Over the past month I wrote about the step-by-step process for making the bookmarks for Talk Nerdy but I barely got to mention the Talk Nerdy key fobs. Now that the entire order is complete I figured it was only right to go back and show how the key fobs were made. Some steps, like the casing and signing, are pretty much the same for every project, but there are countless ways to carve and stain leather.
For instance, for the bookmarks I'd cut the design into the leather and then used a series of bevelers to crush the grain of the leather inside the letters. I considered doing something similar for the key fobs but since the design was more complicated, needed to be duplicated 50 times, and time was limited I decided to sculpt the edges instead. This involves using a variety of styluses (stylii?) to move the leather around instead of stamping it with a beveler or some other tool. When it's properly cased leather can be a lot like clay, except that once you push it into place it'll stay there. There aren't many re-dos with leather. Sculpting gives the carver a lot of control over the angle and grade of the design and it works really well with a gel stain to bring a design out of the leather.
When it came time to stain the fobs I had been planning on using a resist on the microphone, applying a black base coat, and then painting the orbits around the microphone. That's pretty much the same technique I used on the buckle I'd made for Cara Santa Maria.
Resisting is a technique where a coat (usually two) of finish or some other resisting agent is applied to an area of leather before the stain. The finish seals the pores of the leather and doesn't allow the stain to penetrate very well. When the stain is applied that area of the leather won't be nearly as saturated with it as the rest of the leather. When I tried this on an early fob though I found that the resist wasn't working very well with this leather. Every piece of leather is a bit different and not every technique works with every hide.
So a new approach was hatched. Rather than painting the fobs up to the point where they didn't seem like leather anymore, I'd use a gel stain in combination with a resist on the microphone and a tint on the orbits. Tinting is pretty much the opposite of resisting. Instead of using a finish, the area is pre-stained with a dark stain. When the final stain is applied over it the colors overlap and you get a nice two-tone effect (or three tone in combination with the resist).
Over the course of a couple days I tinted the orbits and and applied the resist to the microphones. It's best to let the resist cure overnight so after that I treated them all with the final stain. For a job like this I use a mixture of antique gel and a particular finish. The benefit of this is I have a lot more control over the final result, it really shows off the characteristic of the leather, and I shave a day off the build time by not having to wait overnight to apply a separate coat of finish.
The last step with this sort of stain is to buff the stain after a few hours. This removes any excess stain that may be lingering and smooths out the rest to make it all nice and shiny and slick. I understand many carvers use scraps of sheep's wool for this but I've found that a bit troublesome. I use a lint-free cloth that I can wash and re-use for each project without worrying about contaminating the leather with old stain.
In this case I gave each key fob a good buffing before and while I attached the key rings. This was done with a rivet which is as simple as it is effective. There's different types of rivets but this sort is a simple post and cap. You set the post in the hole you want riveted, set the cap over it, and use a tool inventively called a "setter" and a mallet to whack the two together. Post and caps are far from the strongest rivets but they still take a pretty severe amount of force to pry apart after they've been set. That makes them pretty perfect for everyday items like these.
After all that's done we had 50 ready-to-go key fobs that were soon on their way to Ms. Santa Maria. They all show Talk Nerdy's excellent logo but since they're completely hand-made no two are exactly alike. They'll be joining the bookmarks in Talk Nerdy's store so I hope you'll consider picking one up. If you do you'll be supporting not one but two independent, small businesses. =)