Making Leather Tap-Off Patterns

A lot of folks often get requests to do the same pattern over and over again, and they really don't want to have to trace every single line, every time. Leather workers, a long time ago, figured out how to do tap offs, and I'd like to show you how tap offs are made.

Learn Leather Tap Off Patterns

The whole idea behind tap offs and the way they started was probably the result of the saddle makers. Saddle makers, when they carve a saddle, they usually have mirror images. Whatever they put on one side or one fender or one skirt, they want a mirror image of that on the other side. To make sure that they are mirror images, what they would do is cut that design into the leather on one side and then moisten the other one before they started stamping it.  They would then lay it over onto the other skirt or other fender and tap it off. That way they'd have two patterns that are identical to each other or just mirroring each other. That's where the origins of these came from, however they are now used by leatherworkers world wide to create a quick, reusable pattern for their projects.

They're so usable on so many different things. One of the places they get used a lot is with when you're doing belts. Belts usually are a repeating design. You'll do a section of a pattern and then it repeats itself as it goes down the length of the belt. Well, again, having to trace that again and again and again, really, this is a real advantage when you have a tap off of that pattern, especially if it's a design that you use a lot. It can really save a lot of time in this tracing process.

I've come up with several pattern packs and a couple of these are entitled Tap Off Tracings. Let me show you how to use those to create some reusable patterns for your leather working. I've selected one of the pattern pages out of one of the pattern packs and I'm going to show you how easy it is to take and make a reusable tap off with a pattern.


Creating A Leather Tap-Off Pattern

First, start with tracing material and a piece of leather. After moistening the leather with water, it's ready to trace the design on there with a stylus. This is a corner pattern, so I'm using a piece of leather that has a square corner on it. You want to position this on that piece of leather so that it's an even distance away from the edge of the leather all the way around. Then you’ll lightly trace the outline on there. All we need when we're doing tap offs is just the basic pattern. We don't need any of the detail, and it's just like when you're tracing a design on your leather.

Learn Leather Tap Off Patterns

This corner pattern is uniform in that it's balanced. We don't have a left and a right version of this, but if we had a left and a right version, we'd have to go ahead and trace it again. Remember when you're doing a tap off, what you're going to get is a mirror image of what you're tapping off here. If I had a leaf that's curving one direction, it's going to curve the other direction when I turn it, and tap it off onto the piece of leather.

Once you've got your design traced on, then go ahead and cut it into the leather. Normally when tooling leather, you’d want to cut about 1/3 the depth of the leather, however when you're creating tap offs, having good, deep cuts, that open up nice and even are really important. You don't want to have undercutting issues or anything like that. Make sure that you use good form and good technique when you're doing this.

Learn Leather Tap Off Patterns

Once you get finished up with your cuts, the next thing you would do with this is let this completely dry out. One of the things that helps with that is if you dry it out quickly, sometimes these cuts will open up a little bit more and that can be helpful in giving you some good lines to follow.

One of the other things that should be done with a tap off that you are going to use is that, once it's dried and opened up, coat it with some kind of leather sealer. Saddle makers used to use neatlack and that sort of a product, but modern acrylic sealers work very well. Primarily, you need something that would make it water resistant because you're going to be using this against dampened leather when you tap-off the pattern.

Learn Leather Tap Off Patterns

Using A Leather Tap-Off Pattern

Using tap-offs to create a section of a belt is a technique that has been used by leatherworkers for ages. The process to create the pattern is the same as above, however here I will be showing you how to create a repeating pattern.

If we wanted to now make that design on another piece of leather, we would first dampen the leather that will receive the pattern.  Once it is cased, we'd lay that upside down, position it where we'd need to, and then we would use a hammer to tap that on.

Learn Leather Tap Off Patterns

The best thing to use, if you have access to one, is a cobbler's hammer. Typically they will have a smooth rounded face on them, which can help a lot.  If you don’t have a cobbler’s hammer, you can use your regular mallet or maul that you have, however if you’re going to be doing this a lot, it might be good to have something that does not ding up your leather when you're doing this. You don't want to have something with the cleats on.

Learn Leather Tap Off Patterns

Literally, this is where it gets the name tap off. You just tap that design off onto your piece of leather, and make sure that you get it everywhere and then see what we got here. After, you should have a design ready to now begin the cutting. That really is how simple it is to use a tap off.

Learn Leather Tap Off Patterns

That's just how easy they are. They're really helpful and those patterns that you do a lot of, having a tap off ready to use will really speed up your work.