Leather Craft Tools, Materials, Supplies plus Leather Working Steps for The Longhorn Skull Project.
The Longhorn Skull Project started off when my friend David brought in a longhorn skull and said he was in charge of getting this skull mounted on a board and wanted it to be covered with leather and hand tooled, with antique finish and a bound edge with brass tacks. So for the next few weeks I had a longhorn skull on my shop floor starring at me every time I walked by it. I had plenty of time to study and think about how I wanted it to look and turn out. David brought by the 3/4″ plywood board that he and some helpers cut out along with the white paper pattern. I used the white paper for drawing the design I wanted the design to show up from a distance so that is why I choose red oak and acorn with a mix of english scroll and a unique large flower on each side of the skull. I really wanted to break the design up in the middle of the mount and that’s when I decided to draw an extremely large acorn.
Sometimes things just come to you when you are creating a piece of work I felt like this piece needed a break right in the middle so the emphasis would be more on the longhorn skull than the background so I drew the biggest acorn I could get by with and made every cut mark count by hand with a swivel tool that I really like, it is a Barry King Tool that fits may hand perfectly. The blades that are made for this swivel tool are the best quality I ever seen the angle is perfect right out of the box and the edge is easy to maintain all I have to do is lightly sharpen it first on a Washita stone and then a black hard Arkansas natural stone then strap it on a piece of leather with Simichrome polish embedded in it. I us the 1/4″ and 3/8″ hollow ground blades and prefer the 1/4″ the most for carving and cutting in the design on the larger oak leaves and flowers the 3/8″ blade is the way to go, for example the crown or cap of the acorn you see here I used the 3/8″ Barry King Blade.
Pictured above is the solid brass swivel knife that I really like and used for this project, this swivel knife features a 1/2″ barrel and is shown with the 3/8″ straight hollow ground blade right next to the swivel knife is the 1/4″ hollow ground blade that I use for fine detail cuts as well as smaller leather tooling projects. These blades are heat treated properly and will hold a edge for a long time. Keep in mind it is a good practice to continually strap your blades every little bit to help keep a smooth and polished edge, it makes carving leather easier and you will be able to have a good flow and follow you lines with ease. Note the little spacer above the 1/4″ blade is needed for proper placement of the 1/4″ blade it is 1/4″ round by 5/16″ in length .
To create a little bit of balance and to break things up and not have to much of the same design all over the plaque I put a flower and leaf in the center of all of those oak leaves on each side to give anyone looking at the piece a variety of tooling design to look at and study. The background tools I used around the flower and leaves is a Craftool the numbers are #888 for the smaller one and #A118 for the larger one, This is the tool that creates the matte finish background and also makes the tooling design stand out as well as raised up.
Pictured right are the two background tools that I like and use for doing my background work as you can see they have a nice crosshatch and that is what helps me to tool a nice textured background. The larger one is marked A118 Craftool Co. USA – The Weaver Catalog has a A114 as well as The Leather Factory it looks the same to me. The smaller background tool is marked 888 Craftool.
Pictured Left are the two mauls that I use for stamping and tooling leather they are made by Maul Master II The difference between a maul and mallet is the striking surface of a maul is round and the striking surface of a mallet is flat. It takes practice to get used to using a maul but once you get the feel of using it then it becomes easy to use. The striking surface of these mauls is 1 5/8″ and the faces can be replaced if they ever wear out. The smaller maul weighs 22 oz. and is the one I use for beveling and background work and anything requiring a lighter touch. The heavier maul weighs 2 lbs and is the one I use for harder strikes such as using a border tool that I want to make a deep impression into the leather. It can also be used for set stamping and basket stamping. I used both of these mauls on The Longhorn Skull Project.
Pictured Right are two vintage leather tools The top tool is a veiner that I used for stamping up the middle of the red oak leaves on this mounting board this tool looks like it was made by a blacksmith because it looks like it is hand forged this tool belonged to my Dad and has been in the family for many years. The tool on the bottom was made by my Dad it is made from a tractor valve, I remember my Dad telling me that he shaped this tool up a shoe repair machine that had coarse grit sand paper on it and that is how he removed all the extra metal, this tool was made sometime in the 50′s This is a bruiser type tool to create dimension on the oak leaves with this tool I step up to a bigger maul for a heavier strike than the 2 lb. can deliver.
I use this maul when I need a heavier blow to the tool I am using like the bruiser made from a tractor valve, other uses for this maul are to punch slots with oblong drive punches. Some of the specs of this maul are that it measures 10″ from end to end a weighs 3 lbs. and the diameter is 2 5/8″ and the base metal is solid stainless steel the head is made out of rawhide washers and this maul has served many years of use as you can see, another feature is the contoured leather handle. When I purchased my maul it came with the rawhide head and a extra poly head, I believe it only comes with the poly head at this time. I got this maul from Tandy Leather Factory in Fort Worth Texas it is a Al Stohlman Brand. I used this maul on The Longhorn Skull Project.
After the tooling was done for this project I allowed the leather to completely dry out because during the process of tooling and caving this large piece Hermann Oak Saddle Skirting I kept the entire piece damp and while I was working on one small area at a time I kept the rest of the leather covered and wrapped up with a large plastic to help keep moisture in the leather so when I got to it the leather would be cased. The term casing or case means that the leather has been wet and then allowed to set for a while so it will carve easily.
The oil I used for The Longhorn Skull Project is pure olive oil, I like to use olive oil on my saddles and belts as well as tooled projects like this one. The reason I like olive oil is the rice color it gives the leather and it is the best oil you can use for natural saddle skirting.
The two products pictured to the right are from Tandy – The Leather Factory in Fort Worth Texas, I really like these two products that is why I chose them for this project. After the two coats of olive soaked in and colored out and dried it was time to put a coat of Eco-Flo Block Out Resist Finish this is a sealer that needs to be applied with a piece of trimmed sheep wool like you see in the pictured the was such a big piece of leather with a lot of tooling it took a great deal of time to get the block out worked into every crack and crevice . After the first coat of Block Out dried I repeated the process because it is very important to get a real good seal so the antique gel will not penetrate to deep and mess the project up. Patience is the key to a leathercraft project like this or any kind of leather working projects.
Bruce Cheaney Gainesville, Texas shares with you a leathercraft project that took ten days from start to finish and took lots of planning and preparation to complete so the owner would be proud of it.
A special Thanks to David Brown for cutting the plywood board and over seeing the Longhorn Skull Project.
Mounting Board The Longhorn Skull Project – Bruce Cheaney Gainesville, Tx.
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