Mandalore’s Intro to Leatherworking

Mandalore’s Intro to Leatherworking

I’ve been doing the leatherworking for my personal kit, and my wife’s kit over the past decade. Originally, I came into leatherworking with no real experience, other than aspirant dreams of making awesome holsters and pouches.

The first thing that always needs to be said about any craft is that you shouldn’t go into it thinking the craft will be cheap. If you want to do it well, then you’ll need to invest both money and time to achieve a decent level of knowledge. Below is some information I’ve put together regarding leather, the common types of tanned leather you’ll most likely use, useful information about tools, and where to get all these things.

Types and Grades of tanned leather

There are many types of tanning processes for leather, but the two most common are Vegetable Tanned (also called Veg Tan), and Chromium Tanned (also called Chrome Tan).

Veg Tan leather is most commonly used for pouches, holsters, and period/fantast leather armor. It is very easy to wet-mold with water or beeswax, and if properly treated has a good durability.

Chrome Tan leather is mainly used for wallets and furniture, and isn’t affected by water. These also usually come pre-colored, so no dye required.

Along with the types of tanning process are the grades of leather: Top-grain, Full-grain, Corrected grain, and Nubuck. There are a few other grade types, but for leather use on a set of Mandalorian armor…the four grades mentioned above are all you really need to know.

Leather & Leatherworking tool vendors

I’ve used primarily 4 companies over the past 12 years as my “go-to” vendors for all things leather:
Brettun’s Village – Brettuns Village has been my primary leather supplier for over a decade. I can’t say enough good things about them.
The Leather Guy – The Leather Guy is my secondary leather supplier, and primary tool supplier for the past 5 years. They have great prices and a huge selection of both leathers and tools.
Springfield Leather – Springfield Leather is another supplier I’ve used several times over the years.
Tandy Leather – One of the oldest and most recognized leather & leatherworking tool suppliers in the world. Everything “leather” can be found here, including instructional videos. They can be a bit pricy, but definitely worth using if you can’t find it anywhere else.

Leatherworking tools for beginners

I’ve taken the time to put together a short list of what I consider to be the most important tools for a beginning leatherworker. These are leatherworking-specific tools, and don’t include the tools you’ll need for “Tooling” leather…which is another list further down.

  • Thonging Tool – commonly comes in 2, 4, 6, or 8 prong varieties. This tool makes stitching much easier as it creates 2-8 stitching holes at once instead of simply using a scratch awl to make each hole
  • Scratch Awl – commonly used to create stitching holes, or widen stitching holes made by a thonging tool.
  • Leather needle & Wax thread – used to stitch leather by hand.
  • Beveling Tool – used to create a nice clean beveled edge on leather pieces.
  • Edge Slicker – used with Gum Tragacanth (or water if you’re cheap) to burnish leather edges nice and smooth. These tools are made of either wood, bone, or nylon and come in old-fashion hand method…or as a new-fangled drill attachment
  • Stitching Groover – used to create a grove close to the edge of the leather for stitching to lay in. This grove also protects the stitching from getting cut or frayed easily.
  • Hole Punch – used to punch holes in leather. That’s pretty much it!

Leather Tooling, and tooling tools

Once you feel confident making the simpler projects, like ammo/belt pouches, you can graduate up to tooling. Tooling is the technique of adding designs with depth and texture to the leather itself. Tooling only really works on Veg Tan leather, so make sure you get Veg Tan if you’re planning on tooling. I suggest scouring YouTube for videos on Tooling, and I’m sure I’ll have one here someday. Below is a very basic list of beginner tools you can use to start tooling:

  • Swivel Knife – used to cut in your design once it’s been drawn on with a scratch awl.
  • Stamping Tools – these are used to create the depth of tooled designs, as well as add detail. There are 6 “primary” stamps you’ll want: Backgrounder, Beveler, Camouflage, Pear Shader, Seeder, and Viner. You can often find these as a kit on most leather supplier websites.
  • Mallet/Maul – you’ll want to get either a rawhide, or nylon mallet to use with your stamping tools. Metal hammers will damage your stamps over time, so stick with rawhide or nylon and you can’t go wrong.
  • Cutting Board – The pros use 12”x12” marble or granite tiles, but you can get away with a thick wood cutting board. The main thing is to use a surface that doesn’t dull or damage your leatherworking & tooling tools.

Leather Dyes

There’s not much to say here, other than there are lots of different dye colors and several different brands. I tend to stick with Angelus these days, but I’ve used other brands that work just as good over the years. Make sure you wear some sort of rubber glove when applying dye, as it will get in your skin and stay there for a VERY long time.

Anyhow, I hope you find this information useful. Keep your eyes open for new Warmaster’s Workshop live-streams & tutorials on leatherworking, and maybe you’ll learn a new skill to use on your own kit.


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