Sunday, August 18, 2013

Building a Tooled Belt Design

I thought it might be fun to show you, start to finish, how the design for this belt was built. 
It begins with the leather, of course. I use an exceptional grade of 8/9oz full-grain cowhide, cutting the straps by hand. I case my belts overnight - this is the process of getting the strap wet enough to tool but not so wet that it distorts with the impacts. Everyone has their own way of achieving this balance - I wet them thoroughly then put them in a plastic bag and into the refrigerator overnight. This lets the water distribute evenly to the inner grain and eliminates the need to re-wet while tooling.
Of course, you need a very hard surface to work on (I have my Big Block of granite) and a variety of tools from which to choose. I select each tool as i go on a new pattern - these are the eight tools I wound up choosing for this belt (tool numbers are notated on the progress pics).
I started by scoring the outer edges to create a border, then marked the design "centers" with faint dots. The spacing on this design is 1.5"


 The first tool (v400) is used twice at each mark, with the mark in the center, hit firmly with a 12oz mallet. 

Then the next tool (v406) is added in the space between the sets of the first tool. 

Next, one of my go-to faves (c366)  fills the small gaps, followed by a nice wavy "bridge" (v421) over the centers. 

Here I wanted to create an undulation to the flow with an inverted crescent  (v920) followed by smaller crescents (v744) in the opposite direction to frame the inverted ones. (whew! by now I've hit this belt hundreds of times!)
Then the design is bound together with seed-dots (s705) and, finally, embellished with small peaks (u851) under the bridges.

Edges were beveled and burnished, the belt was dyed a deep antiqued brown and finished with my own secret 3-layer process. 
To celebrate the appearance of this handsome design in this tooling demo, I've named this belt "Premier".
You can find it and others in my Etsy shop, linked at the top of the left toolbar.