Wednesday, September 30, 2015

So you want to tool leather - Everything you need to get going.

I had a friend ask about what I would suggest for his daughter that had interest in tooling leather. While I'm fairly new to the hobby I'm fully engulfed. I have most of the tools you are going to need. In fact I have two or three of everything. That's because I didn't know what I was doing and that resulted in multiple purchases. I want to use this article to go over my suggestions for someone getting into the hobby.

The big question is what do I need and how far should I go in my purchase? I knew what I wanted to do - I wanted to build holsters. That meant I needed to cut leather, tool leather, hand stitch, burnish, and dye the leather. You may not know exactly what you want to do so I'm going to give you some different options.

THE FIRST THING
I have a lot of books and have watched a lot of videos but there is one book everyone must buy -
The Leatherwork Manual.

Before you make your first cut read this entire book. Keep it in the bathroom and read a little every day. Then maybe read it again. I had so many questions and the internet could only answer so many. This book addresses just about everything. There are rules to leather and this book goes over most of them.

TOOLS
What do you need? Old or new stamps? I wanted to buy the best. I ended up buying slew of tools from eBay. I'm glad I did but there were some key components missing that put a hitch in my leather get along. Learn from me. If you are just getting started you need to basic stamps and a maul.

The Basic 7 Tool set will get you going but you still need a mallet or maul. So even if you start here there are other things you need to buy. A hammer is a no no. I would go with either a leather mallet or nice maul. I use a maul.



The Deluxe Leather Craft Kit is really the bar minimum starter set. You get a mallet, stamps, dye, swivel knife and some kits. I thought, "man, I don't want those kits." Well they aren't there because you want them. They are there to teach you basic leather skills. These are great ways to learn different skill sets.



Finally we have the Ultimate Set. If you know you are hell bent on doing leather and no one is going to stop you them brother go ahead and buy this. Why? Because I didn't and I know I have spent more than $500 to amass this same list of tools. First I bought my stamps, then a maul, then I realized I need a piece of marble....and on and on. Then you have spent a ton of case on everything in this kit. You get the granite, groover for stitching, stitch wheel, hole punch (I still don't have a rotary hole punch), a whole lot more. I see things in that picture I wish I had now. I wish I would have just dropped the money and read the book.



LEATHER
First work on the kits in the starter kit you buy. After that buy your own leather. I drive to Tandy and buy leather. You won't know what you need or what is good until you start cutting and hammering. In only a few months I knew what I needed and I knew what was good leather and what was bad (for my needs). If there is a Tandy store nearby tell them what you want to make. They will help you out. If not give Springfield Leather a call. They are great. In fact Springfield also has almost the same pieces as Tandy. Be sure to give them a look.



Cutting your own leather is cheaper and kit leather is not that great. Practice on the kits and buy leather for whatever it is you want to make.



PRACTICE
You can practice on kits. I bought 25 rounders and learned how to carve there. My first one looked like a cave man hit the leather with a rock. In just a month or so my stuff looked like the real deal. My secret was to carve a rounder each night. There is template in the Leather Manual for exactly what I was tooling. What I didn't have was the info in that book on how to make my swivel knife cuts, how to bevel, how to use stamps, etc.



MY RECIPE
Get your rounders (from Tandy, Springfield or Amazon), order a starter set, read the book, and get to hammering the leather. That is my recipe for you to succeed. Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"What are you making?" From wishing you could make a holster to holding it in your hand.

You know when your in the Tandy store and the man says, "what is it you will be making?" it seems odd to just outright say, "holsters." I had never made a holster and at the time really had no idea how to make one, much less carve one. So to say, "I'm going to make holsters" felt the same as if I had said, "I'm going to carve a pocket watch out of aluminum." Could it happen? Maybe. WIll it happen? Hard to say!!

I'm happy to report that I can say with confidence now, "I make holsters." I grew up on ranch in Texas surrounded by land, Herford cattle and guns. My dad was ex Marine, so we had 1911's, M1 Garands and ultimately single action Colts. I love tooled leather. I used to google just to see what was out there. Actually figuring out how to make something was one thing, tooling a whole other and finally the thing that stopped me every time was stitching. 

This year I decided to take the advice I give many folks and I googled it. That's how I found Leatherworker.com. It is my go-to site for just about every question I have had. I started buying tools (with help from members there) around June (2015). Now just a short time later I have some holsters to show for my time.
If you have ever wanted to learn to tool leather do it! Research it, ask for help, but most importantly start cutting, tooling, dying, stitching and more. I'm excited to keep learning, making and having fun!
My last couple of attempts. I looked at holsters like these on ebay but I never thought I would make my own.




I carved 20 of these to learn my tools.

My first attempt. 

My second holster (from Tandy). This one looked good!
Not exactly what I wanted but I did feel like I was starting to tool in a proper way.
This is just after tooling.
My first Will Ghormley and a 1911 holster at that. Pretty dang swanky!




Top view of the carving.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Staining Leather - Dyes and Oils with Photos


As  newbie I needed to find out what did what to the color of my leather. My online research showed that some folks dyed, oiled and then did a sealer. So let's say you use Feibings brown oil dye (most leave to dry over night), then you hit your leather with Neatsfoot oil (can darken the color more), and then you seal the leather with something like Tan Kote (shiny) or Bag Kote (not as shiny).

I have my own taste on what color I want my leather to be so I ordered some things and decided the best thing to do would be to test them all out. I have been practicing tooling on leather rounders and these were perfect for my dye tests.



Here are some photos showing my findings. I thought this might be good for someone that needed the same info in the future.


 Fiebings Bag Kote

This is my personal favorite. I like how it brings out the tooling and it's not too brown. This is a sealer as well so its a simple solution for me. This is a water base finish. You can buff this out to a shine but like it it nice and flat. This was designed to be used on mail bags, hence the name.

Neatsfoot oil and Bee's Wax

This is an old saddler's method to treat leather. You do a 50/50 mix of Neatsfoot oil and bee's wax. I used a mason jar. I put in my wax and oil in the jar and dropped the jar into boiling water. It will melt together and then you pour it into a cup. I liked the idea of using the the old method and the look is pretty authentic as well. 
Eco-Flo

I love what Eco-Flo highlighter does to leather. The only problem is that I can't keep it on if it gets wet. I used Bag Kote on this round and rubbed in the Eco-Flo highlighter. This is what I got.
 Neatsfoot Oil

 This is just Neatsfoot rubbed into the leather. It will darken it up just a little. This is not a sealer but this is how it looks on leather.
Olive Oil

Next to Bag Kote I like just plain olive oil. You want the extra virgin kind. Leather will tan like your skin. I oiled this rounder up and sat it outside for a few hours. It looks great. This is not a sealer either.













Fiebings Oil Dye - Light Brown

At least I ordered light brown. It didn't say it on the label. This looks more like a dark brown to me. While it's too dark for most of what I have been doing I have used it on trim and it looks good. It's oil dye so it's not going to ever wash out. You can also cut this dye with denatured alcohol to lighten it up. I'm sure this color will come in handy for many things.













Finally, here is a bracelet I made. I used Fiebings black oil dye for the background. Light brown on the edges and straight Bag Kote on the tooled parts. I like this one a lot.




Monday, July 13, 2015

Tandy Starter Kits - I Get It Now


For years I never got into leather because I thought I needed a sewing machine to stitch it - not true. I had no idea what kind of tools I needed. I had no idea how to dye the leather. There were so many things I didn't know I just never got started. Then one day I starting doing Youtube searches and I found the Tandy leather video how-to videos. That opened the door.


The first place I went when I decided I was really going to get into leather craft was Tandy. The company is so old I was amazed it was still around. It's also on the web. I started looking at starter kits. The affordable ones seemed sparse and the high end ones seemed too expensive. They also had a lot of leather projects in those kits I didn't want.

Here is what I have found - I have spent just as much as I would have purchasing a kit by buying things here and there. I may have saved money by just buying a starter kit. And those projects? I don't need to learn to make a key ring, I needed to learn how to tool, how to stitch, how to edge and how to dye. That's the point of the various projects. They are they to give you experience. So in the end I do think they are a good way to go.

The Bare Minimum

The Basic 7 Tool set will get you going. There are things you have to have like a swivel knife. You have to have a camouflage stamp, a veiner, a beveler, a seeder, a background tool and a sylus. When I bought my 35 tools off ebay some of the basics were missing. With this small set you can floral carve. Of course you will need leather, a mallet, then dye...then more!







Pretty Dang Good

The Deluxe Leather Craft Kit has almost everything you need to finish a project and $79 is not a bad deal. I would have done well starting here. You get a base mallet, sponges for wetting the leather, basic stamps, a swivel knife and dye. It took me 3 trips to Tandy before I realized I needed dye.





The Deluxe!

Now we are talking. Are you really serious about doing this? Are you really committed? The $599 price tag is high but you are really getting some workable tools here. I guarantee I have spent more than this and don't have many of the things shown. Sewing tools, burnishing, a strap cutter, lace punches, hole punches, dye, stamps, a better mallet and even a piece of granite, plus the projects. If you are serious then trust me, just spend that money here. You will do it any way and probably not have as much to show for it.







Until next time!

The First Thing Need - If you want to learn to tool leather.


Maybe you are like me, you have always wanted to learn to tool leather. Maybe you have always wanted to make western holsters, belts, knife sheaths. Maybe you like anything with floral carving. I'm that person. I wasn't sure where to start. The starter kits at Tandy just seemed to expensive. I didn't want to make a key chain or carve a rounder. I wanted to make belts and holsters!

Then I read that the old tools were better. That the custom high dollar tools were better than the Chinese made Tandy tools of today. It was a lot to take in. My big question was did I want to have 10 high end stamps or have 30 cheaper ones. The consensus from folks I spoke with was that as a beginner it would be better to have more tools and I probably wouldn't notice the difference.

I went with a set of tools from ebay that were made in the 1960's. I got 37 pieces including a swivel knife for around $85. That's an awesome deal. The problem was some very basic tools were missing but I was so green I had no idea what I needed.

START HERE


So if you are just starting out and own nothing then I suggest you buy this one thing first:
Tech-Tips Book by Al Stohlman

Currently Al Stohlman is my leather hero. He also happens to carve in the style I like the best. Don't buy any tools yet. You can purchase this book in paperback or in a digital format. Read the whole thing. Then read it again. Then save it to refer to...over and over and over.

If I had this prior to buying tools I would have known what I needed and where to use it. Read up and check back!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Ultimate Amp - A Tone Quest


During the Malibu fires it was me and my Caddy. Here you see what I decided to save.
Note the Supro amp, two guitars and other less important stuff.

The Supro Thunderbolt


My first real amp was a Supro Thunderbolt. I paid $250 for it and gigged with it in my early band days. I hauled that thing all over LA. There have been a lot of amps between then and now. The interesting part is that I have been hunting that Supro sound ever since. 

Music Man 212HD - Heavy and Loud!
                                                                                      I went from the Supro to a MusicMan 130 watt 212HD. Some people have bad things to say about this work horse but I notice lately the prices are going up and people are raving about them. It's a heavy bastard but I still really like it. I also have a Kustom Coupe 36 sitting here and I like it. Nice cleans, pretty cool grind. I have a friends Blues Jr and I think everyone should own this amp. I have a modded 5 watt Valve Junior. Super cheap and super easy to mod. I built an attenuator for it and it will wail at low levels. I have various amps I picked up along the way that are more decoration than anything else now.
SIDE NOTE - That is an actual Dwight Yoakam boot sitting on the MusicMan!





I know this is blasphemy but I like to see what is happening on the electronic side of things so I own a Mustang III modeling amp. This thing is 100 non tube amps and has a 12 inch Eminence speaker. The price is $299 and I love it. Sure it doesn't sound exactly like all the amps it models but it's pretty damn close and for computer recording I think it's fine. It's also fun. It's light and I have some tones I have programmed from my Mac on there that just kick ass. If this is where modeling is going then I'm on board. I'm still waiting to see these modeling amps move past the classics and show me tones that don't exist yet. That will be fun. 



All that brings me to this - the Supro would start out clean until I was into song 3 and then it would just get fuzzy, wooly and grind like a dirt pedal. At the time this frustrated me but now it's exactly what I want. A few months ago I ran into a Supro just like the one I owned at Corner Music. It stopped me in my tracks. You could hear my boots skidding. I looked at it and looked at it. I wondered if it was the amp I let go years go. A funny feeling came over me. The kind of feeling that you get when you run into your ex girlfriend from college. I just couldn't walk away. I sold my Supro back the original owner for exactly what I paid him for it - $250. The price tag on the one in front of me? It was was $1,100. That ain't right. I walked away from the Supro but a seed was planted. 



So after lots of pondering I'm on the road of building an amp. I sold off some gear that I never use and now I have the money together. I have the tone in my head and I also know the tones I'm always trying to dial in. The MusicMan does the clean Fender thing in spade so clean is not what I want. I want that ZZ Top wooly sound. Let me quote a guy from Harmony Central, "It has the thickest, creamiest, fattest, most amazingly soul-satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth-but-not-in-your-hands, deliciously raw and juicy, yet intensely rich and sweet, harmonically-loaded, overdrive drenched, orchestral vintage Tone that deserves a capital T, and you get it even at bedroom volume levels. " THAT IS THE SOUND I WANT!

I have cruised ebay, all the guitar/amp forums and I landed on one guy - Jim Nickelson of Li'l Dawg Amps. He takes the old tweed amps and adds his magic at a decent price. I'm still battling between a Champster and a Mutt. The Mutt is a cross between a 5e3 (Tweed Deluxe) and a Champ. That sounds like what I want. I'm going to drop this into a hand made wood cab and to top it off I'm going to use a vintage flower sack ala Charlie Daniels from the 1970s as a speaker cloth. I will keep you updated and when I'm all finished we will see if I got the tone I was shooting for. Here is a link to some of Jim's sound clips. Listen to the "Lil Dawg 5F1 Champster - Clip 1" to hear what I'm shooting for.


New Amp Day!! 57 Tweed Deluxe!!

This just in...I GOT A NEW AMP! Usually my problem is guitars but due to a chain of events I have a new amp.



The NAD (New Amp Day) Timeline

1. I accidentally find a Supro Thunderbolt at Corner Music. It looks so much like the amp I played during the 90s in the band Saint Christopher that I stare at it for so long the owner comes over to see if I'm OK. I get that feeling in my gut like I just ran into an old girlfriend from college.


2. I'm at the BlueBird and Danny Flowers shows up with a 60th Anniversary Woody Pro Junior. Danny could play a barn door and make it sing but the all wood aspect gets me to thinking.


3. I'm watching Heartworn Highways (find it, buy it, live it) for the 100th time and notice Charlie Daniels amps. They are in natural wood cabs with burlap feed sacks for grill cloth. I search the web for info and come up with nothing. My lust only grows thicker. I take a screen shot.


4. I realize that on my Mustang III amp (get one now) I only play the tweed tones. This makes me realize I really need is a tweed amp.

5. I price Fender's 57 Tweed Deluxe and see the price - I look for other options.

6. I realize they make kits and I'm pretty good with a soldering gun. I spend the next few weeks pricing out wood cabs and speakers.

7. I comment to the owner of Union Jack Amps that the amp he built for himself is exactly how a 57 Tweed Deluxe should look.

8. I sell my digital gear and build up a nice amp pile of money. At this exact moment the owner of Union Jack Amps emails me and says he wants to sell his 57 Tweed....for the exact amount of money I have. Fate!?! YES AND YES!!

9. 5 Days later I'm in Tweed bliss. 

The Long and Short
All hand wired 57 Tweed - 5E3 - amp, 15 watts. Mercury Magnetics iron, Sozo blue vintage caps, Tung Sol tubes, hand made pine dovetail cab and a killer Jenson Jet Lightening speaker that keeps the bottom tight. 


Crazy Interesting Stuff
So the circuit is super simple but the way the controls work is very complicated. The tone knob is like a TBX - it either expands or cuts the treble  and boosts the bass. Each volume affects the other. You can actually dial in distortion or clean up the tone by adjusting the other volume knob. I'm running an A/B switch to channel 1 and 2. Channel one I can keep pretty clean. Channel 2 I can get a little dirty. Hit A and B and you get volume increase and some big fat greasy blues. PERFECT!

It also reacts really reacts different with each of my guitars. My Strat with Texas Specials is amazingly clean and complex - very seductive and beautiful. My 335 copy roars like a damn dragster through this thing! ZZ Top all the damn way. My Tele is very punchy and my 3 P90 Les Paul can just about do all of the things listed above.


I'm not even going to pretend I have a good working knowledge of this amp yet but I am in awe. How often does something sound as good as you think it will? And how often does it go beyond that?