Tooling Leather

What is tooling leather?

Tooling leather that has been processed in such a way that it holds impressions. It has not been dyed and it is the natural color. Tooling leather will vary in color due to techniques used in the different tanneries. It is typically called vegetable-tanned, which refers to the process used to tan it. Vegetable tanning produces a smooth surface that when dampened can take the impressions of various tools and left to dry. The impression remains on the leather surface for decades. The impressions can be accentuated by skillful tooling, and artistic dying and finishing techniques.

What is tooling leather made of?

Tooling leather is a top grain leather most commonly made from cowhide. You can purchase different weights or thicknesses. Leather thickness is measured in ounces. 9-10+ oz leather is very heavy and thick while 2-3 oz is light and thin.

Can I tool on other types of leather?

You can try tooling on any type of leather. The way some leathers are processed makes them readily take impressions.

What is the best weight of tooling leather to use?

It depends on your project. For belts or shoe soles, you would use a thicker leather.
You would want to use a lighter weight leather for jewelry or clothing. The heavier the weight, the less flexible the leather will be.

What is the difference between economy grade leather and premium leather?

Economy grade leather will be inconsistent in weight across the hide. And there will be plenty of flaws and blemishes like scars, brand marks, wrinkles and discolorations. These issues are on every hide, but economy hides generally have more. Premium leather commands a much higher price, but when you are selling your work, you will want to use a top quality product to get the best results. I have seen some very good quality economy hides. Some tanneries produce products that are similar in quality to more expensive leathers for great prices. I always inspect the economy section at my local leather shop. Any time I get the chance to buy a nice quality economy hide, I do!

I’m a beginner, what type of leather should I buy?

I would recommend buying a few economy hides and practicing a lot before buying some of the higher priced hides. You can do quite a few projects with an economy hide. You can focus of learning new skills and practicing without worrying about ruining an expensive piece of leather. Go with the middle of the road weight, around 5-6 oz.

How do I choose a piece of leather to work with?

Look for pieces with the fewest blemishes possible. Look for a smooth, but not shiny surface free of dirt and debris. If you see small pits, upon close up inspection, they may areas that will not take tooling or dye properly. In general, blemishes to avoid include pits, scars, holes, discoloration, uneven weights, and wrinkles. Most hides, even premium hides have some of these blemishes on them.

What overall size should my piece of leather be?

You can get leather cut by the side, shoulder, belly, and by the foot. If you will be working on small projects, you might like to use a square foot cut of leather. If you are planning on cutting straps or making larger items, you will need the length that a shoulder or side would provide. If you are a beginner and you’d like to try working with leather for the first time, I would recommend pre-cut leather. There are a variety of kits made with tooling leather, like wallets, bags, cases, belts, and jewelry.

You can shop for jewelry making blanks here at Red Pony Leather Goods.

Where do I buy tooling leather?

Here are a few links you can follow for places to buy tooling leather.
If you have a leather shop in your community, I highly recommend inspecting the leather in person.

Tandy Leather
Weaver Leather
Springfield Leather