July 9th – Leather Splitters
I have mostly been working on the saddle a little, stamping a few small things, but mostly doing repairs the last few days, and not much of interest there. Instead of featuring work, I am going to concentrate on one of my favorite tools in this post - leather splitters. I have used and collected a few different styles of leather splitters. In a nutshell leather splitters are used to thin thicker leather down to a useable size for certain pieces. It helps to avoid having to keep several thicknesses of leather on hand, and also helps to split leftovers and trimmings from thick leather like saddle skirting into thinner pieces for smaller projects.
The tanneries have large splitters that can level or split down whole or half sides. Obviously they are big, mechanized, and not needed by most shops. The basic shop only needs to split smaller pieces and straps. Most shop leather splitters are benchtop mounted tools and the leather is either pulled through the blade by hand or cranked through with rollers powered by a hand crank. Most shops only have one or maybe two splitters. I like splitters a lot, and I am going through what I have here.
This American hand crank splitter feeds from the back. The lower feed wheel has horizontal grooves to grip the leather and push it into the blade as the handle is turned. The blade is 6″ wide. This style is used for leveling or splitting shoe soles in many repair shops, but also is a good choice to split down smaller sized scraps that would be hard to grip and pull though one of the other splitter styles. I hd one, sold it because I didn’t think I was using it enough. When this one came my way, I realized how much I missed the last one.
The Krebs style splitter was made by a few different tool makers. This one pictured is one I used to own and has brass tag on it that reads “Krebs”. The advantage of this splitter is that the height of the rollers (thickness of the split) is controlled by moving the lever at the front of the splitter. It has a pointer and dial, so that it can be set to the exact same position for repeatable levels. The thickness is controlled by the bottom roller and the top roller keeps the leather from flipping up and getting chopped off by the blade. The handle is pushed forward to separate the rollers and allow a thicker piece of leather to be inserted. It is released and the leather is pulled through by hand to split it down. The blade is between the two rollers and so is safer and not as exposed as some currently made styles. By moving the lever as the leather is pulled through, it is possible to do a tapering split to a thin edge. It is called “lap skiving” and not something my Chase style splitters can do.
The Krebs splitter I currently have was made by JD Randall and is probably close to or over 100 years old. The splitter to the right of it on the bench is 12” Chase style splitter made by Hansen of N Weare NH, and likewise is over 100 years old. It is fairly uncommon to find a 12″ width, and this one is a good ‘un. I have seen one that 14″, and he only knew of one other that wide. The blades on the Chaase style splitters are thinner with a flatter bevel. Properly sharpened they have less drag than any other styles of splitters. The top roller controls the thickness of the split on most of these. As either of the knobs are turned, the screw mechanism raises or lowers the top roller. The top roller can flip up to allow the leather to be put in. The roller is lowered as the leather is pulled into the blade, and many have a latch to hold the top roller in position. The advantage of this style is that with the two rollers, the leather has no other place to go but into the blade. It is also a very safe design. They split very evenly. If the roller gets out of alignment with the blade, one side can be adjusted up or down by removing one knob, turn the other to level the roller, and then replacing it once the adjustment is made. With some other styles they can’t be adjusted. The Chase type splitters are a personal favorite.
This is another user. It is a sentimental favorite. It came from Don King in Sheridan WY. Besides being a great leatherworker, shop owner, ropemaker, toolmaker, host, and saddle/leather tool collector, Don traded in tools and machinery. Anyone who ever got to spend any amount of time around him counts it as a gain. Enough about that. This is a CS Osborne Chase style splitter with a 10 inch blade. Because the Chase splitters have no dial or gauge, you adjust the height by trial and error using scraps. I split a lot of leather down to 8 oz thickness. I mostly just leave this one set there and don’t change it much. If I need to change I either use the Krebs or go to the wide Hansen Chase.
This is an older style of Hansen splitter. It is designed to screw down flush to a bench, and the split off skiving fell through a hole in the bench. The interesting thing about this one is that each side of the top roller is independently adjusted. That means you needed to be pretty precise to make sure you had both sides even to split level, but you could raise or lower one side to purposely split something tapered. I bought it because it was 12″ and has a back up blade for the other 12″ Hansen I have mounted.
This is my sentimental favorite splitter. It was made by HF Osborne who sold out in 1905. Several guys have suggested it is an early HF, so we know it has some age on it. Nobody has seen one exactly like it that they can recall. It still shows some of the original gold striping on it. It is adjusted by a single knob on the side. The knob turns a screw mechanism that slides a bar with two angle cuts that raise or lower each end of the roller. Very simple and effective. I screwed it down, split a few pieces, removed it and just look at it now. Too cool to use.
Finally, my latest splitter. Another cool one to look at , tighter than most, and this one is a user now. Still some hints of the gold striping here too. This is an Osborne #83 splitter, sometimes called a Spitler pattern. The roller height is controlled by a cam action. That is cam is attached to the pliers type handle on the ring on the side. As the pliers are gripped, they will rotate freely around the ring raising and lowering the roller. When they are released, the notches in the plier handles will grip and bind on the ring and hold the position. There are markings on the ring for repeated positioning. Although this style looks neat, with wear the binding action of the handles can be lost and it won’t hold the consistant position. The plus to this style is that the handles can be squeezed and pushed forward as the leather is pulled into the blade for lap skiving. Cool to look at and handy to use for doing “laps”.
There are some other types of splitters used, and there are a few still made. I had one of the handled splitters similar to the Osborne #84. Without the top roller, sometimes a strap would ride up the bevel of the blade and chop off. Another style still made has the blade edge exposed. Some leather tools just must have the blade exposed, but a splitter isn’t one of them. I have gravitated to these oldies becasue they just plain work better for me. Kind of fun to think who might have pulled some hide through these. I probably don’t have any splitter younger than 80, and the Hansens and HF Osborne are for sure older. If anyone can date them, I would sure appreciate it. …my name is Bruce, and I am a splitteraholic.