We continue our Finding Your Flow series with a video that takes you into the meditative sounds and sights of the Leather Smith. This video is a visual exploration of MFS Leather Smithing Instructor Jason Gold creating a steampunk top-bar briefcase.
The Leather Smith
Leather-Related Humor for an Extra-Wide Smile…
What sounds like a sneeze and is made of leather? A shoe...
Several men were in the locker room of the gym when a cell phone on a bench rang and a man put it on speaker and begins to talk. Everyone in the room stopped to listen.
Woman: Hi honey, its me. Are you at the club?
Woman: I’m at the shops now and found this beautiful leather coat. Its only $2000: is it OK if I buy it?
Man: Sure, go ahead if you like that much.
Woman: I also stopped by the Lexus dealership and saw the new models with the custom leather seats for only $90,000.
Man: OK, but for that price I want it with all options.
Woman: Great! Oh, and one more thing. I was just talking to Jane and found out that the house I wanted last year is back on market. They are asking $980,000 for it.
Man: Well, then go ahead and offer $900,000. They’ll probably take it. If not, we can go to the extra $80,000 if that’s what you really want.
Woman: OK. See you later! I love you too much!
Man: Bye, I love you too.
The man hung up. The other men in the locker room were staring at him in astonishment, mouths wide open.
He turned and asked, “Anyone knows whose phone is this?”
Role of the Leather Smith
Leather is one of human’s earliest and most useful discoveries. Primitive human hunted wild animals for food, then made clothing, footwear and crude shelters from the hides. Wall paintings that date back to 5000 B.C. indicate that leather was used for sandals, clothes, gloves, buckets, bottles, shrouds for burying the dead, and for military equipment. During this period, a basic technique, later named tanning, was discovered that employed the use of animals fats and/or brains to permanently alter the protein structure of skin, making it more durable and less susceptible to decomposition. The ancient Greeks are credited with developing tanning formulas using certain tree barks and leaves soaked in water that preserve the leather indefinitely, if maintained well. This process later become know as vegetable-tanned for its use of natural materials to persevere and create leather. By the year 500 B.C., vegetable-tanned leather became a well-established trade in Greece. Within time the process was coveted by the Romans who used it to make advanced footwear, clothes, and military equipment including shields, saddles and harnesses.
While leather tanning is an art and skill in and of itself, the process of transferring the leather into a useable product is the job of the Leather Smith. Over time leather workers divided into specialities and adopted new monikers. A Tanner is the person that process the skin into leather. A Bottelier is a crafter of leather water and wine bottles, while a Vaginarius made scabbards for swords. In shoemaking, a Cordwainer was the maker of the shoe and a Cobbler repaired it when needed. Head-ware was crafted by a Hatter and a leather clothing, including jackets and gloves were crafter by a Leather Smith. If your specialty was carving portraits or designs on piece of leather you would be called a Purogravure. Some of those carved pieces were used by the Saddler or Lorimer who created the most elaborate horse tack. Years ago people traveled with a leather luggage trunk made by a Malemaker who employed the straps and belts that were crafted by a Thonger. All of these trades have storied history found in leather books created by Bookbinders. And, from the 14th century onwards, the Leather Smith was combined with the furniture maker to fashion a new monikered position, called the Craftsman, or more appropriately the Craftsperson. Eventually, this term became synonymous with all form of crafts.
By the 19th century, the process of tanning was greatly sped up through the discovery of chromium tanning. By using chrome salts and mercury, leather workers were able to radically improve both the production quality and the time that it took to process leather. First the process of production was changed from using tanning pits in the ground to huge wooden rotating drum. These developments improved the efficiency of the tanning process from the typical 12 month process of Vegetable tanned leather to just a few days for chromium. Nowadays most leather goods are made from chromium tanned skin and used to make handbags, business briefcases, travel bags, car seats, couches, shoes, jackets, and wallets. Yet, many dedicated Leather Smiths still prefer to use vegetable tanned leather for their items because of the thickness of the leather, the durability, the pliability, and the finish, not to mention that the tanning process is chemical and toxic-free and much better for the environment.
The Leather Smith Finds Flow
For the some people, pursuing a state of flow works works better than more traditional relaxation or meditative techniques. Crafting to find your flow is called a “moving meditation.” Whether that person is cooking, sewing, running, or designing a new vacuum cleaner, it is, ironically, activity that enables the stillness of the mind. The Leather Smith is first confronted with the intimidation of a large blank leather hide. It is that large canvas that the Leather Smith must measure, cut, punch, shape, and stitch into a functional piece. Through the stillness of the mind the Leather Smith can achieve an extreme focus that enables doubt and worry to fall away and in its place possibility and clarity of purpose guide the artisan. This sounds so lofty and romantic, yet once the state of Flow is found, the absence of the negative enables the positive to craft the ideal item pictures in the mind of the Craftsperson.
Words from Jason Gold, MFS Leather Smithing Instructor
Once completed, a quality leather good becomes a heritage item; looking even better with age when well-maintained. Yet, the true story of a leather item is embedded in its physical and crafted history. This is the story that the customer does not know. It is the esoteric tale that is kept by the people who handled the leather along the way. From the life of cow in the field, to the tanner loading the skin into giant roller drums of the oak-tannery, to my leather studio, where I forever transform an empty canvas into a functional and cherished item. In this deeply meditative state called Flow, I speak to the leather. Not with words, but with techniques. I cut the leather in the same way my ancestors did thousands of years ago. I punch the leather with the same type of tool used by Leather Smiths of the middle ages. I stitch in the same manner as all of those Saddlers who crafted the saddles of the cowboy era.
Jason Gold, 2020
“There is something deeply satisfying in shaping leather with your hands. Proper artificing is like a song made solid. It is an act of creation.” (Patrick Rothfuss)
“I live in a beautiful place, I craft something I love everyday, I make enough money to live, and my demands on the world's resources are very meager. What's unusual about this idyllic circumstance is that there is plenty of room for more to join.” (John Brown)
Leather Smithing Lingo
Awl – A tapered and pointed tool used to either make or enlarge holes in leather, usually for stitching.
Burnishing – Is the method for finishing edges of leather. Burnishing tools are used to rub the edge until it has a nice smooth finish.
Edge Beveler – Tool used to round over cut edges of leather. This is used in the edge finishing process.
Harness Needle – Needles that have a rounded tip. Harness needles are used for hand stitching leather that has holes already punched and are not meant to pierce the leather.
Moon Knife - A half-moon shaped knife used for cutting and skiving.
Rivet and Burr – Are usually copper or brass. These are used either in addition to or instead of stitching. Rivet and burrs are a very strong and effective way of holding two or more pieces of leather together.
Saddle Stitch – A method of hand stitching. One length of thread is used with a needle on either end. Both needles are passed through the hole from opposite sides and pulled tight.
Skiving – Is a method of shaving the edge of a piece of leather with a knife so that it can be folded over, or so that it can be attached to another piece without increasing the overall thickness of the piece.
Veg Tan – Is the most common type of leather, especially for beginners. It is inexpensive and is best for any tooling.
Waxed Thread – This is the best thread to use for hand stitching. The wax on the thread makes it easier for the thread to pass through stitching holes. The thread is smooth and resists stretching or breaking.
We continue our Finding Your Flow series with a video that takes you into the meditative sounds and sight of the Spooncarver. The video is a visual exploration of MFS Green Woodworker Instructor Dawson Moore crafting a paper birch spoon.
Enhancing your Smile!
-Thomas was carving a spoon to give as a gift. While engrossed in the carving he slipped and accidentally cut his hand. His, not so bright brother-in-law, ran over and grabbed the bloody wound with his fingers and started twisting it. Thomas screamed “Ouch!! What are you doing!” The bother-in-law replied, “I’m applying a turn-a-cut”
-I recently took up wood carving, and accidentally cut my finger. It’s nothing serious. It’s just a whittle cut.
History of the Spooncarver
They’re practical. They have a rich cultural history. They can last forever! Wooden spoons have been made in virtually every nation on earth and reflect the life of the ordinary person.
Wooden spoons have a very long history. We know that ever before they were recored in the books of history they were being made as an essential tool for the family. Ancient Egypt first recorded creation of the wooden spoon more than one thousand years before Jesus Christ. The bible speaks about the creation of spoons as a directive from God, “You shall make its dishes and its pans and its spoons and its bowls with which to pour offerings…” Exodus 25.29. The Vikings were known for their decorated spoons using a technique called kolrosing where a pattern is carved in the spoon with a knife. Then charcoal or coal dust was rubbed into the lines to accentuate the pattern and make them “pop.” It wasn’t until the 15th century that metal spoons began to replace the wooden variety. Yet, for the average person wooden spoons were still the main tool of the kitchen and a well made spoon was loved well and passed down in the family. Wooden spoons carved from maple wood were some of the cherished items found among the wreckage of Henry VIII’s Mary Rose warship (1511-1545). Listed in the inventories of the the Mayflower, which set sail in 1620, were wooden spoons destine to become part of our American heritage. Wooden eating and cooking implements were some of the items Algonquian tribes traded with those early settlers. Since the moment of its invention, the wooden spoon has been integral to an impressive variety of cultural traditions across the world.
The versatility and durability of a wooden spoon has stood the test of time. Today wooden spoons are still used with great frequency and is an important item in every kitchens. Wooden spoons don’t chemically react with acidic foods, or scratch pots and bowls. They don’t melt or leach chemicals or strange tastes into hot foods. Cared for well, they can last beyond a lifetime.
Today spoon carving has become a craft of people all over the world looking to create something functional, beautiful and simple. The craft requires few tools and can be performed almost anywhere. With a good hatchet axe, saw, bent knife, and a straight knife, this craft can be performed almost anywhere. The craft makes minimal, but soothing, noise, wood chips not dust, and utilizes freely scavenged timber.
The Spooncarver Finds Flow
Just as physical exercise or playing music is known to bebeneficial for our mental health, so is being creative with our hands. The physical and mental health benefits which spoon carving offers is often underestimated. In a state of Flow, as one’s attention heightens, the slower and energy-expensive extrinsic system is swapped out for the far faster and more efficient processing of the subconscious, intrinsic system. Further, parts of the brain that we use to critique ourselves begins to fade enabling a true creativity unencumbered by self-judgement. During this time the positive energy flow captured in our mind, fostered through focus, begin to release endorphins that enables our mind and body to release deep pleasurable sensations akin to a cathartic experience.
Words from Dawson Moore, MFS Greenwood Carving Teacher
“I like working with wood straight from the source. Everything begins with splitting pieces from a freshly cut log. I work with simple hand tools so that I can get as much tactile feedback from the material as possible. It allows me to follow the fibers and gain an intimate knowledge of the functional strengths and weaknesses of the wood. It is an unmediated experience balancing the perfection of the natural material, collective knowledge, and personal skill. I like to make functional objects that embody that process and hopefully allow others to sense its magic.”
Dawson Moore, 2020
-“I've realized you can use a fork as a spoon if you use it rapidly enough.” (John Mayer)
-“The rule in carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon.” (Charles Buxton)
“Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead…only try to realize the truth: there is no spoon.” (The Matrix)
Long bent chisel used used for scooping out the spoon cup.
Chest Lever Grip
Specific way to hols the knife and wood pie4ce useing your upper chest and back to apply pressure.
Adding more control and dexterity too many knife operations by gripping the knife far up on the handle and sometimes even on the blade.
Wood that has been recently cut and therefore has not had an opportunity to season (dry) by evaporation of the internal moisture.
A quick adjusting cramping device that has a leg passing through a hole in the bench top, holding work in the middle of the bench where it is not possible to use clamps
Tool used to carve and smooth the hollow cavity for wooden bowls, spoons, ladles and other necessities.
A Scandinavian based handcraft movement and educational system that seeks to guide a person’s focus to build the character, encouraging good behavior, greater intelligence, and industriousness.
A spoon mule is a foot activated clamping mechanism that allows quick and easy work holding options while carving spoons.
A razor-sharp, short bladed knife used for general carving, chip carving, whittling, & other specialty wood carving uses.
Here is a shower thought, ”When I see lovers' names carved in a tree, I don't think it's sweet. I just think it's surprising how many people bring a knife on a date.”
Two for an Extra-Wide Smile…
A seasoned timberframer shopping at the local hardware supply, picks up a hammer, checks the balance, and looks it over carefully. “They don't make these like they used to," he tells the salesman, " I've had the same one for over fifty years,…yep, just had to replace the handle six times and the head twice.”
Tom and Bob are framing a house, Bob notices Tom throwing away about every second nail,
" What are you doing?" he asks.
" The heads on the nails are on the wrong end," Tom replies.
" You idiot….don’t throw them away, save them for the other side," Bob retorts.
Role of the Timberframer
Throughout the world, where trees were abundant, structures of all kinds were built from wood. Craftspeople who designed and built these buildings were constantly improving their methods for joining the wood together at the intersection. Some craftspeople employ a quick light-frame construction joint that uses slender sticks of wood that are cut to length and nailed, or bonded together with glue or rope. Timberframing uses freshly cut timers, that are much heavier, much larger and are hand-sculpted to lock together at their intersections. Sometimes the joints are secured by large wooden pegs. Timberframing building methods are some of the oldest methods of joinery. In fact, one could refer to the building methods in millenniums rather than centuries.
Timberframing developed uniquely and independently in each region of the world. The major factor influencing whether a region developed a timberframing culture was the type of forests found in the region. Areas with softwood forests did not tend to develop timberframing, put instead roundwood framing. Since softwoods grow more quickly than hardwoods, and also tend to grow long and straight, these regions preferred to construct log homes instead. This is why northern European counties such as Russia and Sweden are better known for their log homes rather than timberframing. Throughout the rest of Europe, timberframing was more common.
Timberframing was a method that was commonly used my Roman builders. Roman architect and author, Vitruvius wrote about the Roman construction technique of opus craticum (wattlework or timber with clay infill) in his treatise on architecture, De architectura. Discovered in the 20th century, The House of Opus Craticum is a timberframed building still preserved from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. After the fall of Rome, the timebrframing techniques traveled all over the former Roman Empire. In what is now Germany, France and England, timberframing became the preferred method of construction. Unfortunately, by the year 1500, the massive demand for wood had led to widespread deforestation in Europe and especially in England. Construction methods stagnated for a while, even reverting back to traditional cob/mud buildings, until the colonial exploration of the America’s discovered the seemingly endless wealth of forests.
Timberframing also has a rich history in Asian, most notably Japan. Japanese timberframing was prized throughout the world since it style of joinery made it highly resistant to seismic stress. It also celebrated the use of lock joints that do not need to be pegged. This level of sophistication quickly propelled the Japanese style of joinery as one of the worlds finest and most emulated. The pagoda at Horyu-ji is a timber framed building that has been standing since the trees were felled in 594 AD, making it one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world.
Over the last 20 years, timberframing has seen a resurgence in interest. Beyond the elegant aesthetics of exposed timbers and open floor plans, timberframed structures enjoy a durability unmatched by stick-built homes. While there are many artisan timber framers who still employ hand tools to cut and fit timbers, the use of machines has dramatically increased productivity and brought down costs. Automated methods also mean that many of the builders, who often have the bad knees and backs that come with a lifetime of construction work, can continue their careers much longer than if they were moving and assembling timbers without machinery.
The Timberframer Finds Flow
Steven Kotler, best-selling author of Rise of the Superman, states that Flow is where "every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. It’s high-speed problem solving; it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance.” Although it feels like one accidentally falls into a state of Flow, in fact there is specific criteria that must be met to enter flow. The Timberframer works from there basic rules: The TF must have clear goals and progress, The TF must provide clear and immediate feedback to oneself, and the TF must be find the balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. Each joint is carefully measured and laid-out with pencil. It is then reviewed several times to make sure that all measurements are correct. Then the Timberframer will roughly cut tenors and mortaisesze. Finally, the Timebrframer uses their state of accelerated concentration to enables them to remove slivers of wood, sometimes paper thin, to achieve a perfect fit.
Words from Ethan Higgins, MFS TimberFrame Instructor
“Timberframing, to me, is a vehicle to bring a traditional skill into modern perspective, continuing its utility as a practical and responsible way to build structures with integrity which will serve as spaces for human connection. It is a trade that also affords the opportunity for personal betterment and deepening of the soul through the pursuit of beauty and dedication excellence in craft. Furthermore, it is an essential part of the more encompassing whole of the movement towards the re-establishment of a land-based and human-labor based economy, which I believe is the only viable path for our civilization. Only through a renewal of humanity laboring within landscapes, with natural materials and with each other, can we resist the inherent hazards of an industrialized and impersonal world. Building timber frames, then, is my form of commitment to this ideal, and I have had the good luck to work primarily for and with small farmers and fellow craftsmen who share it with me.”
Ethan Higgins, 2020
-“Men admire the man who can organize their wishes and thoughts in stone and wood and steel and brass.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
-“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” (Charles Dickens)
BENT. End-wall built on the ground then raised to their vertical position with a crane (or many willing hands and backs).
BIRDSMOUTH. A complex cut made at the tail end, or bottom, of a rafter that allows the timber to extend over and past the wall top plate, providing a greater bearing and attachment surface.
BUTT. One of the least complicated joints, in which mating pieces are square-cut and simply butted against one another.
CHAMFER. A 45-degree flat edge planed or routed along the outer, or “leading,” edges of a timber.
DOVETAIL. A commonly used joint that includes a fan-shaped tusk or tenon that drops into and interlocks in a similarly shaped pocket cut. The wedge-like shape of this extremely strong joint prevents the interlocked timbers from shifting or separating from one another.
GREEN TIMBER. Un-seasoned timber that is refereed to as “green.” The joints are cut green and fit into place. The joinery is designed to tighten and lock the joint as the green wood dries and shrinks in the framework.
MORTISE & TENON. A frequently used joint in timber framing, it includes a male end (tenon) cut onto the end of one timber that fits into a square-cut matching female receptacle (mortise).
TRUNNEL. A large wood dowel or peg used as a fastener in wood joinery. The word is derived from the descriptive term “tree nail.”
WEDGE. A wood shim inserted into a joint to tighten and lock the intersecting timbers in place.