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Category Archives: Philosophy

The Calming Effect of the Woods

bark of a large tree in the woods

One of the most incredible parts of moving the workshop up to the Pacific Northwest is of course – being closer to nature. Being surrounded by forests gives the opportunity to escape out on a hike during a break or after the workday ends.

single tree in the woods

I really don’t know of anything else that has a more calming effect than walking through the woods. Maybe it’s the quiet, or the green, or smell of damp soil. What ever it is that’s out there has the same effect on me every time.

fall color explosion in the woods

Even after a stressful day (yep leatherworkers have those too sometimes!), a walk through these woods will put the mind at ease. I think that was the hardest part about living in the Southwest for several years – it’s getting crowded down there and you have to travel further and further to get out into the peaceful outdoors. I think a lot of people get used to that and may not realize how incredible it is to be out on a quiet trail, whether in the desert, mountains, forest or coast.

calm ferns growing ona treeIt’s also nice to stop more often on a hike and try to take a closer look at what’s around me. There’s a lot of life out here growing on every imaginable inch. The closer you look, the more you see.

path through the wods in the pacific northwestWe are currently approaching the holiday season here in the U.S. and all I can say is – if you can, try to get out onto a quiet trail whenever you can. It’s the best medicine for the mind and it’ll reset you in a way that nothing else can.

pacific northwest forest

 

mushroom varieties in the pacific northwest

still lake at sunset in the forest

fall leaves color changing

glass smooth lake in the fall

ducks swimming in a small lake in the forest

A Look Back at 2017

I kind of like this time of year. The holiday order rush has dwindled, the New Year is upon us, and there’s finally a bit of time to sit back and reflect over the happenings of this past year. It’s interesting how the feeling of today will vastly differentiate itself from that of tomorrow, Jan. 1 2018. A single day change, and suddenly we will all be off to the races to improve, modify and hopefully make our lives better in more ways. I too am like this, and admittedly I too also falter on quite a few of those changes after a few weeks! That said, I think change should be thought of more as a continual process that has no beginning date or end date. Just a constant modification to improve our lives and those of others as well.

Alright – that’s enough philosophical rambling for now, so here’s a peek at the actual changes in the workshop this past year:

New Designs

The most obvious thing to start with are the new leather goods designs created this past year. I initially spent a significant amount of time looking into stitching a line of bags, even came out with one design for a few weeks as a test sale. Alas – I decided I am not quite yet ready to stray from my trusty rivets.

I still do like that design above, perhaps it’ll reappear at some point in the future. After that bag, came a whole slew of new ones here:

A few new wallets and accessories were built:

Even a few updated designs for the ladies, with a snap closure for the Tote, and anew handbag:

Then I decided to make an entire line for gear suited for all your doggies. This involved months of research into the best type of leather and hardware to be used on items that will undoubtedly see extremely rough treatment. It turns out, U.S. Latigo leather (highly resistant to weather and wear) and a new style of solid drilled brass rivet (near impossible to separate without ungodly amounts of force), and stainless steel hardware (the toughest you can get), all make for fine quality collars and leashes built to last:

A lot was learned in running my small workshop as a business this year. Namely – you really can’t sit back and just enjoy the spot you’re at too much. I mean you can, but as a business owner you really need to keep innovating and pushing the load uphill. If you relax too much, that load will push back on you and run ya over! Each year I learn little lessons like that, this year the lesson was, simply put, today’s world changes incredibly fast. Marketplaces can change from one month to the next so you got to be on your toes and change with it!

Another thing I learned is that running a business can be all-consuming. It’ll eat up all your time if you let it. Truth is, there is always something to be doing or working on next. For the next year I aim to come to peace with that and know that at the same time, it all doesn’t have to be done right now. Perhaps some gets done after a nice long walk, or after a full weekend has been spent with the computer off, or maybe sometimes that work will wait until after a short trip through the desert with my backpack.

Trips and R&R

Speaking of which, quite a few fun trips were made this year:

Backpacking into the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho for the Total Eclipse

A bit of Oregon and its endless beauty.

And a lot of Desert, to quench the soul’s need for some peace and quiet.

Tutorials

The year before I may have over-promised on my ability to post many more tutorials for y’all. As it turns out it takes a long time to build a tutorial for the site that I feel merits sharing with everyone. Ever notice how on other tutorial sites here and there, the stuff is shoddily built, corners are cut, or it’s just not a product made to last? Well, I only post techniques and builds that I am proud of and of sufficient quality. This means that for some things it can take over a month for me to finish. Heck, I don’t usually have all the skills myself to complete the project, but it is certainly worth taking the time to learn the new skill and build it the right way, so that you can have a handmade item for a long time to come. Here are a few from this year:

Well, ok this one above was technically from the very end of last year, but it’s worth posting up here. The Leather Keychain Tutorial.

I’m not sure this one above counts completely, but there’s some good info in there. I hand stamped a leather belt with a scene from the desert. I have worn it every day since. Stamped Leather Belt.

I know there wont be too many people with a need to make the above western style gun holster, but for me I have been working on some items to use as decoration in the shop. In the above tutorial quite a few new skills are passed on to you the reader. In-depth saddle stitching included. Leather Gun Holster Tutorial.

Sneak Peak

Coming into the new year I am working on some new moccasins to keep my feet warm. Now, technically I started these an entire year ago and gave up due to several technical complications. Well, I am happy to say that I finally figure out a way around those issues and have the right foot down below. I am photographing the entire process of making the left foot, so it will be a tutorial on the site within a few weeks time.

As for a look into what’s to come next year, well a lot really! I am planning a ton of new items for the shop. Look forward to several new wallets and accessories and perhaps even a few more bags too. I have quite a few in the works, so keep an eye out. Also – for those who enjoy the tutorial section of my blog, I will have a couple more scattered throughout the year depending on the time I have for it. Something even bigger may be happening this year, as once again I am looking into moving the workshop. Greener pastures await!

Thank you to all my readers out there and those of you who spent your hard earned cash on my leather goods. As a very very small business I truly appreciate you and your support, I wouldn’t be able to do it without ya!

Cheers to all of you in the New Year and good luck to you in your endeavors!

Sincerely,

Mr. Lentz

7 Tips on Finding the Best Leather Wallet

how to find the best leather wallet

For seven years now I have been working with leather and creating rustic and durable leather wallets. I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t and I’m about to impart some of that information on you my friend! In the world of wallet making you should know that there are a lot of corners manufacturers can cut to save on cost, I’ll point out the most obvious ones for you here.

Type of Leather

If you follow my blog, or have read a lot of my product descriptions you will see that I push the term Full-Grain Vegetable-Tanned leather a lot. I cannot stress how important it is to buy a leather wallet that is made from this style of leather tanning. It is undoubtedly the strongest form of leather a wallet maker can use for at least two reasons.

First, Full-Grain means that the section of leather being used is the outermost layer of the cow’s hide. This is the surface layer and is extremely densely packed with fibers, so much so – that it is practically indestructible. This is the only layer of leather that will still contain original scars from the cow’s lifetime. It’s the layer that helped that cow weather storms and lay on tough ground its whole life. This is the most expensive layer of leather a maker can buy due to its toughness. A lot of manufacturers will go down a grade to ‘Top-Grain’ for two reasons: it is much cheaper, and all of those imperfections and scars have been sandblasted smooth. What the buyer should know, is that ‘Top-Grain’ leather has much looser fibers and will shed, deteriorate and wear through fairly quickly.  Here’s another post I wrote on leather types.

Second, Vegetable-Tanned leather is the way in which the hide has been treated and preserved for use in leather goods. Vegetable Tanning is an ancient natural process of soaking hides in pools of water with tree barks. The natural tannins help to preserve the leather without compromising the strength of the leather fibers. That basically means that your leather product may start out slightly firmer, but will break-in very quickly and soften up as the fibers relax and stretch. Vegetable Tanning takes quite a bit longer than other chemically induced processes and as such…costs more. A lot of manufacturers will choose to use a much cheaper tanned leather instead called ‘Chrome Tanned’ or even ‘Genuine Leather’ or ‘Bonded Leather’. It’s as bad as it sounds, harsh chemicals and all! The chemicals in chrome tanning actually help to break down the fibers in the hide allowing the leather a softer supple feel from the beginning. While customers love that feeling of soft leather, what they don’t realize is that since the fibers were broken down unnaturally…the product will not last that long and tend to wear through much more quickly – as well it’s fairly bad for the environment! Plus – chrome tanned leather will not patina nicely and age with use. Genuine Leather or Bonded Leather, is basically just finely ground up scraps of leather pressed into large industrial sheets using glue. Again, it’s cheap and it’ll fall apart!

finding the best leather wallets

Style of Construction

The vast majority of wallets out there are stitched together. I will admit, I do like the look of a nice stitch job. There are two things to note about that though: how was it stitched, and well…stitching always wears out at some point. Most stitch wallets are manufactured using leather sewing machines and this can be a big hidden problem for the customer. Sewing machines use what is called a ‘Lock Stitch’ and without getting too technical I will just say this: if one thread breaks on a lock stitched wallet…the entire wallet will unravel quickly. Hand stitching is much better than a machine but you still have to consider the tragic flaw of thread being used on a leather item that gets heavily abused. Have you ever had a wallet where the thread broke? So have I and pretty much everyone else I have ever encountered. That’s why I started designing riveted wallets. By the time that rivet wears through… you’d probably be 450 years old! Seriously though, a wallet is the most worn and beaten up leather item a person will own. It needs to be built with  materials that wont wear out. So, you decide – would you like metal or thread to hold it together?

Quality of Materials

We already touched on the types of leather, but how about where that leather came from? And how about any hardware used with it like rivets, snaps, grommets, chains, clips? Where the leather comes from plays in as a huge factor as far as quality goes. There are thousands of tanning companies across the globe…and most of them are not doing such a great job. The local cows could be malnourished and produce poor hides, local regulation might be too loose for environmentally sound tanning, the cuts of leather and coatings on it will vary drastically from batch to batch…it’s a giant crapshoot. I personally only source from one U.S. tannery that’s been in the business for more than a century now. It costs quite a bit more but they make very well tanned hides from U.S. cattle.

The hardware used on wallets is very important too. Leather does not respond well to rusting items and as such you should only choose wallets made with solid brass or stainless steel hardware. Solid brass currently is a bit pricey, but well worth it in the longrun. Many other manufacturers will cut corners there and use cheap metal alloys. It might look nice for the first few months….

made in the USA

Location of Construction

In general I like to always push people to support their local makers from their own country. I mean why not? The money stays in the local economy and benefits everyone. There’s another reason though and I will admit that I am a bit biased here – for most countries in the world it is hard to get their hands on American materials and hardware, which are known to cost more and be of a higher standard in general. Also – who is making that wallet anyways? In today’s world it’s easy to pass off a wallet as being made from a local maker in another country…but if you dig into their site, blog, social media…is that really the case? Large manufacturers are using marketing techniques to pass off mass produced items as being handmade by small shops, surprise surprise!

Maker Warranty

Does the maker behind the wallet you want offer a good warranty for fixing it down the road? Lots of things can happen to that wallet, and sometimes there’s a defective piece of leather or hardware – will they replace or repair it? You want to find a maker that stands behind their work and is in it for the longrun. All warranties are not created equal though – keep in mind how big or small the shop is. Some makers that are very small and treat wallet making as a hobby can give great personalized customer service in cases like this…but will they still be around 5 to 10 years from now if you need some repair work done?

Small Shops vs. Big Box Stores

Kind of a continuation of the last section, you will need to keep in mind how little or big the shop is that you are buying from. The pertains to the warranty, but also to the customer service you are likely to receive. Very large stores typically have great 30 day + return policies, but after that you are on your own. They also tend to only sell mass produced items that have many corners cut to save on cost. Buyer beware! Then you have the very little guys just making as a hobby. Again – great customer service, probably good warranties, but will they be around to help you out in the next 5 to 10 years? A small to medium sized maker will be more established to follow through on their warranty and typically they still have the time to offer great customer service.

How Minimal Can You Go

It comes down to what do you really need to carry? Over the years I have pared down the items in my wallet to only the cards I actually use, a small stack of cash and a few random receipts that tend to float around for months at a time. For me – I found that carrying too much was very uncomfortable. I used to put my old wallet in my back pocket and sit on it with lots of cards, ID cards, cash, etc.. I think chiropractors love meeting patients like that. When you slim the contents of your wallet down, you can also use a simpler wallet…and you can put that wallet in your front pocket without the bulge. Most of my wallets are designed to do this quite easily. I reduced the number of ‘pockets’ and put in card slots to help save on thickness. In the end everyone is different, but make sure to make that decision of which style you need after you have pared down your own items.

Summary

In the end there are a million manufacturers of wallets, most of them cutting corners to provide a dirt cheap piece of leather that will ultimately wear out and break on you after a year or two. Usually cheap ain’t the best option, and in the longrun it usually isn’t cheap since you tend to have to re-purchase more often. Make sure to choose a wallet from a maker who knows how to find good quality Full-Grain Vegetable-Tanned leather, solid brass hardware and a construction technique that will last through the beating a wallet takes. Find a maker who stands behind their work with a warranty for repair and make sure to find one that will be in it for the longrun. Lastly, pare down what you actually need to carry, and then you can use a better designed wallet that will be much slimmer and easier to carry.

If you need a starting point, you can take a look at my online shop here, and please feel free to ask questions in the comment section below, or email me!

What is the best leather for a wallet?

full grain vegetable tanned leather for wallets

When looking for a quality leather product such as a wallet, it’s important to have a little bit of understanding about the types of leather and what to look for. The question I get a lot in emails each week goes something like this:

Hey Mr. Lentz, What is the best leather for a wallet, there seem to be so many makers and just as many leather types?

Well, this question happens to be plain and simple: Full Grain Vegetable Tanned Leather from U.S. cows happens to be the best leather your money can buy…and hold, in a wallet. Of course an important thing to note: I use only Full-Grain Vegetable Tanned Leather in all my leather goods in my shop.

Here’s a breakdown of why that is:

Full Grain is a term used to describe the layer of hide used. Full Grain is the outermost layer comprised of the tightest-packed layers of fibers. This extreme density of fibers is what helped that cow weather storms, bump against a barbed wire fence, scratch itself on a rock and get bitten by a mosquito or two. It’s tough and the beauty of it is that this type of leather will show these markings as subtle scars and variations in color. The Full Grain hide will not have a perfect uniform look since it was sculpted by a lifetime out on the range.

full grain leather illustration
Here’s a handy little illustration of where Full Grain Leather comes from.

full grain leather
This is a cross-section photo of my belt leather. It’s as close as I could get, but you can see the different layers in action. That nice thin line at the top is the most tightly packed layers of fibers and it’s what gives Full Grain Leather its strength.

full grain leather flesh side
The image above is the back side of my belt leather. I tried to get in close so you can get a glimpse of the billions of fibers of leather that are naturally interwoven.

Most people have not ever experienced Full-Grain leather, as it is harder to work with and work around. Most mass-produced consumer goods use either Top Grain (which is leather that has the outermost layers sanded off, thus removing any blemishes and scars – but it also takes off the durable outer layer), or they use ‘Genuine’ (the flimsy inner part of the hide) or ‘Bonded’ leather (which is basically just leather scraps finely ground into a dust, then re-glued into large thin sheets, a very cheap way to make leather products but they tend not to last long).

Vegetable Tanned simply means that the cowhide was put through a tanning process to preserve it using vegetable matter – typically oak and other tree bark. It’s a fairly natural form of tanning that has been around for hundreds of years. A wallet, bag, belt, or shoe made with vegetable tanned leather will need to be broken in over time to help the leather stretch and relax into shape. This is much different than other types of leathers that cheat the process with chemical solutions that actually break the leather fibers, causing them to feel soft. A typical culprit is ‘chrome tanned leather’ (using toxic chromium salts the fibers are broken and thus feel soft, but at the expense of the item being much less durable). The great part about Vegetable Tanned leather is that it ages like no other. It will react to its surroundings while you use it, darkening in color and polishing up nicely. Vegetable Tanned leather is known for that beautiful aged patina you see in heavily used leather goods. Just take a look at the one of my customer photos below:

leather wallet vegetable tanned patina

Cowhide happens to be the strongest type of leather for use in wallets, bags, belts and shoes due to the uniquely and extremely tight-packed fibers in the skin of the cow. The reason U.S. cowhide is the best is simply due to the care standards and nutritional regimen we have here in the U.S. Plainly put – we feed cows well and they live a simple life in relatively safe and managed areas as compared to other countries. As a side note – U.S. cowhide is only a byproduct of the U.S. meat industry and no cows are raised just for their hides, they are raised for their meat – plain and simple. Ranchers would lose a ton of money if they raised cows for leather. The hides would generally be thrown out if not for the demand in the leather industry.

 

So how does this all come together for being the best type for a wallet? Well,  when buying a wallet from my workshop – you are getting consistent quality with U.S. cowhide, the highest level of strength and durability with Full Grain, and the absolute beauty of a well used and nicely aged Vegetable Tanned leather. As the ol’ saying goes – buy nice or buy twice!

If you enjoyed learning a bit more about this unique leather type, you may also be interested in checking out all of the goods in my shop. Head on over to have a look!

Featured Seller Interview

Etsy Featured Seller - Mr. Lentz

Big news for this week – I am now an Etsy Featured Seller. It took me a good 5 years and a lot of hard work, and now they consider me one of the best of the best shops due to quality and service! There is a full interview for the posting located here. Go on and check it out, it’ll give a bit more insight into how I started this whole thing. I can tell you from hindsight – it ain’t as easy as it might seem in the interview! For all those aspiring makers out there, keep on keepin on and keep creating. We are now living in a world where we can easily distract ourselves every second of every day. It’s too easy to take the lazy route and watch a movie, cruise through social media, text friends…but at the end of the day what do you really have to show for it? Etsy Featured Seller - Mr. Lentz
Making things is fulfilling in its own right. Just taking on the process of getting good at something you never thought you could do – that’s an accomplishment that feels great for a long time. For me it all started with my first blog post, you can read that here. If you have days of nothing to do – my entire journey has been laid out to follow through this blog for your reading pleasure…or boredom – ha!
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Have you started making things recently? Comment below on your adventures:

A Vast and Empty Space

BackPackJTree03__0024The Desert is a vast and empty space, capable of absorbing all thought going in and expelling the visitor with a mindless sense of calm. It stretches its broad and parched plains outward in all directions, seemingly without end. Silence prevails here, not a drop nor tweet nor howl of the wind. A silence so stark the heartbeat can deafen. A silence broken only in the night by the packs of roaming coyotes out on their nightly prowl.

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The desert is a place I go to recapture my sense of primal humanity. Over the last year I have journeyed out into the arid lands once every few months. It clears out my thoughts, and reminds me of how incredible and serene the natural world truly is. Significant thoughts of a few days earlier become meaningless as I press on gaining miles and searching for spots to sleep before nightfall.

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BackPackJTree03__0001When backpacking, the basic daily needs of back-country life take over your focus, and all that is left are a few stray thoughts from your city life well beyond the horizon.

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In hiking through the wild, I try to step off the trail for at least half the journey. Breaking my own path narrows my focus down to only a few key thoughts: watch out for rattlers, keep track of time – pace – heading – and approximate position, dodge the thorny plants, keep an eye out 15 yards ahead for the best route through the brush, and find a spot to settle for the night out of the prevailing winds.

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When I head off the trail I typically get vast distances all to myself without a single person in sight. I generally pay for it though by having to work my way through unexpected obstacles not apparent on the map. A simple ridge descent can turn into a long and slippery slope sliding down loose rocks and having to push through thorny brush while keeping from going over either edge.

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But no complaint is ever made when campsites like those above are found. The views are endless. The night is quiet.

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I now travel fairly light. It helps in getting me further into the wild. Above is my entire cook kit. A light titanium mug, a tin foil lid, and beneath is a small container that holds a bit of 180 proof liquor used as fuel.

BackPackJTree03__0069As I have always said, try to take a break yourself and get out into nature. It’ll cure you of some of those city-borne ailments in no time.

 

A New Year, a New Horizon

SunriseTrail_0031

Well yet another year has come and gone and instead of taking a look back into the dust to see what was accomplished I thought I’d set my sights on the horizon this time. It’s best to travel forward and be inspired by what”s to come. Don’t get me wrong – the last year was full of huge and wonderful changes…but it’s this next one that I am looking forward to. Every year around this time I start to get quite a few ideas rattlin around my brain. I finally have some time after the Holiday rush of orders to settle back into a rhythm in the workshop and plan out the year ahead. How about some New Year’s Resolutions to kick off 2016:

Get outside more.

This includes just some of the simple pleasures like taking a nice walk on down to the workshop in the morning, perhaps as the sun is rising out over the foothills to the East.

Go further outside and closer to nature.

Over the last year or so I have been honing some of my backpacking skills and cutting down on gear and weights. Taking a few ultralight trips out into the deserts in the Eastern edges of California. Solo trips are the best and going light is a must, especially in the desert where you typically need to carry all of your water. This next year I plan to make quite a few more trips out into the sticks and take some photos along the way to share on here.

Acquire some new leatherworking skills.

I already have a head start on this one with my whipmaking adventure (see post here). In doing so I am learning a great deal about plaiting leather which can come in handy to create a whole different style of braided items. I am also looking into dragging my leather sewing machine out of storage to see if I can fire it up again and potentially add to the complexity of bag designs in the next year. I am all for rivets in my work, but there are a few applications that can benefit from the stitch. Anyhow -the idea is that the learning never stops and that’s probably the most fun part of working with your hands. Always something new to master.

Blog about things that inspire me.

This past year I focused a lot on building up my social media presence for the biz. It is a ton of work and very distracting The end result I find is that I post things that are of semi-importance without much real substance behind them. You know – photos taken just for that instagram post or a product shot to promote a new design on Facebook. In doing this I had neglected this blog, my photography and other artistic passions I used to pursue in favor of the quick and dirty social media post. Well, I am drawing the line right here and now. I aim to post right here on the blog first – about things that inspire me. If you dig deeper back into this blog site to my first posts you will get an idea of what I will be aiming for in the next year. Just a bit more pure unfettered artistic expression.

Try to stop answering customer emails after 9pm.

Ha! That’s a tough one because I never really feel that I am working now that I have found something I  love to do. Though any form of technology should probably be shut off for me around this time and instead – just grab a good ol’ fashioned book.

Take a few risks.

I am not sure what they are quite yet, but there are always plenty to choose from in a year. I like taking calculated ones, but sometimes you gotta just jump right into it and cross your fingers.

I hope all y’all have some things in mind to help guide you into the new year, feel free to share them in the comments below. It’s good to have a focus and some thoughts on how we can keep improving our lives. Just keep on traveling forward, the horizon will always be just in sight.

 

 

 

Always Learning, Always Experimenting

R0000142-2When making things by hand, I find that there’s always a challenge to overcome. Usually part of a process can be improved, quickened, and possibly even changed out altogether. It’s important to never stop learning your craft. I know I will never find perfection in the skill of leatherwork…but it doesn’t stop me from pursuing it. It’s just important to know that perfection cannot be achieved.  However it is possible to become more and more skilled in your craft over time though. In my spare time I find myself researching some of the same processes I am quite used to now – just looking for a different take on things to see if it sparks any new ideas. Up above is a rivet press of mine with an addon rivet hopper that I have not used yet. I haven’t quite found a reason to until recently and now it is taking me down a path of lots of research, questioning people on forums, calling up manufacturers, and watching videos. I want to learn this other way of riveting inside and out because…well I just enjoy the craft and want to master it. Leatherwork has so many possible paths you can follow, so much to learn – it’ll probably take a lifetime.

Be safe out there over the holidays, hopefully I can get another post in with an update on my whipmaking progress.

How to Build a Picnic Table

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As September fades back and the rest of the country prepares for the cool and refreshing fall winds… down here in the Desert Southwest we are just arriving at the beginning of our summer. It’s hot as hell right now, and there’s nothing better than eating outside on a handmade picnic table where at least the breeze can catch you.

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The yard has been a bit, um, a bit too dainty with this tiny blue petite folding table to act as our only source of outdoor comfort, so let’s dive on in to a simple picnic table build first featured on Popular Mechanics website, link here. I will be following the plans pretty closely, except for making the table and benches a bit longer. Let’s get on down to it.

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First off here’s all the hardware you will need: 12 of 3/8 carriage bolts, 12  of 3/8 nuts for the carriage blots, 24 washers for the carriage bolts, 6 of 3/8 lag screws and 6 washers for the lag screws. Then get a box of 3.5 inch exterior screws. There’s a number of different head types – I chose the phillips since that’s what I’m used to, though I am sure there is a reason they developed the star shaped head – maybe I will be lucky enough to find out why in a few minutes!

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For reference this is a carriage bolt.

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This is a lag screw.

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And this is a deck/exterior screw.

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For the wood I chose douglas fir or yellow pine. I think the 2x4s are yellow pine. Just get some cheap stuff that isn’t all warped. I spent a good 30 minutes checking out all my pieces and digging through the pile at Home Depot before I got a decent selection.

Continue reading

A Week’s Journey: The Desert Part 1

joshua-tree-wilderness_0100Out there lies an endless desert. Stretching to the horizon. The air crisp and dry. The sun steadily beating down all life. joshua-tree-wilderness_0092No real way to go but through the thorny brush. Dust rising on my trail, the wind picks up and I saunter onward. joshua-tree-wilderness_0111This is no land for man. Peak after lonely peak reveals the enormity of the path ahead.joshua-tree-wilderness_0138-2Careful foot placement avoids pain from below. Everything out here is sharp, protective and hostile – fighting for every last drop of life.joshua-tree-wilderness_0120At the end of the day, when the sun drops below the horizon and the scorching air makes peace with night a sense of comfort is found out here in the Southwestern Desert. Have a great weekend and remember to get out and enjoy some nature.

Magazine Feature – Cake & Whiskey

CakeWhiskey1_900The wonderfully crafted small business magazine Cake & Whiskey recently did a feature on my workshop with a full interview. I just finished reading through the rest of the magazine – it’s full of great stories of artisan entrepreneurs workin’ hard to build their businesses. Go check them out and sign up for a copy here, I just did. I have included a few short questions and answers from the interview below, but go on and check out the magazine for the full feature.mrlentz-portrait-maker-workshop_0085

Give us a walking-word-tour of your work space. Do you think it resembles that of a craftsman a century ago?

There is a lot to be said for keeping a simple, clean and efficient workspace. When I started out, I was horrible at putting tools away and being organized. Over time I have developed a few organizational skills that are key for keeping a good workflow going. My workshop has parts that are fairly typical of any leather workshop from 200 years ago. I have a solid workbench, a lot of basic hand tools used for cutting, carving, grooving, stitching, punching, pounding, stretching, clamping and much much more. I set this all up in front of a nice wide window so I can work in natural light for most of my day…I love it. A few advancements in the shop include a shipping station where I can easily sort and package up orders, a dyeing station, drying station, and lots and lots of shelving space for all kinds of little pieces I never knew I would need.

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In your line of work, where do you feel you have the most purpose? What are you most passionate about creating?

You know – I particularly enjoy creating tutorials for my blog and fellow readers. I love teaching the art of leather craft and my particular angle on it. It is an immense field full of a lifetime of learning. I feel like those new to leather are just so stunned at all the knowledge to be gained that they don’t know where to start. So – I make very simple and practical tutorials to get people up and running with very detailed photos of each process. If I had more time I would create 1 a week. I also love designing new goods for the shop. It is a long and fun creative process that can really be a good mind bender when trying to figure out the practicality of putting an idea onto paper and making it work in real life.

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You said in another interview that ‘you should always follow your passions.’ How have you found the magic of turning your passion into profit?

I think the magic of turning a passion into profit begins with believing in yourself, your idea, and not letting anything or anyone dissuade you or make you feel that it isn’t worth it. It really isn’t magic at all, I think the reality is that if you really want your passion to also work as a means for income…you are in for a lot of long hard work. During the startup process of my business and continuing today I spend a lot – almost all – of my free time – invested in my business. Unlike any other generic job…this actually doesn’t bother me one bit. Even on my days off I find myself back in the workshop tinkering with a new idea or making a gift for a friend. That’s where the passion comes in, nothing feels like work anymore.

mrlentz-portrait-maker-workshop_0182What’s most important to you about Mr. Lentz? 

Well, I would like my leather goods to make an impact on people and restructure how they carry their life. My goods are designed and meant to be minimalistic, thus allowing people to think about what they actually need to carry versus what they currently stuff into their wallets or bags. I enjoy the minimal ethic to a large degree, I think we could all benefit from pairing down our lives into simpler living and lifestyles. I think this is especially important as our society grows more complex and busy. Also – I would love for my blog to help inspire more people to make things with their hands. I can’t imagine how many incredible artists are out there just waiting to discover themselves, if only they would put down that smartphone or tablet and make something useful with their own bare hands.

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A Respite in the Desert

Every cowboy needs a few moments to collect his thoughts. So, this one went out deeper into the desert. A few miles into the wilderness area inside of Joshua Tree National Park, under a full moon. The wind whipped, cactus pricked and luckily the snake did not bit.

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The first camp was set up on a high ridge, miles from any trail and without the slightest hint of humanity in sight.

joshua-tree-wilderness_0040If you need a break from life, a chance to let all of your thoughts settle, consider planning a 3 day getaway to the desert, mountains, or plains. Get away from your daily habits and stressors. Even just 2 days out and you might even see a big change, go with it. joshua-tree-wilderness_0046The best way I have found to really get away and get some good solid nights of solitude is to hike out into a designated wilderness area. Get yourself few miles in and you may be the only person willing to make that extra effort and thus get the entire place to yourself. joshua-tree-wilderness_0128Make sure to bring the appropriate equipment for wherever you end up…but don’t take too much – it’ll just slow you down. Out here in the desert all I really needed (but did bring more) was a sleeping pad and bag, some grub, and about a gallon of water per day out. That’s as minimal as you can get and it would allow me to hike even deeper into the desert. joshua-tree-wilderness_0138

Working Leather The Old Fashioned Way

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I prefer to work with leather the old fashioned way. Starting with a nice large side of Full-Grain, Vegetable Tanned leather – which I then dye by hand. I make several passes with the dye, standing back to take a long look at the resulting color, then applying more as needed. The dye I use, I make myself…just as the earliest leatherworkers used to do. It is made entirely from vegetable matter and is non-toxic…that means I don’t need gloves and I can get my hands dirty – just the way it ought to be. Doing it all from scratch, and doing it all by hand takes longer, it’s quite a bit more work – but the results are worth it and I love every step of the way. Above I am hanging and inspecting a freshly dyed side, soon to be cut into wallets, cases and much more. Gotta love the smell of 24 square feet of leather!

How to Make a Simple Cutting Board, Step by Step

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This is possibly the most minimal and simple cutting board you can make with the least amount of tools and know-how. Before I get to the tutorial, let me begin with the story on how it all started. About a year and a half ago I returned from my journey through Central and South America with a nice lil’ gal. We happened to return 1 month before Christmas and thus were expected to give eachother a fine present in traditional American style. Now – I have a tendency not to go along with societal expectations, but rather do what I feel is right…and something about Christmas never really felt right. The expectation of buying some electronic gadget, or fancy clothing, or other general meaningless knickknack – didn’t really seem genuine. In the end it usually adds up into an ‘arms race’ of families and friends spending more and more every year. If you go back and give less one year – our society has taught us to notice that and put a feeling of shame on it. And what happens to all of that junk in the end? I think most of it goes into storage units, attics, closets, and landfills.

Well I had had enough of that and decided to start something new. The new rule, halfheartedly yet optimistically agreed to by my girlfriend – that nice lil’ gal that she is, was that we were to make something by hand for eachother for every major gift giving occasion. Over the past year or so this has proven to be quite the challenge…as a handmade gift takes much much longer to give/make than one bought online. (Our last Christmas gifts were finally presented to eachother this June!) Both of us are learning that in order to create certain things – new skills need to be acquired and knowledge of certain tools needs to be gained. Every gift we have made so far has so much meaning and thought behind it as well as a boatload of memories of how much we screwed up while making them. It is a lot of fun and I would recommend it to everyone out there looking to make life a bit more interesting. So far on the list – a wood and glass night light, a leather purse, a tree stump drill bit holder, fine art drawings, wood and steel noteboards, and a walnut pencil, oh and this cutting board below…now let’s get on down to it.

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I went to my local hardwood store, not the big name brand places…but a smaller guy with a huge selection of many species not normally seen anywhere near a Home Depot. I looked over every board of Walnut, my favorite due to it’s darker color and nice grain patterns. It’s important to look down the long edges of the board to see how straight it is. The straighter from the get go…the easier it will be to work with. No board is perfect, but it’s best to get one that’s close. I chose this piece because it was pretty straight, and also it had a nice light color near both edges, with a dark contrast in the center.

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The board itself was about 10 feet long and about 1 inch thick – so it was a little unruly getting it strapped onto the car in gusty winds…and luckily it didn’t rip my roof racks right off. At home I clamped it to a pair of saw horses to prepare for the first cut.

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Looking over the wood I decided what section I wanted to be the cutting board based on the pattern and knots. In a cutting board you can have the knots in it for show, but it may cause trouble down the line when that board gets wet and dries several times. The knot could pop out. I liked this knot a lot though so I decided to make a small cheese board out of that section and use a clearer section for the cutting board.

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I used a square to mark the cross cut of the first piece – later to become the cheese board.cuttingboard_0021

Once the cheeseboard section was cut, I measured out the length needed for the cutting board. I did this more by feel – eyeballing it to see what dimensions looked best. I then marked the crosscut with a square and sawed away.

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On the tablesaw I made a ripcut (length of the board) to get the cheese board width down to size. You can also do this with a handsaw and a bit of sweat. Shown above and in the next two photos is the cross cut for the cheese board to get the length right. I held the board up against the miter gauge to slide it into the saw. In general it is safer to use a crosscut sled for this part…but again these cuts can all be done by hand with a handsaw.

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Once both pieces were cut down to size, I then had to take care of the rough edges  that came with the board as well as those from the table saw.

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The fancy way of smoothing out a rough edge is to use a router table like a jointer with the bit on the left. The simple way with a bit more work is to use a hand plane or even just sand the heck out of it for a while. Since I am into learning new tools and techniques I finally set up my router table and easily fed the boards through, cleaning up all edges in seconds. In the photo below you can see a divot on the top board where the tail end of it fell into the bit too much. I need to do a bit more research to figure out why. The next bit on the right above, it to cut 45 degree angles into the corners of the boards, giving it a nice bevel and protecting the edges from splintering with heavy use.

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I hate hand sanding, it is slow and monotonous…that’s why I acquired this electric hand sander which makes it easy, fast and fun. The sander hooks into a vacuum so there is virtually no dust at all. I used a 120 grit initially to sand out any major markings in the wood, then switched to 320 grit for smoothness. Again this can all be done by hand with the basic sheets of sand paper…but you may regret your sweaty pits.

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For a little custom touch I used a wood burning tool and personalized the boards. It’s always the small things that make handmade goods priceless. If you do anything like this – make sure to protect the wood while in a vice, by putting a soft cloth between the wood and metal.

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At this point I wet the wood on all sides to raise the grain. I then dried it quickly with a heat gun. Raising the grain allows you to re-sand everything back down to a super smooth surface. This is very important on a cutting board that will get wet – as you want it to stay as smooth as possible afterwards.

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After re-sanding everything I applied a healthy coat of all natural walnut oil with a soft cloth.

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This is always my favorite part for the reason seen above.

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Here’s a great brand of walnut oil. After applying I let it sit for a day to soak in and dry out.

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I then took and objective look at both pieces and realized that something was wrong. They were too straight and uniform looking. I needed to add more of a handmade touch. I decided a good way to do this was to add a subtle angle into the edge of one side of each piece. For this I used a hand plane and it was easy work. You can also use a piece of sandpaper attached to a wood block. For the cutting board – I didn’t make this angle go too far in so as not to disturb the practical useability of the board.

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The cutting board needed something more. Again the straight edges bothered me. I think this is a result of using a machine to cut/smooth out the edges versus a handsaw and sandpaper. With machines you get almost perfect looking pieces. To stray from that I decided to add in a natural looking corner using a coping saw. by using a coping saw I was assured that I would not be able to cut in a straight line and the cut may look more natural.

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After doing this I had a slight heart attack. It was a big move and on a nearly finished piece, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted it after I did it – but it was too late.

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In my drill press I put a cylindrical sanding bit in place and used it to tidy up the cut corner.

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To create a bevel on the cut corner I used this mini plane…which did nothing but rough up the edge…so I stopped using it. Sanding worked fine at this point and once I was done sanding it all down I decided the heart-attack-causing cut grew on me and I was happy with it.

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As a final step I used a walnut oil, beeswax and carnauba wax mixture to coat the entire sides of both boards. This brand is food safe and looks great when it is all rubbed in.

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On hindsight – I don’t think the wax is entirely necessary as it feels like it washed off within a fe uses. The oil however is very important to protect the wood in the long term. You should re-apply every month or two to keep the wood from warping or cracking.

walnut-wood-cutting-boardcuttingboard_0210I hope you enjoyed this simple tutorial on how to make a cutting board. I have quite a few other how-to articles and tutorials on this site, so check around.

Let me know waht you think and if you have any questions in the comment box below.

Land of Rain is a Land of Green

Portland_0006The storm arrived as soon as our plane touched down. It was 80 and sunny the day before, it will be 80 and sunny the day after we leave…but for the five days in Portland it will be cloudy cool and a bit of a downpour. That’s certainly ok with me, because seeing Portland in any other way would seem, well…a bit unnatural.

Portland_0016This place gets rain and it gets green, very green. Especially to a Cowboy living in the arid Deserts of the Southwest. By the third hour my eyeballs were bleeding, green. I became green blind. The last year and a half in the desert has sucked every last memory of green from my brain. I have been left with only the idea of green as a word with a definition and one that appeals to me: pleasantly alluring. One that has pleasantly lured me to the Pacific Northwest.

Portland_0019Portland_0026The trip to Portland was indeed to find green as well as to find more spectacular plant life than the tumbleweed and cactus. Though they tend to expose their own unique beauty, especially when not oft encountered. Portland has always been a city of mystery to me, one that I have wanted to explore for the past 8 years or so. There are a lot of incredible makers up there making a lot of fine work.

Portland_0058I get the feeling that this town may hold one of the largest populations of artists in relation to its size than any other town in the U.S. Could this be a side effect of the weather, or the inspiration of all the nature that surrounds it?

Portland_0060Portland_0068In my travels I have repeatedly found that nature inspires me, it frees my brain, lets me think. The busy-ness of our man-made world ends at the beginning of the trailhead. It disappears at the cliff’s edge, it sinks deep into the lake, no longer disturbing us. Nature is where our minds belong, at least its where mine does.

Portland_0104Several months ago I wrote about a trip I took to the mountains of Colorado. The point is that you should always take time to get out and get away from your daily work to let your brain breathe. A funny thing happens after a short time away. Getting out of your normal routine gives you space to think and be creative (this also includes turning off that phone). Just be.

Portland_0108Portland_0109Portland_0142Portland_0240Portland_0262After spending quite a bit of time in the green forests around Portland, the beach was next.

Portland_0180The coastline of this part of the country only looks good to me on a nice cloudy, dark and windy day. It just fits with the moods evoked from this ocean, the large rocky cliffs that dive into it and the crashing waves that bury it.

Portland_0193Portland_0181Portland_0158Go bury yourself in some nature and see what becomes of it. You never know what that creative side will do when you let it free.

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