Boiling, shaping, baking, and Frying of leather - long post
- Ok. Some qualifiers to my post.
First, when I said assumption, I didn't mean it as a slam against
anyone here. Lots of customers come into my shop and tell me how bad
water hardening is, that the only way to harden leather is to bake
beeswax or paraffin into it. These people are terribly misinformed,
and are usually working off of bad experience and information. They
usually heard it from a friend who dropped a dry piece of armour into
a pot of boiling water and left it for 20 minutes to find a sopping
shrunken baseball that dried and shattered when they dropped it. They
made an assumption about the way it was done, without asking
knowledgable people how to do what they do. This list is here to avoid
just that problem, and I think it does an admirable job of it, as
almost all of the posts are reasonable and intelligent (Wayne of Rose
of the East, notwithstanding. Cindy says 'Hi', Wayne).
Stretching - I do actually find that moist heat changes the stretch
considerably. Personal experience, here, but I've been able to push my
fist into 5 ounce and have a reasonable reproduction of my knuckles
with remarbaly little effort. It's a short window (about 2-4 minutes),
but I use that time to make the most drastic stretching in my project.
I then work the smaller formed areas cold.
It does thicken, and shrink somewhat at the edges. The trick is
knowing how hot and how long for the size and thickness you are using.
If you are worried, use lower heat or a shorter immersion period. If
it's too easy to cut when dry, you cooked it too long. I've got pieces
that have bounced a baseball bat, and barely scratched with a scalpel
or trim knife. I don't dare try my round knife on it.
I usually stretch any shrunken cut areas after the hot water, and I
cut the outer piece larger than I need. I trim it moist, after most
everything else is done, If I'm concerned with fit. It's usually not
enough of a factor to worry with, especially with masks and mugs,
which I do more than anything else.
I taught total newbies to do muscle cuirasses two weeks ago, and it
worked like a charm, giving them only rudimentary instruction about
the process. The pounding like metal that was referred to by another
poster is actually a nice process to use either cold or with hot
water, as it makes the fibers more dense, hence stiffer. You can
further increase this stiffness, if you like, by using stiffening
agents like glues and resins (EX-Lite is cool stuff. You should've
seen their booth at CHA).
Shaping, tooling, etc - I use a variety of shaping and drying
techniques. I use stakes and hammers, modeling tools, occasional
lasts, tooling tools, my fingers, bottles, cans, sand and small
children. Whatever works. I've used rivets, lacing and sewing, as well.
The point is to know as many techniques as possible, and not to
poo-poo any of them if they work in any way, shape or form. I often
combine several techniques in one project. They're all good, depending
on the desired effect. I just learned a wonderful little embossing
technique this summer when Bob Beard taught a tooling class in my
shop. I can't wait to use it on a bigger project. Live and learn.
If you want to tool the leather, do so AFTER the hot water and
stretching. It's quite possible to carve, emboss and tool a piece
after the wet forming, on or off of a last. I rarely use lasts, but
they can be damned useful at times. If you tool before the hot water,
you will lose the images completely. Same thing with light stretching.
I will sometimes pound a piece cold to get signifigant stretch and
detail, knowing that I'm going to lose most of it in the hot water. It
just gives me a starting point to take it even further when I re-do
it. Always carve and stamp last. You can re-wet with cold water,
provided the piece didn't completely dry. Use a moist towel to keep it
from drying until you can tool it.
Drying - Baking works great. If you can get the desired shape with
cold forming, go for it. Baking it will harden it up nicely. I use
both hot water and hot drying, to maximize the effect. I don't like
the heat guns, as they are hard to control. The hair dryer works great
because it has a lower heat, thus hard to overbake things.
You can dye it after it's dry, unless you REALLY overcook it. Even
then, you can use the period method of iron-oxide (Rust water) to dye
it black. All else fails, most period pieces were PAINTED BRIGHTLY.
Think garish. Think heraldic. Check out the Reichskrone case in
Prague. If you look in the right direction, you can probably spot it
from where you are standing, right now. It's that bright.
Frying leather - Wayne, Cindy just completed her research and made a
batch of murri. It's like Medieval middle eastern soy sauce. It's good
on the eggs, but we're going to broil up some leather at Estrella and
try it out. Maybe with some teriyaki sauce. YUMMMM. Finally something
to do with those tiny little scraps of leather besides using them as