The needle case

Posted in Projects on May 29th, 2008 by The Cyberwolfe

I suppose this should be under Projects, but it was such a simple little thing, and I did it for fun while camping over Memorial Day weekend. I had been keeping my sewing needles piled into one of the segments in my parts box – the same one I keep my stamping tools in. This has led to a couple of near-misses of me stabbing my finger, so it was time to move them.

Construction was fairly simple. Two pieces sewn together at the bottom, with a third piece of suede folded in between to push the needles through. A little tooling and a snap closure, and voila! Here’s the finished product:

Did I mention I went camping at a Pirate event? :)

The big surprise for me was that I sold everything I had at my friend’s merchant booth – I almost broke even for the event! I guess now I have to build some more goods to restock.

Project: Cleaver Scabbard II

Posted in Projects, Tips & Tricks on May 20th, 2008 by The Cyberwolfe

The project has been finished, and I thought I’d show you a few of the stages involved. Here we can see that I have completely cut the final design and beveled the edges. I’m quite happy with the result, although I have once again forgotten to purchase tracing paper and got one of the trefoil arms slightly off-center at the join. It doesn’t stick out too terribly bad. It gives it character, dammit!

Fresh cut

Once I had that done, I glued together all of the welts and then carved them back down to the proper slope. That was tricky, almost ended up throwing the first attempt away. Once I had it all laid out though, I knew it would work. So, on to some glue and garage bondage:

Glued & Clamped

Bulldog clips are your friends.

Once that was dry, I gouged the stitching groove and used my overstitch wheel to mark off the stitches. Then I took a long look at myself in the mirror and forgave myself for what I was about to do…

I cheated.

The ghost of Al Stohlman may haunt me for it, but I knew there was no way I was ever going to push an awl through all of that leather – Hell, I stabbed myself in the finger on a test piece and damn near severed a nerve!

While I could have possibly driven the awl through with a hammer, my stitching awl is a two-piece model that can change blades and I figured I would probably just break the darn thing. Instead, I put a 1/16th inch drill bit in my Dremmel and drilled about 95% of the way through everything from the cut side down. That took about 75% of the work out of pushing the awl through it to stretch the holes and the last layer of leather – this way the stitch is held more firmly by the leather trying to seal up around it. It also allowed me to make sure the hole on the far side was in the groove.

The next day it was time to break in my new stitching pony and get sewin’. Of course, I broke a needle on the third stitch – crappy needle selection on my part. For leather this heavy (8/9 ounce) get a #000 Harness needle and you should be ok. Those “general purpose” Tandy needles are too thin at the eye and will snap if you wiggle them in an effort to stretch the hole.

Almost done

Note the extra chunks of leather glued to the pony to protect the work as I stab it.

Now, if you read Al’s book on hand sewing, he tells you to make your threads a double-arm length, or about twelve feet. Here’s why: math. Each of the smallest stitches in this piece took up about 1/2″ of thread on each needle, and the full 26″ seam (24″ inches linear, with an inch of back-stitch on each end) took 18 feet of thread.

Eighteen feet!

The first 5 feet got me just around the first bend, starting from the skinny side. The second 5 feet got me even with the hilt of the sword in the artwork. The third 5 foot thread got all the way to the last linear inch, and then I had to grab another three-foot length to go that inch and the back-stitch.

For your first few stitching projects, your fingers won’t have any protective calluses, and they are going to hurt when you are done. I suggest you get some good leather gloves, which will add protection without ruining your grip or traction. And when you are done, don’t pick up anything hot or you’ll drop it on your foot when you yank your hand back. I almost lost a dinner plate that way.

In this picture, you get to see the finished product: (Thanks to my buddy for the much better pic.)


Now, you may be wondering how I got that interesting finish out of it. Here’s how:

Be a dumbass and try an un-tested Fiebing’s Walnut Oil Dye on a finished project, watch it dye unevenly and panic. Add a second coat of dye before the first has really dried, then rub with a cloth. Watch this one dry until a weird patina forms, then leave it be for 15 minutes. Freak out a little more, then use a Deglazer to remove the patina. Let this dry for about 2 minutes.

After the two minutes, notice that the dye is still uneven and apply a third and fourth coat. Let it sit for ten minutes this time and get that patina going, then hit it one more time with the Deglazer. Now give up forever on getting the color you wanted and rub vigorously with Neatsfoot Oil to try and repair what damage you can.

Voila! You know have a mildly distressed finish to the project that you worked so hard on! The closure tab is the only thing that came out the right color, and there is a small chance that the leather had something to do with it – that bit is from a different hide. It was probably all user error though.

Next project: something a little smaller – a needle case, and possibly a travel case for all my carving tools. Something like a leather pencil box. We’ll see.

*UPDATE* The new owner loves it, and wants to wear it around. If I had thought she might, I would have built it with belt loops…

Note To Self:

Posted in Tips & Tricks on May 14th, 2008 by The Cyberwolfe

Do not, I repeat DO NOT let your bracing finger slip whilst punching a hole through leather and stab yourself on the inside of the first knuckle joint.

DAMN that hurt like a bitch until the nerve settled down. Or in this case, went numb. I can’t feel the outside of that finger now. I’m sure it will be fine in a couple of days, but nnggyahh!

Project: Cleaver Scabbard

Posted in Projects on May 12th, 2008 by The Cyberwolfe

Illyana calls this thing a Gulloch and claims it is Turkish in origin, supposedly carried by horsemen to cut themselves out of the stirrups in the event that they are unhorsed in battle. I’ve spent a couple hours now trying to find some reference on-line, and can’t find anything for any variant of the spelling. It’s really just a big freakin’ cleaver – a BFK if I ever saw one. See for yourself:


For reference, that is a standard-size Zippo lighter. The blade is 10″ long, 3″ wide at the tip, 3/8″ thick at the hilt, and weighs as much as a good axe. It normally lives in our SCA kitchen tote, which became the home of a family of mice over the winter.

The original scabbard was in bad shape before, but with mice in the tote, I figured it was time to rebuild the scabbard completely. I’ve been meaning to do this for a couple years now because it has been sheathed a couple of times while still dirty, and who knows what kind of nasty was growing in the metal socket at the end of the scabbard.

The original scabbard was black with flowered tooling on it (which I always thought was weird for a big knife) and constructed from a single piece of leather cut so that the stitching was a “Y” seam on the back side of the sheath. While this is cool from an engineering standpoint, it placed a lot of stress at the corners at the bottom, which is where it wore out first. There was also no method of securing the knife in the sheath, so I opted to re-design the whole thing.

The new scabbard will be more like your standard fixed-blade sheath, assembled from two large pieces of leather sewn together around the outside edge, with a welt in between the two pieces to make room for the thickness of the blade. In this instance the welt starts out 2 layers thick on the back due to the thickness of the blade, tapering down to one at the front, then tapering again down to no welt on the blade-edge seam. This will make for a little extra work, but it is worth it.

Okay, maybe a lot of work. I may end up drilling holes through those 4 layers instead of punching them with an awl, we’ll have to see how it goes.

Stylistically I have a bit of a conundrum, since your seam should be the same distance from the edge as the thickness of the material. (I.E., if the material stack is 1/4″ thick, sew 1/4″ from the edge.) Since the thickness changes, I will be splitting the difference instead of using that guide to get a uniform seam width.

Sunday night I got inspired and stayed up way too late working on the artwork, but I have a design on paper, and I cut a proof-of-concept piece. So far, I’m pretty pleased with the design. It’s kind of Celtic knotwork meets Tribal tattoos. No pictures for you yet though, you’ll have to wait.

Stitching 101

Posted in Tips & Tricks on May 11th, 2008 by The Cyberwolfe

There will come a time, probably in your first project, where you realize “oh crap! I gotta sew this thing together somehow!” Fear not, it isn’t as bad as it looks.

Two of the first tools you should buy are a sewing awl and a Speedy Stitcher. The awl is simply a thin spike with a nice handle on one end, and is used for punching holes in leather. The Speedy Stitcher is a combination of an awl and a sewing needle.

Saddle Stitch

The stitch you will use most often in leatherwork is called the Saddle Stitch. In the simplest terms, it is a pair of running stitches going in opposite directions. It is typically made by using two needles, one at each end of a length of string.

Take two pieces of leather and lay them one atop the other with the edges aligned. Punch an evenly-spaced series of holes about 1/8″ from the edge through both layers with the awl. We’ll say 4 holes and call them H1-H4 accordingly.

Now thread both needles onto the same length of string, and tie one at each end. We’ll call them N1 and N2. Now push N1 through H1and pull the string through until you have the same length on either side of the work. Next, take N1 and pass it through H2 to put it back on the same side as N2. Take N2 and pass it through H2 the other way, then tug both needles outward to snug things up. Both needles have now gone through the same hole in opposite directions, and you have made a loop of string in the work. You have made one stitch. Lather, rinse, repeat.

To finish, you can either learn how to tie a knot and have it cinch down between the two layers or just sew back the way you came a few times and cut the threads.

With the Speedy Stitcher, you can simplify things a bit. If the leather isn’t too thick, pre-punching the holes may not be necessary. If it is, use an awl or a lacing punch to at least start the holes, which I will be lazy and call H1-H4 again. Once you have that done, lace the string through the Speedy’s needle and leave an inch or so hanging free. Push it through H1, grab the string with your other hand, then pull the SS back out of the hole, leaving the string behind. Pull enough string through to make it to the end of your row of stitches – about three inches longer than the row of holes.

Now push the SS through H2, in the same direction as when you went through H1. Now pull it back out about halfway – the thread that went through should have bunched up a bit leaving you a loop. Pass the other end of the thread through this loop, hang on tight to it, and pull the SS the rest of the way out of the work. Last step is to tug the thread tight, leaving the “knot” you just made hidden between the two layers of leather. (Pull the thread one way and then the other until you get it sunk correctly.) Repeat for the rest of the holes.

For those of you that are wondering, this is exactly what a sewing machine does – they just mechanized this process. And if you have a large budget, they make hand-crank machines for thick leather.

To finish, sew backwards a few holes and cut the threads close, or you can cut the SS off the thread and switch to the two-needle method of closing.

Butt Stitch

When you need to join two pieces of leather edge-to-edge instead of surface-to-surface, you’ll need the Butt Stitch. This one can be a bit tricky, so you should definitely pre-punch your holes. Since the strength of the leather is very important here, you should use the awl for this. The tip of a Speedy Stitcher needle is triangular and sharp, and will cut the leather fibers to make the hole. The awl, on the other hand, doesn’t cut the leather, it just pushes all the fibers aside and makes a clean hole without weakening the work.

This is important because what you’re going to do is push the awl through the leather at a 45 degree angle in such a manner that the tip exits through the edge and not the other surface. If we imagine for a moment that your leather is actually a Webster’s Dictionary laid flat, you’re pushing the awl through so that in enters the book through the front cover, but exits through the side, somewhere in the middle of the “N” chapter. Do this for both pieces.

Now lay them edge-to-edge on the table and run your first stitch through. The needle will enter the top of the first piece and exit through the side, then enter the second piece through the side and (with a little judicious tilting) exit through the top of the second piece. You can use your SS for this part, and it comes with a bent-tip needle for just this situation. For the hand-stitchers, they make curved needles too.

(Note: if you want to make a box, bevel the edges of your leather and sew straight through the base of that “V”.)

For a more in-depth instructional on how to sew leather, check your favorite suppliers for a copy of Al Stohlman’s the Art of Hand-Sewing Leather. Al Stohlman has written many books on leather craft, and he and his wife are recognized as two of the best in the biz. (Or at least Al was until his death.) All they do is Western style, but the methods underlying it all are very solid.

Project: Arm Bracers

Posted in Projects, Tips & Tricks on May 10th, 2008 by The Cyberwolfe

I started this project a few weeks ago, you can see the original post here, down below the funny picture. Well, I finally sat down and finished the painting and applied a matte finish. I’m pretty happy with the results, once you step past the fact that this is a prototype job – there is a flaw in the leather, and the dye job is pretty atrocious.

Let me take a moment to go into that. On the bottle, the directions clearly state “wipe off the excess dye with a cloth before letting it dry”. What they don’t say is WHY. Here’s why: if you don’t, that puddle of dye will seep into the corners of your cuts and pool up. When it does dry, the liquid medium will have gone away, leaving a crust of pigment behind. If you don’t go back and gently scrape it off, it will flake away over time and / or as the piece is bent and moved.

It’s a bad thing, and easily preventable. And despite your normal reaction in this modern world, do not reach for a paper towel. Paper towels can leave behind lint which may get stuck in the dye, not to mention the fact that they wick that dye right back into your hand. Being the father of a teenager, I have a ton of old t-shirts the boy grew out of before he destroyed them, and I cut them into rags for this purpose.

The tricky part is when to wipe it off – do it too soon, and the dye doesn’t penetrate. Wait a few minutes after applying the dye, and see how well it is absorbing into the leather. If any of the dye doesn’t sink in after a couple of minutes, then you can wipe it up.

Now, on with the pictures: We’ll start with an almost-halfway point. I have shaped the piece, and traced out the entire pattern then cut the center star.

In progress

If you look closely, you’ll notice a couple flaws in this piece. It was supposed to be the final version, but I made a couple mistakes when transferring the pattern – it twisted on me slightly. this is why you should use tracing paper and not opaque paper!

This is also why I’m using cheap belly and not the expensive stuff. $25 for a 6-foot by 15-inch piece of scrap is well worth it once you calculate in the knowledge you gained by using it for test work.

The second flaw is a spot in the upper right-hand corner: I dripped a little water here and it dried before I could wipe it up. Since I planned to dye this piece it wouldn’t have been an issue, but it is something you need to watch out for if you want to keep a natural finish.

On to the completed test piece:


You can’t really see it in the picture, but the open spaces to the sides of the star are weakly dyed, and the color is not uniform. Fortunately, the matte finish I applied after painting it has blended the flaws in pretty well, and I could almost ignore it for my personal use. (I wouldn’t give something like this to a friend, though.)

I am very pleased with the way the paint turned out though. Nice even color throughout, and that matte finish gives it a nice, even shine without being too gaudy. This all proves that it can be done, I just need more practice.

Stay tuned for the next project: the Cleaver Scabbard.