Tag Archives: leather

47: Engraved Leather

Poor broken spine!
Poor broken spine!

My favorite binder is showing some wear and tear. Not a surprise, considering I’ve been using it for the past 20-odd years, since I was a little girl. It holds a legal pad, has a pocket for papers, and has more sentimental value than anything.  It’s made of inexpensive plastic and has the name of my father’s family business hot stamped inside.

So simple inside but it's perfect!
So simple inside but it’s perfect!

Not ready to part with it, I though I’d put my bookbinding skills to use and repair the spine with a strip of leather.  Leather is a traditional material for book spines; it’s flexible, but strong.  To use leather in bookbinding it should be thin; I happened to have some 1mm thick leather that was too thin to use for Leather Cuffs we made back in week 3.  To make it unique (and a project worthy of the blog!) we tested out leather engraving.

The leather is quite thin, and it had gotten quite wrinkly being stored away.  To smooth it out, we applied transfer tape to the back.  It held the piece nice and flat, and gave it a little more weight in the laser bed.  I taped the back because I wasn’t sure the tape wouldn’t ruin the finish on the front.

Top strip is wrinkled; the middle part has the tape backing.
Top strip is wrinkled; the middle part has the tape backing.
Gigantic ABCD
Gigantic ABCD

The design I chose to go with was the scalloped one Ryan made for one of his giant Abecediaries, and he kindly filled in a strip so we could see what the engraving would looks like (the original is just vector lines)

Tests of leather - 10%, 30%, 45% and 50% engraving power
Tests of leather – 10%, 30%, 45% and 50% engraving power.  The first one (on the far right) got a bit singed!  

The photo above shows all our tests, and top half has been cleaned with leather conditioner.  The final verdict was a medium engraving at 45% power, and the cut was at 25% speed (relatively quickly, so no more singed  edges!)  The spine of a book is a rectangle, pretty simple shape, but I added the slits at the top and bottom to help the book close.  Leather folding on itself can get a little bulky, so the slit prevents this.

Finished with the new "binding"
Finished with the new “binding”, with the Rock Band guitar peeking out from behind, oops.
Here is how the leather bends - quite nicely!
Here is how the leather bends – quite nicely!

When we first cut it, I was afraid the engraving would be too subtle.  Once it I cleaned it and let it dry, the contrast works!  My trusty binder has most recently seen me through my first semester teaching.  Hopefully the reinforcement will make it last another 20 years!

20: Leather Key Fob Strap

It’s the big 2-0! Jennifer worked on some leather a while back, but when our dear friend Brenn needed an elegant way to attach one of his new key fob to some spare keys, I volunteered to try my own hand at some fairly riveting work.

Prototypes, including a rivet I positively smashed before realizing how to hammer them.
Prototypes, including a rivet I positively smashed before realizing how to hammer them.

It didn’t take long to determine the leather to use based on the size of the opening available. I didn’t spend much time doing preliminary measurements, so you can see from the iterations that both length and rivet hole placement changed often. While I wasn’t ready to rivet with the first three pieces, I had better luck with hole placement on the fourth. Unfortunately, I discovered that you can hammer a rivet too hard and it got crushed at an unpleasant angle. Thankfully, the final strap had better luck with the hammer..

My second rivet attempt worked wonderfully.
My second rivet attempt worked wonderfully.
This leather cleaner and conditioner is an extra step, but totally worth it.
This leather cleaner and conditioner is an extra step, but totally worth it.

I was determined to etch “Brenn’s Spare” on the leather, but the etched surface was hard to see.  Thankfully, when I cleaned and conditioned the leather (mostly to get rid of smelly laser scorched edges) some of the rub brightened up the letters significantly. I hope they retain some of that brightness over time.

The leather conditioner brightened up the etch considerably.
The leather conditioner brightened up the etch considerably.

The trickiest part of this project was entirely due to my disinterest in doing some measurements beforehand. I just grabbed a piece of leather, decided on four inches to start, and went nuts. I was thrilled to discover that I had enough space to fit some nicely laid text on instead of trying to squeeze it in. I was also lucky that it only took five tiny bits of leather to get it right.  Now finished, I’m left wondering if Brenn’s main set of keys can feel envy.  Perhaps they should be given the custom treatment, too!

I positioned the rivet so that there would be little space for the ring to slide around.
Lookit that swanky set of yet unkeyed key fobbery!

03: Leather Cuffs

Ever since we got the laser, back in February 2011, I’ve been wanting to work with leather. It’s a versatile material that can be made into a nearly infinite number of things. My first exposure to leather craft was Girl Scout camp as a kid. The art shed was my favorite place and stamping on leather was the coolest thing! That, and the beading loom. Oh, and lanyard weaving…My mom would indulge my crafty whims, to a $$ point – I was able to purchase some belt blanks and a few stamps for use at home. There are only so many belts a person can make, and without good access to tools and leather, my new hobby went by the wayside. (Beading, though, stuck around, and I’m still making jewelry today!)

Fast forward practically 20 years: I own a laser cutter! So many less punches to purchase, less manual cutting, so many more possibilities!  I had ideas, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist and didn’t feel like my finishing skills were up to snuff.  I first heard about the Chicago School of Shoemaking in 2011, thanks to their booth at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago.  After wanting to take a class for years, I decided a sandal making class was the perfect birthday gift.  It was amazing, the sandals are amazing, and I got to pick the brain of Sara, the master cobbler, to learn proper beginning leather working techniques and how to set snaps and rivets!  She was also interested in the possibilities of the laser, so I can only hope to collaborate more in the future!

TLDR, what you are here for?  Laser cut leather!  Bracelets seemed like the best way to start – simple, small, not much hardware required, and didn’t need sewing.  Time to use the bundle of scraps I picked up from The Leather Guy store!

I came up with 5 different designs to work with – plain, slits to make a neat fringe-y type bracelet, an intricate swirling design, and 2 different “string of pearls” type.  They were different types of leather, and the weights ranged from 2-3 oz (the light brown ostrich leather at the bottom) to 6-7 oz (the gorgeous burgundy red).

Here are the bracelets, pre-hardware.  Not all of these got finished, sadly.

What I learned when cutting leather:  The first several cuts turned out poorly; we assumed leather would be easier to cut than plastic.  Nope.  To get a nice clean cut, we had to use a higher power and go slooow – 5% speed. I also learned burning leather has an interesting and powerful smell.  And laser cut leather is incredibly sooty.

Types of things that went wrong when cutting
Types of things that went wrong when cutting – Top one was too close to the edge, middle didn’t cut cleanly all the way through, bottom bowed up, mid cut, creating the wobbly lines / not aligned circles.

The bracelets I designed to use with snaps went together easily enough, since the guide holes were cut right in (and thanks to a little internet setting refresher).  The red leather was a little thick and I had to shave it down to get them to set right (Alternatively, I could invest in snaps for thicker leather).  Snaps are standard for leather bracelets, but I’ve always felt they were a little chunky, not very elegant.  The fold over clasp is a good solution – or it would be, if I had right hardware!

To attach the clasp, I captured a jump ring in a loop of leather at the end of the bracelet, which I closed with a rivet.  I crimped on the clasp, and it looks fantastic!  I got one photo!  Then I tried to open the clasp, and the jump ring failed.

Looks good, felt solid, but when I tried to open the clasp, they rings turned into noodles.
Looks good, felt solid, but when I tried to open the clasp, the rings turned into noodles.

Try 2 involved a trip to the hardware store and investing in various sizes of washers.  The ones on the blue bracelet look fantastic, but they are just barely too small.  It takes a lot of determination to get the clasp through, as you can see.

The bracelet with the too small jump ring is wearable, but it takes some squishy and twisting and it's difficult one handed!
The bracelet with the too small jump ring is wearable, but it takes some squishing and twisting and it’s difficult to put on and remove one handed!

And any washer with a larger hole had a larger “collar” area.  The laser cut rivet holes were blocked and the clasp wouldn’t fit around. I really like this clasp, but I need to find a good source for 7mm wide, roughly 20 ga soldered jump rings.  But I’ll keep an eye out, and update when I have success.

The washer is so thick, I couldn't get the rivet in.  I could adjust for this, but the clasp couldn't fasten onto something this thick anyway
The washer is so thick, I couldn’t get the rivet in. I could adjust for this, but the clasp couldn’t fasten onto something this thick anyway, and I didn’t want to use different sized rings.  Prior noodle-ly jump rings visible in the background.

I love the finished result of these, and have actually taken to wearing them (and I never wear bracelets…except my Fitbit now that I got for Christmas.  Perhaps 2014 is the year of the bracelet?)  I have two favorites.  The plain cut is lovely because the texture of the leather is so gorgeous and I LOVE the English Point end (pointed a bit, like a belt).  My other favorite is the blue “string of pearls” bracelet.  The size between the large and small strips is based on the golden ratio, and the fold over clasp is nice and delicate – I just need better rings to make it easier to wear!

Seriously, one of the weirdest photos to get.  Thanks to Ryan who didn't mind getting cozy over my shoulder!
Seriously, one of the weirdest photos to get. Thanks to Ryan who didn’t mind getting cozy over my shoulder!