Giving Back with Leatherworking

A big part of improving your leatherworking is practice. The more pieces you make, the more you improve over time. After hours and hours of practice, your hand sewing starts to go a little faster, the stitches look more uniform and your pieces look cleaner and crisper.

Many leather craftspeople practice by making pieces for their family. A few sell their creations. Almost no one gives their work away.

But Hawk Scarborough has been doing just that. For the last 40-plus years, he has spent long hours using precious leather to create pieces that he donates to others. Hawk, a nickname he got as a champion knife and tomahawk thrower, is an Air Force veteran who has been making leather goods ever since he was stationed at the remote Indian Mountain Air Force Station in north-central Alaska in the early 1970s. He first did leatherworking to pass the time, but as he got better at making things, such as binocular cases, guns holsters, and knife sheaths, he began selling his work.

After his military service ended, he changed his approach to leatherworking. The impetus started from his need for wheelchair accessories. He began meeting other veterans at the Veterans Administration hospital in Richmond., Virginia, near his home in Spotsylvania County, and he started making custom-designed leather pouches, saddlebags and even cupholders for those who were disabled or were restricted to wheelchairs. Eventually he formed a not-for-profit leather shop that he called Hawk’s Cherokee Leather Co. He creates his projects at a small, converted computer desk set up so that all his tools are within easy reach.

“I no longer sell my work, Hawk says, “but if I find a fellow vet who needs my simple work, I will do my best to make what he or she needs or wants if I possibly can.

“Each piece I make is a custom order as specified by the vet. I prefer to make items for wheelchair-bound vets who seem to need these things the most.”

A fall during his time in the service caused Hawk’s physical disability. Although he must use a wheelchair, that doesn’t deter him from his passion. He first reached out to us to show his workspace for our post a while back and I was inspired by both his abilities and his big heart. Below are some highlights of his work and his workspace.

Wheelchair bags

wheelchair-bag

Wheelchair Saddlebag

wheelchair-saddlebag

Cup Holder

cup-holder

Belt Pouch

belt-pouch

Workspace

Hawk’s workspace is a converted computer desk. The shelving allows him to more easily see and reach his tools. When he has to break down hides, he’ll ask his wife for assistance in laying out the leather to cut. He works from his manual wheelchair, rather than his motorized one, because he finds it’s “better for the purpose.”

hawk-workspace

He also uses a notch and slot design for all of his work. This means he constructs his pieces without rivets, glue or sewing. His design considerations also extend into the pieces use. For instance, the cupholders are made to accommodate coffee mug of all sizes but also the thin paper cups that are common to VA hospitals.

Design for your customers

Many of us aspire to be better leather workers by improving our skills, our materials and our designs. We continually practice and produce pieces sometimes just for the sake of making something to try out a new technique or a design. I have a pile of items that I’ve made that are collecting dust in the closet.

When you instead make a project for someone else, you start to hone your design skills in a different way. You are designing for your audience and their needs. We all strive to better express our own style and originality in our work and in doing so sometimes forget that we are also making pieces for the benefit of our recipients whether they are people in need or customers.

My challenge for you all this week is to think beyond the improvement of your abilities and consider how you can use your talents to help others or for a good cause.

12 replies on “Giving Back with Leatherworking

  • Fayina sun

    leather work practice is more than just practice,it can help people too.This man is a great man with a kind heart. Thank you for sharing this amazing story!

    Reply
  • Evelyn Sanchez

    I would like to get wheelchair saddlebags for my daughter’s boyfriend, Jer, who at the age of 17 was paralyzed by a bull while he was attending a bullfighting clinic.

    Reply
  • Daniel Godot

    I wish we had more righteous people like Hawk, very fine example of what one man can do to change the lives of others. My hats off to you sir and thank you for your service Hawk, I would love to be on your level of giving back. Unfortunately we’ve taken a few steps back since my wife lost her job at Staples after 14 years and is now attending IPFW for her RN nursing degree. And me being disabled I don’t work so I try to sell my hobby wares but I like you mostly give everything away. I will admit it has been a 20 year hiatus from leather crafting but I picked it up again thanks to my brother who once in awhile will ship leather and supplies to me to keep me busy. My brother knows that if I am kept busy it distract me from my pain which means I forget about my pain pump well not really but at least I am not hitting the button as often when I am busy doing something. Plus I still have our t-shirt/vinyl business which is hit or miss but mostly miss which keeps me busy also… yep I been giving that away to.
    I digressed, I mainly wanted to say great article I like reading/hearing about positive things that people do to enrich the lives of others, someday I will be more like hawk but for now I will keep making leather goods then give them away to friends, family or whoever I run into.
    Daniel Godoy
    Vitamin D Designs

    Reply
    • Fine Leather

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Daniel. It sounds like you’re doing plenty to give back to the community and we’re grateful for that. We’re honored to have you as a part of our community and don’t hesitate to reach out directly if there’s anything we can do to assist your work!

      Reply
      • Daniel Godoy

        Thank You Fine Leather,
        Your kind words mean a lot to me, I love reading you blogs even re-learned some tricks I forgot about so thanks for that. But I am not even on Hawks level well not yet anyways, I am trying though…
        I do got some good news on a crazy venture I’m about to embark on here in Fort Wayne. We met a lady after reading an article were she tells of giving blanket to the homeless. So to help I am making some simple mittens out of scrap and or ugly leather (it’s just 3 pieces with thread). I told my brother so he is looking for sales/deals/or what he can get his hands on so he can send some more supplies. So while I’m waiting on him I’m getting started with what I have, I would like to use shearling for the lining but I figure we can use faux shearling or some kind of fleece for the lining.
        So begins another adventure…
        Thank You again for you kind words

        Reply
        • Fine Leather

          Very humbled by your efforts, Daniel…I’d really love to hear more about how the project goes and the process of distributing the mittens. Could you keep in touch with us via email? We’re at store@fineleatherworking.com. Hope to hear from you and thanks again for your amazing work!

          Reply

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