Basic Leather Carving

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This pages will take you through the basic steps of leather carving with the basic 7 tools:

  1. Swivel Knife

  2. Camouflage Tool

  3. Pear Shader Tool

  4. Beveler Tool

  5. Veiner Tool

  6. Seeder Tool

  7. Backgrounder Tool

This tutorial will take you through carving a basic design on a commercial pattern.  The pattern used here is from the excellent tutorial book The Leatherworking Manual and we highly recommend this book.  This tutorial was adapted from the material on www.craftcrave.com please visit them and consider buying your leatherworking accessories from them.

LEATHER PREPARATION

1. Casing the leather - Using a moistened sponge wet the leather. Do not soak it. The leather should be slightly moist throughout. Once the leather dries to near its original color, it is properly "cased".
2. Prepare a pattern - Lay your tracing film atop your pattern (matte side up) and trace the pattern as accurately as possible with a pencil. If using a Craftaid, skip this step.
3. Position the pattern on the leather. Trace all the pattern lines with a stylus using gentle pressure.

If using a craftaid, place it texture side down on the leather. Use a spoon shaped modeling tool to burnish the back of the craftaid to transfer the pattern.

4. You are now ready to start carving. Try to avoid letting the leather dry out as repeated moistening and drying will make it harder to carve. If you need to take a break place it in a ziplock bag. If the leather starts to dry while working with it moisten again as needed. Please note: do not store wet leather for more than a few hours this way, or it may get moldy.

SWIVEL KNIFE

5. The swivel knife is held as shown. Before beginning your project, practice using the swivel knife on some scrap leather. All cuts should be to a depth of 1/2 the leather thickness.
6. If your design has a border, this is cut first. To ensure straightness, a steel straight edge may be used as a guide. Take care not to over cut at the corners.

7. Examine your pattern and photocarve. Determine which design elements are in the foreground. Begin cutting the foremost objects first.

8. Continue cutting, work from the foreground to the background. Any lines that do not end at another line should be cut with progressively less pressure to gradually reduce the depth of cut.

CAMOUFLAGE TOOL

9. Also called Cams. Again practice on scrap before stamping your project. The tool is positioned, then tapped with the mallet. Do not use a metal hammer on leather stamps as this will ruin them. Study the photocarve design. This tool can be used tilted left, right, forward, backward, and vertical to achieve a variety of patterns.
10. On stems and scrolls, the tool is generally used along the lines. In this process it is tilted towards the line. Note that each line of this stem / leaf has been done. A single stamp has also been done to the center of the scroll.
11. Cams are sometimes used to texture flower petals. When used for petals, the tool is usually held vertically, but tilted slightly forward and stamped progressively from the flower center outward.

PEAR SHADER TOOL

12. The shader is used to contour flower petals and leaves. They are available in a variety of shapes and patterns.
13. Shaders can be held at any angle needed. Tilt towards the narrow end for tight areas. Hold vertically for larger areas.
14. Study your photocarve for areas to be shaded.

15. For areas larger than the tool, the shader is walked across the area, alternately tapping, moving about 1/16 inch, tapping, etc...

BEVELER TOOL

16. The beveler is used to "raise" areas of the design imparting a 3 dimensional appearance. It accomplishes this by lowering the surrounding area. Bevelers come in a variety of textures and sizes.

17. Hold the beveler vertical at all times. Note that the bottom is wedge shaped - the deepest part of the wedge is always placed in the cut to be beveled. Pay attention to which side of the line you are beveling - if you bevel the wrong side it will lower the foremost object and ruin the piece.

18. If the design has a border this is always beveled first. Next, bevel the formost design elements. Work from foreground to background the same as when you cut the design with your swivel knife.Take care that the beveling is smooth and no tool marks are visible. Walking the beveler along the cut will help keep it smooth.

19. On lines that were cut progressively shallower, the beveler is used with progressively lighter taps to smooth the transition.

VEINER TOOL

20. The veiner is generally used to pattern leaves, stems and scrolls. They are available in a wide variety of sizes, patterns, and curvatures. Usually used tipped to the left or right, it can also be used vertically.
21. When veining, the impressions should be evenly spaced, and curve gracefully along the stem or scroll.
22. As the stem narrows, more tilt is used. This allows the veiner to make a narrower impression.
23. Be sure to change the angle of the tool as you go around curves such as the ends of scrolls.

SEEDER TOOL

24. The seeder is used primarily to create flower centers and to embellish scroll ends. They are available in a variety of sizes, and both smooth or textured.
25. A single seed impression is usually used in the center of the scroll ends.

26. Flower centers are made by first stamping seeder impressions around the perimeter of the center.

27. The seeder is then used to fill in the center.

BACKGROUNDER TOOL

28. The backgrounder is used to matt down the background areas. Study your pattern to identify background areas - these will usually be small areas between the leaves, scrolls, and flowers that have been beveled all the way around.
29. Available in a variety of shapes and patterns, the most popular is a small teardrop shape with a fine checkered pattern (A104). This tool will permit back grounding in the tightest areas.

30. The tool is used around the perimeter of each background area.

31. The center of each background area is done by walking the backgrounder across it. To obtain the best results, rotate the tool while walking it to get an even texture.

DECORATIVE CUTS

32. Most beginners find this step the most difficult. Practice decorative swivel knife cuts before proceeding.

33. Study your photocarve. Decorative cuts are generally made by pulling the knife towards yourself.

34. Most decorative cuts start with a deep cut that gets progressively lighter.

35. Make sure your cuts flow with the design.

Modeling Tool

36. Modeling tools, or modelers as they are often called are used for a variety of things and accordingly come in a variety of shapes. For most floral carving a dished spoon style is all that is needed.
37. Correct mistakes - If you have been sloppy with the stamping tools, it is sometimes possible to burnish out the pattern with the spoon end of the tool. Shown here is an overlapping beveler stamp onto the border that can be smoothed with the modeler.
38. Although not essential, slightly rounding the edges of the design elements will enhance their appearance. Take care not to round them too much as this will reduce the effect of the beveling.

39. The design is now done and should be dyed and finished with your choice of products following the manufacturer's directions.