Welcome to Learn the Lingo! The idea behind this series of articles is to bring you up to speed on the terms you will need to know to understand what someone is talking about in a specific skill. Often, when just getting into a new skill, the lingo that practitioners use can be confusing and have meanings you didn’t realize. For example, a “hook” means completely different things if you’re sewing or if you’re tying a trout fishing fly!
Today, I’ll be sharing terms related to fine leatherworking. If you have been interested in leatherworking but have never ventured into the community, these are the terms that will keep you from feeling lost your first day. As time goes on, your vocabulary will grow, but this seed will help you get on your feet.
For leatherworking terms, I spoke to Trey Seofon at Admonish, a custom leather goods producer in Dallas, Texas. Admonish began as a hobby, but later friends requested wallets, purses, and other leather accessories. The craftsmen of Admonish have specialized in a fusion of a contemporary, stylish aesthetic that focuses on functional design, and which has resulted in a constant flow of custom orders since its launch in 2009.
We draw from a wide variety of leather options, and then carefully craft our work to match the specific personality and lifestyle of the customer making the purchase. There’s a bit too much sameness in the world, and we’ve had success by offering distinctive hand-made designs that are tailored to the individual.
Terminology for Your First Day in Leatherworking:
Stitch Length – The length between each stitch.
Pricking Iron / Stitching Chisel – Tools used to punch leather. Each Iron or Chisel is made for a certain stitch length. These will keep your stitches uniform in length.
Harness Needle – Needles that have a rounded tip. Harness needles are used for hand stitching leather that has holes already punched and are not meant to pierce the leather.
Saddle Stitch – A method of hand stitching. One length of thread is used with a needle on either end. Both needles are passed through the hole from opposite sides and pulled tight.
Waxed Thread – This is the best thread to use for hand stitching. The wax on the thread makes it easier for the thread to pass through stitching holes. The thread is smooth and resists stretching or breaking.
Contact Cement – Is applied to both sides of leather that is to be stitched together. Contact cement is very strong and holds leather together effectively so that it will not move when being stitched.
Rivet and Burr – Are usually copper or brass. These are used either in addition to or instead of stitching. Rivet and burrs are a very strong and effective way of holding two or more pieces of leather together.
Veg Tan – Is the most common type of leather, especially for beginners. It is inexpensive and is best for any tooling.
Skiving – Is a method of shaving the edge of a piece of leather with a knife so that it can be folded over, or so that it can be attached to another piece without increasing the overall thickness of the piece.
Awl – A tapered and pointed tool used to either make or enlarge holes in leather, usually for stitching.
Mallet/Maul – Have a heavy head and are used for hitting punches or chisels into leather.
Temper – Is a term to describe the feel of leather. Leather can be very soft and pliable or it can be really stiff. Temper is the word used when describing the feel, for example “this leather has a medium temper.”
Burnishing – Is the method for finishing edges of leather. Burnishing tools are used to rub the edge until it has a nice smooth finish.
Gum Tragacanth – Is a natural gum based edge slicking & burnishing compound. It is rubbed on the edge of leather to give it a shiny and burnished edge.
Edge Beveler – Tool used to round over cut edges of leather. This is used in the edge finishing process.
Edge Paint – An alternative to burnishing edges is using Edge Paint. Edge paint is used to finish the edges of handbags, belts and leather goods in general, giving an extremely smooth and sealed look. It is applied with an applicator in two to three coats.
Here are some further resources for learning the terms used in leatherworking
- Stuarts bags glossary of leather terms
- Brettuns Village Leather Terminology
- Leatherworker Forums Beginners guide to terms and tools and more
- North American Tanning company glossary
- Leather Shoppe’s glossary of leather terms
- World of Leathers glossary
If you feel that there are more terms that someone should know on their first day, share them in the comments!