Author Topic: Every Man A Cobbler stitching with handwax and pig bristles  (Read 878 times)

Offline thecapgunkid

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OK, pop quiz…clear your desks of all materials…

Question:  How come Lee Van Cleefs Meershaum  Pipes have that distinctive coloring and great Patina in his Italian Westerns?

Answer:  Legend has it that Turkish, and later Western,  Leatherworking craftsmen were smoking these pipes while their hands were dirty with the handwax they used to goop up their thread and the resulting patina  became a trend.




Not beeswax, mind you, but handwax.   Handwax, or COAD, comes in an awful lot of varieties.  It is basically a combination of Pine Pitch and Pine Resin, both of which are sold at naval supply stores.  You can add pine oil or beeswax depending on how soft and gooey you want the mix.  This tradition was thought to not only lubricate the thread, but also to friction burn into the hole along with closing each  stitch, thus giving it longevity.  You Tube has a couple of videos on this and The Honorable Company Of Cordwainers website  has both explanations and How-to’s.  There are lots of pictures of Shoemakers with small buckets in which wax balls float on the water, because they were difficult to maintain and water keeps them cool enough to stay cohesive.

This piece is for those adventurous souls who are already showing experience and high quality bag-work.  This would be more of a study in detail by craftsmen who already produce accurate pouches.  Before we even begin here it should be stated that we all  ought to be looking at posts by guys who are obviously great craftsmen as you can see by their work.  These Coyotes will probably try to use bristles and COAD just because they can.  Others will try it whether or not they have a lot of experience because, well…it’s there…
Oddly enough, the work produced by tapered threaded, fine needles won’t look that much different from seams sewn with bristles, but the historical achievement is well worth the effort to try.  Search on… “Every Man A Cobbler”… in this section and tapering thread ends and hand stitching is shown as I was taught, so it won’t be repeated here.



Oddly enough, the work produced by tapered threaded, fine needles won’t look that much different from seams sewn with bristles, but the historical achievement is well worth the effort to try.  Search on… “Every Man A Cobbler”… in this section and tapering thread ends and hand stitching is shown as I was taught, so it won’t be repeated here.

Although there is a minor debate as to whether or not 18th Century leather workers had fine needles to work with ( we know that there were fine embroidery needles floating about) the overwhelming, documented  preference was to use bristles instead of needles because the latter was too expensive…we think…

I am not sure if that’s true, but the use of bristles is undeniable and continues to this day. The kit needed is as follows;




There are two types of wax, the darker being summer wax and the blonde lump of winter wax.  They are made and used based on the seasonal temperatures,  I prefer scraping thread ends to taper with a trimming knife such as that shown, because I goof up doing the ends with my thumb nail, and the little fuzz pile and tapered thread  are the results of a fine taper.  The tapered end absolutely has to be very fine and wispy to fit in the crotch of the split end of the hog bristle.

The awl, made in 1975, is a finely tapered diamond shape that is so delicate I have to take pains to protect it.  Hog bristles come in a packet, as shown in the video below.
I can’t touch the quality of showing prepping and winding waxed thread into a bristle the way the Cordwainer in this video does, so watch this video if interested;



It is important to get the first windings on the bristle on the finest point of the threads taper so it won’t jam in the awl hole, because that’s where you grab when navigating through the hole.

This video is pretty good at making COAD.  Some guys feel that the COAD is the reason a bristled end stays together.



Bristles are available on Amazon or shoe-findings websites.  So, the best I can do is to give some hard knocks advice on how to stitch with the arrangement.  I do this when on site because I am not pressed for time, but don’t give up them chisels and harness needles because this takes some practice to get used to.
You can use chisels if you want, but it will almost certainly lead to the wound thread and bristle coming apart.  The trick is to stab with a Diamond shaped awl where the axis of the diamond is vertical in the clamp and not horizontal.  It is absolutely necessary to stab a hole just a little larger than the combined bulk of BOTH threads coming through rather than a tight squeeze where the tapered end is.




Note that the picture shows the awl shoved all the way into the leather.  One of the benefits of a gradual and uniform taper in the diamond shape is that you can control the size of the hole by how far you push the awl.
When you put the bristles into the hole, don’t insert any further than the first half inch where the tip of the thread is wound into the bristle




When you close the stitch, make sure you firmly grab that point in the bristle thread junction.  Don’t pull by just the bristle.  That little bitty winding where the thread end meets the bristle fork will guide the thread all the way into the hole so you can close by pulling the thread on its thick, main body.  .  If you don’t guard the end where the fine thread enters the bristle, it’ll come apart.




I would imagine that experience makes for more efficient sewing, but I only  use bristles when  on site.  It’s far easier for me to work with fine harness needles when I am home producing.  Once again I would state that you should try this just for the cultural/historical experience.   We all know the satisfaction of replicating when a living history product is finished, and there is no difference between stitching this way on shoe uppers or hunting bags.   You can see from the pic that there is virtually no difference from needle sewing.  The hammer tail points to one of the three  thrown stitches, something I do because the 18th Century Worshipful Cordwainers used to do that to demonstrate their faith….Only God is perfect…





Offline Brokennock

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Re: Every Man A Cobbler stitching with handwax and pig bristles
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2022, 05:37:36 AM »
Most excellent post. Thank you to adding to the series.

A note on the meerschaum pipes. I have two that were had color "pooling up" in a dark spot at the stem/bowl junction. I put a thin layer of beeswax on the reat of the pipe. As the wax warmed and soaked into the pipe, the impurities that cause the coloration 'flowed" gradually through the wax and the pipes colored nicely.

Offline jbigley

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Re: Every Man A Cobbler stitching with handwax and pig bristles
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2022, 03:07:50 AM »
Great tutorial! Thanks for posting. As an aside, I had two meerschaums, one looking like the one in your post, and the other carved in the shape of a Turk's head. Lost 'em both somehow. Haven't seen either one in > 30 years. :(
Great post. Keep 'em coming.
--JB