Carving leather is a skill that many leather workers want to have. Carving is may be a difficult skill, but carving on leather is a different story. We have to deal with carving on a material that is more delicate than the usual materials for carving such as wood, marble, or the usual ones we use in carving in general. With that, you need to have the right tools for the job.
What are the carving tools needed in leatherworking? The basic tools for carving in leatherworking include the swivel knife, a stamp set, and some stamping tools. Stamping tools include the camouflage tool, pear shader, beveler, veiner or sheller tool, and a seeder.
In this article, we will be discussing the tools needed in carving leather. We will also discuss the different uses of each tool, as well as some other additional tools that we can use in our carving projects. We need to remember that each tool has its own specific use. We cannot use one tool for a different purpose because it won’t give us the best results.
Let’s Start with the Basics: The Three Main Tools
Fortunately, there’s no need to buy a lot of expensive tools for beginners. You can buy basic carving tool sets online for affordable prices. Experts in leatherworking often say that it is perfectly fine to use cheap tools in the beginning, just to get the general feel of each tool, and you can progress into something much more expensive after you get your groove in carving.
Make Sure to Have a Swivel Knife in your Tool Holder
A swivel knife is used to make bold cuts that define the pattern or an image being carved on leather. It usually has a chisel edged blade held upright and mounted on a pivot with a saddle or finger. It is also usually held the same way as you hold a pencil. You should hold it between your thumb and middle fingers, with the index finger on the saddle.
It is also used to outline and cut the design onto the leather. Swivel knives are not expensive in general. It can be used in a variety of blades depending on your preferences. Some of the recommended brands include Tandy, which is known for its nice balance and high quality, some models having rubber barrels and ergonomic design, as well as EnPointe, known for its non-slip texture and a durable brass knife. For beginners, cheap ones can be found on Amazon for as low as $12.99.
Rawhide Mallet to Hammer the Carvings On the Leather
It is used to drive stamps to mat down the background. It is also used in creating shading and patterns. There’s no need to buy expensive mallets for carving. Mallets made of nylon with wooden handles are available online for as low as $13.99. Stormshopping is one brand recommended for leatherworking enthusiasts because of its comfortable wooden handle and it is also lightweight, making hours working with this mallet not straining for your hands and wrist.
Stamping Set is Your Go-To Kit for Carving Leather
A stamping set is used to shape and color the leather to create the final image. Inclusions might vary depending on the sets available in stores. The common stamping set usually contains a beveler, pear shader, seeder, and background tool. It might also contain other tools and several variations of the same tool in other stamping sets. Affordable ones can be found on Amazon for as low as $19.99 for a complete stamping set. In particular, UOOU makes stamping sets at affordable prices without compromising the quality of the tools.
What’s Inside the Stamping Set
Camouflage Tool for the Emphasis in Carving
This tool creates an impression similar to that of a seashell. It is used to add emphasis to areas of the carving. This is often used in the stem or down the center of a leaf in floral designs. You can use it by holding it vertically over the leather and striking with a rawhide mallet.
Pear Shader for Pressing Curves and Swerves
A pear shader is used to press down areas of the design that need to appear curved. The action from the pear shader causes the leather to appear slightly darker. It may be tilted during use to produce the desired effect. Remember that it should be moved only slightly between each tap with a mallet. Pear shaders create a consistent shading of the leather.
Beveler to Raise Cuts on the Side
A beveler is used to create an indention on one side of a cut. It is done so that one side is raised. Using bevelers can produce very realistic results when used correctly. It comes in many shapes such as diamonds or ovals. It also has a variety of faces such as striped, checked, smoothed, crosshatched, and rounded. It is important to note that smaller is better for beginners.
Veiner and Shell Tools for More Curves
These tools create a curved impression of a series of short, closely spaced lines. These can be used interchangeably. A veiner creates a simple curved line, while the shell tool has a pattern similar to the edge of a scallop along the inside edge. These are used to continue to create an impression of depth thanks to the beveler. It is also used to create the impression of a curved surface. These tools are used the same way as other tools. It may also be tilted like the pear shader to produce deep impressions.
Seeder for Those Seeds in the Carving
A seeder creates a small circular impression, similar to the asterisk symbol with a hole in the middle. It is used to represent seeds in designs. This tool is predominantly used in floral designs. To use this, you need to hold it vertically over the leather and strike it with the mallet. You must stamp around the outside first then fill in the center when using this tool.
Background Tools are Difficult at First but Greatly Helpful After
This tool is not necessary in some cases, but it is commonly used to emphasize a design. A background tool is used to push down on any areas that have not been already carved. It comes in a variety of shapes and finishes, but crosshatched patterns are widely used. It is used to significantly darken the leather as well.
A background tool’s face is often too small. When using this, do not strike too hard on the leather as it might damage the leather with too much force on it. Background tools are difficult to master but can help greatly in carving when adept in using the tool.
Other Tools You Will Need for Leather Carving
Tracing Paper to Print Your Designs
Tracing paper is used in tracing designs on the leather, obviously. It comes in sheets and rolls. A pro tip here: using sheets is okay but rolls are much cheaper. When printing, attach a piece of paper behind to support the paper. Keep in mind that tracing paper gets crumbled easily so don’t put too much pressure on it while tracing the design.
Handy Stylus to Trace the Design
A stylus is used to trace the design on the leather. Using a pencil is okay too especially if designs are drawn yourself. Styluses don’t need to be expensive, and cheaper ones are okay for starters.
Sturdy Board for Sleeker Impressions
It is highly recommended to work on your carving projects on a board that must be sturdy to achieve crisper impressions. Your work surface should be steady because of the maul or mallet to hammer the designs. Stone slabs are better because these are very smooth and will not ruin the leather while carving.
A granite or a marble surface is highly recommended. Granite is the most durable stone slab for leatherworking. There are slabs available cut to size, but you can get some for free. For the best quality, you should also use poundo boards or wooden boards with smooth surfaces along with the stone slab. To do that, sandwich the stone slab between the poundo board below and the wooden board on top
Stamps are Great for Starters
Leather stamps come in a variety of designs, from letters to numbers to designs.
Usually made of metal, it is used in stamping designs on the leather. To achieve that, you need to place the stamp on the position desired then strike with a mallet. Stamping is different from carving, however.
Stamping is using a stamp that will leave a 3D impression on leather, but carving, as the name implies, means carving images into the leather using a swivel knife and other tools. Leather stamps are great for newbies who want to have their projects personalized by putting names on those.
Carving is a fun task to learn, and you just need a few basic tools to do this. You don’t need to buy expensive ones online, and then you can buy more expensive tools as your skill permits and you’re more comfortable with using such tools. As long as the tools perform the tasks they’re expected to do, it’s okay to have the affordable ones online. These tools do different tasks so it is important to master them and use them well for better quality of your projects in the future. It is also important to use the tools in their specific tasks and not use one tool on every single task for the best results.