Leather Working Tutorials
On this page I share with you some detailed guides on how to use specific tools in my written tutorials. Each tutorial is available to read here and in a downloadable PDF format.
Tutorial: Using A Push Beveler
Tips for choosing and using a push beveler.
Tutorial for Leather Carving Push Bevelers
Push Bevelers are a handled tool used for the beveling of swivel knife cut lines. They are most applicable to long straight lines such as the borders of a belt or large area of tooling. The tool is pushed along the cut line to make a similar effect as using a beveling stamp. They will speed up the beveling vs. stamps on longer lines.
Push Beveler tools – There are a few variations of push bevelers. Some dedicated push bevelers were made by CS Osborne and McMillen. These have a straight shank and bevel on one side of the end with a rounded profile. They can be flipped around to be used right or left handed and pushed or pulled.
I was taught to use a push beveler that is repurposed from a single line creaser. I make these up in the shop myself from creasers. The working end is ground to a smooth face at angle with the steep either to the right or left side. The face is polished smoothly. Some users will want the steep angle to be on one side or the other depending on how you prefer to use it.
I am right handed and leaning over the piece, I prefer the steep angle to be on the right side and bevel the left side of the cut line. I was taught to hold the tool in my right hand and lean into it with my elbow at my side as I push it forward. The first pass is light to establish the bevel. On additional passes I lean into the tool with more force to make a more distinct bevel.
Some people feel like they have more control with the steep angle on the left side and bevel the right side of the cut line.
Other users will bevel “side to side” in front of themselves. This takes more passes for me but with some projects it may be easier to lay out the work. The tool is held and worked back in forth across your body in shorter overlapping strokes. I can’t put as much downward force on the tool with this technique so it may take more passes for a deep effect. For this technique I hold the push beveler in my right hand. I definitely want to choose a push beveler with the steep angle to the left so I am watching the cut line while beveling the side of the line away from me.
Tutorial: Choosing A Hand Held Strap Cutter
There are a few choices in styles of strap cutters. This guide will help show examples and the advatanges and disadvantages of wooden strap cutters, draw gauges, and plough gauges.
Choosing a Hand Held Strap Cutter
There are a few choices in hand held strap cutters and I get the common question – which one is best? Hopefully this tutorial, based on my opinion only, will help you decide. There are three basic types I am going to discuss – the wooden strap cutters, draw gauges, and plough gauges.
Wooden Strap Cutters
The wooden strap cutters are pretty commonly found and used. They have a wooden handle, two parallel bars that support a blade, and adjust up to 4 inches wide. They use a replaceable blade – with the stock blade or some use a single edge razor blade broken off to not stick up. The cutting edge is kind of protected between the wooden bars.
The advantages are these cutters are inexpensive, relatively safe, and readily available. For people who just plain do not sharpen, I’d advise that these are probably the only strap cutter to consider. That said, the stock blades do not come sharp enough to use easily but single razor blades do. With a razor blade I have been able to cut some softer leather than the other strap cutters. The original version was made of hardwood and good quality, the import versions can be made of softer woods and sometimes are not square.
These come with disadvantages too. The space between the two bars on some can limit the thickness of leather that can be cut. The stock blades are small and harder to hold and sharpen to a fine edge. The razor blades can dull pretty fast on some heavy leathers, and are prone to breakage as well. The handles are bulky and uncomfortable for some people, especially those with smaller hands.
My thoughts – everybody still needs one of these.
I have a whole separate tutorial on using draw gauges and would encourage you to read that. Draw gauges have commonly been used for at least two hundred years. They were made in several versions – cast metal handle, brass with wooden insert handle, and wood scale handles most commonly. Triggers on these came about the Civil War time in the USA. They have a metal bar with an exposed blade on the end. The blade is replaceable and requires maintenance – sharpening and then stropping with a new blade and as it used. Do not buy a new blade and expect to use it right out of the box.
Advantages – These will cut any thickness of leather. There are older versions pretty readily available and new versions from a few suppliers. Most of these commonly have 4” widths. They have a smaller handle than the wooden strap cutter and with the proper grip can be more comfortable.
Disadvantages are there too. The blade is exposed, the blade is exposed, the blade is exposed. That scares some people. Without some instruction, safety rules get broken and cuts can sure happen. You just need to be aware of the blade. You slice tomatoes in the kitchen with an exposed blade, just be aware of the blade on the draw gauge with the same diligence. The wider the strap, the more torque effect and that can be a problem for people with lesser hand strength. I got my first one without any hands-on instruction many years ago. I saw people gripping with the index finger on the trigger and assumed I was supposed to do that. An old friend showed me to grip with my middle finger on the trigger, index finger naturally goes over the bar to the right of the handle and pushes against the front screw to counter the torque effect, and my thumb is now holding the leather down beside the blade, not in front of the cutting edge. It is a way more natural grip that also stiffens your wrist against torque. Most of the problems users have are based on lack of instruction, dull blades, and poor safety technique. My takeaway - if you can sharpen blades and practice safety then these are a good tool for an affordable price.
Plough gauges are a European strap cutting tool. These have a handled blade that is pushed into the leather and the guide is on the left side. These have likewise been around a couple hundred years in several versions.
The advantage of plough gauges are they have no torque regardless of the width of the strap being cut. The push is in line with the cutting edge. There is an adjustable roller in front of the blade to keep the leather down. These will also cut nearly any thickness. I have had one that was 25 cm wide (approx. 10”) but most are 5 to 8 inches wide. They cut from beside the leather and are used on the bench, not under the leather or off the edge of the bench like the wooden strap cutter and draw gauge. The leather rides up over a shoe and into the blade while the guide fence is to the left of the blade. They are more forgiving from a safety standpoint than a draw gauge.
The disadvantages are there. These are expensive and not as available as other strap cutters. The blade is somewhat exposed but behind a roller. It needs to be sharpened and maintained. New blades usually have to be made by a bladesmith. Other than Vergez, I don’t believe anyone else is producing these now.
Bottom line – Plough gauges are a great tool, easy to use for long runs, but harder to find and more expensive.
Which strap cutters have I personally used? All three! I made a lot of things that I used all three types on different parts of the project. Each comes with its own advantages and they all have a place on my bench.
Tutorial: Using A Draw Gauge
Draw gauges are one of the most common strap cutters, and with this tutorial I explain some tips for choosing a draw gauge, blades, gripping and using one along with some safety tips.
Draw gauges are used to cut straps and have been in US production close to 200 years. This tutorial outlines some of the things I check on draw gauges to set them, a few tips for use, and some safety tips as well. These have an exposed blade and will require respect, attention, and care. This tutorial is sure not all inclusive and learning first hand from someone adept at using one will help you immensely.
Choosing a Draw Gauge
There are several choices for draw gauges - new or old. Let’s consider new – CS Osborne cast metal or an import? Looking at old – cast metal handle, wood scale handles, brass frame with rosewood inserts? Basically if they are made correctly and square with a sharp blade, then they ALL should work the same. The handle size can vary between makers and era and some may feel better than others to you. It comes down to what you want to see hanging on your wall.
Check for bar and handle relationship. They should be right at 90 degrees to each other. The slot for the blade should be parallel with the guide side of the handle. If the blade and guide are more open on the cutting edge aspect then the strap will tend to feed in wider and bind as the cut is made. If the blade “toes in” then the strap will narrow as you cut.
Front gib/shim – is used to protect the bar from marking and damage from the set screw in front of the handle. A few may have a second one that sits behind the bar as well. That one may be used to square up a bar and handle, and swapping it end for end may make a difference.
Blade gib/shim – is used to protect the blade from the set screw. I prefer to have my blades tip forward slightly into the cut, and the pressure from the gib helps to hold it steady. The blade angling forward will tend to make a slicing action and help keep the leather down as you pull.
Blade sharpening is not an optional skill for draw gauges. The blades for draw gauges need to be sharp and maintained. The stock blades normally do not come sharp enough for adequate use. Many times they need to be worked down to a flatter bevel and sharpened. There are a few knife makers who make premium quality blades for draw gauges and in most cases they will be sharp and ready to go immediately. I work my blades a bit more on the side that will be facing the handle. By doing this the slight amount of opening on that side will help to “draw” the leather in and hold it against the handle easier. I shoot for about to have about 2/3 of the bevel to the inside and 1/3 of the bevel to the outside. Depending on use, the blades will need to be taken off and stropped routinely and sharpened as necessary.
The new stock blades come with a sharp pointed tip on the end. In my case, I round that tip off and the blades I supply will be rounded off. That tip is far enough up that it will not be used to cut leather, but just right to cut the user. It took me a while getting in several 80-180 year old draw gauges with rounded blades to figure that out. I have to suspect that rounding off the upper blade tip was a safety thing.
Setting the width
Yes, there is a scale with the measurements and most are pretty accurate, but then again some aren’t. You can double check to make sure before trusting it. Some may be off a slight amount on the scale and you can mentally factor that in or go to Option #2. I made a set of “master straps” from firm leather. I cut straps to my common standard widths and marked them. I punched a hole on the end and laced them in a loop to hang up. When I need a 1” strap I set the 1” master in, slide the bar over so the blade is firmly against the master width and tighten the position. I don’t even look at the scales. I do that for all my strap cutters – draw gauges or plough gauges. It is just faster and more repeatable for me. I use a saddle spike in the set screws to work them, and another safety tip – be aware of the blade when you are tightening or loosening either screw.
Gripping The Draw Gauge
The draw gauge needs to be held firmly and the thumb is used to hold the leather down to the bar. I struggled with my grip a bit early on until an experienced worker showed me.
I was using my index finger on the trigger and really having to reach forward with my thumb. I was fighting to keep my wrist straight and had some poor cuts at times.
I now wrap my middle finger around the trigger and my index finger will automatically lay up next to the right ride of the handle on top of the bar. Your index finger will want to wrap around the front and actually put counter pressure against the front screw to counteract the torque of the blade. This grip also puts my thumb in a more forward comfortable position to hold the leather down. It also almost locks my wrist and my straps are much better. I have much more control with this grip. Please try it!
Starting The Cut
This can be a bit tricky. The leather needs to be off the edge of the bench or lifted up to allow for the handle under it. The blade needs to be pulled into the leather to start the cut. Never push the leather into the blade with your left hand. You can already see this scenario coming. The blade pops into the leather and your left index finger hits the blade. It happens more with dull blades, and I tell myself that the time out spent resharpening the blade is usually shorter than the wait at the emergency room. I usually start from the bottom of the leather edge with my gauge tipped away slightly and roll it up into the leather. If the leather is particularly firm you may need to make a starter nick with a knife in the edge of the leather. Once you get the cut going then it is time to pull a strap.
Pulling The Strap
The strap being cut needs to be tensioned and there is no need to tension the piece you are cutting it from. Most people tension the strap with their left hand. You reach over, get a hold with the left hand and pull the gauge with the right hand. Once you get stretched out, get a new grip and continue until the strap is cut. The caution here is reaching over with that left hand and the blade sticking up on the draw gauge. This is where the rounded blade tip is a good idea. Another way to tension the strap is to use a clamp of some type. There is a dedicated clamp called a “third hand” or “bench dog” that binds the leather with a cam action, woodworking bench “hold-down”, or a small vise even.
One of my problems was that even with everything set up right and a good start, I would get a wandering cut at times. My old mentor told me to stop watching the blade cutting the leather and just watch the leather staying up next the handle. The action is where the blade is and tends to draw your eye. If I keep the leather up next to the handle, that blade will do just fine by itself without me watching it. I have since transferred that advice to plough gauges and table saws. If I watch the board edge stay on the fence, that table saw blade 4 inches over and fixed in position just keeps cutting right where it supposed to without my watchful eye.
I normally hang my draw gauge up after use. If I do set it on the bench then I set it with the blade down – period and every time. Inadvertently reaching across an upturned draw gauge is bad juju. When I hang my draw gauges up it is with the blade facing the wall. I mostly hang them from an opened cup hook with the front setscrew.
Tutorial: Choosing a Benchtop Leather Splitter
I have prepared this tutorial to answer many of the common questions I receive on the pull-through leather splitters.
The first question to answer is what types of leather can be easily split with a bench top splitter. The leather needs some body. Vegetable tanned leather, latigo, English bridle leather, harness leather and tempered rawhide all will split well.
Choosing a Benchtop Leather Splitter
I have prepared this tutorial to answer many of the common questions I receive on the pull-through leather splitters.
The first question to answer is what types of leather can be easily split with a bench top splitter. The leather needs some body. Vegetable tanned leather, latigo, English bridle leather, harness leather and tempered rawhide all will split well. Softer leather tend to stretch, compress, and not get a “bite” into the splitter blades well so soft chap leather, upholstery, and similar leathers will not reliably split with a bench top splitter.
There is some confusion in terminology. Skiving and splitting can be used interchangeably by one person and be two or three separate things to another. Then some use a mixture of both. I call splitting to be reducing the thickness of an entire piece of leather. I consider skiving to be reducing a section of the leather. “Level skiving” would be to reduce the thickness of part of a strap – as in reducing the thickness at a fold area on a belt and then it is carried out even thickness to the end of the strap. If you taper the thickness to the end of a strap out to a feather edge, most will consider that to be lap skiving or tapered skiving. It can be used to reduce the bump where the end of the strap would be folded over a buckle or ring. Lap skives can also be used to join two pieces of leather end to end and make a joint with a minimal to no bump.
Width of blade is another area of common questions. To back up, most of these splitter designs came from an era when harness and saddlery were the major uses of leather. They were designed for strap work. Most people can split up to three inch widths without much of a problem. At wider widths than that then it gets more difficult to pull the leather through. The advantage of wider blades is that you have more blade to work across before you need to strop or resharpen the blade. You can split one strap on the right side of the blade, the next strap in the middle, one on the left and so on to maximize the use of the blade.
Next comes the question as to which type of splitter is most appropriate. Some are good for splitting or level skiving, but won’t do a reliable lap skive. Some are good at lap skives but a bit unwieldy for splitting. Some can do splitting, level skiving, and lap skives. So then, which style is best? My quick answer is they all have advantages and each will have some disadvantages as well. I will go through the more commonly seen and give my thoughts.
CS Osborne #86 Splitter
First off, we will consider the CS Osborne #86 splitter. These have widths commonly found from six to eight inch widths. You will occasionally see some outside these sizes, but these the usual sizes found.
This particular pattern has been continuously made for over 120 years. They were Army issue for a few wars, and still made today with few changes. The advantage is they are compact and simple. They mount to the edge of a bench, can be mounted on a block and held in a vise, and have the smallest footprint for a splitter. The thickness of the split adjusted by a large thumbscrew that raises and lower the roller. The only adjustment is two screws in front of the blade that sets the roller position in relation to the blade edge. They are the simplest splitter to adjust, and as a bonus usually are among the lesser expensive splitters to buy new or used. Disadvantages come too. They will not do a lapskive with some sort of a jig. The blade edge is exposed in use. They bear watching and merit good safe work habits. After use the roller can be raised up to meet the blade edge and minimize the chance of a cut.
There is no scale for thickness adjustment, they are set by experience and testing a scrap. The other downside is that a strap can occasionally flip up and will “ride the blade bevel” and chop off. That is eliminated by making the sure the pull through the splitter is downward from the level of the roller and the strap yet to be split is down lower than the roller in front as well. If the blade and roller are not parallel, this can be corrected by placing a shim on the lower side between the blade and frame.
CS Osborne #84 Splitter
CS Osborne #84 splitter is another commonly used splitter, and there have been several knockoffs.
These have handle that adjusts the thickness of the split. That makes them versatile for splitting, level skiving, and lap skiving. They are also quite simple to adjust. The roller is fixed in place and the blade has slots for the hold down bolts. The blade is set in place with the edge in proper relationship to the roller and the bolts are tightened down. They do lap skives by pushing the handle forward (raising the roller) with your left hand as you pull the leather through with your other hand. They do have a scale for thickness and an adjustable stop for repeated leveling. You could write down a scale marking and go back to that same position a few weeks later and be very close. They have a flip down rod in front of the blade to act as a somewhat guard. It also helps to hold the leather and avoid flipping up and chopping as can happen with the #86 style. Disadvantages are that still the leather can ride the bevel and chop occasionally if you are not attentive to direction of pull and feed. They are a tried and true pattern that was made for quite a while and then dropped by Osborne. In the last few years CS Osborne has reintroduced with some minor changes. The new blades do not always directly fit the old frames and the threaded rod portion of the handle is made from smaller stock than the older ones. If the blade and roller are not parallel they can be corrected with a shim between the lower end of the blade and the frame. This pattern splitter was made in the early years by Randall (Keystone), HF Osborne, and CS Osborne. It has been made in similar versions the US as well imported and sold by other suppliers.
Chase Pattern Splitter
Chase pattern splitters are another commonly found splitter. They look a little (or a lot) different than most other splitters. Makers of them include JW Chase, Horn, Hansen, CS Osborne, HF Osborne, and Randall and likely a few others. They have a larger footprint than other splitter of a similar size. There are two connected adjustment knobs at the top that raise and lower the roller to adjust thickness of the split. The leather is put in grain side up and the split comes off the bottom. This is opposite of most other splitters. They will do level skiving and splitting but not lap skiving. They have a few advantages. There is a top roller and bottom roller. The top roller sets the thickness of the finished split and the bottom roller helps insure the leather feeds squarely into the blade. This prevents the leather from twisting or flipping up and chopping off. They can be leveled by easily without shimming the blade by sliding off one adjusting knob, turning the gear on the affected side until parallel, then repositioning the adjustment knob. When not in use the blade edge is not exposed. They do some with disadvantages. There is no scale for repeat splitting so it is set by testing on scrap. There are several adjustments that can be made, and that can make things a bit more complicated. There is the up and down to set the thickness of the split. There are two adjustment screws that set the relationship of the top roller vs. the blade edge. For the bottom roller there is a series of screws on the plate that allow front to back positioning of the bottom roller vs. the blade. Finally there are two adjustment screws that set the spacing between up and down between the bottom roller and the blade. With this many adjustments, there are more complicated than a #84 or #86 splitter. Once adjusted properly, they are choice of many leather workers and braiders.
Krebs Pattern Splitter
Krebs pattern splitters are a bit less common. They were originally made by Krebs in Cincinnati, OH and later made by Randall and CS Osborne.
Krebs pattern splitters mount on the edge of the bench. They come with several advantages. First and foremost they have a lever adjust with a dial type scale. They are very good for repeatable splitting. They will do splitting, level skiving, and some people can move the lever as they pull the strap through and do nice lap skive too. They split with the flesh side up similar to the #86 and #84 splitters. They have two rollers like the Chase splitters. On the Krebs the bottom roller sets the thickness desired and the top roller helps feed the leather squarely into the blade. The blade edge is protected by its position between the two rollers and not exposed. They carry some of the disadvantages of the Chase pattern splitters in that there are several adjustment points. Once properly adjusted they are “Cadillac of splitters” as described by some. They tend to not be found as often and are usually expensive.
Spitler Pattern Splitter
Spitler pattern splitters have a plier type handle that binds on a ring. You grip the handle and partially squeeze the handles to release the bind. You can push forward to adjust the roller up and down to control the thickness of the split. They have some advantages. The ring has a scale on it and there is also a stop screw to set how far the roller can come up for repeatable splitting. There is also a rod in front of the blade edge to somewhat protect the edge and also keep a strap from flipping up. They will do splitting, level skiving, and make a nice lap skive. They come with some inherent disadvantages. The plier handle must make a good bind on the ring to hold its position when released. If the edges of the slots are rounded a bit or the handle spring is weak the handle can shift in position while pulling the leather through. The roller is moved by two eccentric discs using a cam action. These are connected by a square rod. One problem can be if the rod has twisted the cams are not synchronous and the roller will not be parallel with the blade. If they are tight and good, they are a nice versatile splitter. Even if the handle doesn’t get a good grip on the ring when released, they are always a good lap skiver.
Wood Bottom Splitter
Wood bottom splitters are also fairly rare. They were made by CS Osborne and called the model #87. These are used for splitting, level skiving, and with a bit of practice make a lap skive as well. The wooden base screws down to the bench. The handle on the adjustment beam is slid to one side to open the gap between the roller and blade edge. The leather is inserted and the handle slid back as the leather is pulled into the blade. There is a set screw that can used as a “stop” to control the thickness of the split. If this screw is backed off to allow the blade and roller to meet, then you can do a lap skive out to a feather edge. They are simple to adjust. The blade has forward and back slots and you slide the blade into the proper position relative to the roller and tighten it down. The set screw controls the thickness. They are really just that simple. Disadvantages, they don’t have a scale. They are not commonly found.
Tutorial: Osborne #86 Leather Splitter
The Osborne #86 leather splitter is designed to be mounted on the edge of a workbench with the adjusting thumbscrew hanging over the edge. Some people mount them on a bock of lumber like a 2x6 and then clamp the board to the bench
Set up – The Osborne #86 leather splitter is designed to be mounted on the edge of a workbench with the adjusting thumbscrew hanging over the edge. Some people mount them on a bock of lumber like a 2x6 and then clamp the board to the bench. One caveat for doing this is to make sure there is enough clearance to operate the thumbscrew.
Adjustments – The #86 has two adjustments. There are two screws on the front of the splitter that set the roller position relative to the leading edge of the blade. These screws are adjusted equally on both sides. Ideally the dead center top of the roller should be even with the leading edge of the blade when viewed from the top.
That said, some people may find after some use they prefer the roller slightly behind the blade edge.
If the blade is too far forward the leather may tend to slide under the edge of the blade and not split.
The other adjustment on the #86 is the large thumbscrew on the back of the splitter. This thumbscrew is dialed up and down to control the height of the roller and subsequently the thickness of the finished split.
Using the #86 – There is a thumb lever on the left side forward of the blade. That will move the roller forward and open the gap between the leather and the roller. The leather is inserted into the gap from the back of the blade.
You then start to pull the leather through as you release pressure on the thumb lever. This will allow the roller to ease back under the leather and start a nice tapering of the cut into the leather.
The leather is continued to be pulled through with the thumb lever released. For even splitting a whole strap, I will split about half the length starting in the middle, then reverse the piece, reinsert it and and split the opposite direction.
In use, the direction of the pull needs to be below the level of the top of the roller. This will ensure the leather is meeting the blade at a consistant angle and split evenly. If you are pulling upwards the entire thickness of the leather can be pulled into the blade and the piece chopped off. The leather being fed into the splitter likewise needs to be below the level of the roller. For wider straps they generally will lay flat and not need to be held down. Narrower straps or lace may tend to twist and flip, especially long pieces.
They can flip and be pulled into the blade and chop.They need to be held below the roller level and fed flat to ensure even splitting and not being chopped.
It is also helpful to use the entire width of the blade. Even though the blade width is 6 inches and some models more, most splitting is done on narrow straps and belts. The natural tendency is to use the center of the blade. It wears faster and needs more frequent resharpening. I try to use the whole width. Left side on one strap, right side on the next, then center, etc. I spend less time resharpening one section that way.
Safety – The blade is sharp. The blade is exposed. Be aware of the blade edge. . You just need to be aware of that blade edge, especially reaching over them. . There are several leather tools with exposed blade – draw gauges, plough gauges, French edgers, and all manners of knives. Paying attention to where that blade is all it takes to be safe. Do not feed leather into any blade pushing it by hand - ever. For a long piece you can lay it out in front of the blade and open the gap if you pay particular attention to where your hand is in relation to the blade edge. Feed enough through to get a good grip and then pull it through. Then turn the piece around and pull the shorter unsplit section through. On the #86 I will dial the roller up close to the blade edge to protect me from the edge when I am done
Special attention needs to taken when children and people who act like children are present. Splitters look cool and attract the attention of shop visitors. I really don’t know why, but it is a fact. People with no clue about what they are looking have the innate need to pick up a knife and check the edge to see if it is sharp. Splitters will attract those folks like a magnet.
Blade care – these are high carbon steel blades and will corrode, especially with chrome tanned leather like latigo and apron split. The crumbs and splittings need to be brushed off and wiping with a light oil is a good plan if the splitter may not be used for a while. Just like any blade a good stropping every so often helps maintain the edge. Level strokes and not rolling on the edge will maintain the edge. When the blade needs to be resharpened, it needs to be done by someone experienced and preferably experience with these tools. I have seen horror pictures of ruined blades done by profession general sharpening shops. I have seen heavy grit grinding wheels take chunks out and leave waves – these aren’t lawn mower blades. The blade bevel angle needs to be maintained. It is possible to take a blade out to too fine an edge like a razor blade. When that happens the edge can chip out or roll. I take them out to a foil edge (some people call it a wire edge). I strop that off and then put on a secondary bevel at a slightly higher angle. I actually prefer the secondary bevel to be done with a “slack belt”. That edge is more durable because of the metal backing the blade edge. Most good knife makers and cutlery shops understand this. The foil edge on the secondary bevel si stropped off. One note is that splitter blades are a single bevel blade. The bottom needs to be flat. When I strop I try to keep the bottom of the blade pretty flat.
Pet Peeves – The biggest mistake I see is in starting the leather through a splitter, and this applies to any style of pull splitter. The leather needs to be feed into the blade gradually. The thing NOT to do is stick the leather in to bigger gap than you want to split, release the roller to go back into position and THEN adjust the height mashing the leather between the blade edge and the roller.
Yes leather is somewhat compressible and will mash some. You pull and instead of the blade gradually tapering into the leather it dives and can make a divot or uneven split. The bigger issue is the leather is pressing up on the bottom of the blade right at the edge. This can’t be doing that blade edge any good. All pull through splitters have a release so the leather can gradually be fed into the blade. Your splitter and I thank you.
Tutorial: Chase Splitter Instructions and Tips
Chase splitters are one of the more forgiving splitter types and have several adjustments. They look different than many other types of splitters, but once they are understood are one of the most reliable styles. There are rollers top and bottom so the leather feeds squarely into the blade.
The biggest advantage of these splitters is that the rollers can be adjusted to provide the optimum split. We will deal with adjustments first.
Thickness of the split is adjusted by turning either or both of the adjusting knobs up or down. This raises and lowers the top roller and the distance between the top roller and blade will be the thickness of the leather.
Adjusting the top roller relative to the blade edge is done by turning the two stop screws located beside the back edge of the blade.
The top roller should be adjusted to be dead center or fractionally in front of the leading edge of the blade edge.
My personal preference is slightly ahead of the blade edge. The latch on the traditional Chase splitters can be adjusted forward and back to hold the roller in position. The Randall design doesn’t require a latch because the spring holds it back against the adjusting screws.
Adjusting the bottom roller – There are two adjustments here. The bottom roller is moved back and forth relative to the blade edge by loosening the screws at the front of the frame.
I like the bottom roller to be fractionally in front of the leading edge of the blade.
The up and down adjustment is done with the two screws on the side rails of the frame about halfway from back to front.
Screwing them down will drop the roller and have more of a gap between the blade and bottom roller. I set mine with two things in mind – thickness of the leather I am splitting and the amount I want to take off. The plate that holds the lower roller has some flex so there is some leeway, but still it can be optimized with settings. I set my distance between the top and bottom roller to be just about the thickness of the leather I am starting with. Too much distance and there can be some up and down play. Too tight and it works, just a little more effort. I was taught that the rollers “guide the leather into the blade, not smash it”. If you want to split thick leather down to pretty thin, then you can set the bottom roller lower to allow the thicker split to pass below the blade easier without excess pressure from the plate.
In an extreme you could set the gap to 1/8” or a bit more and split a piece of skirting down to 4 or 5 oz in one pass. Most of the time if you are not taking that much off or using thinner leather, so a smaller gap is better as it ‘holds’ the leather between the two rollers.
If you are just leveling something, then little or no gap is better since it compresses and holds the leather between the rollers. The high spots will flex the bottom roller plate down and shave them off.
Maintenance is pretty straightforward. There are oil holes on about every part that moves -top brackets for the adjusting knobs, pivot brackets for the top roller, both ends of the top and bottom roller brackets off the top of my head. I drop some oil between the gears and the slides for the top roller assembly too. Some people grease the gears , I mostly oil. Wipe them down every so often, keep them clean, and they go a long time. Every once in a while I hit the adjustment screws with a drop of oil also.
How often the blade needs to be stropped and sharpened depends on use and type of leather. I strop mine after every time I am done running chrome tan through it. Chrome tan crumbs can corrode a blade pretty fast.
The Traditional Chase vs. Randall “Improved” Chase pattern splitter. The traditional Chase has the spring set so when the top roller is released by the latch it opens with the roller swinging forward and up.
You insert the leather and start to pull the leather through as the top is pulled down against the adjusting screw and the latch catches.
With the Randall the spring action is opposite. It pulls the roller down and holds it against the adjusting screws.
You open the roller, put the leather in and as you pull the strap the spring will pull the top roller down and into position.
Some users prefer one type of action over the other. Actually a traditional Chase can be converted into a Randall style by removing the top brackets for the connecting rod between the handles, remove the top roller assembly and turn it end for end, then replace everything. Call me for details and step by step instructions if you want to convert one.
Using the splitter is pretty straightforward
The Chase pattern splitters split with the grain side up instead of down like many other splitters. Set the thickness and insert the leather. It is pretty important with any splitter to let the leather “fade” into the blade. Start to pull the leather and the roller is dropped and the blade will taper into the leather. Once you have reached the end, turn the leather around reinsert it in the already split area and pull to split out the unsplit area you pulled on first. The split off part falls off the bottom. Because of the design, they work better if the direction of pull is slightly higher than the top roller.
Do not put the leather in, pull down the top roller, then set the thickness by mashing the leather between the roller and blade.
That leather will compress some, but it will also be putting pressure on the blade edge. Set the thickness first and fade the leather in as the top roller is brought into pressure.
Troubleshooting the top roller vs. blade relationship is easy with these splitters. With most other splitters you need to shim the blade if it is not parallel with the roller. On a Chase pattern you can actually fix it. Loosen the set screw on one of the adjusting knobs. Slide the knob over to get the teeth past the gear. While eyeballing the gap, turn the gear one way or the other until the roller and blade are parallel. Slide the knob back into the gear and tighten the set screw. Simple Simon fix but call on me if you need help.
With the blade edge up between the two rollers, the Chase is one of the safest splitters there are. Still they have a sharp edge and require some diligence. The worst cut I got was on a Chase. I had just sharpened a blade I was replacing and concentrating on lining up the screw holes. I brushed finger over the edge of the blade and neatly removed a dime sized piece of skin. Take away there was to watch all your fingers. Another story I have heard was someone sticking their finger into a Randall. The top roller came down by the spring action and the person panicked and pulled back. They aren’t scary, just bear watching.
Tutorial: Using Rein Rounders
Rein rounders are used to make a rounded cross section profile in leather. Some common applications are handles, dog collars and leashes, horse tack, and leather belting for machinery. The rounders themselves may be either bench mount to be screwed to the benchtop or vise mount to be held in a vise. There are several makers who then made several styles of rounders, and to further add to the possibilities – any number of progressively sized holes from 5 through 22 holes.
Selecting, Sizing, And Preparing The Leather
Rounds can be from vegtan leather, harness leather, or latigo. The final size of the round needed will determine the appropriate thickness of the leather to select. The leather will be compressed in the rounder so a thickness is needed larger than the finished size. I generally select a leather so the thickness will be about 1-2 ounces more than the size of the final round (1 oz = 1/64”). More compressible leather to the thicker side and denser leather pretty close to final thickness.
The leather needs to be prepared once selected.
Single ply thicker leather may be used for smaller rounds and belting. The leather is cut to the width needed and has a square cross section. The four edge corners are rounded over with an appropriate edge beveling tool that leaves a rounded profile.
Single piece folded leather may be used for medium sized rounds. The leather is cemented on the flesh side and folded lenthgwise on itself for the length of the needed round section. The fold and glue can be set by tapping with a smooth faced hammer. The round section will need to be sewn to hold it. Ideally the best technique is to sew in an angled channel. Some use a vertical channel as well with good results. Most handew but a few machines are capable of sewing round consistently. The stitches don’t necessarily need to be fine since they will be covered anyway. I was taught to handsew them at 4 SPI. The channel may then be glued with a light coat in cement. The excess width is cut off, and the two square corners are edged off with an appropriate sized edge beveler.
Doubled and filled leather is used on heavier rounds. The filler piece is edge beveled top and bottom on one edge. Cement is applied to the top and bottom of the filler and flesh side of the outer piece. The filler is centered on the outer piece. The outer piece is folded up and cemented to the filler. Then it is treated as the single piece folded round. Again - tap to set the fold and cement, sew the round, trim excess, and edge the two square corners.
Once the leather has been given the approximate rounded shape by edging it needs to be prepared to go to the rounder. The leather will need to be able to compress in the rounder and hold its profile once it dries. Here is how I was taught. The leather needs to be made moldable by “casing” it as it would for tooling or stamping. Obviously the latigo and harness leather are going to have some oils and waxes that will prevent some of the casing but still can be done. I was taught to use warm water for the latigo and harness leather with a surfactant like Dawn dish detergent. I use the same for veg tan leather as well. The section is wet, and the moisture is allowed to penetrate to depth throughout the leather. It may take a several minutes to a few hours. It may need to bagged to prevent surface evaporation or allowed to air if saturated. A little trial and error will give you the experience to judge to correct moisture level to progress to the rounder.
Using The Rounder
The rounder is opened and the leather is placed in a larger hole than the finished size required and the rounder is closed.
The leather is worked back and forth to start to establish a more rounded cross section.
The rounder is opened, the leather is placed into the next stepped down hole, and similarly worked.
By the time you get to the finished sized, the leather should be compressing uniformly and have a totally round cross section and smooth surface.
There a few things to be aware of using the rounder.
If the leather surface is too dry, then there can be some “glazing” or surface burnishing. If the leather is too dry and worked too fast, the grain can heat and glaze, making it more prone to surface cracking . A light spritzing with a water bottle will help prevent that. One guy who taught me spritzed the leather, then just before he went the rounder did a wipe with a white saddle soaped rag to lubricate the surface. Some people don’t like the soap, so that is something that a little experimenting will help you determine which is better for your needs.
Slipping the Grain and Wrinkles
It is tempting to start in a smaller hole and “force” the leather back and forth. With some leather this can result in separating the grain of the leather. This may also be referred to as “slipping the grain”. This is bad juju. Again, start big and progressively step down.
The grain may also be slipped by working leather too dry or the surface may be wet but the layers just under will be too dry. In these cases the surface can pull away from the deep layer. Even moisture throughout the leather is your friend.
Softer leather will be more prone to slipping the grain or pushing a wrinkle into the grain. They also tend to be a little stretchier. Selecting a reasonably firm leather will prevent that. On the other extreme, dense leather will not compress as easily and be hard to compress. Some vegtan leather that has been rolled for strap sides will be harder to compress, but if profiled well before going to the rounder will make a nice firm round.
Tutorial: French Edgers
French edgers are used to skive, thin or bevel edges, cut a mitered corner, cut a channel or trim in some areas. They also come in two profiles viewed from the side – flat or with a slight curve or “sweep”. Then to further confuse things, a few makers had them with a round bottom French edger that cut a rounded profile.
Sizing – French edgers are sized by the width of the cutting edge between the side rails. The common size pattern seems to be that each number is 1/16 inch wide,, i.e. a #3 French edger cuts 3/16” wide.
Usage – French edgers are used in a push motion to cut or gouge leather. They are also used to trim excess leather, as with a sewn welt. The key to good results is maintaining a consistant angle while pushing the tool forward. As with any cutting tool, they need to be sharp to achieve the best results as well.
Sharpening – There are a few ways to sharpen a French edger and some are diametrically opposite to achieve the same result. To further compound the issue, there are two kinds of edges on French edgers. Most of the older French edgers were made with a thinner blade stick area and result in a thin edge, much like a thin knife edge. Others are made from thicker stock, flat on the bottom with an angled bevel on the top edge like a chisel.
The first thing I do with an as found French edger is to square up the cutting edge. Some may be worn more to one side or the other or be chipped or ragged.
I use a flat sharpening stone or firm piece of material wrapped with wet-dry sandpaper. I hold it vertically to take back the leading edge until it is square across.
Once I have the square leading edge, then I begin to bring an even bevel across the entire cutting edge. I was taught to mostly work off the bottom. I do that by pushing the tool into an appropriate grit sharpening stone or wet-dry sandpaper on a flat surface. On the curved bottom edgers you need to pay special attention to doing an even stroke and contact on the length of the bottom surface .
This is where there is a totally opposite method. Some people work off the top of the edge. If you can do that and maintain an even angle then by all means do what works for you. I have seen a lot of stubbed off edges though from using too steep of an angle on the top side.
Once I have a good even edge I start to draw the edge. I pull the tool back against a fine grit stone or paper the draw a thin foil edge, working both top and bottom of the bevel. I work the bottom on a fine stone or wet-dry sandpaper and the top on something just as fine that fits between the siderails.
Stropping - Once there is an even foil edge the width of the blade it is time to strop that off to leave a clean and polished fine cutting edge.
This is where it gets simpler. I use leather strops charged with green polishing compound to strop off the foil edge and polish out the remaining grit marks from the last abrasive. I use two strops. One is my wide strop that I use for knives and wide blades. The other is a strip of firm leather cut the width of the cutting edge. The bottom bevel is stropped by pulling the tool away from the edge of the big strop. The French edger is turned over and the top edge is pulled against the strip to strop that surface. As I get close to the foil edge being totally stropped off. I do a slight upward rolling action at the end of the stroke. That gives me a slight compound convex edge (“Moran edge”) that makes a more durable edge.
A few tricks and cautions
French edgers with a fine edge have a few concerns. The most common damage is causing by not “”following the blade” when pushing as termed by an old friend. This is most common when used in saddle making and trimming a few layers of groundseat to cut a stirrup leather channel. If you try to “cut and pry” to make a sweeping cut you may put a top to bottom pressure on the edge and chip it out. For this type of cut you can do it with a flat bottom French edger if you follow the blade.
The other big concern is maintaining the edge. Strop the edge as you would a knife and the edge will last quite a while. You are cutting a lot of leather with a narrow section of blade and some routine maintenance makes the French edger a friendly and useful tool.
Tutorial: Edge Beveler Sharpening
Edge Beveler sharpening is one of the most common questions I field. Basically edge bevelers cut the sharp corners off the edges of leather pieces. They need to be sharp to cut. While sharpening isn’t rocket science, there are several considerations because of the different styles and profiles of edge bevelers.
Sharpening edge bevelers has been an evolving process for me. This instructional is how I am doing them now, but sure is subject change in the future as I find something that works better.
Just like a good cutting knife, the goal is a smoothly polished fine cutting edge. This is accomplished by using progressively finer grits until sharp and then stropped and polished to bring up the final smooth edge. Some sort of magnification helps me see the progression of the edge.
Another thing that I think helps me is maintaining a good even stroke with the abrasive. I secure either the edger or the abrasive. That gives me more control than holding the tool in one hand and running the abrasive with the other. A small bench vise works well. I can pad the jaws with scrap leather and lightly grip the tool or hold the abrasive and work the tool. On really rough edges or some that are too steep for my liking I work into the edge to thin things down and get to the basic edge profile I like.
After that I work the abrasive away from the edge to draw a thin burr, foil edge, or whatever you choose to call it
Fine edge with a thin burr
Once I have that I strop, again working away from the edge to remove that thin foil edge and leave a clean sharp edge.
Abrasives – Edge bevelers can be sharpened and maintained with very fine stones or fine wet-dry sand paper. More damage is done by starting with a heavier grit than necessary and then trying to work those grit marks out. Most edgers only need a touch up first and then a good stropping. If you start with too coarse of a grit you may end with a more ragged edge than you started with. By the time you have worked that out with progressively finer grits you have wasted time and metal. 600 something to 800 wet-dry is about where I start on most as-found edgers. I work up a few grits until I get to a nice even pretty smooth edge. Once I get to a strop, I use green compound. It will remove some metal maybe, but if I get the best edges currently using it.
On most edgers I work off the bottom. It is more accessible and easier for me to maintain a consistant angle. Once I have a pretty fine edge and starting to draw a thin burr evenly across the width, I start stropping top and bottom to work that bur off. On the bottom I rotate up slightly at the end of the stoke to make a slight convex edge. It is more durable on thin stock edgers and holds better. If the edger is good it doesn't take much of a convex to hold it.
Some edgers have the top in a slot and compound on stiff cardboard (tablet back, cereal box,etc.) works well for me.
If I have nooks and crannies like a round bottom Gomph or vizzard edger, I use an angled piece of hard leather to get into the corner OR I use a soft wire wheel and lightly remove the burr with that rotating away from the blade edge.
On round bottom edgers I use something that mimics that same curve. The best way I was taught is to edge a piece of leather slightly smaller than the profile, wrap wet-dry over that to fill in the profile to match the tool, and secure it in a vise.
You can draw or lightly push to work up an edge depending on the needs. Once you are close on forward strokes, then draw the blade to get that finer edge. Once you have the edge, it is time to strop. An edged piece of firm leather rubbed with compound and held in the vise is good, it will have the same profile. Just draw back and strop the bottom, then use whatever works for the top.
On flat bottom edgers I use either a fine stone or wet-dry sandpaper on a smooth surface. I work the bottom on that. For the top edge I use firm leather or cardboard wrapped in wet-dry sandpaper to work that edge. I strop with the same material rubbed with compound.
Bisonette edgers have a few special considerations. The width of the sharpener is very important. Even with the right profile, if they are too wide they will widen the cutting edge and a #1 becomes a #3 pretty fast. The one size fits all commercial “leather strips in a wood block” sharpening systems just don’t it correctly. I use round rod in the appropriate size to be wrapped with wet-dry and fit without spilling over. Round stock brass or steel can be found in most hardware stores. A smooth nail works too.
Proper Width Media Too Wide
Again the lightest grit for the job will keep from removing too much material and will prolong the edger’s life. Another concern is to make sure that you are not running into the opposing edge while working away from the edge.
To strop the top I use something that will mold to the edge a bit. Round leather or a flat lace rubbed with compound works for me. I secure the edger in a vise to hold it. I feed the strop material though the hole and with one hand fore and aft to tension it, draw it away from the edge and work the width of the edge. Then I reverse and work the opposing edge.
These are my current techniques for sharpening edge bevelers. It can be done pretty simply using readily available material. The goal is smooth polished fine edge that slices easily. Once the edge is established usually stropping is all that is needed to maintain the edge for quite a while. When stropping no longer is enough, then a light touch up with a very fine grit abrasive is normally all that is needed.