Making Corded Bag Handles

Most of my time leatherworking is spent making bags. And tote bags are by far my best sellers. Tote bags are just insanely popular right now.

And because they are pretty popular, there are a lot of people who are selling them. Don't worry though, there are some easy ways to make your work stand out.

For instance, most of the tote bags I've seen have 1 of 2 different handles: a flat handle and a corded handle.

Flat handles are typically made with a single strip of leather stitched to the bag. They are quick to make, but don't wear very well.

Corded handles are a little more robust... and they look way better. They take a little bit more time to make, but aren't any more difficult. Here's how to make them:

MATERIALS

-a polyester rope
-3oz to 5oz leather strips
-thread and stitching needles (I use tiger thread)
-glue (I use siewa's)
-way too many binder clips (I used 30-40ish)
-stitching horse
-diamond chisel & hammer

STEP 1 - Determine Size of Handles

First you'll need to determine the length of the handles. This is generally decided by what is referred to as drop length. Drop length is the distance between the top of the bag and the top of the handles. If you plan on selling bags or doing custom work, this is one of the things you'll want to have figured out to communicate to your customer.

The end of the straps are just leather folded over itself. There's no cord in them as the cord is tucked back a bit. I typically have the ends of my straps between 3 and 4 inches in length, which requires 6 to 8 inches of leather because they are created by folding the leather back on itself. That means that if you want a strap that is 46inches long and the ends to be 4 inches, the cord should be cut to 38 inches long (which takes into account the 4 inch leather ends on either end) and the strip of leather should be cut to 54inches (which takes into the account the 8 inches of leather that will be needed on each end to make the leather ends). If that's all a bit confusing, here's a formula that will work every time.

Cord Length = Length of Handle - 2(Desired End Length)

Leather Strip Length = Cord Length + 4(Desired End Length)

Now that you know the length needed, you'll also need to figure out the width. Don't worry, this one is a little easier to explain. To find the width, I simply take a piece of scrap leather from the hide that I'm using for the project and wrap it around the cord. When you do this, make sure that there is an excess of 1/2inch to 3/8inch on each side to leave room for stitching. After doing this, whatever that width comes out to be is the needed width of your leather straps.

Step 2 - Glue the Handle

With the leather straps and cords cut out, you can now glue them together. Apply glue to the underside of the leather strips, but only put the glue where the cord will be. If you followed the previous steps, you'll have 8 inches on both ends that will remain unglued.

Then tightly pull up the leather on both sides, so the edges of the leather straps line up perfectly.

Once it's lined up, use binder clips to keep the leather together as the glue dries.

Step 3 - Fold the Endings

This is my favorite part because this is where the handles really start to come together.

Glue the endings and fold them upwards until they cover the end of the cord. You may need to tuck the leather into the indentation that is created, so that the edges line up perfectly.

If you're unable to line the edges up perfectly, you can always trim the excess, but with most leathers (especially supple ones) it shouldn't be necessary.  

Once you've folded the leather correctly, place a binder clip where the part you just folded over meets the cord.

Step 4 - Stitching

At this point, trimming excess leather is rather difficult, which is why I try to measure as precisely as I can in step one. If you feel you have too much excess leather along the edge of the strap, you can attempt to cut some of the excess off here. Just be warned that it is really difficult to get a clean straight cut. 

To start the stitching, I used a bone folder to create a line down the edge that is as close to the cord as possible. I typically run this line between the two points where the cord meets the ends that were created in the previous step. This leaves the ends unstitched, but I will rivet them to the bag later.

However, if you want to stitch the entire thing (ends included) you can. All you need to do is continue to run the line down one side of the ends. You'll start and end your stitch at the base of each end. Then you'll come back and make another stitching line on the other side of the end and stitch it with a separate piece of thread.

But returning back to what I did: I took a diamond chisel and create my holes, making sure to keep the chisel snug against the cord and perpendicular to the leather as I punch it through.

I then stitched from one end to the other, edge painted the edges, and riveted the handles to the bag. I don't want to get into stitching or edge painting much because this is just about handle construction. However you can learn how to stitching and edge paint here:

As I mentioned at the top of the post, when I switched over to this kind of bag, it increased the quality of the bag dramatically. I'm really anxious to see what kind of bags you make with corded handles. Feel free to drop a link to some pictures of a bag you made in the comments below or share it with me on Instagram or Facebook.

DIY Leather Rack

I don't know about you, but I live in a small apartment, and while I am lucky enough to have an entire room dedicated to leatherworking, space is premium. 

One thing that has continually taken up too much room is the sides of leather, which were previously still rolled up in the boxes they were shipped in and leaning up against the wall. It was definitely not the best way to store the leather, especially the firmer leathers. It's also an eye sore and source of clutter, which can inhibit my productivity. So I decided to make a rack I could hang the hides on.

This rack cost me about $200 to make. It's a bit more than I was hoping to spend, but still a worthwhile investment for my work space. A good amount of that $200 was spent on the galvanized pipe, and I imagine you could find a cheaper alternative.

Just a warning: I am not a wood worker. But I thought this might be helpful for other leatherworkers, so here's how I made it.

MATERIALS

  • 3 - 4ft x 5.5in Oak Boards
  • 2 - 16.5in x 5.5in Oak Boards
  • Wood Glue
  • Wood Putty
  • Sand Paper (1000, 800, 600, 200)
  • Polyurethane (I used matte)
  • Wood Stain (I used walnut)
  • Screws #8 1.25in
  • 4 - 3/4in Elbows
  • 4 - 3in x 3/4in Nipples
  • 4 - 6.5ft x 3/4in pipe
  • 1 - 3.5ft x 3/4in pipe
  • 4 - Industrial Wheels
  • 4 - 3/4in Floor Flanges
  • 2 - 3/4in Tees 
  • S Hooks
  • Drill + Drill Bits
  • Rotary Sander
  • Clamps

STEP 1

A light amount of glue on the bottom of the 16.5in boards.

A light amount of glue on the bottom of the 16.5in boards.

Boards clamped together after gluing.

Boards clamped together after gluing.

To get started, I put a thin layer of glue on the bottom sides of the two shorter boards and placed them on the ends of the three longer boards. After, I placed clamps on the ends to allow the glue to dry. You'll save yourself a ton of sanding work if you wipe of any excess glue that squeezes out after you've placed the clamps.

I don't have a ton of wood working tools, but for easiest/best results, I suggest using a longer clamp to keep the three long boards pressed together as well. Those kind of clamps are expensive, so I just made sure to keep the three long boards pressed together as I clamped on the two shorter pieces.


STEP 2

Apply wood putty.

Apply wood putty.

Sand smooth.

Sand smooth.

Once the glue had dried, I put wood putty in some of the cracks between the boards. After the putty had dried, I used a rotary sander to smooth everything out, round out the sharp edges, and eliminate the excess putty. I started with 1000 grit and worked my way down to 200ish.


STEP 3

Laying on my dog's bed while I apply stain to the underside of the base.

Laying on my dog's bed while I apply stain to the underside of the base.

Brushing on polyurethane.

Brushing on polyurethane.

I wiped down the boards with a slightly wet paper towel to get rid of any leftover sawdust. I then applied one coat of walnut stain with an old t-shirt and allowed it to dry. Finally, I brushed on a layer of matte polyurethane let it dry, and brushed on one final layer. Once it was all dry, I hit it with an extremely high grit sand paper to give it a nice smooth feel.


STEP 4

Drilling pilot holes.

Drilling pilot holes.

Screwing in the wheels on the bottom side of the base.

Screwing in the wheels on the bottom side of the base.

On the bottom side I drilled the pilot holes for the wheels and on the top side I drilled the pilot holes for the floor flanges. I put them roughly in the same area, so make sure that your holes don't line up on both sides. This can be achieved by rotating the floor flanges when marking the holes. For the floor flanges, I drilled the first hole 2in in from the long edge and .5in in from the short edge. For the wheels, I placed them 2in in from both edges, again making sure that the holes wouldn't line up on both sides. Finally, I screwed the wheels into place on the bottom side of the base.


STEP 5

The base of the leather rack where the floor flanges have been attached.

The base of the leather rack where the floor flanges have been attached.

The top of the leather rack where the leather hangs from. 

The top of the leather rack where the leather hangs from. 

Finally I put all the pipes together. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good picture of it all set up on the floor, but am hoping you guys will be able to see what I did through the first picture on this post and these two pictures here. The two 6.5ft pipes have the flanges on one end and the elbows on the other, Then the elbows have the 3in nipples attached and those are attached to a tee. Each sides tee is attached by the 3.5ft pipe.

Once I assembled the pipes, I then screwed the floor flanges into the wooden base. Finally I put grommets in my sides of leather and hung them up with the s hooks.

All in all this project was worth the time (which wasn't much) and money required to make it. It's been much better on my leather, which is no longer getting permanent creases in it from sitting upright in the box. And this rack doesn't take up much room at all, which is fantastic for the small size of my leatherworking room.

Add a Ton of Class to Your Leather Projects with Padding

One thing that is going to add a ton of class to your work is padding your leather.

It’s a skill that’s a lot like tying a tie. Not that hard to learn (sorry if your tie impaired), and it might take a YouTube video or two to help you figure out what you’re doing, but once you’ve got the basics putting on a tie is easy, quick, and adds a lot of class.

Recently I made this goal board to practice my padding, but mostly just for the hell of it. Because of the project itself, I wouldn’t describe the padding as ‘class,’ but it does look a lot better than just stitching the word goals into a flat piece of leather. To prove that padding really makes projects look classier, here’s a picture of a bag I recently made that is padded (see above). 

All that aside, I’ll be using this goal board to show you how to pad a project, because the skills are transferable to pretty much any leather project you’re hoping to pad.

I started this project by printing out the word in the font I wanted, then glued the paper to a piece of leather using a spray glue, and finally cut out each letter.

I started this project by printing out the word in the font I wanted, then glued the paper to a piece of leather using a spray glue, and finally cut out each letter.

Step 1: Choose the Size and Thickness of Your Padding

Whether are you are doing a weird letter project like I did, or you're padding a bag similar to the one at the top of the page, it's important to know to choose the right leather to achieve the look you're wanting.

You can pad your project by using two pieces of leather that are the same, with a different piece of leather sandwiched between. This is what I did the the briefcase. Other times, especially when using thinner leathers on the surface of your project, you'll want to have two different leathers picked out for the bottom pieces to go with your thin top piece. This way you're able to give the bag (or whatever you're making) some strength, while getting to use thin leather ( which really works the best when padding). This is what I did for the goal board, which is covered in a very thin pig skin.

Whichever method you choose, it's important to pay attention to the weight of your leather.

Thin Leather on Top (1-2oz or less): For instance, if you are using a very thin piece of leather for the top piece you can expect the padding to look just like it looked underneath the leather.

Thick Leather on Top (3oz+): However if you use a bit thicker of a leather, expect things to be less defined and a little more round. If you're doing lettering, the lettering will become bigger when you add the top layer, instead of being the same size.

For the Padding Itself (3oz-ish): I typically use 3oz leather for the padding, and have used 5oz leather once or twice in the past for a more dramatic difference. I think 3oz is the sweet spot though. Much smaller than that and there isn't much of a noticeable difference. Much more than that and it get's a little ridiculous looking and is hard to form the leather above around the padding. Keep in mind this is only a general guide line. For example, if you're just using 2oz leather, you might want to consider using padding under 3oz. 

Alright, now you can hopefully make an educated choice on how to choose the right leather for a padding project. If you're still having trouble making a decision, my personal rule is the more flexible the top layer is the better.

Step 2: Cut Out the Leather

After that I set the 3oz letters on to a 5oz piece of leather, making sure they were centered and spaced correctly.

After that I set the 3oz letters on to a 5oz piece of leather, making sure they were centered and spaced correctly.

This part is pretty straight forward. However, when you're deciding the length and width of your padding theres a few things to keep in mind.

The bottom piece will always be cut to the size you need for your project. If you need a 4x16in gusset, then the bottom piece will measure 4x16in. It's preferable that this piece is the most study piece of leather of the 3 pieces used. If you have a whole hide, cut this piece out from what was the back of the cow.

For the top piece of leather, I always cut it out bigger than I need. It's difficult to account for the extra length and width needed to cover the padding, and therefore better to make a piece that's too large and trim it afterward. It's helpful if this is a stretchier piece of leather. If you have a whole hide, cut this piece out from the belly area.

The middle piece of leather use for padding depends on what kind of leather you are using for the top piece:

Thin Leather on Top: As mentioned above, if you choose to go this route, the padded area will be the same size after you put the top layer on. This means you want the padding to be right up to where you stitching line will go. As an example, I usually set my stitching about 3/16th in. In this instance, the padding I cut out would be 3/16 shorter than the piece underneath it on every side. As a side note, I would avoid setting your padding too far back because it looks really odd.

Thick Leather on Top: For this you'll want to make the width and length of your padding a bit shorter to compensate for the thicker leather on top. If I'm using 5oz piece of leather, which is about 1/8in in thickness, I will take 1/8in off every side of the padding.

Step 3: Glue it All Together

Once the letters were glued on and that glue had dried, I covered the entire project in glue and placed a very thin pig skin on top.

Once the letters were glued on and that glue had dried, I covered the entire project in glue and placed a very thin pig skin on top.

You'll want to start by gluing the padding to the bottom piece of leather. Once the glue has dried, cover those pieces with glue and set the top piece on top. If you're using a thicker leather, I typically wet the surface a bit to help it bend around the padding a bit easier.

Step 4: Bone Folder

I then formed the leather around the letters using a bone folder and allowed the glue to dry. From there I marked my stitching lines, created the holes, and stitched the project. To finish the project, I trimmed off the excess pig skin and burnished the edges.

I then formed the leather around the letters using a bone folder and allowed the glue to dry. From there I marked my stitching lines, created the holes, and stitched the project. To finish the project, I trimmed off the excess pig skin and burnished the edges.

Once the top piece is placed, you'll need to make sure that it is formed to the padding underneath. All you need to do to pull this off is use a bone folder and press the leather around the padding. After it's been formed around the padding, make sure to apply pressure to the edges while the glue dries.

Step 5: Stitch


If you are stitching padding, the stitching is pretty straight forward. The only thing to keep in mind is making sure your stitching is up against where your padding ends.

I thought stitching wouldn't be that difficult for the lettering. I was wrong. So I figured I'd share some of the things I learned while doing it.

1) Make sure your font is big enough. If my font would've been much smaller the stitching would've gotten ugly.

2) Create holes at the corners first. If you don't make sure the clearly define the corners of each letter (for the letters that have a corner) then they end up not really looking like letters. I created the holes on the corners first and then spaced the holes in between as evenly as I could.

3) Be Aware of Inside Curves. This was especially the case with the 's.' On those tight inside curves, you have to make sure that your holes are placed perfectly. They need to be placed so curve still looks like a curve while maintaining your evenly spaced stitches. If I did this again, I would start on the inside curves of the 's' with my stitching.

Whether you're making some weird lettering project like I did, or you're adding padding to something to make it a little classier, I'd love to see what you're making. If you want, drop a link to your instagram account in the comments below, so I can check out your stuff. Or you can just tag @goldbarkleather in one of your photos. 

A Basic Guide To Folding Leather

There are lots of different situations in leather working that require folding leather, and I don’t mean just bending leather, I mean a sharp clean fold. For instance, the edges of your gussets need to be folded to lay flat with the front and back panels of your project. Maybe you just want to make a folded pocket. Or you want a more shaped bag that has hard angles instead of smoothed curves. In any case, folds are super important. They’re something that appear in almost every project. Here's something I've recently been working on that required nice clean folds.

FoldingLeatherEx1.jpg
FoldingLeatherEx2.jpg

I used folds to create a the pocket on the front and also used folds on the gussets to make sure the bag very square. The gussets would look bowed or looked u-shaped if I had not wet formed the edges outward.

All that said, making sure you fold well can have a big impact on the professional look of a project. Here's a simple three step process for making sure you get clean folds every time. 

Step 1: Groove

FoldingLeatherPt1.jpg

By reducing the thickness along the fold of the leather, not only does it make it easier for the fold to stay once made, it also makes sure that your fold is nice and straight. To create this groove, I use a groover on the back side of the leather. I set a ruler alongside the fold line, and then move it back about 1/16th of an inch. This is to account for the groover, which doesn't make cuts right against the ruler due to it’s shape. I then run the groover along the ruler three to four times until the groove is about 1/3rd the way through the leather. But, if your leather is thinner than 3oz, you can probably skip this step. Thin leathers are already pliable enough to fold and if it’s thin you also run the risk of grooving all the way though the leather, which, if you haven't done before, makes for a sad day.

Step 2: Wet

FoldingLeatherPt2.jpg

This is where the magic happens. If leather becomes wet, it will dry into the shape of whatever it’s pressed against. So if you wanted to make a crazy mask out of leather, no problem, just soak the leather and stretch it over a mold. Once it’s dried it will keep the shape.  Lots of people have done it, and what they’ve come up with is pretty impressive (http://imgur.com/a/b7J6v). But we aren’t making masks, we are just folding stuff, so don’t soak your leather just yet. Instead, using a paint brush or your finger, place water along the groove you’ve made on the back side of the leather. Repeat this process until the area is soaked through. You’ll know when you’re done when the top side, or flesh side, of the leather starts to darken. Once it starts to darken even a little, make sure to stop so you don’t over soak the leather.

Step 3: Fold and Hold

FoldingLeatherPt3.jpg

Once the groove is soaked through you’re ready to fold. Making the fold straight can actually be a little bit tricky if the fold is a longer one. To make sure the fold stays straight I always fold the leather over a bone folder and then tap it a few times with a cobblers hammer. Once I’ve done this the entire way down the fold, I think set something heavy on top (usually a few books) or clamp it down with some binder clips. If you use the binder clips, make sure to pad them or cover the fold in cloth, so the clips don't leave indentations. It’s also really important to keep the leather pressed firmly down while it dries. I then leave it sit for about 2-3 hours while the leather dries out. Depending on how much water you put on the fold, it may take longer. Just make sure the leather is completely dry when you remove the books or binder clips.

And that’s it! As I mentioned at the top of the post, there are a ton of leather working projects that require a good clean fold. I gave a few examples of when I use folds, what projects have you guys made that requires these kind of folds? Feel free to drop a link to some of your work with folds in the comments.