Wet molding leather can be very helpful to create very smooth holsters, sheaths and pockets. But wet molding doesn’t stop there, as there are many different reasons to wet mold leather to create very nice shapes. These molds will harden the leather and keep shape for a long time.
We will go over how to wet mold leather and why you should try it for your next project.
Wet Molding Basics
Wet molding or wet forming, is a method used to shape leather so it will hold the form over time. This can be used to form around specific objects like a gun or knife or to create a solid structure for pouch-like projects.
As leather is molded to a specific item it will mimic the shape and design of the item you are molding leather too. This can create a very nice looking piece of leather designed for a specific item. Which will make the leather piece become very unique as it will be designed for a specific item.
Other forms of wet molding can be used to create a solid pouch or bag. Although leather is fairly sturdy, it will not take on a shape similar to wet molding will.
How to wet mold leather
When attempting to wet mold it can become very frustrating your first few times. That is why we are going to go over a few different methods to use when trying to form your leather.
All of these methods start the same way, they will just differ on how you set the leather up. To start you will want to fill a container with water and place your leather inside for a few minutes.
Method 1: Using nails or staples
This method can be used for a specific item or a shape.
If you are using an item you will want to plastic wrap the item to avoid getting wet.
If you a forming to a shape you can use any item or make a wooden cut out. This cut out shape will need to be glued or nailed to a flat surface of wood.
Once you have the item in place, you will wet your leather, let sit for a minute then place over top.
To start you will want to wrap the item with the leather then place one staple/nail into one side of the leather.
You will need to be a little more hands on, so start forming the leather with the top of your index and thumb. Work your way around the object and place staples along the edge of the leather.
You will need to have some staples or hammer and nails handy, preferably stapler as you can hold the leather in place while stapling.
After placing you will need to hold the item in place and go to the other side and repeat. Push the object against the side that has staples then push into to the leather. This will tighten the leather around your item, making your staples keep the leather in place. You will need to do this all around the item until the leather is almost skin tight against the item.
This can frustrating as you will need to push the leather tight up against your item and then staple or nail the leather down. Make sure you do this far enough away so that the area of leather you are using will not have a hole in it.
If the leather starts to bulge out from the item, make a V shape cut in the leather.
This will release the tension around the leather alonging to flatten the leather. Before every staple constantly smooth around the edges with your fingers.
This method will most likely will end up coming undone a bit so checking up on it every thirty minutes will help keep the shape intact. Using this will most likely end up with a looser mold as the leather wil loosen around the staples. But it will still take up a shape very close to your desired image.
Remove nails or staples and cut away all the unused leather, now you will have a very close molded leather piece.
Also for this specific example, I have stapled the top at a smaller width than the widest part of the item. This is fine since I will be cutting the top part out. But when molding you will want to make sure the widest part of the item can exit the leather.
Method 2: Shaping two pieces of leather around an item
If you want your leather project to form around an item without a flat surface on the back, this will come in handy.
To start you will need to cut the pieces of leather closer together then in previous methods or else the mold will be very loose. It is a good idea to take two pieces of leather that are close to the size, wrap them around the object then mark how close you can go.
Avoid going too close though as this can end with wasting the leather pieces because they’re too small.
To use a reference, look at your binder clips and measure how far the tip of the clip and the back are from each other. This will determine how far you can allow the leather to overhang when molding. You will need the tip of the clip to pinch the two pieces together at the edge of your object.
Once the leather is cut to size, dunk in water and make sure they are not dripping. Plastic wrap your item and start applying the leather pieces. This can be tricky when it comes to making the two leather pieces even so they split in the middle if the item.
If it it a smaller item you can take both pieces and pinch the leather around the item with both of your hands. This will give you a good idea of where the centerline is in reference to the item. If the two pieces of leather are cut to the same size they should meet at the corners evenly. If not, push on the leather until the edges are squared.
Now you will take your binder clips and place them onto the leather pieces around the whole item.
Then you will be able to let sit and air dry for a few hours. Now you should be able to take off the clips and have two pieces that match up.
Once formed and aligned you can cut off any extra pieces and glue together. Punching holes for this may be harder since your mold will not be against a flat surface. You will need to put the glued edge in the corner of a poundo/cutting board then punch your lines.
This will ensure your item does not squash under pressure.
This method is super cool and makes for a very slick molded leather item.
Method 3: Making item then wet molding
Molding leather after your item has been made is another option. Whatever you are making you will want to make sure it will fit your item. You can check out our how to make a template guide to help with measurements.
Once your pouch, bag or wallet is measured you will want to make sure your item will fit into the leather. Next start making the item but avoid dyeing the leather.
Although you can dye the leather, the item will need to be dunked into water. This will make the dye start to remove especially if the dye was placed very recently.
Once the leather item has been stitched and is near the end you will want to dunk the item into water. Allow the item to sit in the bucket for a couple minutes until it leaves the whole item wet.
Take your project out and allow to dry out for a few minutes.
Plastic wrap your item you will be placing into your project then put it into the wet leather. Allow the item to sit in the project until your item is dry. To create a very detailed mold, rub your fingers around all the edges. This will highlight every detail that the leather has taken shape of.
Method 4: Using a wooden template
Wooden template can be created very easily when molding leather to take up a shape and allow it to be near flawless. You will need to start with a shaped piece of wood connected to a flat piece of wood.
This will be what the inside of your leather mold will look like. After this is set you will cut out a piece of wood to be placed over the first piece of wood. The cut out for this should be a little wider than the inside piece as it will need to go over the first block and squeeze the leather tightly against.
This method would be very hard to do with a specific detailed item, but can be done if you make a cut out that will fit around your item.
Once the leather has been dunked into water for a few minutes you will want to let it dry a bit. This will avoid the water squeezing out while placing the piece of wood overtop.
Place the leather against the top edge of your underside piece of wood. Then press around the leather to start to form it a bit and place the second piece of wood over top and into place. Use clamps around the wood to secure the pieces in place and allow to dry for around 6 hours. This can be sped up by using a hair dryer or a placed in the sun for a few hours.
Now you will be able to take off the clamps and you will have a perfectly shaped piece of leather.
The IRWIN(r) QUICK-GRIP(R) One-Handed Mini Bar Clamp 4 Pack, is the perfect clamp set for smaller projects and working in confined spaces. Reinforced resin bodies and hardened steel bars ensure strength and durability. These clamps feature non-marring pads to protect work surfaces, one-handed quick-release triggers and provide 140 lbs. of clamping force. Set includes four 6" One-Handed Mini Bar Clamps.
Tips for Wet Molding Leather
Like I said before, wet molding can be very frustrating, but with a little practice you will get the hang of it. Now that you have the basic idea of wet molding we are just going to go over a couple tips to keep in mind.
Avoid using rugged corners in your template. This can lead to ripping the leather if it is not thick enough and will become very hard to get a good mold.
When making a pouch you will want to round off the corners of a wooden template with a file or sandpaper to avoid a sharp edge. This is fine for the side of the piece of wood you are molding the leather to as the leather will wrap around this long area. But with a sharp corner it will make it hard to mold the bottom area of the leather and the leather will crease.
When molding the shape to the object avoid using rough tools. A lot of people do this and it’s fine, but be aware that these tools used on the leather will show up after the item is dried. So if you use a plastic knife to get into a groove, once dried you will see this mark show up. You can sometimes sand it or buff it out a bit but specific areas will be harder to do.
The same goes with your finger nails when using your hands as they can groove the leather, and the binder clip tips. You can use another piece of leather in between the binder clips and the leather but even the texture will lightly show up on your leather.
That’s all we got on how to wet mold leather and it definitely will take your projects to a new level. Give it a try and let us know how you did and if there are any tips you found while wet molding.