In one of our recent live courses, a participant asked me what apron I used for leatherworking. I use the same apron that I’ve had for years, which was a gift from my wood-carving teacher in Japan. It’s a simple kitchen apron and I really hadn’t given much thought to it. I work in a pretty clean way but when I’m doing something potentially messy like sanding edges or painting something long like a belt, I’ll put on the apron. Otherwise, it sits on a peg in the shop.
After the live course session, I thought about this more and more and realized that a good shop apron would be really beneficial to my work. Despite working clean, I frequently search for tools and run around the shop to get them. I have a few drawers and toolboxes where I like to store my gear when not in use, and during a project, I will put the required tools out on the table and then put the rest back in the drawer or close to a workstation.
Over time, however, it’s easy to leave something out of place. My thickness gauge, for example, floats between the granite slab where I hand skive and the bell skiver on the other side of the table. I sometimes end up running back and forth between these two stations to find what I am looking for, which breaks my concentration. If you’ve read my article on mis en place, then you know that I’m constantly trying to eliminate distractions and clutter in my workflow.
….And I hate to admit it, but I also sometimes forget to don my apron when doing messier work. This has led to some unintended extra laundry sessions.
Lastly, the act of putting on an apron or other work gear puts me in the mindset of doing leatherworking. This might seem insignificant at first, but think about what it feels like when you put on your work clothes, open your work laptop or step inside your workplace. You instantly and effortlessly change your mindset. When you have small routines like this for your leatherworking practice, it can make it that much easier to get back into your work and focus.
A Variety of Leatherworking Aprons
I am sure there are lots of other reasons to use an apron in addition to other considerations that I have never even thought of when selecting one. I did my own research, but also asked our readers what their favorite leatherworking apron was and their responses were extremely helpful. I’ve collected what they found to be the most useful features of a good leatherworking apron below. In thinking about your ideal apron, you might want some of these features but not others. I like to explore the breadth and depth of a product design before deciding for myself.
Shoulder Instead of Neck Straps
This was repeated often in the responses. Neck straps on an apron seemed to sit uncomfortably on bigger readers but also felt awkward for others who simply don’t like the feeling of something sitting on their neck.
Swinging Chest Pocket
This was a neat feature pointed out by Alan, a model maker for ILM and LucasFilm. You can see this pocket on printer aprons; the bottom of the pocket is not sewn to the apron so that when you lean over, the pocket stays upright. This can be useful if you have a thickness gauge, ruler or anything similar that tends to spill out of your pocket.
This is where the bottom of the apron splits down the middle. Leatherworking is a combination of sitting and standing activities so this might be useful when you are sitting with a clam or pony when hand-sewing.
Belly Cheat/Tradesman Apron
This is quite an old feature that is seldom used today. Tradesman aprons had their tops fasten to a vest or coat button. This was back when tradesmen used to wear suits to work. When the top button was unfastened, a tradesman apron converts into a waist apron.
Mesh Bottom Pockets
Some woodworking and construction aprons have bottom pockets with mesh openings. This is designed to allow sawdust to fall out of the pocket rather than accumulate inside of it.
Most work aprons had scotchgard, wax or some other type of liquid-repelling treatment. This is important for many applications in leatherworking including edge painting, dyeing, slicking and wet-forming.
Most work aprons were made from leather or cotton (usually canvas or denim). Synthetic fibers are probably avoided due to poor heat resistance. There are a few leatherworking related operations which might need minor heat resistance like creasing or heating glue. Still, I was curious if there was anything out there, and I found several synthetic fabrics that were fire-resistant but were not used for everyday clothing. They were fabrics that were typically used for something like stage drapes or hazard suits. Many leatherworkers also do silversmithing, knifemaking or metalworking and so having a heat-resistant apron is a must in those situations.
A few readers made their own aprons and I wanted to show a few examples here:
He makes his own shop aprons out of leather. These are no-frills aprons that seem to work well for his customers.
Pat makes Kevlar-reinforced work aprons for motorcycle mechanics who are working with sheet metal. As Pat explains, wearing an apron when working with a sheet metal machine helps to deaden the vibrations produced when leaning against it. This apron also protects you against flying metal shards.
Candace has made her own apron and put in several nice details. I like these small embellishments on projects that people make for themselves because it shows how much they enjoy their work rather than it simply being a project to make.
I hope this post inspires you to take a look at your own apron and/or workwear for leatherworking. Are there other useful features of your apron that we didn’t cover and/or other things that you wear when leatherworking that you find useful? I’d love to hear more about it.