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Bruce Johnson 
Leather Tools

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: 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. 

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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_Osbourne #86.jpg 

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.jpg

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.jpg

 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.jpg

 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.jpg 

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.jpg 

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

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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.

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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.  


Safety

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.

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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.

  1. 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

  1. 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.  

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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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.

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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.