A short while ago I was contemplating the fact that I had spent the past 6 month complaining to myself about not being able to find a pair of sandals that suited my needs. So I set off to make my first pair of sandals. They turned out exactly how I wanted them too, and I greatly enjoyed the process.
At the time I was volunteering in a hostel in Montevideo. Some of the guests that saw me work asked me if they could buy a pair. This plus that plus a bunch of youtube videos – have you actually watched leather craft tutorials? Half of the channels have a no comment policy, it’s just the sound of the tools on the leather. It’s amazing! I was so enthralled by the serenity of simplicity of those videos. Either that or it’s an old no bs guy showing you how to do stuff with care, precision and patience. Even product placement is usually done gracefully. It’s wonderful. Anyway! This plus that, I started doing my research in order to make a list of the most basic tools that I would need.
Now I say most basic. The thing is, I’ve seen leather craftsmen in Senegal doing beautiful things with just a hammer, a very sharp knife, and awl and whatever lied around (a torx key for stamping a flower like pattern, nails to trace lines etc.). So this is definitely way more than the strict minimum. Uruguay is a very protectionist country. It means that all the imported tools are either quite expensive or low quality. Things work differently here. You’re never gonna be able to find a big store with everything you need. However there is always this one shop, or this one guy that makes or imports just what you need.
In that case, this one guy was Don Henrique of Don Henrique Herramientas. He learned to make tools from this father and perpetuates the tradition. High quality steel being very expensive, he re-purposes engine parts in order to make those beautiful tools. On top of that, he drove 40mn on a Sunday morning to deliver them in person so that he could take the time to explain how to care and use every one of them individually. And that’s how I met your set on to make a proper carrying apparatus for those tools!
The idea is for the roll to protect the tools when I am travelling on my bicycle and offer a convenient way to lay them out when I stop somewhere to work.
The roll should accommodate all of my current tools, plus a few compartments to add tools in the future.
The leather(s) should be quite heavy to withstand frequent use and sharp tools. I settled on a half hide of 5oz Brasilian veg tanned leather.
Planning and marking the leather
I spent a significant amount of time watching videos about tool rolls in order to get an idea of what I wanted. After making a list of my requirements and setting the tools side by side I drew a first sketch on paper. I also used the lesson learned from a little roll I made as a practice run a few days earlier to adjust my measurements (I have a tendency to under-estimate the required tolerance).
There I added all the information that I would need during the next steps. Since this is a first, I know I won’t be able to think about every little detail once I start working the leather so I need a good guide.
Finally I marked the leather on the rough side for all the cuts/the glue/tooling I will have to make.
Sewing in the braid
I skipped a couple of steps here: – the pouch was made using two pieces of leather glued on top of each other. The top piece has a zipper and some tooling for decoration. – 3 strips of suede were braided together to make the encircling rope.
Sewing the pocket to the backside
Making the holes to sew the pouch. Only this side is made now because it won’t be sewn to the main part in order to create another pocket underneath. The other sides will be pierced once the pouch is glued to the roll.
Gluing the pouch to the roll, punching the sewing holes around the pouch and finally sewing
Making a flap for the one of the compartments
This compartment will hold the stamps and I want to protect them a bit more.
Some tooling to make it pretty (also tooling is so satisfying).
I start with some 600 grit sandpaper, then go down to 1000 and finally 1200.
I would start with something bigger like 200 maybe to sand out the big imperfection especially when two pieces are glued together but they didn’t have any at the local ferreteria.
Then I wet the edge and rub rub rub.
I’m not unhappy about the result as I get to a very glossy finish, however I never managed to get this darkened fiber-burnt edge that you see elsewhere.
Gluing the comparments
Preparing to fold the roll by applying contact cement along the stitching line.
The tool I’m using is simply a piece of plastic from a yogurt lid folded over a discarded old x-acto blade and glued with contact cement. Then the plastic is cut the the desired dimension/shape. I made several in order to have applicators of different sizes.
Stitching the compartments
Marking the stitching lines on to the leather.
Punching the holes of the stitching lines. Pressing the teeth of the fork onto beeswax from time to time really seems to help with punching and taking the fork out.
Then stitching on the couch. It’s a whole series. I also have sewing in bed, sewing in the hammock, etc. I’ll spare you from it.
Trimmed the threads, burnt the ends and tucked them all in with the 2 teeth fork.
Now for the scary part: wet-forming the leather. It was a first so I had no idea what I was doing or how it would turn out.
I submerged the whole thing in water for a good 30 seconds, laid it out on the table and Inserted all the tools that I greased to prevent rust. I inserted a glasses case in the pouch to give it some depth.
Let everything dry. It was already late that day so I hanged it inside overnight and finished outside the next morning.
Super pleased with the result. Although I did learn an important lesson: it’s very bad to work in an environment that is not perfectly clean. Anything a bit gritty will mark the leather, as well as the oil on your skin, dust, sand obviously…
Another take from this: any tooling will almost disappear if it had been done prior to wet-forming and the tooled area is then stretched.
Making a needle cushion
I wanted a cushion like this to have a convenient way to set my needles aside while working.
The interior is stuffed with a bit of cotton.
One of the most difficult parts for me. I messed up a few before I got to a decent result.
Nourishing and finishing the leather
Now for my favorite part: oiling the leather! I used coconut oil because…that’s what I have…and it smells good so I like to rub it on stuff? I’d be happy to know if it’s appropriate or not. + when it’s a bit cold it leaves beautiful solid white aggregates along the details.
I rubbed a super generous amount on both sides and let it melt well under the sun so that the oil can get inside.
Finally I applied a finishing product containing mostly wax among other things. I tried to generously cover everything including the rough side and then rubbed everything with the rag.
The final result once waxed and polished.
A few things: – the tooling on the back of the pouch almost completely disappeared after the wet-forming. – the defects introduced during this step are still very much apparent. – it looks great and I love it.
The roll will end up on the bike eventually but in a piece of PVC tubing plugged on both ends to make it watertight.
All in all I am more than satisfied with the end result. It has been fun and very informative to make. The aspects I’d like to improve on:
- first and foremost, finding a proper, clean area (or rather proper areas) to work on. This is a big issue with cycling: keeping the leather dry and in good shape, finding opportunities and places to stop for a few days and quickly wrap up a few things before hitting the road again.
- cutting edges perfectly, especially 2/3 layers edges. I’m using surgical blades because it’s the best quality/price ratio here by far but this project dulled two blades on its own and I feel like I’m running out fast at 1$/blade. I know I can use the opinel (I actually got a sharpening stone for that purpose) but I just can’t get those curves as well with the opinel as I can with a precision cutter at the moment.
- edge burnishing: how to get this nice brown finish on raw leather without fancy products?
- oiling: I have no idea if what I’m doing is right or if I’m using the right oil.
- tooling: I have a long way to go to get the right pressure, align the tools perfectly every time and all this. Also everything to learn about carving.
- unrelated with this project but I’d like to find a way to make my own dies and finishing product. I can go on very long stretches between big cities where this stuff is available and it runs out pretty fast, especially the dyes so anything I can make myself with what’s around me is a wonderful gift. Also skimming with a single blade razor is annoying and I’m gonna run out of blades to shave myself with.
The following online content provided some assistance and/or inspiration during the making of this project: