Update: since writing the post below my ideas on carving safety have changed. I no longer believe it’s a good idea to use a thimble, or any type of extra protection while carving. They can encourage unsafe carving practices. If you use unsafe techniques this thimble won’t protect you. You’ll carve straight through it, one day. I’m keeping this tutorial, though, because you may find another use for the thimble. I’ve used it in leatherworking, for example. 

If you’re carving wood with a sloyd knife, many techniques require that you carve towards the thumb of the hand holding the knife. If you’re not careful it’s really easy to accidentally skip out of the wood and into your thumb. That is why I often use a simple leather or suede thimble to protect my thumb. Here’s a little tutorial so that you can make one of these yourself, using only very basic tools.

This (clumsily made) drawing shows the two bits of leather you’ll need. I used some scraps of (I think) buffalo leather, but you can pretty much use anything.

 

Leather carving Thimble

The sizes don’t really matter that much. Those indicated above worked for my thumb, and can be used as a rough guideline.

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Step 1: cut two bits of leather.

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Step 2: put the two bits on top of each other, skin sides facing each other, and cut off the corners.

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Step 3: using a lacing/stitching chisel (or an awl, doesn’t really matter), punch a couple of holes along the sides. Keeping the two bits of leather on top of each other helps to line up the holes.

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Step 4: stitch the two bits of leather together using strong thread, skin sides facing each other. I recommend saddle stitching, which is done with two needles. With a needle on each end of the thread, you basically do two running stitches from opposing sides, making a tiny flat knot inside each hole. If this explanation doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. I’ll write a more detailed post on saddle stitching soon.

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Step 4.5: turn the thing inside out. It should start looking like a thimble by now.

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Step 5: there should be two holes in the middle of the smaller piece of leather. You can put a small stitch in these, pulling them together to make the thimble a bit tighter around the thumb.

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Like that.

 

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Step 6: attach a piece of elastic (from an old pair of boxer shorts for example) to the thimble. Start with the pair of holes closest to the middle, and work your way out. Attach one side first, and then the other.

 

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And that’s it. Leather carving thimble done!


A friend of mine recently managed to save my beloved Koga Miyata. Its bottom bracket broke and the threads were completely worn out. I was ready to throw the frame out and look for a new (old) one, but he offered to have one last look at her. He welded in a new bottom bracket and the bike lived to ride another day. So, as thanks, I made a leather cover for one of his handlebars. It’s a beautiful old track bike handlebar from 3ttt. Here’s the finished product:

Leather handlebar wrap

And here’s how to make it.

  • First, measure the circumference of the handlebar. In this case it was about 8cm (a little over 3″) around.
  • Cut straps that are a bit narrower than the circumference and a bit longer than the length you wish to cover. For example, I cut two straps of 7,7cm (3″) by 46cm (almost 18″). I used pretty thin veg-tan leather. I think this stuff was about 2,5mm thick (6 oz.).IMG_20151224_145345369 IMG_20151224_145443512
  • Make a line parallel to the long edges using a compass or groove cutter. The line shouldn’t be too close to the edge or it will tear out. 3 or 4mm (1/8″) from the edge looked fine to me. This line will guide the stitching chisel, and make sure all stitches line up straight. I used a groove cutter to cut a very shallow groove. It helps me feel whether my chisel is on the line or not.

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  • Punch holes for the stitches using a stitching chisel. If you don’t have one you can also use a stitching wheel and awl, but it takes a lot longer.

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  • Use a plant mister to make the leather slightly (not soaking!) wet. This will help the leather stretch and form to the bar.IMG_20151224_151101458
  • Take a length of waxed linen thread of about 1.5m long (a yard and a half). Attach a needle to both ends. The stitch will be a sort of a hybrid between saddle stitch (in the sense that you use two needles) and baseball stitch. Start it off by making an X as shown below.
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  • Now, the bottom needle goes to into the next hole over on the opposite side, entering from the skin side.
  • You now have two threads coming from the top side, take the first (left) one, and cross over to the bottom side, to the next hole over, going over the outside and in on the skin side.
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  • Continuing with this needle, cross over to the top side, again over the outside and in on the skin side.
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  • Repeat the last two steps until you come to the end of the handlebar.
  • Some tips: always make sure that you have the thread you are stitching with to the left, and the other to the right. Tighten the stitches continuously. Also keep manipulating the leather to keep the seam where you want it.
  • Once you’re at the end of the handlebar, go back and forth between the last two holes a couple of times and tie it off by making a flat knot. Cut off any excess leather and thread with a sharp knife or pair of scissors.

    All done!

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