floral tooling

Leather Floral Designs and Flow

If you have been involved in leather tooling for any length of time, you hear people talk about “Flow.”  Many of us understand the premise behind the flow of leather floral designs, and many times we think we know what that means.  But for some of us, we simply do not truly understand the concept of flow.

Defining Flow

For me “Flow” has always meant simply that whatever I draw within a pattern it should have the sense of movement and seem to be going somewhere and coming from some place. 

This seems simple enough right?

When we are laying out a pattern within the boundaries of the item or the tooling window, we have to take into consideration first where we are going and second where we are coming from.  These are the first two questions that I ask myself when I begin my layout.

Once we have a piece laid out in front of us and have determined the answers to these two questions, now we can determine the steps that we have to take to maintain the flow of the pattern.  The flow of leather floral designs is not something that can be miscalculated because you chose the wrong direction.  In floral layout, left to right or right to left is independent of flow.  This means that we can have flow within the pattern no matter if one direction looks better than the other.

The flow of a pattern is set by deciding on a direction and taking the viewer on that journey without interruptions.  Once the direction is decided, then the pattern layout is now bound by those directional choices as we begin layout.  Decisions must be made according to the direction we have chosen.

I see flow as my ability, as the viewer, to hop onto any point within a pattern with my eye and follow the pattern all the way through the piece.  If I hit a spot within the pattern that dead ends and I am left with no place to go, then the flow has ended.  There are times when this is appropriate but for now let’s just agree that we would rather not see this.

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Swivel Knife Tutorial

Many leatherheads make the claim that the swivel knife is the hardest tool in the leather shop to learn and master.  I would agree with that statement, but I also believe that anyone can master it with the right amount dedication and practice.

When I say the word “practice,” I don’t mean practicing on the orders you have or faking it till you make it.  I mean actual practice!  This is not a tool that you will just bump along with and then one day it will magically become your magic wand of art.

This tool can make or break the final quality and beauty of your artwork.  In order to start a project off in the right direction, take the time to put in the hours of practice with this tool.  I recommend taking at least 15 minutes at the start of your day or at the end of your day to do nothing but play with the knife.  You don’t have to layout a complex pattern in order to practice.  Just grab a piece of scrap leather and go to carving and playing around.  If you do this everyday for two weeks, I promise you will see improvement within your patterns that you carve.

The simple techniques in this latest video will get you comfortable with the fundamental elements that are required of you in virtually every pattern you will carve into leather.  Give this video a look and try practicing them in your shop now.

Thanks so much and I hope you find this video useful and informative.  Be sure to hit the subscribe button and if you have any questions or comments send us an email and I would be glad to help.

 

My Leather Floral Tooling Process

When it comes to actually stamping out the floral design, every leather tooler is different in their approach.  To me, the main thing that sets a productive tooler apart from the competition is all in their process.  As with any goal or project, the main thing to focus on is devising a plan and executing the plan with great focus and uninturupted deligence.  This is almost impossible if you are taking time to decide which tool to use next, or worse yet trying to find the tool you need next.  I am a firm believer that any task or project involves a certain set of rules and a certain workflow that, once decided upon and followed, lead to high productivity and a cleaner product when completed.  Each and every product has a certain workflow that works best for the environment and the craftsman making the product.  The following is the workflow that I use when tooling the majority of my patterns.

When I begin any floral tooling job, and once my artwork is designed and carved in, I begin with under cutting all small curves within the pattern.  I make it a point, anytime I pick up a tool, to go through the entire pattern performing that tool’s task anywhere I can before putting it down and grabbing another tool. This rule holds true no matter the size of the tooling pattern.  If you will get into this habit then your overall tooling time will decrease greatly.  A lot of time is wasted switching tools or like i said before… searching for the tool you need.  If you have it in your hand, do all you can with it before moving to the next one.  Tooling is about focus, and staying focused on the tasks lead to a completed piece of art.

With under cutting, I recommend having a small, medium and large in order to be able to take care of virtually any size tight curve.  Undercuts are great and keep you from trying to fit a square beveler into a curved line.  I work my way up from small to large when it comes to tool order when undercutting.

After all the undercutting is completed, I move to my crowners.  This is not a tool that is mandatory, but I find them to be a great time saver and they keep my scalloped rounded and clean.  These work much better than beveling around them with a tiny beveler.  These are a one tap tool for the most part and I keep a small and large, these two sizes will handle most any scallop that I need.  I will also use the large one on the tips of any vinework that has its tips exposed and not under a border or other vine.

When all this is complete, I now move on to my beveling.  I use a small, medium and large checkered beveler and I run them from large to small.  I first bevel all the long lines with my largest beveler going through the pattern to bevel as much as I can with this tool.  Don’t force this tool into spots!  If the tool is too big for the line you are trying to bevel then skip it… We will have a chance to bevel that after we are done with all the long lines.  This will be the longest spot in the tooling process depending on the pattern.  This is where time is made because you have one tool to focus on and your running through line by line without regard for what you can’t bevel with this tool… just stay focused and bevel long lines.

Now all the long lines are beveled and you are ready to grab the medium beveler and proceed to working on any lines that were too small for the large beveler.  Same rule applies here, if it won’t fit skip it and wait till you have the small beveler in your hand.  This step goes much faster as you have already beveled the majority of the lines in the last step.  After completing this, I take my small beveler and clean up any small spots I couldn’t get before with the other two bevelers.

The next tool you will use is your bargrounders or whatever background tool you choose to use.  At this point all the lines should be beveled, making the background easy to determine.

When all the backgrounding is completed, now I use my thumbprint on all my flowers, leaves, and vinework.  This is where the detail work begins within the pattern.  The tools you use here is completely up to you.  The point is that now is where your pattern will start to take shape.  I also use my leaf liner where needed at this point.

After thumbprinting, or pear shading, you are ready for any fine detail stamping.  This step depends a lot on the style of the pattern that you are tooling.  Below is an example of the accent tools I selected for this pattern but you can incorporate any tools you like for this phase.  Take your time here and have fun… this is the decorative stage.

When you are satisfied with your stamping work within the pattern, now is the time to embelish with the final decorative cuts using your swivel knife.  Again, this is decorative so have fun and use this oppurtunity to work on your swivel knife mechanics.  Decorative knife cuts are the best training for overall proficiency in using the swivel knife.

Once the decorative cuts are completed the pattern is complete.  At this point, I will sometimes go back and undercut the pattern again just to relift the petals of leaves and flowers.  This step is optional and completely up to you and the final pattern.  If it looks good, leave it.

As I mentioned before, this is my process for tooling and yours may be different.  The main point to focus on is that in order to become more efficient in your stamping while maintaining quality you must have a system that you can work from no matter the pattern.  Tooling is like a dance and as long as you can go from one tool to the next smoothly, you will become faster and faster per piece.

 

How To Measure Belt Size

One of the biggest issues involved in making a custom belt is getting the belt blank cut to the right length.  Everyone has their own way of coming up with that measurement, but this is how to measure belt size.

Getting a Proper Measurement

“How do I figure out how long to cut the belt based on the belt size the customer gives me?”

“Can I use their pant size to figure belt length?”

“Is there some kind of belt size chart?”

First, I don’t accept a pant size or a marked size off the belt they wear.  This leaves too much to chance and more times than not will leave you remaking a belt.  The belt they are wearing may be a 36” but they may be wearing it in the tightest hole.  This would mean, depending on the hole spacing and number of holes on the belt, that they are probably closer to a 34”.

I’m sure there are some useful belt size charts that you can find on the web.  The problem with these charts is like I said above, the chart doesn’t take into account what hole the person is using on the belt.  I don’t feel comfortable using a chart to produce a belt for a customer.  It leaves too chance and I feel more confident with an actual measurement like the one I will show you here.

For all my customers, I make them measure the belt they wear currently.  This is important!  Not a belt they use to wear or one their husband wore in high school, but a belt they wear now.  Many a wife has been trying to surprise hubby for an anniversary and snags a belt out of his closet and brings it to me to measure and he hasn’t worn that belt in 15 years.  Now, in her eyes he is still the slim waisted stud he was then, but based on the fact that his new belt I made him didn’t fit, Mr. Stud put on a bit of post marital mass.  Keep your remakes to a minimum and demand a good measurement period.

How do we get a good measurement?  I measure, whether me doing it or letting them do it, from the bend to the hole they wear the belt in with the buckle style they will use.  Let’s define some key terms:

  • Bend: The point where the belt bends around the buckle hanger and snaps closed.  This does not include the flap that folds behind the belt.
  • “The hole they wear it in”: This doesn’t matter if it’s the tightest hole, loosest hole, or a hole they added in the belt.  Whatever hole they wear it in.
  • Buckle style: This is important because a trophy buckle will demand a shorter belt than a small ranger style buckle.  It does not have to be “the” buckle so long as it is of similar style.  All buckles are a little different but the style is the main thing here.  Trophy buckle or ranger style.

belt2

 

 

 

Cutting Blank to Belt Size

Once you have stripped the belt blank off the blocked side in the width you want for the belt, you need to cut it for the customer’s size.  I figure this by adding 10.5” to the measurement from their belt.  So if they gave me a 34” measurement then I would cut their blank 44.5”.  The 10.5” comes from 3.5” for the flap that folds back at the bend and then 7” from the center hole to the tip.  If you want more tip to hang out past the buckle then you can make the tip measurement 8”… if you do this you would add 11.5” to their measurement instead of 10.5”.

belt3

I have used this technique for many years and aside from a bad measurement here and there I have had very few problems and my fit is good every time.  This becomes very important when putting names in the back of belts or making tapered belts and keeping things centered and balanced.

For more information on making and designing custom belts follow the link below to purchase our new eBooklet!  This booklet touches on topics from sizing to finishing a custom belt.

how to measure belt size
Custom Belt eBooklet
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