Leather monogramming system

This post will share the process developed last week to make a better method of monogramming our guitar straps with LARGER LETTERS and the subsequent jigs i made to pull it off consistently.  The guitar straps we’ve been making have the benefit of being swiftly height adjusted as we have already explained at length on our website.  The aspect of these straps that we didn’t expect to take off was personalization through monogramming.

Personally i think a strap gets unique by being encrusted with fur or tassels.  imagine a strap made of cellophane or chainmaile, or one made of bones or telephone wires.  heck just make it bright pink lizard skin and i would consider that “personalized.”

that’s me, i think being on stage is a blast, and its a combination of having something to say mixed with shear entertainment/performance.  Theatre + Honesty.   so you can imagine some of my surprise to know happy people have been when they have ordered a strap with their name on it.   or perhaps with a quote, a poem, or some numbers of significance to them.  It’s so much easier to make someone happy that way than to make some metallic fire-breathing guitar strap that is ultra-show-offy.

we started making these a year ago and they have been a nice hit at music festivals, online, and direct calls to us, but recently we got a call for LARGER LETTERS.  This  might seem like a simple request but when you are using various leather types its very hard to get reliable letter impressions without the leather rejecting and “popping the letter back out” at you.  The clients strap was black chrome-tanned leather.

Previous to this method products were hand hammered with 3/16″ machinist letters. One benefit of these small letters is that they really bite the leather well.  this is important when trying to impress letters into chrome tanned leather like the back shown above.  Chrome tanning is a different chemical process than vegetable tanning (the others shown above).  quick note: the tanning process doesn’t determine the color options so don’t think, for instance, that tan-colored leathers must be vegetable tanned.  it only refers to the process of stabilizing the leather as it is changed from an animal hide to a stable (ph neutral) clothing material.

That said i took my chances and purchased some 1/2 inch letters and decided to strike some chrome tanned leather as hard as possible in hopes that the letters would not “pop out” afterward.  Unfortunately after two guitar straps later, the leather just kept rejecting the letters after a little bit of  manipulating and rubbing.

clearly this was not going to be the level of quality i want us to maintain.

so the next option was to pick up letters that i wanted to use (aesthetically) and then find a way to make them work!

stamping leather

I picked up a set of  1/2″ open face letters from Tandy Leather.  I’ve tried to avoid these higher-priced commercial letters in favor of higher quality handmade stamps from a the 19th century but this letter set was both readily available and i liked this style of font for the purposes of our guitar straps.

These letters took to damp vegetable leather perfectly, but of course the chrome tan wouldn’t have it.  An alternative was to use the letters as a guide on the chrome tanned black strap leather and attempt a few coloring options.

The test was a quick mark with white paint and a quick test of gold leaf.  i chose and oil size for the gold and dutch-metal leaf for the test.  i though both of these were too high-contrast and “regretsy.”

i moved onto some basic 101 hand-tooling of the leather to see if embossing the letter or submerging the letter would make it begin to work for me.

although seeing a strong impression on vege-leather was satisfying, the tooling was bound to clash with the rest of the black guitar strap after completion.  And i was going for a straightforward monogramming section on the strap as opposed to a more showing tooled leather panel.

so i tried another option to see if it would satisfy tstampinghe goal.

this one involved a quick test of hand coloring.  it is of course far more labor intensive, but the results are always more interesting.  with some careful looking might see the little errors in the hand-coloring process that make it harder to delegate; frankly it takes time and skill to produce clean repeatable results without errors.  its the type of thing that i would have to charge extra for the client that knew this was the look they were going for.  remember, my goal was to create a benchmark for lettering in style and consistency.

and that is why i had to begin a process of jig making.

selecting jatoba for the base strikepad and a old guitar neck for the prototype jig, i planned a simple system of removable lettering guides.

the purpose here is interchangeable templates that offer a rabbet (woodworking term) of different widths.  When these templates are pressed together to the base striking surface (the orange colored jatoba wood) they create slot or groove into which a piece of leather can slip underneath the upper template.

the strap section slips under this upper template and as you can see the lettering can be done in a perfectly straight line and at different locations up/down along the strap.  For instance, if i wanted the letters to be a quarter inch from the lower edge, i would replace the upper template with a 1/4″ template and so forth for text stamped at 3/8″ or 3/4″ and the like.  here’s the jig at work.

i really liked how straight the text could be and how simple it was.  traditionally the alternative was a system like that of a letter press machine.  it’s more setup intensive and more expensive to supply yourself with the many different size type stamp holders.  This option was clearly going to work.  The prototype was a success.  I began a far more thorough version of this jig and so too with more options for my upper templates; more widths and possible positions for text to be easily stamped into leather.

I drilled out the old rivet from loop hanger on the clients guitar strap.

and ran back out to the shop to begin a completed version of the jig with templates made from spanish cedar wood.

these were then hand planned for consistency and perfect flat surfaces.

the handplane of choice was the Stanley Bedrock #8 from the late 1800’s.   the bottom of the plane was flattened using a machinists trick on a granite surface plate so that it is flat within 1,000,000 of an inch!

Remember, your wood is only as flat as your plane!   if a high quality final product is the goal, than all the prior stages that build up to it must also be done with the utmost care and quality.

that said it is fitting to refer again to the Tandy Leather Co letters i bought.  The quality was average.  and in several cases (no pun intended) a needed to retool the edge of the stamps.

here, you can see that the letter E (as well as several other of the letters in the set) were fashioned at a consistent height from the lower edge of their surround; the character was not centered on the guiding block.  that meant that certain letters were either too high or too low along a line of text.  a bit frustrating to see on a new letter set, but with a file i was able to correct the complete set to a consistent location on their arbor.

The good news:  the strap and its letters looked great.

the words for crisp and straight and ready for finishing.

i used a number of products to complete the look:

1) i beveled the edges

2) i burnished the edges

3) i applied neatsfoot oil to return the suppleness and flex into the leather

4) i used black dye for depth of color

5) i added acrylic for the smooth gloss of the edges and to blend any irregularities

6) i finished the strap with resolene for that luster.

the strap looks great.  all the feel that is ideal to the touch and the rivet and sewing along the added strap body give it a look that is a vast improvement from the prior monogrammed straps.  it is a real upgrade from the basic version offered before.

It’s now cleaner looking, repeatable and larger.

—matthew rogers

Thank you Tommy Ogle for the opportunity to give your strap this upgrade and to have the opportunity to perfect a little more of our methods here at Wallpusher Guitars.  I am genuinely happy to have the opportunity to offer this level of attention.  Thank you all for being a part of the Wallpusher family and the journey we are on.  We are so excited about our new ideas here.  til next time.

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