Leatherworking is a survival skill that allows one to create beautifully hand-crafted products that are both functional and highly attractive. An engraved knife sheath, an elegant satchel, a pragmatic pouch – all can be easily fashioned from leather. The sustainability mindset that encourages a hunter to not waste any part of animal suggests that one gain the skills necessary to utilize all parts. To that end, working with leather provides an avenue for a tactile, hands-on connection with the surrounding environment while utilizing the full potential of an animal.
Trade skills, in general, are being lost as tradition fades in many parts of the country. Keeping the art of leatherworking alive is important since it is largely passed down from individual to individual, generation to generation. As the vanguards of leatherworking knowledge, leather artisans are increasingly important in allowing future generations to experience the satisfaction of working with leather. Leatherworkers recognize the fact that hand-made products gain irreplaceable importance and meaning through personal involvement with their creation.
Leatherworking, unlike many other crafts, requires few tools. The tools are primarily used to make holes in the hide and to sew together pieces of leather. When working with soft leather, a leather awl can be used to make holes. Nails also would work – Aboriginal cultures would use bone for this purpose. Tougher leathers, like pigskin, need a significant amount of force to puncture the hide. One could either use an awl with a mallet to drive through the leather, or a leather punch – looks like a fork with four or more tines – that can be hammered through the leather. Once the holes are established in the desired pattern, one can use thread – which is essentially fake sinew – to tie the pieces together. The entire set up, in terms of materials, shouldn’t cost more than ten to fifteen dollars.
The methodology for putting holes depends on the toughness of the leather, as mentioned before. If a mallet is necessary, as for tougher hides, placing the leather on a wooden surface such as a log will allow a stable platform that can be punctured along with the leather.
For creating a leather product that needs to hold a mold, such as a knife sheath, leather must be soaked in water and heated to a high temperature. Once molded around the object – the knife, for instance – it should be sewed together and allowed to cool and dry. Once it has cooled, it will retain its shape and provide a tailored fit. Adding ornamentation through designs, fringes, buttons, or other additions will add to the personality of your leather piece and make it yours.
Working with leather is a wonderfully therapeutic endeavor; there are few things more satisfying than working with one’s hands to create something beautiful that can be cherished for years.