Hi all! I don’t post a lot on my jewelry making because there are so many experts out there that post great youTube videos on the subject. But I do occasionally post if I step outside the mainstream and use my jewelry tools a bit differently. So today I am going to post about using Potter USA press with some of their tools on leather. I am going to cut with a pancake die, pattern with a pattern plate, and dome with a silhouette die in the hydraulic press.
I have mentioned the White Wax coated Buttero Veg Tanned leather Panels before in my series on leather using some of the same tools with the Sizzix Big Shot. You can find it at Rocky Mountain Leather although they seem to be out of a lot of colors, and an email request to them could not be delivered and they are not answering their phone, so bummer.
The leather in the video is about 4 to 4 and a half ounces. Rocky Mountain Leather gives you the option of having them split it for you so that’s the weight I choose. It’s nice- it’s thin enough that I can cut things using the different tools that I have, but it’s still stiff so that I can pattern it and dome it and it holds its shape.
The other leather you can find easily is what I call the craft store leather- you can find it at like Amazon or Michaels. It seems to be a little bit thinner and a little bit softer, so I don’t love
that as much. When you cut it with the pancake die it frays way more than the white wax Buttero leather, but if you’re just starting out and just playing around with things and trying to see what works and what doesn’t then it’s fine for that purpose.
First step was to cut the leather into a shape using a pancake die. Now, you could do this two different ways. Here I cut the leather first and then patterned it. Or you could pattern it first and then cut. I usually do it this way just because I have less chance of wrecking the pattern. You’ll see as we go along, there’s another reason why I do it this way. I cut my leather down to size to use in the pancake die using Fiskar scissors. I have other scissors like the Tim Holt scissors that I use to cut almost everything else, but that has a serrated edge and I don’t
like the way it leaves the edge. I cut it down so I don’t wreck the wax coating on the leftover leather. I would suggest you start at least with the easier shapes. The one I chose was a trillium. Any of the geometric shapes probably would work well to start out with. I don’t think I would go trying the tiny pancake dies like the gingerbread man because even though he cuts very well, I have found that he’s hard to get open afterwards, to get the metal out. I might try it for the holidays next year, but today I wanted to focus on shapes that I could dome anyway.
You do want the pancake die somewhat open so you can slip the leather in easily so it doesn’t scratch the leather- especially the white wax. Once the leather is situated in the pancake die, place it face down in the press as you normally do, with plenty of spacers and centered. I am using a manual press. I don’t know that I would do this with an electric press. Of course I’ve never used an electric one. Maybe you have good control over your machine, but with a manual I can go to just resistance. And I mean, a lot of times the needle on the the gauge barely makes it off zero. So once I start not being able to push the handle down without really forcing it, that’s when I stop. Leather is not as hard as metal. And so if you push it too far, it can just literally disintegrate before your eyes. When you’re playing around, you’ll probably find this out for yourself 😉 . Just going to resistance, however, mostly seems to work.
When you cut metal with the pancake die, you will usually hear a sound and feel a big thunk, and then you know that you’ve gone through. With the leather, it’s more like this soft little swoosh and again, if I’m meeting resistance, that’s when I stop. When I cut leather, the gauge usually just barely goes beyond zero. Generally I have to push the pancake die a little bit to be able to pop the leather out. You will get a little bit of frayed edges. There is a short addendum at the end of the video to show what I do to finish those edges. The Buttero leather frays a lot less than the craft store leather.
The next step will use a pattern plate to add texture to the leather. In the video I used one of my plates that I etched myself, but Potter pattern plates or most others work just great. My plate has patterns that mirror the shapes of some of the Potter dies I own. Just an aside- I’ve been playing with this idea of making custom textures for die shapes I own. It’s super fun!
Before you do any texturing with leather, you should wet the back. I just normally use just a little spray bottle of water. Make sure that you don’t spray anywhere near steel, obviously, because you don’t want to rust your tools. I spray a few times until the water stops soaking in, so that it is just damp. It doesn’t have to be soaking wet. And I try not to get it wet on the front, again so that I don’t risk rusting my steel tools. When you are finished each step, make sure you dry off your plates and dies to avoid rust!
After wetting the leather, you’re just going to place it on top of the pattern plate. I do put urethane on top and I find the harder durometer works the best. Mine is 90 but 95 should work as well. I bought a big piece on Amazon and I cut it with a bench shear. You could use tin snips as well. Don’t use anything that’s going to cause it to burn or smoke- nothing mechanical. I take the whole sandwich, line it up in the middle, and pump until I meet resistance. That is usually plenty to give it a good pattern.
Now the second reason, as I mentioned earlier, that I do the cut first and then pattern, is now is the leather is still damp on the back, so I can go ahead with the doming. I am using
a silhouette die and I made a template on the back with sharpie to help me line up and center the leather piece. I used the craft store leather and paper to help with that.
After many failed sessions I also now use painter’s tape to tape it down so that it doesn’t move. Make sure to cover the whole piece with the tape (unlike what I did in the video!) because you can get demarcation lines that can be camouflaged to some degree, but why risk it?
The pattern should facing to the inside of the silhouette die. The leather will then be positioned so that it is between the silhouette die and the softer urethane- I just buy this from Potter USA. You’ll place the whole sandwich into the press, center it and then again just go until you meet resistance. You’ll see the urethane start to lift up at that point. Sometimes, I will take it a hair more, but if you go too far with the silhouette die you could risk tearing the leather. You can always put it back in and do it again. In the video I was a little off kilter, and it was a little dry on the back. I did dampen it a little bit more and dome it a little bit more. I also discuss how to tweak the edges in an addendum using a nail sanding block.
I also tried using a small piece of urethane that would fit in the interior of the silhouette die, rather than the big piece to cover the whole thing. It made the dome a lot deeper. I probably would cut a piece or use pieces of urethane to match the interior shape more so that the dome stays closer to the silhouette die shape. Just something else to try.
In another addendum I showed you my process for using impression dies with leather in the press. I stick with Impression dies that are not too deep to avoid getting into the realm of smashing the leather. The leather is sprayed with water until it’s damp. Then placed on the impression die and covered with a piece of 90 or 95 durometer urethane. I set up just as if I was using the impression die with metal- centered and using a steel pusher in the middle of the top platen. I press until I meet resistance, and in the video, I did about two and a half pumps more. This was the craft store leather and it was a tad too much and the leather ripped. I have since played more with the Buterro leather and that holds up much better. You can still bring it to point of ripping, but that usually happens around 3 or 4 pumps after meeting resistance.
In the last piece of this video, I talk about how I finish the pieces. To help with the shape and/or ragged edges, I generally just use one of the nail boards/sanding blocks.
I use them to file away all the straggly bits after I’ve cut the leather and then to keep the leather from fraying, I use gum tragacanth. I use a cotton ball type applicator that I found at leather supply stores and just run the liquid gum tragacanth along the edges and the back of the leather. It will harden the leather, so if you’re looking for a natural leather look, this is not the way you want to finish. You’re going to have to go off and do a little more research yourself for that look, but this is just the way I do it. I’m not a leather expert, so there’s probably better videos out there for that look. I will warn you also that this stuff stinks to high heaven, so wear a mask!
For the front of the leather, and I’ve done videos on this before, there’s lots of things you could use over the top. It kind of depends on what you’re looking for. You can use an acrylic sealer, and I show you the leather specific one that I use- Angelus Acrylic Matte Sealer. It has a lower gloss to it- it still has a sheen, but it’s not super glossy. The other one that I tend to use is Resolene, again, a sealer made for leather. I like the finish on that too. It’s a little glossier than the Angelus. Neither of them seem to wipe away the white wax on the Buttero leather like some of some of the other finishers I’ve tried. These are the two that I tend to stick with.
I also mention in the video, although I do not show it, but if you own any of the FSS dies, those also cut the leather so that is another way you could go. As with the pancake dies, you could do it in either order- cut then pattern or pattern then cut.
So hopefully you likes this video on using leather with your metal tools! Enjoy!