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Step-by-Step: Cutting

Posted by Fallon Foster on

Now it's finally time to get down to the proper leather carving itself.  Everything that's been done so far has just been to ensure the next couple of steps come out as well as they possibly can.  The leather carving, aka tooling, itself involves various stages and steps depending on the desired outcome.  There's roughly 8 or 9 categories of stamps used to accomplish differing effects for general tooling and an unending array of specialized stamps for specific styles like sheridan carving.  No matter which stamps you're using though, tooling first starts by cutting the design into the leather.

To do this we use a tool called a swivel knife.  As the name implies, the knife is made so that it can twist or swivel as it's cutting through the leather.  By taking advantage of this the leatherworker can cut clean curves into the leather and isn't restricted to straight angles.  Cutting the grain of the leather (the smooth, strong top side) makes a clean border in the surface of the leather that the rest of the carving is built on.

The swivel knife needs to be kept razor sharp in order to cleanly cut the leather so every few minutes it gets passed over a strop of some sort.  Sometimes it's a peice of scrap leather but I find a bit of scrap brown paper seems to work better.  Whatever I use, it's liberally treated with jeweller's rouge which is a sharpening agent.  Any of the microscopic imperfections that are dulling the edge get whisked away by the rouge.

Due to subtleties in the leather and the fact that all this is done by hand it's virtually impossible to cut any design exactly the same way twice.  Accordingly every piece comes out just a little different from the others guaranteeing a unique product in the end.