In Both Products and Life, Flexibility Leads to Success

The character trait of flexibility means a willingness to change or compromise as a situation requires.

Throughout the 1800s, one of the primary modes of public transportation was stagecoach. In our hectic day and age, it seems like that would be a romantic way to travel. Sure it was slow-paced so a passenger could enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way, but it was also far from being glamorous. If the fear of bandits or Indian attacks wasn’t enough to keep one on edge, the bumpy roads full of potholes and rocks sure made for a lack of rest or relaxation.

Thanks to ingenuity and leather though, the quality of the ride was greatly improved. Thick leather strips called braces were strung across the chassis, and the body of the coach rode on top of these braces. It formed somewhat of a cradle for the body to swing back and forth, helping to eliminate the harsh motion influenced by the deep ruts and large rocks. Leather was the perfect material to use for braces because it was strong enough to support the weight and abuse it was subjected to, but flexible enough to absorb shock and compromise as the situation required. Other materials didn’t work because they lacked either flexibility or strength. Wood, for example, would have been strong enough but it didn’t offer the flexibility needed to cushion the bumps and provide a smooth ride.

Flexibility is a trait that can greatly influence the quality of our lives. People who are flexible are willing to compromise and understand the concept of give and take. They are also approachable and embrace change. In our fast-changing world it is important for us to practice being flexible. Otherwise, we become obstinate and stubborn and will miss out on some of life’s greatest opportunities because we are unwilling to change when a situation requires us to. As Benjamin Franklin said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

By Marcus Miller, Leathercraft Division Manager

Things to Keep in Mind When Purchasing Machinery

As a leathercrafter, you may contemplate buying machinery to increase your speed and efficiency. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, there are machinery options in all price levels to meet your needs and boost your productivity. There are so many different machines and so many different suppliers out there that it can seem overwhelming for even the most seasoned leathercrafter to make a buying decision. Following are a few things to keep in mind whether you’re making your first purchase or have made several machinery purchases in the past.

What repetitive tasks do I currently perform that could be streamlined with a machine?

Do you set many snaps, spots or crystals? Do you punch lots of holes? Do you crease your leather edges by hand? Do you cut out many leather pieces of the same shape? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, there are machines that can make your job much easier. Check our Master Tools Little Wonder®Master Tools Rotary PunchMaster Tools Power Edge SlickerMaster Tools Mighty Wonder 4 Ton Hand-Operated ClickerMaster Tools Self-Centering Punch as well as our entire line of Master Tools Machinery and think about whether the time savings you’d experience with these machines would make a machinery purchase a worthwhile use of your budget.

What is my budget for machinery?

Obviously, whether you are a hobbyist who makes a few items for family and friends or a professional who produces multiple items for resale will have an impact on your machinery budget. However, you may be surprised how reasonably priced a machine like our Master Tools Little Wonder® is when you take into account your time savings across all your projects. Carefully think about how much time you invest in performing a certain task by hand and weigh the benefit of saving time to determine if it makes financial sense to purchase a machine for your situation.

What should I look for in a machinery supplier?

When making any major purchase, it is important to choose a supplier who stands behind their product and has knowledgeable people to help you if you run into any problems. Look for a supplier who backs their machinery with a satisfaction guarantee, who provides excellent technical support and who has a reputation for providing knowledgeable customer service both before and after the sale. Purchasing machinery is an investment, and to protect that investment in the long run, it is important that you choose a supplier you can trust.

Thinking through these questions will get you pointed in the right direction when making a machinery purchase. Like all major purchases, it is best to carefully consider your options and not make spur-of-the-moment decisions. A thoughtful machinery purchase can make the difference between a machine that will serve you well for a lifetime and a machine that only brings you headaches. The right supplier can make all the difference.

Choosing The Right Finish for Your Product

One of the topics I get asked about the most is choosing the right finish for a given project. Finishing your leather is a very important step and can make or break your end result. From my early years working closely with Harry Weaver to my experience as a production manager at Weaver Leather, I have learned important lessons about what works, and maybe more importantly what doesn’t work. I’ve also learned a great deal from customers like you through the years. It’s always good to hear your experiences and learn a new tip or technique.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you a few of the finishing tips and products that I’ve found to be the most helpful through the years:

Getting the Right Consistency on Fiebing’s Antique Finish

I love the way this product gives your product a rich, two-toned patina. However, sometimes Fiebing’s Antique Finish can be a little too thick when you receive it or become dried out from sitting around the shop. This issue can easily be resolved by simply adding a bit of Fiebing’s Tan-Kote to thin it to a consistency that will work best for your current project. This technique will work on all the colors. Simply add a small amount of the Fiebing’s Tan-Kote, check the consistency and continue adding small amounts a little at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

Restoring a Smooth Surface with Gum Tragacanth

It’s easy to restore a smooth surface on the back of skived leather simply by using Gum Tragacanth. I recommend applying the Gum Tragacanth with a sponge and then rubbing it in with whatever you normally use on your edges. Just as this product is used to slick edges, it can also be used to slick the back when you have an exposed skived surface.

Sealing and Protecting Your Project

A question I get frequently is what sealant I recommend. A few years ago, we decided to do our own experiment in our shop to settle the debate. We laser-engraved three leather coasters and put a different sealant on each one. We allowed the finish to dry overnight and then puddled water on top of each one the next morning.  Bee Natural RTC Sheridan Resist and Finish outperformed all the rest! This top-notch sealer has become a favorite of belt makers everywhere for sealing in the color of their leather and making darker leather colorfast. A universal concern of belt makers is the risk of color transfer of dark belts to light-colored or khaki pants. Using RTC will give you more peace of mind knowing that your final product will resist color transfer.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Choosing the right finish and utilizing the right techniques are the keys to consistently successful end products.

By Myron Stutzman

The Secret to Preventing Leather Cracking from Our Founder Harry Weaver

Harry Weaver instilled early on to his employees the importance of wetting leather before bending or folding it to apply hardware and to sew the lap. When you fold veg tanned leather, all the leather’s intertwined fibers bend in an unnatural way that puts tremendous pressure on the top grain potentially causing cracking or separating.  The area most susceptible to this is where the grain is tightest, the butt area of the side. Wetting relaxes these tighter fibers enabling you to bend the leather for a flatter position that’s conducive to sewing closer to the hardware.

For most applications, Harry would place 3″-4″ of the ends of his straps in water for five seconds and then fold the straps where they would be folded over the hardware. Before the leather dried completely, he would sew the laps. While the top grain on leather tools, carves and embosses exceptionally well, it is usually about 1 oz. thick and folding it repeatedly may cause it to separate or crack, making wetting a good preventative step.

Harry used this method on all kinds of leather including strap, skirting, bridle, latigo and harness leathers. He rarely experienced problems with his leather cracking and his laps were always tighter and stitched up farther than most. We encourage you to try this method for yourself and experience the difference it makes.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Mauls

From tried-and-true to modern, there are many materials to choose from when selecting a maul. To help make sense of it all, we talked to Jeremiah Watt, a custom saddle maker with over 30 years of experience on what to consider when making your next maul purchase. Below are his suggestions.

In general, what are some factors I should keep in mind when selecting a maul?

“The handle, the head, and finally the balance or weight distribution are all important and to be considered in your purchase.”

What options do I have when it comes to maul heads?

“I love the look of those old mauls made up of compressed layers of rawhide. They last for years with a little careful use, mainly being sure to keep turning the maul to even out the wear pattern. If they have a downfall, it is that they wear out and finding a replacement head is difficult. Today’s modern designs are made up of mostly nylon-faced mauls, lathe-turned, and actually replaceable if sent back to the manufacturer. Some of these nylon heads are smooth, while others have radial grooves running around them to reduce slippage when striking tools. As time passes, I think we will see far fewer of the rawhide-type heads and many more heads made from newer materials. Both types have proven highly functional.”

What about maul handles?

“I guess if we go with the traditional old standard, then the stacked layers of oak bark tanned leather would come first. These are still made today by many of the contemporary maul makers throughout the USA. They are attractive, comfortable to use all day and take on a rich patina from the user’s handling over time. They require little to no maintenance that I’ve heard of. Then, there are the highly-figured and attractive wood handles that many maul makers opt for. I think as much to make their product attractive as anything. Then, there are mauls that have adapted to more modern technology and make use of high density rubber for the handle. I was a skeptic, but bought one to try and the 65-2332 Maul Master is my favorite maul today.”

What weights do I need on my bench?

I have about five mauls located throughout my shop. At my carving bench, I have three that I use every day including a 1.5 pounder for those basket and geo block stamp jobs of a larger nature. Then, I have a 1 pounder for most borders, smaller baskets, and much of my floral work.  I also have a 10 oz. maul made as a custom tool for me by an Aussie bloke. I am thinking of finding a new maul even a little lighter, in the 6-8 oz. range for very small borders and finer floral work. For stamping out parts such as rosette buttons, latigo carriers, etc., you will be happy to own a maul around 5 pounds with a good heavy head…or maybe the 65-3075 Master Tools Hand-Operated Clicker if it’s in the budget.”

With so many options at both higher and lower price points, you’re sure to find the right selection to meet your needs at a price to fit your budget.