Personalizing leather with an embossed or engraved monogram instantly elevates it, whether it’s a bison leather wallet or a handsome leather tote bag. Personalized leather gifts will last a lifetime, passed down as heirlooms that celebrate a family’s history. And while we’re all delighted by the finished product, few of us have ever seen firsthand the process of neatly embossing or engraving letters into otherwise rugged and resilient tanned leather.
While the overall process of personalizing a gift with leather imprinting is pretty simple, the mastery of design and the details can be quite difficult. But you don’t have to be a master to pursue leather embossing or engraving in your own home — you’ll just want to start practicing on leather scraps before you move on to finished leather products. We’ll explain how to monogram leather with an embossing or engraving tool in just a few simple steps.
ENGRAVING VS. EMBOSSING LEATHER
The two most common ways to hand tool leather are engraving and embossing. The simplest way to distinguish the two is that embossing compresses the leather, while engraving actually removes some amount of leather by cutting and scraping. Each can be used to personalize leather gifts, with different results. At Orvis, we use the embossing process to personalize our leather gifts.
HOW TO EMBOSS LEATHER
It’s easiest to emboss unfinished leather, but it’s also possible to emboss finished, or stained, leather with some practice. To emboss leather you’ll need a few tools. Start with a sturdy work surface, two to four C-clamps, metal embossing stamps with the shape, pattern, or letters you wish to emboss, a cylinder to hold the stamps, a wooden mallet, and, of course, a piece of unfinished or finished leather.
- Begin the embossing process by using a damp sponge to moisten the leather, which will soften it, making it easier to manipulate. Wipe over the entire surface of the area where you’ll be working, but be careful not to soak it, as the more water the leather absorbs, the longer it takes to dry.
- Affix the leather to a sturdy surface. Use clamps to fasten it down so it does not move during the embossing process.
- Next, affix your first stamp to the cylinder tool, and arrange it stamp side down on the surface of the leather, holding the cylinder in your non-dominant hand. With a sturdy grip, use the mallet to pound the other end of the cylinder, pressing the stamp into the leather. Practice makes perfect in this process, to fine tune how much pressure and how many times you need to hit the cylinder to get the desired embossing depth from the stamp.
HOW TO ENGRAVE LEATHER
Engraving leather is similar to embossing; you’ll use many of the same tools and, in fact, the stamps are often very similar — they’re just designed to cut more than push. Again, start with a sturdy work surface, two to four C-clamps, metal engraving stamps, cylinder tool, wooden mallet, a bevel tool, and the leather you wish to engrave.
- Wipe down the area of the leather you plan to engrave with a damp sponge. As is true of embossing, the water will soften the leather, but be careful not to soak the leather too much as it will take longer to dry.
- Clamp down your leather to a flat, sturdy surface using the C-clamps.
- Some types of engraving stamps affix to the cylinder tool, while others can be used separately. If the stamp can be affixed, do so, align it on the surface of the leather, and strike a few times with the mallet. This will take some practice to determine how much pressure to apply. Repeat to create the pattern or letters you’d like to engrave. Striking the engraving stamp will cut the leather. You can leave the engraving here with the edges cut into the leather, or continue with the next step for a more interesting look.
- One benefit to engraving is creating a raised look to your pattern, shape, or letters. After using the stamp to create the shape, take a bevel tool and work around the edges of the lines created by the stamp. This will angle into the cuts and lift the edges, giving the engraving a raised finish.
- If you started with unfinished leather, add a stain to complete the process.