The Difference between Hand Tooled and Embossed Leather Products

If you don’t know the difference between hand tooled and embossed leatherwork, then it’s worth taking the time to read on …

Celtic Oak Tree of Life Handbag - Made by The Happy Viking

Hand Tooled Leather Bag


… is hand made by a person, with their own hands, not by a machine.

This means creating a design, drawing it first onto paper, then carefully tracing and marking it onto the leather.

Depending on whether the artisan chooses to carve into the leather or not, she/he will then take great care in cutting that pattern/design into the leather at just the right depth.  (I choose not to cut the leather and I believe that this is also the way that the Vikings did their tooling).

Next, after dampening the leather, and using their leatherwork tool designed for this purpose, she/he will run it along the edge of the marked or cut line, while hitting down on it with their mallet to make an impression.  This must be done in a steady, consistent manner in order to make a clean and smooth design.  A slip in the wrong direction could mean a whole different design, or worse still – a complete new start!  For the majority of my work, I use only three tools, made especially for me by a Blacksmith friend of mine.

Hand tooled leather products:

Are unique.  Even if the same design is used, no two will be exactly the same because they are done by hand.

Are made using real cowhide leather, often referred to as ‘natural tooling’ leather.  This heavier leather is not only ideal for tooling but it is also of high quality and is durable and long lasting.

Can be custom made with your own design.

Are made with love and care. The time taken to create these works of art can quite often be long but the end product is very rewarding.

Are an investment. Over time, like good wine, these products will only get better! The character and life will intensify and, looked after, will last for many years to come. The craftsmanship, uniqueness, quality, love and care all contribute to making these products well worth the price tag!

Example of Embossed Leather

Example of Embossed Leather


… is manufactured with a machine using specially designed plates that are pressed into the leather.

Embossed leather products:

Can have extremely detailed designs.

Are not always of the same high quality as hand tooled and are, in fact, often “reconstituted” leather.  (Please see note below*)

Are, more often than not, mass produced which enables the price of each piece to be kept to a minimum.

Both methods of leatherwork are beautiful and have their place. In the end, it all comes down to what kind of product you are looking for and, of course, personal choice.

* Bonded leather or “Reconstituted leather”  is an economical type that uses leftovers of organic leather (often from leather tanneries or leather workshops) which are shredded and then bonded together with polyurethane binders or latex on top of a fiber sheet. The varying degree of organic leather in the mix (between 10% and 90%) affects the smell and the texture of such product. Due to its reduced cost it is becoming a popular choice for furniture upholstery, especially for commercial use, where durability is needed; however durability can vary widely, depending on the formulation. (Wikipedia – 2014)