A leather craft build w/ Aegis Steamcraft Created by professor on 3/18/2013 8:09:37 PM
Professor V spends some time with Aegis Steamcraft and embarks on the beginning of an epic leather craft build.
It was a sunny day when the I travelled to the home and workshop of Matt Brown aka Daecon Aegis of Aegis Steamcraft. Matt was about to start a new special project and he was willing to let me watch it from the start. I decided this was a wonderful opportunity to show other makers how a project gets started. Matt is an enthuiastic designer and maker. This particular piece is an armot set that he will use as a showcase of his work so that potential patrons can know the range of his work. He made it clear that this was literally the beginnings of the piece and that there would be more opportunities to see the piece come together over time.
When I arrived, Matt was sitting at his cutting and assembly table unwrapping the first piece. It was the breastplate component of the armor. He had already molded it and it was ready for the next step. But before he did that, he wanted to show me how he had gotten the breast plate created by showing me how he was doing the back counterpart to it. He reached underneath his bench and took a large piece of leather that he had already cut into a rectangle of approximate side. He soaked the leather in a large bucket of lukewarm water.
Matt explained that you soak the leather to make it more supple and malleable when you place it on the mold. In general, you leave it in about 20 minutes or until it stops bubbling. You can actually see the bubbles rising to the surface as it soaks. Once you have the leather good and soaked, you take it out and lay it on your mold. In his case, he had a male torso. He laid the much larger leather on top of the mold and started trimming it down so that it was only mildly larger. Then he used his hands to squeeze the leather onto the mold to make it fit as tightly as possible and to get rid of any air pockets that might be present.
Once the initial setting of the leather is done, Matt took a roll of plastic wrap and stretched it tightly as he wound it around the entire piece to bind the leather tightly to the model. As the leather dries, it will make an exceptional fit to the mold.
Matt then set the back piece aside and returned to the breastplate. There was some slight puckering at the edges near the pectorals. He decided to get rid of that by cutting a small sliver out at the crease and then using a dremel tool to drill eyelets on both sides.He then used something called a saddle stitch to tie it up.
The finished stitch alleviates the stich and also leaves a very nice looking embellishment on the armor.
We took a short break for refreshments and chatted a bit. I took this opportunity to chat with Matt about his take on leather working in general. Matt strongly urges everyone with any interest to give it a shot. “One of the reasons I wanted to show you this new build was to show you how relatively easy it is to make some really good pieces without having to invest in tons of expensive equipment. Yeah, my workshop has easily seven grand of equipment but we aren’t using any of that stuff for this build. There is probably $70 worth of leather involved and you can get by with maybe easily less than $100 for the tools and the rest of the components. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The other reasons I’m doing this build is that this is the first time I’ve combined all the various techniques that I’m using on one piece. I want to see the final product just as much as any potential customer might.” I originally scoffed at his comment thinking that he had discounted all the years of work he had put into leatherworking but he managed to shock me into silence by stating that he had only been doing leather work for about 2 years. “Except for some leather work that I did as a boy scout, the first time I did any leather work was about 2 years ago. My first convention with product was the 2012 AnachroCon. So yeah, I think anyone can get pretty good at this if they are dedicated” Yes, I was quite impressed. While examining a few finished pieces lying on his workbench, I commented about the visual quality that the pieces had. Matt responded “I like to put the finishing touches to all my work. I always do the edging and I line all my bracers.” Let me tell you its noticeably as well. Matt indulged my curiosity and decided to show me the tricks of the trade that he uses to do that. “First you use a small device often called an edger to remove the corner on the edge of the leather. The size and type edger used is dictated by leather thickness and persona preference regarding the final profile of the edge. I have three different size edgers and that works for what I do.” I watched as he smooothly ran the edger around the breast place and generated small strips of leather scrap. the final edge was much smoother than the original. But he wasn’t done yet.
“Now to really put that nice finished edge on there, you need to use a burnishing tool. “ Matt explained that the the burnisher was just a piece of wood with cut and polished grooves in it. You simply ran the burnisher along the edge of the leather a few times and it quickly made for a smooth edge. But you’ll want to have the piece dyed first as its moist then and you get a better burnish.” I had a chance to feel both the unfinished and burnished leather and the difference was astonished. Matt chuckled and said “And there is another neat trick that you can use with the burnisher to REALLY raise the bar on the quality of the finished edge.” He took out a second burnisher that was wrapped with a piece of denim. “This one has been dipped in melted beeswax. The wax has been allowed to dry. You just use it on the leather after the first burnisher. As smooth as the first burnisher pass has been, the beeswax burnisher was even smoother. Matt’s attention to detail and finish is what puts his work in the upper eschelon of leather works in my opinion. Matt is a bit more humble about it. “There are plenty of folks out there doing great stuff. Skins and Hydes. Thomas Wileford. All do some great stuff. And they all have different styles. In some cases its obvious that some work is better than others. In other cases, its just that the styles are different. I personally want all my work to be known for its attention to detail and finish. And I think that gives my stuff a distinctive look.”
We both returned to the breast plate at the workbench and Matt prepared to do the actual dying of that piece. He showed me that he purchased dye in large amonts but that he usually poured only about 4 ounces into a small bottle to do the actual dying of a piece. It was easier to work with the smaller container. A small dispoal cotton applicator was used. I noticed that he bought them in large bags of a few dozen or so. He carefully dipped the applicator into the container of dye and then started at the middle of the breastplate. He provided running commentary on his process. “You don’t want to let the dye make runs down the leather so you keep swabbing it back and prevent the streaks. You’ll usually do two coats for a leather this thick but sometimes more or less depending on how well it dries.” It didn’t take more than a few minutes for him to have covered the entire chest piece. It was rich mahogonay color. He applied a second coat in some areas. “See how its not a truely consistent color all the way through? That gives the piece character and its closer to what historical pieces might look like.”
After letting the piece dry for a few minutes and then brought out some chemicals called TandyCoat. “Before you let it dry completely, you’ll want to add a finsher. The Tandycoast is ooze type substance that you apply to the piece. Then wait a few seconds and just wipe it off. I must admit that it did remind me of something that might have come out of a runny nose. And application of it didn’t do anything to change that belieff. BUT, once it was wiped off, you could see how it had really made the color pop. After he finished the entire piece, Matt brought it out into the sun so we could get a good look at it.
“It’ll take a good long time to completely dry. Probably overnight. And that color will just get better and better.” I have to agree. “I’ll add some trim along the edges of this piece. and the back. And I’ve got some other small pieces that I will attach as well. It’ll really get that Steampunk look. Matt promised to invite me back out when he is ready to work on the armor some more. And I promise to take more pictures to share with the readers of the Steampunk Chronicle when I do.
Professor V is the living embodiment of a Chaos Field. In his general vicinity, the unexpected and inexplicablle manifests on a regular basis. This presents a wonderful opportunity to study such phenomena in detail as long as one takes the necessary precautions and brings a bottle of Scotch to distract him. He has held numerous teaching positions at various universities in the Metro Atlanta area and currently serves as a consultant to the government on Scientific Computing. His interests include spiritual enlightenment supervision, celebratory event coordination, custom beverage design and of course chaos field management.