Hopefully, you’ve been reading along and have seen that in our past few blog posts, we’ve explored leather working as a hobby, caring for your tools, and setting up the perfect workspace. If you haven’t been, not to worry! You can check out all of our posts here to get caught up. Now that you’re all ready to get started, let’s dive into some new leather working skills!
Benefits of Thin Leather
Depending on the type of item you decide to create first, you may need to master certain skills. Projects where you intend to fold or sew your leather may require you to thin the leather first. Thinning, or skiving, is the process of removing layers of leather from the flesh side of the hide leaving it flexible and soft. If you decide you want your first project to be a belt, for instance, you would want to skive the portion where the leather is folded over to secure the buckle. Since two layers are being sewn together, you may prefer thinner leather so that the section is less bulky. The skiving process is also beneficial for items like bag straps, saddlery, and other work where the leather is folded over and joined together. Skiving allows for a cleaner look and is more comfortable as well.
Skiving Tools: Manual Versus Machine
A skiver is a leather thinning tool that can come in different shapes and sizes and can be operated manually or by machine. The hand skiver is a manual, hand-operated tool. They have sharp blades which can be either flat or slightly curved. To operate, press down on the flesh side of the hide and shave off a thin layer of leather. The flat blade will produce an even shave of leather. The curved blade shaves more toward the center of the blade since that’s the deepest cut in the material. Curved blades are recommended for skiving curved recesses. Manual skiving is an effective way of thinning leather, however like most things, it does require practice and patience.
If a manual skiver isn’t appealing and you want to take your hobby to the next level, you may consider investing in a machine. The skiving leather machine is electrically-powered and produces fast results. Typically these are tabletop or benchtop machines and need to be installed on a sturdy surface. Usually, these machines have different blade options which will produce different results. The process is essentially the same, however, the machine is doing the work for you. As with any other of your tools, make sure to care for and maintain the machine properly to ensure long-lasting use.
Thinning Without the Use of Skivers
Another method of thinning leather without the use of a skiving knife is by using an Exacto knife. Since these knives are designed for industrial purposes, they work well with leather materials. We recommend positioning your piece of leather on a flat surface between a couple of boards to hold it steady. When you’re ready to begin thinning, hold your blade as close to horizontal as possible. Push away from yourself holding your hand as steady as possible while avoiding lifting your blade. The thinning should consist of long, slow strokes to maintain an even level of thickness. Repeat as needed to get your leather as thin as you’d like.
When practicing skiving your leather, remember that this is a slower process where patience is extremely important. We recommend skiving at a shallow angle, taking off very thin sections to start. It will be much easier to get the proper level of thickness starting off slow, instead of taking bigger chunks from the beginning. Also, make sure to keep your cutting blades sharp. Dull blades are dangerous and can result in damage to the material. Proper maintenance of tools includes regularly sharpening for optimal results. Finally, skive only dry leather. Taking the time to make sure your tools and workspace are ready, and your leather is dry will provide quality results you can be proud of.
As you venture more and more into your new hobby, you’ll notice certain details of leather goods you’ve never noticed before. Take a closer look at your belts and bag straps to see how the leather was thinned before it was folded over and joined together. When practicing your new skills, keep those design features in mind. And as always, check out our website to get the creative ideas flowing, and let us know your thoughts!