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Leatherwork Merit Badge

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OK, this past year I have done quite a few Leatherwork Merit Badge Classes (LWMB) in our Council and I've had a few problems.  The main one has to do with time management.  The classes have been 3 hours long and it seems that a high percentage of students don't get their project completed.  So, I mark on their blue card that they have to complete the project and show the Scoutmaster.  I do spend what I think is an appropriate amount of time on the discussion part of the class, but there is never enough time at the end to do everything.  So I have come up with some ideas that I think might help others with their classes.  

1 - I convinced the MB Coordinator to make the classes 4 hours long.  That will solve most of the problems.

2 - Use the LWMB kits for the classes.  BSA puts out 2 kits for the LWMB and they're about 13.00 each.  They both include the 5 leather samples, the plastic lace and clasp to braid a lanyard (there is enough lace to make about 8" of braiding), a neckerchief slide project and one additional project.  Either a pocket knife belt case or a wallet.  I used to get half and half and let the kids choose but now only get the knife case.  The reasons are: Having to explain 2 different projects and having to re-explain them over and over wastes a lot of time.  And, the knife case is sewn as opposed to laced.  Hand sewing is much faster than lacing.

3 - Give them fairly strict guideline on how they are to stamp the leather.  The reason for this, is that given the choice, a high percentage of them try to fit every stamp image on their projects as possible.  This, of course, looks like crap and whatever the project, it will end up on their floor at home in the back of the closet or just thrown away.  I explain to them that these projects, done at an official BSA event, can be officially part of your uniform.   Plus their parents are actually impressed with their projects.  So I give them strict instructions for the 2 leather projects.  For the neckerchief slide, I allow them 1 main image and possibly a border.  They may also put their troop number and name above or below the main image.  For the knife kit, There is room for 1 large 3d stamp on the flap and 1 on the front.  Then I have them stamp their name and troop# either on the back or front (in case they lose it at summer camp).  They can also do a border.  Then we dye them.  While they are drying I have them work on the lanyard. As soon as the dye is dry enough, I get them started on the sewing of the project.  

Item 1 above doesn't start until the next LWMB classes in October.  But I followed 2 and 3 and all projects were completed.  Although the kids had to stay after while I signed the blue cards. 

The best thing was that almost all the scouts were wearing their projects when they left.

Here are a few more things I wanted to mention:  

I only had 2 of the 1/4" alphabet and number sets (T8137) so there was a lot of time wasted waiting for letters.   It would be best to have one of these sets for every 3 to 4 scouts.  In the room we were in, the tables could fit 3 scouts, so I would need 7 sets and then I could place them on their tables.

Each Scout is given 1 poundo board, 1 wood mallet, 1 large tool handle and 1 small tool handle.  The rest of the stamps I spread out on 1 large table up front.  This worked really well as I have a wide variety of stamps that I bring when I do a LWMB class.  I don't use the councils tools because I want to give them a lot of options for stamps.  This however may also cause some slowdown due to the kids having to look over hundreds of stamps for that "perfect" one.  I've seen MB Counselors put stamps on every table before, but then the Scouts get up and look at the other table's stamps anyways. 

I bring lots of display items that they can look at for ideas and to show them what can be done.  I also have about 2 dozen small leather samples from different animals.  

I don't bring any swivel knives to the classes.  There is not enough time to teach them how to use it.  

Bring an assistant.  I was supposed to have an assistant at the last couple of classes that didn't show.  That would have been really helpful.  That way you have 2 trainers.

My biggest issue is there isn't enough time for the leather to dry before dying and also waiting enough time for the dye to dry before assembly.  But we have to work within our time limit.  Getting that extra hour will help with that.

I'm sure there's a lot more I could add but it's 4am so I'm going to sleep now.

please add your own ideas to this post or ask any questions about the LWMB classes.



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Thanks for passing on lessons from the school of hard knocks!

What would be really nice is if the course coordinator could give you time for an intermediate and advance class. The prerequisite would be having completed the MB. Yes, scouts should be allowed to "re-take" a class where they've already earned the MB. I've had scouts who've done this routinely. Maybe part of the deal would be they serve as your assistants for the basic class. The advanced class would learn to use the advanced tools and maybe work on one project of their choosing.

The other thing that would help is to know other leather workers in your council and get them registered as councilors. That way, the scouts who partial on the badge can have a formal way of completing it with someone in their community.

With your display items, do you have a card that displays the amount of time and types/cost of materials needed to complete each project? That kind of information would really help a scout get an idea of what he/she might need to take this up as a hobby.

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I provide a yearly Leatherworking "workshop" for the letherworking MB for my troop. We only make 1 item which is a leather stool. This takes between 6 and 9 hours worth of work and is usually spread over 3 or 4 weekends.Heres is how we do it.

Weekend 1: We go on a trip to the Tandy store 30 minutes away. They have a huge selection of everything. The scout get to see all different types of tools, hundreds of different leathers (snake, skate, lamb, goat, chrome tan, veg tan). As we are looking at different leathers we talk about how the idfferent leathers are made. I just ask questions knowing a few of the scouts will have read the LW book.

I then give them the list of things we need and send them of to a scavenger hunt for stain, sinew, needles and tribolts for the legs. I usually wait for a sale a few weeks before this and buy a side of veg tan 4 to 5oz works well.

We then head back to our meeting place and I give them each a piece of paper and we dicuss briefly why planning things is important and the each design what they will put on their stool i,e, stamps, name dates and BSA design they are going to carve, Then I send them home.

The following weekend I do what I call a workshop. I open the doors at our meeting room from 8 - 1PM and let them know the next step takes 2 hours and that they can come and go as the need to due to sports and all other commitments. When they get there that day I hand them the giant piece of leather, a triangle cardboard templet  and a razor knife. The quickly figure what the need to do cut the triangle and then when I get 2 or 3 finished we will wet the leather, While waiting the scouts answer questions regarding the injuries that may occur and othe MB questions. The we stamp and carve based on the plan the did the previous week.

The next week weekend workshop we sew the corners on, stain and add the legs which takes between 1 and 3 hours.

We could do something much easier and be done in a day but the scouts seem to like doing it this way and its the 5th year in a row they have asked for this. They do bring their stools to most campouts and some bring them onbackpacking trips. 


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I am planning an intermediate class that would be for both Scouts and Scouters.  It would include a number of projects over several weeks.  I want to put together a set of tools that they could take home to work on their projects between classes.  It would include almost all the tools needed to complete most project kits, except finishing.   Or, as part of the fee they get a starter set of tools and projects to begin with.  Tandy has some nice sets and Springfield Leather will put together custom sets for me.  I love Springfield Leather.  The have been good to me and are very supportive of Scouts.  I would probably start with 6 - 10 students and up to 24 after I get it down.  

I also want to do an advanced class where all the projects are created from scratch using patterns and templates.

Full disclosure - I'm not particularly good at LW myself.  I have to learn all the above stuff before I teach it.  So I'm hoping to start the intermediate classes next year and the advanced, shortly after.

I didn't mention it in the 1st post, but I was planning on being the LWMB Counselor at our summer camp this year.  MB classes are scheduled 2hrs each for 4 days.  I was going to go through the whole Tandy beginning tooling class using the swivel knife and stamps to make that stupid western flower.  Then have them do projects that would cover the rest of the MB.  Then with any free time they could buy kits at the trading post to complete if they wanted.  But they decided to close the summer camp here in Las Vegas so I'm SOL. 

I've been putting together a list of the best prices for various tools needed for the above kits.  Some at Tandy, Springfield Leather, Amazon and even from Japan and China.  I just need to tap into the unlimited funds I think I have, but really don't.  So i'm thinking of doing some fundraising on Kickstarter or GoFundMe.  

I've tried to get a couple of leatherworkers registered as MB Counselors but they show no interest at all.  In fact, none of them would even help me learn new techniques or show me some finishing tips.

As far as the display goes.  Right now it's just a bunch of pieces I spread out on a table.  I plan on glueing the different species of leather on a board as some have already disappeared.  I want to also do the same with the other items that are tooled and create some of my own tooled examples.  Most of my tooled samples are pieces that have been included with leather tools I bought on ebay.  I've also picked up, from craigslist in Alaska, and auctions in Vegas, some hair on hides that I want to stretch out between 4-branch frames with leather lace. 

I tend to go overboard whenever I do something like this but I think it just adds to the experience.  I would love to have display boards surrounding the whole room to make it an immersive experience.  



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Thanks TMSM.  That is a great project and method for teaching the scouts.   I have thought of doing that same project but wondered if the scouts would like that particular project.  I still have the one my Dad made from a tandy kit over 40 years ago.  

Can you tell me the approximate cost of each one?

Most of what I talked about was for MB classes put on by the Council either at their office or other planned merit badge event like the Scout Expo.  I have done classes with Girl Scouts and the projects are chosen by the girls since there is no official LW badge for them.

One of the other things I want to accomplish is to work at the troop and pack level doing projects they choose.  That way we can work over several meetings to get them done.  

I also want to make some videos for MB counselors on teaching the LWMB class, using the tools and doing the projects.




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4 hours ago, BigDale said:

Can you tell me the approximate cost of each one?

if you are thrifty you can make a stool for $30 -35. The tri-bolt is $9, birch legs from HD are $6, leather $10, extras (stain for leather, stain for legs, needles, sinew, tracing paper, latex gloves, sponges etc) $10

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Wow!  I sure do wish the scouts in my troop could do Leatherwork MB with y'all!!  Sounds to me like you're really doing it right --- finding meaningful projects and giving scouts enough time to actually appreciate and understand what they're doing.


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In my effort to find the cheapest prices for leather tools I ran across some on ebay that I wanted to mention.

The Native American Symbol set that Tandy sells I found with a seller from overseas.  Tandy Price 29.99 + tax   ebay price 12.85 including shipping.  

Same with the 8137 Alphabet and Number set. 8.52 including shipping from overseas.

I'll give them a try and let you know they work out.

I have ordered leatherworking tools from overseas before on ebay and amazon.  It takes longer to receive and have not had issues with quality.  Others have had quality problems.  But when you buy a 250 piece tool set for 9.00 it's not going to be top quality.

I think it depends on the items though.  I am ordering 1 item at a time, not a group of items. 

If these test OK then I'll go to our Council with all the pricing.

I'll post in another topic what I think a Leather tool kit for scouts should include. 

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