Friday, February 27, 2015

Feverishly tooling away (with a tutorial), and teaching archery again

What have I been up to?  Finally filling orders!
Last year, I picked up both leather working and archery instruction as business enterprises, and though I lost some money (mostly on tools and a tiny archery arsenal), it wasn't a whole bunch, and it really set me up for this year (besides, I hear that businesses usually lose money the first three years).

Even January was a bit slow, but, since I'd put "getting my business running" on my New Year's Resolution list on the refrigerator (that's depressing -- I don't recommend it)  I stepped up my game.

First, I re-connected with the Jungs, a wonderful couple in town who run Southport ATA, a very good taekwondo dojang.  They are both amazing martial artists, and more importantly, great and loving people who have allowed me to again offer archery seminars.

My first seminar of the year took place last Saturday, where nine kids showed up to learn the basics of archery.  A good time was had by all, and I've been asked back on March 21st.  Sadly, I didn't take any pictures.  Next time, for sure!

Next, I set to finishing an order that had been placed by a friend of mine, J.R., who volunteers for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a group dedicated to protecting our wild places.  J.R. had seen pictures of the bag I'd made for Holly last year, and asked me to carve and tool some arm guards with the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers logo.  I said yes, then immediately became seized with artist's block and debilitating self-doubt.  It's my artistic process.

Three months later, I'd finally worked out my anxieties, figured out how I wanted to approach the job, and set to it.  I also decided to take some pictures and explain the process, since Hippo had asked for me to explain more just how I do it.

It starts with a piece of leather -- in this case, vegetable-tanned leather, the kind you can tool:

The ever-vigilant Rocio... let's all just keep quiet about her being in the house for this part...

I used an earlier arm guard I'd made to trace as my template, and I cut three arm guard blanks with a very precise tool, a "Stanley razor":

Three blanks cut, using the arm guard above as template.  Note the highly precise tool used to cut the leather.
 Next, I printed out a copy of the logo I used, in an appropriate size for the arm guards (it took about one hour to decide on a size... part of my anxiety-ridden "process"):

Note the precision instrument for drawing a circle -- passed down to me by a professional leatherworker.  She didn't say so, specifically, but I am absolutely sure that the flowers are a must.
 Now, I began the process of carving, pounding and stamping the design onto the leather, known as "tooling".  Step 1: Case the leather (a very technical process by which you wet a sponge with water and rub it on the leather).  Cased (or, for you novices, "wetted") leather will look darker.  let the water soak into the leather for a minute or so, then start your work.

Cased leather on the right, dry leather on the left. No biggie.
 I first use a swivel knife to carve out the parts I want to stand out: in this case, the circles and the paw print. Be sure to case your leather when it gets too dry, and strop your blade every few cuts.  The knife should always slide smoothly through the leather, about 1/3 to 1/2 into the leather, not through it.

A sharp knife is vital here; as soon as you feel it "catch" or hang up on the leather, stop and strop.
 After carving out the lines, it is time to pound the leather into place.  A series of specialized tools are very helpful here.  The first one in a beveler.  Push it into the cut line, and hammer down, walking the piece around and along the line.
An edge beveler in action (kinda -- I had to take my own pictures).
 I repeated the process along the outside edges of the paw print.

Next, I used a pear shading tool to put smooth, wide divots into the paw print; then I used a backgrounding tool to stamp out a pattern around the paw print and inside the circle, making the print stand out:
There are many types of backgrounding tools -- this one makes tiny, random dots.
This is the pear shader.
 After this, I made my circles more pronounced.  The two inner circles I pushed down and traced with a ball-point stylus, and the outer circle I traced/cut with a Revlon cuticle tool (that's right).

Stylus on the right, cuticle tool on the left.
 I then used a pyrography pen to burn in the letters.  This took the longest time of any process.

Here are the blanks ready to be dyed and punched.  The pyrography pen is on the left.  Be careful, it is very hot.

Next, I dyed the pieces and cut the edges with an edge beveler:

Pieces dyed and edge beveled.  I then dye the edges a darker color, paint on gum tragacanth, and slick the edges to a beautiful shine.

Following up, I punched holes and attached the hardware: grommets and lacehooks.

Here are two with hardware, and two up next. A rubber or rawhide mallet is a must, unless you like buying new tools all the time.  Note the tiny anvil (a favorite purchase) and the white tool, called an edge slicker (another favorite, since it adds a final touch that makes your stuff look really professional).
 And here they are in all their glory -- four complete arm guards, sealed and waterproofed and ready to be shipped!
Off to Montana with you!
If you or someone you know is interested in an arm guard or perhaps a leather possibles bag or belt bag, let me know!

I am finishing up another website for the two businesses, and will link to it when it is all ready.

UPDATE:  Though still in its early stages, here is a link to my website for archery instruction and leather work:  Wild Spirit & Old Soul.


Hippo said...

Brilliant! It was really good to see the process, so thanks for all the photos. You obviously have a talent for this. Give me a sharp blade and a piece of leather and I'll screw the leather up for you!

Josh said...

Thanks, Tom! I doubt you'd screw up much in the way of art and craft, knowing that you are putting together quite a woodworking arsenal. Leather and woodwork aren't all that different, I think; just follow the directions about the basic stuff, then expand and improvise as you get more comfortable with the basics.