The Crossroads of the Aether
I'm looking to get into leatherwork, and was wondering about a good starting point. I've done a minor amount (mostly just riveting strips together to make a belt) and was wondering if there's a good starter kit/stepping stone/guide to consult in order to improve and get more intricate with it? I'm thinking of eventually making my own leather vest (although I have yet to work out the details of it), as well as acessories. What are some of the basic tools I should get? Where can I get good amounts of leather? Where can I learn different techniques?
Thank you for your time and correspondence!
If you have a Tandy store in your area, that's a really good resource. Not only do they have the supplies but the employees are generally experience at doing leatherwork themselves (although their experience levels can vary a lot). Tandy stores also have classes at the store on weekends.
Another thing you can do is keep an eye out for interesting leather goods at conventions, craft shows, etc. If you see something that you like, ask them if they made it. If so, most craftsman are only too happy to answer questions if you say something like "Oh, I like this seam. How did you get the stitches so even?"
The tools you need sort of depend on what you want to make. If you want to make a vest, you'll need a good pair of scissors, marking pens for the patterns, hole punches, and sewing supplies. Heavier leather items, like belts, need different tools to cut the leather, bevel the edges, color the leather, etc.
I echo Professor MacGregor in that I get most of my supplies from Tandy Leather. You can also find a few other leather supply stores on the web, though some of them just resale Tandy's items anyway - as I discovered.
My favorite method of cutting leather thus far is rotary cutter. The one I use for sewing cuts through 5-6 oz leather like butter. I haven't tried it on anything thicker than that, though.
I am a leatherwroker by trade and have been involved in the business for several years now, though for the last two as a business owner (Aegis Steamcraft LLC). As the others have pointed out, a fine way to get into the craft as a hobby is by visiting your closest Tandy Leather Factory. They are often very helpful and eager to help new folks get started in the craft. As for the types of tools you will need, let me say that a good pair of high-quality leather scissors and a razor knife (box knife) are probably the first things you will want to get along with a leather-crafter's square and a corked-back ruler. A Marking stylus is also an invaluable tool. Those are truly the first few tools to add to your kit. Now beyond that, the list can become extensive. Right now, I probably have pretty close to $5K worth of tools in my shop including a Tippmann Boss sewing machine, but I'm doing it for a living, so comparing what I need verses what you'll want/need is really kinda silly. Your best bet is to find that Tandy and buy a pattern for a vest or something and then buy the tools you need to do that kit. Then get started on another kit and so on and tool-up as you go.
Now, as far as resources go, I also use the following companies to buy leather and materials from:
The Hide House
Ohio Travel Bag
and a small assortment of other suppliers for exotic skins and hides.
Getting into leather crafting can be alot of fun and I encourage you to give it a try. Personally, I don't spend much time tooling patterns in leather as the hours and hours that takes is simply beyond what most folks would ever want to spend money to have done. So for "tooled leather" generally I let folks do that themselves or they pay very high dollar to have it done. Usually I just don't have the time to mess around with that, so they'd have to offer a really high amount to talk me into it. That's where you'll find yourself making truly unique items for yourself as well is if you do all of the tooling yourself.
Anyway, good luck with it and most of all, have fun. A couple of hundred dollars investment will get you solidly started in the hobby.
Shoot, I didn't even pay $15 for my rotary cutter. Joann's 50% off coupons are a godsend. :) But yes, you can certainly find better deals on a lot of what Tandy sells, but it's a good central resource. Watching their sale ads is usually good too because they do run some good specials.
Thank you all for your replies! I'll go around to the nearest Tandy as soon as I get disposable income, and see what I can find there. Also, today at work I found an old industrial sewing machine table (has the 1/4 HP motor, wiring, and pedals, but the machine itself is missing) out by the dumpster. I saw it and got it home after work, which is not easy to do if you drive an old bug. I plan on painting the frame, refinishing the wood, and putting the lamp back into use. I'll also mount it on casters for easy moving. This will be the perfect leather workbench when its finished! I uploaded some pics on my profile if you're interested, but they are a bit blurry.
Yes, I second what the Professor said. Tandy's is a great place. Buy a membership and get a discount on supplies. They even have a scrap leather barrel so you can practice. I spend around $160 on my leather tools, but people can end up spending a lot more as you get more complex. However, you should be able to start around $40.