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Tooling designs in leather

What is Leather Tooling?

Leather tooling is a technique used to create raised or indented designs on a leather surface. This is achieved by using specialized tools to carve, stamp, or emboss the leather. The result is a unique piece of leather art that is both beautiful and durable.

Getting Started with Leather Tooling Designs

Before you start creating your own leather tooling designs, you'll need a few basic tools. These include a swivel knife for carving, a mallet for stamping, and a variety of stamps and embossing tools to create different textures and patterns. You'll also need a piece of vegetable-tanned leather, as this type of leather is best suited for tooling. Chrome tanned leather does not take stamping very well.
Once you have your tools and leather, you can start creating your design. Start by sketching your design onto paper with a pen or pencil, depending on your art skills. Some people will suggest using carbon paper to transfer your design to the leather. I can tell you from experience, that is a bad idea. The carbon gets all over your leather and ruins it. I cover both sides of my paper with clear tape, this protects the drawing from water and makes your pattern reusable. You will need to dampen your leather so as to allow it to take your pattern and be tooled. (I will also have a blog on casing leather you may check out in the future.) Place your pattern on the leather and use a stylus or pen to trace the pattern with firm pressure. Now your design is on your leather and this will serve as your guide when you start carving and stamping.

Techniques for Leather Tooling

Three main techniques you can use to create different effects in your leather tooling are:
Carving: This is the most common technique used in leather tooling. It involves using a swivel knife to cut into the leather, this will give you the borders you are to tool around. If you are going to tool your leather this is a necessity.
Stamping: This technique involves using a mallet and a stamp to make depressions and create raised designs on the leather. There are many different types of stamps available, each creating a unique texture or pattern. These include pear shader, bevelers, veiners and camouflage to name a few.
Embossing: This technique involves using a tool to press a design into the leather, creating an indented pattern. There are many leather supplies companies and individuals on shopping platforms who provide a huge variety of these stamps. The possibilities are endless! My favorites are the geometric stamps. This can be done by hand or with a machine. These include flowers, stars, dragon scales and basket weave to name a few.

Tips for Creating Beautiful Leather Art

Creating beautiful leather tooling designs takes practice, but here are a few tips to help you get started:
Start Simple: If you're new to leather tooling, start with a simple design. As you gain confidence and skill, you can start to incorporate more complex designs into your work.
Practice on Scrap Leather: Before you start on your final piece, practice your design on a piece of scrap leather. This will help you get a feel for the tools and techniques before you start on your final piece. Every leatherworker has a bin of scrap we just cannot get rid of!
Take Your Time: Leather tooling is a slow and meticulous process. Don't rush it. Take your time to ensure that every cut and stamp is precise.
Experiment with Different Techniques: Don't be afraid to experiment with different techniques and tools. Try different angles, strike the stamps harder or softer, use all your tools to see what they do. The more you experiment, the more unique and interesting your leather tooling designs will be.

There are so many more nuances and tips involved with this process that could fill a book so look for more of my blogs on this subject.

Leather tooling is a rewarding and creative art form. With a bit of practice and patience, you can create beautiful leather art that is truly one-of-a-kind. So grab your tools, get some leather, and start creating your own leather tooling designs today!

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