While exploring the tools needed to add some artistic and decorative elements to a few projects, I spent some time researching and learning about leather tooling kits.
Leather tooling kits are specifically-curated collections of individual leather tools, primarily used to make permanent, decorative impressions in the surface of leather. Kits generally come in varying sizes (based on the number of tools included), usually 3-50 tool, and generally range in price from about $5-$200.
The number and quality of the tools can be important factors when selecting which can be most helpful on a project. Let’s explore more about what to look for and which can be a helpful addition to the ship.
What Is a Leather Tooling Kit?
Leather tooling kits are a collection of tools specifically designed to make decorative impressions in leather. Kits contain six to eight basic stamping tools, a mallet, a swivel knife, jeweler’s rouge, tracing paper. Some will also contain sponges, dyes, instructional DVDs, tooling patterns, and vegetable tanned leather; die cut or pieces to be cut to size. Prices range from $30 to over $150.
What to Look For in a Leather Tooling Kit
Leather Tooling Patterns
Patterns are line drawings printed on paper where swivel knife cuts will be made. Ensure lines are clear and dark; tracing paper will be placed over the drawing and copied.
Leather Tooling Stamps
Tooling kit should contain a basic set of stamps; veiner, beveler, pear shader, camouflage, seeder, background stamp; others may include basket weave, multiple camouflage tools and veiners.
Vegetable tan leather is the only type of leather that will accept tooling and stamping. If one is looking for specific projects, it may be beneficial to purchase kits with die cut leather to the shape of the final project. Die cut leather is cut using a die, metal outline with a sharp, knife-like edge, and pressed into the leather, cutting the outline of the die from the leather; similar to a cookie cutter.
Otherwise, non-shaped pieces can be used. Specific kits may have different leather thicknesses depending on the project one will create with the kit.
Vegetable tan leather is the only type of leather that will reliably accept tooling and stamping.
Kit Size (Number of Tools)
Tool quantity in kits can be as few as six stamping tools to as many as 183 pieces. The larger kits will not only contain tools, but also snaps, rivets, cutting mats, thimbles, thread, sanding boards, and rulers.
Kit Styles (The Shapes and Variety of Tools in a Kit)
Kits normally contain stamping tools to accentuate carving done by a swivel knife. They can also contain, but not limited to, mallets, swivel knife, an assortment of prong punches, shape stamping tools, scissors, scrapers, awl, stitch groover, edge beveler, hole punches, rivet and stamp setter dies, edge creasers, bone folder, slicker tool, and stitch spacer.
Manufacturer (The Quality of the Kit and How Long They Will Last and Quality of Performance Over Time)
Most of your high end tool makers sell their tools individually, rather than in sets; catering to the more advanced in leather crafting. Large retail sites, where leather stamping kits are a small percentage of their sales, don’t focus as much on quality and customer service.
These tools are normally mass produced and the quality of the tools will diminish quickly; chipping, flaking or breaking, over time or not produce the desired results. Other suppliers, which specifically cater to leather crafters, will have better quality tools and are willing to stand behind them if there is an issue.
Types of Leather Tooling Sets
Leather Stamping Kit
Stamping kits contain a variety of shape stamps; typically themed, such as Celtic patterns, letters and numbers, geometric patterns, inspirational words, animals, or repetitive series.
Beginner Leather Tooling Kit (Basic Leather Tooling Kit)
Rarely will beginner tool kits contain shape stamps. Basic leather tools included in a beginner set include the following tools used to accentuate cuts in leather made by a swivel knife. Each tool or stamp is used by striking the head of the stamp with a mallet in a precise location on the carved leather.
Bevelers are used to press down leather on one edge of a cut made by a swivel knife. It is used to add depth and contour to the shape carved in the project.
Pear shaders are named after their shape, as they look similar to a pear or teardrop. Pear shaders are used to provide an indentation in your project so it is perceived as a three dimensional image. An example would be the petals of a carved flower. By tapping down portions of the flower, it creates a more realistic image.
Seeders create small stamped circles and are used to create the seeds in flower centers. They can also be used to create a unique background pattern, grouping them tightly together as in a series of rings.
Veiners are used to create fine lines in leaves, flower petals, and stems. These can also be used to create unique designs for borders or belts. They normally have a texture to the foot of the stamp as well as a curved shape.
Camouflage tools are used around the edge of a stamped project to present a finished look. When placing a basket weave pattern on a project, it is rare that a full basket weave stamp occurs at the edge of the project. The camouflage tool is stamped around the edge to hide the partial basket weave stamp.
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To offset carved projects and make it look raised from the leather, a background tool is used to stamp down around the project. The stamp foot is a small ovoid shape with a textured face.
Professional Leather Tooling Kit
Leather kits come in a variety of tool quantities and are cheaper than buying tools separately. There are kits which contain several projects along with leather to produce them; wallets, key chains, money clips, etc. Professional tooling kits, however, don’t exist.
Professional tools and higher end tooling leather exist, and are normally purchased individually instead of in sets. For instance, with a beveler, there are 25 plus different selections depending on the type of leather carving to be beveled. Some leather crafters may only have one or two bevelers, while others may have as many as six or eight.
Leather Belt Tooling Kit
Belt kits can be as limited as a leather blank cut to length and width, or as ornate as containing the necessary fasteners, conchos, and belt buckle. Stamping or carving tools are not included in belt kits.
Professional tools and higher end tooling leather exist, and are normally purchased individually instead of in sets.
Leather Tooling Kit Insights
How Do I Start Leather Tooling?
The best way to start leather tooling is to have a project in mind, however elaborate. If possible, visit a local leather retailer and share one’s idea with them. They will be able to reliably guide a person to the right tools as well as a beginner project in order to hone the proper skills through practice; including the proper leather.
For instance, if one wanted to produce framed, painted leather carvings, initial purchase recommendations would include a swivel knife, backgrounder, beveler, camouflage tool, mallet, dividers, water or solvent based paints and dyes, wool daubers, edge slicker, and leather on which to practice.
In this instance most of the practice would center around the swivel knife. One would learn the proper depth cut, how to strop the blade, make a circular line cut, ease up on the cut depth as one approaches the end of the cut line, make decorative cuts.
Casing leather is another area of trial and error to ensure the leather has the proper moisture content for carving and stamping. These skills will be invaluable and used on a regular basis as a leather crafter continues their journey of working leather.
Here is an insightful video demonstrating some helpful techniques for tooling leather:
What Is Tooling Leather Used For?
Tooling leather can be used to make a multitude of items; belts, purses, holsters, phone cases, coasters, wallets, shaving kits, briefcases, portfolios, book covers, saddles, knife sheaths, axe covers, tool belts, signs, book marks, ear rings, hat patches, or decorative wall art, just to name a few.
Is Leather Tooling Difficult?
Tooling leather is not difficult physically. It is a matter of being able to hold a stamp in one hand and tap the head of it with a mallet. For those with dexterity challenges, there are ways to outfit the stamps and mallets with larger diameter handles to allow for stamping proficiency. Although tooling is not physically demanding, it requires practice to refine these skills. Some of the skills are muscle memory, others are more cerebral.
Specifically, if one is stamping a border around a large piece muscle memory is required to ensure the same stamp depth for each individual stamp. Cerebral skills would come into play when deciphering which side of the line to bevel in an ornate floral carving to ensure the desired effect is achieved. Once a beginning leather crafter has a set of tooling stamps and possibly a swivel knife, the only other items needed are a solid surface, mallet, leather, and water to dampen it.
Practice making small projects that require no stitching and don’t have to meet a certain size requirement. Leather coasters and bookmarks make excellent practice pieces as they have no defined shape and can be placed around the house or given as gifts.
With some practice, leather tooling can be quite an enjoyable part of the craft. With a quality kit, one can get making right away and possibly soon find this one of their favorite techniques to use. And it’s always fun to add more tools to the shop 🙂