Step 1: Materials
Leather Use 6-ounce vegetable tanned leather for this project. Finding sources for leather can be tricky, you can find that Leather Mio can be a great resource for small projects like this one.
Glue There are dedicated glues for working with leather, but we recommend also E6000. It does a good job of bonding leather, and you can purchase it at many craft stores and home improvement stores for half the cost of commercial leather glues. It’s also a flexible adhesive, which means that it will bend and flex with the leather, helping your phone case last longer.
Leather Finish For this project, you can use neatsfoot oil to seal and protect the leather. They are easy to apply, look nice, and are easy to keep up as all you have to do is wipe on some more oil if your finish starts to wear thin.
Gum Tragacanth This substance is used to slick and seal the edges of the leather. You can use water, but you will not get the same results. A bottle of this stuff will run you about 7 euros, if you plan to do any leatherworking at all, bite the bullet and buy a bottle.
The phone you’ll need whatever phone that you’re making the case for so that you can trace it to make a wooden analog that will be used to wet form the leather over.
Table Saw Building this project requires a bit of woodworking as you’ll have to make a wooden replica of your phone and a wooden frame to press and hold the leather over the replica.
Drill & Bits
Kreg Pocket Hole Jig – You can use it to assemble the frame used for stretching the leather over the wooden phone replica. The kreg screws pull the wood tightly together and allow you to adjust the frame to the exact size you need.
Edge Beveler and Edge Slicker – These are two tools designed to finish the edges of the leather. Have you ever noticed the shiny, polished edges on leather products? These are the tools that do that. The beveler rounds the straight edges left from cutting the leather, and the slicker works down the cut fibers of the leather’s edge, polishing them together into a smooth surface.
The slicker is used in conjunction with Gum Tragacanth which helps the leather fibers to bond together, allowing that polished surface to form more easily.
Step 2: Making the Phone Analog (Wooden Replica)
The first thing you want to do for this project is to make a replica of your phone. The reason for this should be fairly apparent, you’re going to be doing a lot of drilling, sawing, clamping, cutting, and a whole host of other fairly destructive tasks, and having something that you can use to represent the dimensions of your phone will potentially save you a lot of money in the event of a phone catastrophe.
To make the wooden replica, start with wood that is as close as possible to the thickness of your phone. If you have access to a planer then this is very easy to do as you can plane down your stock wood to the exact thickness you need. If you don’t have a planer, just pick the closest dimension you can find. Next, use your table saw to rip the wood down to the same height and width as your phone.
Make sure you dial these dimensions in as close as possible, if you make your dimensions too big or small your case will not fit properly, either it won’t be tight enough to fit your phone snugly, or it will be so tight that your phone won’t fit in.
Step 3: Making the Wooden Mold Frames
With the phone analog finished, the next step is to make a wooden frame that will be used to force the leather over and around the analog, forming it into the shape of the case.
This frame will be slightly bigger in width and height to accommodate the thickness of the leather as it molds around the analog.
Once I had the measurements down, actually making the frame was a two-step process. First, use scrap lengths of pine and the Kreg Jig and Kreg pocket hole screws to create a primary version of the frame. Next, I used that version as a template and cut the final frame using a router and flux trim bit.
Here is the process step by step:
- Create the rough frame using scrap wood and pocket screws.
- Trace the inside dimensions of the rough frame onto the wood the final frame will be cut from.
- Use a drill to make a hole in each corner of the traced area.
- Use a jigsaw to cut from hole to hole, which will remove most of the material from inside the traced area.
- Re-position the rough frame so that it aligns with the traced area.
- Clamp the rough frame to the unfinished final frame
- Use a route equipped with a flush-trim bit to clean up the edges of the final frame.
The reason for making the second frame as opposed to just using the screwed together the first version is primarily the rounded corners that are left after routing the second frame. The rounded corners will yield a nicer end result when clamping the wet leather than the square corners of the original frame would.
Step 4: Cutting, Wetting and Forming the Leather
With the Analog and the Frame ready to go, the next step is to start wet forming the leather. Cut a section of leather that is approx 1″ larger on each side and the bottom than the analog.
Use multiple passes to cut through the leather. Trying to hack through it in one pass can cause your blade or slip, ruining your cut or worse. Place the cut piece of leather into a bath of warm water and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes, this will ensure that the leather is saturated. While you’re waiting for the leather, you can assemble your clamps, frame, analog, and an extra piece of board about the same size as the frame.
Wrap the analog in plastic to keep the wet leather from laminating the plywood it was made from, this will help my analog to last longer, allowing me to make multiple cases. Once the leather is ready, remove it from the water, pat it dry, then place it carefully onto the analog, making sure to align the top edge of the leather with the top of the analog, which will create the mouth of the case.
Next, place the frame on top of the leather and center over the analog and push down gently. If your alignment is correct you will see the leather stretching slightly as the analog is into place inside the frame. When the alignment is correct, use the clamps to apply pressure to hold everything in place by clamping around the edges of the frame.
Let the leather dry overnight, once it is dry it will hold it’s the shape it’s been molded into.
Step 5: Stamping Designs
While the wet leather is within the mold, you can add embellishments with stamps, use pyrography or carve a pattern to decorate the outside of your leather phone case.
We suggest waiting for a few hours until some water in the leather has evaporated.
Step 6: Remove clamping and Creating the Back of the Case
Once the leather case is dry, you can remove it from the mold. Take a moment to admire your results and then grab another piece of leather and get ready to cut out the back of the case.
Cutting the back of the case is pretty simple, use the analog to get a rough idea of what size the back of the case would need to be, adding 1/2″ to each side so that I’d have plenty of room for gluing and error.
Step 7: Gluing and Re-Clamping
To attach the front of the case to the back, use adhesive. There are adhesives for bonding leather, but we also suggest the E6000 does a wonderful job of creating strong, flexible, lasting bonds between the leather. Apply the glue to the backside of the front of the case, tracing around the area where the leather will mold over the analog.
Once the glue is in place, put the analog back inside the case and then lay the back of the case in place. Next, place the leather case assembly you just created back into the mold and re-clamp it just as you did when you initially molded the leather. Clamping the case in place will ensure that the glue thoroughly bonds the front and back of the case together.
Allow the glue about 2 hours to cure before un-clamping to ensure the best bond.
Sewing leather is definitely a good way to ensure a strong bond between two pieces of leather.
Step 8: Unclamping and Trimming the Edges
Off with the clamps yet again! This time when you un-clamp you will have a phone case with a front and back. At this point, removing the analog from inside the phone case can be a bit of a challenge as there is no good way to grab hold of it. To remedy this, drive a screw partway into the top of the analog and then used it as a knob to pull the analog out of the case.
The next thing you need to contend with is the very unfinished edges of your phone case. The trick to trimming the edges is to do it evenly, as uneven edges will make your end product look unrefined. To ensure, the edges of the case are even. Measure out from the edge created where the leather molds over the analog, creating a 1/4 wide outline that defined the edge of my case. With the outline drawn, you can use a straight edge and a craft knife to cut away any excess.
Step 9: Finishing the Edges – Beveling & Slicking
This step will make or break your final project. Finishing the edges of projects makes the whole project better.
Finishing Leather Edges
- Trim the edges so that they are even. (You already did this in the previous step.)
- Use an edge beveler to bevel the edges, making sure to bevel both sides.
- Lightly sand the edges using grit sandpaper to remove irregularities or facets creating during beveling.
- Apply Gum Tragacanth uniformly to the edges. Be conscious to not apply the Gum Tragacanth to the surface, as it will act as a resistor when applying finish.
- Allow the gum to begin to dry, it will become slightly tacky.
- Burnish the edges of your project rapidly with an edge slicker. This will work the Gum Tragacanth into the fibers and will help the fibers to bind together into a polished edge.
- Apply more Gum Tragacanth and continue burnishing/slicking until a polished edge appears.
Step 10: Applying Finish and Buffing
For this project a simple finish of neatsfoot oil. It will protect and also impart a nice dark brown color to the surface, which really makes designs pop! To apply the oil, use cotton balls, rubbing multiple coats of oil into the surface until you achieve an even finish. Be careful when applying an oil finish, as it is possible to apply too much, which will make the soggy and ruin your project. After applying the finish, I switched to a piece of clean cotton cloth and then rapidly rubbed the entire case to burnish the surface to which imparted a nice matted sheen, giving the case a high-quality finished appearance.