outlines. If you prefer to make your own pattern, draw it actual size, but be sure to make allowance for the leather which will be taken up by folds or by overlapping edges where two pieces must be joined. With thin leathers, the allowance for folds should be about 1/8 inch, for overlapping about 3/16 inch; with the heavier leathers it may have to be increased to as much as1/4 inch for folds, 3/8 inch for overlapping.

When the pattern is drawn, cut it out with shears and transfer it to the leather in the following manner. Place the leather face, or finished side, up on a smooth surface. Lay the pattern on the leather and hold it securely with weights, especially at the corners. Then outline the pattern on the leather with any sharp pointed tool as an awl or the small end of the modeling tool described below. Some workers prefer to outline the pattern with pencil or ink on the wrong side of the leather.

Cutting And Skiving

Scissors can be used to cut light weight leathers, but they have a tendency to mar and stretch the edges of the heavier skins. It is better to cut the leather with a very sharp knife, guiding the blade on straight lines with a metal rule or square (fig. 16).

Rule Or Square

Figure 16.

The cutting should be done on a piece of heavy cardboard or linoleum.

Skiving is the process of shaving the edge of a piece of leather with a beveled cut (fig. 17). It is done with the same type of knife illustrated. The purpose of skiving is to thin two edges which are to be joined so that the seam will not be too bulky.

Patterns for Applying Designs.

Before decorating leather by any of the various methods described below, the design must first be worked out carefully on a paper pattern and transferred to the surface of the article. This is done after it has been cut out, but before it is stitched or laced together.

Leather With A Beveled Cut

Figure 17.

To prepare the pattern, trace your design on a piece of strong tracing paper or cloth slightly larger than the article. The edges can then be folded around the leather and secured with clips, or they may be thumb tacked down just beyond the edges of the leather.

To transfer the design to the object, dampen the leather slightly on both sides with a sponge or rag. The moisture must penetrate thoroughly, but the leather should not be wet enough to give out water when pressed with a modeling tool. With the pattern in place, trace over all the lines on the paper with a tracer, awl or other smoothly pointed tool (fig. 18). Bear down firmly, but do not permit it to break through the paper. When all lines have been covered, lift off the pattern and you will find that the design is lightly indented in the surface of the leather. The lines can be strengthened by going over them with the same tool after the paper has been removed (fig. 19). When the leather dries, they will remain in the surface so it is important to handle the tool with care as mistakes cannot be corrected. No further work is required if your design is a simple combination of thin lines as in the illustration. The same procedure is used, however, in outlining large areas to be modeled or embossed.

Smoothly Pointed Tool

Figure 18.