Embossed leather book cover – Part 2

Hello Begonias!

In part 2 of our book cover tutorial, we’ll be looking at the decorative elements which you can add to the plain leather covered book shown in Part 1.   Of course, you might already love the plain version of your book, so why not go ahead and make a second?

We've already completed this plain leather covered book.  Next stop, decoration!

We’ve already completed this plain leather covered book. Next stop, decoration!

OK, so if you don’t already have a covered book, go to Part 1 to create something like the one shown above.  Admire it and set it to one side.  You’re going to be working on a separate piece of leather for the next bit.

A beautiful 16th century velvet  book cover with goldwork embroidery.  Visit Aria Nadii on Flickr to see other examples: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildmuse/sets/72157623038723753

A beautiful 16th century velvet book cover with goldwork embroidery. Visit Aria Nadii on Flickr to see other examples.

You will need:

  • tooling leather for the front panel (basically, thicker leather than the stuff you used to cover the book)
  • a design to copy – or draw your own!
  • paper and biro
  • soldering iron
  • contact adhesive
  • Stain or boot polish to match the book

To cover up the corners if they didn’t work out:

  • brass sheet or thin scrap leather

Optional clasp:

  • brass sheet 1mm thick, two pairs of needle-nose pliers and copper nails or paper fasteners (only if you want to make hinges or protective corners)
  • brass rod – c. 3-4mm round
  • vise
  • screwdriver or metal skewer

Help!  Something went wrong when I was folding the corners on the cover!
This isn’t a disaster, so don’t panic.  All you need are some little rectangles of brass sheet or offcuts of the leather you used to cover the book in the first place.  You can simply fold them over the corners to cover up/hold down bits that didn’t quite work out (use pliers to bend the brass).

Centre of 16th century book design

Choosing a cover panel design
I wanted to use an historical design, so looked up “16th century book covers” on Google and found the one on the above on Aria Nadii’s Flickr page.


The design has now been transferred to the leather panel, but I haven’t embossed it with the soldering iron yet. The little brown scrap on the right is my test piece.

Catherine turned it into a black and white line drawing in a photo editor, reproduced on the right, printed off to the size of my leather panel (see the picture below this section).

To transfer the design to your leather, either cover the back of your chosen design with pencil, or use carbon paper beneath the design.  Either way, stick the design down using masking tape on the corners of your leather.  It will come off easily, so long as you don’t leave it stuck for days.  Simply draw over the design with a biro to transfer it to your leather.  It will very subtly emboss the leather, to make it easier to see during the next part.


Note the “Kiwi” brand boot polish. It’s Australian, but not far from home. The design on the leather is very clear when light shines across it.

Finally, a fun bit!  Go over the design using a soldering iron.  It’s probably a good idea to experiment on a scrap piece first, as you need to experiment with how slowly you should go.  This will permanently emboss the design into the leather.  You may need to do it in several stages if the design is complex and takes ages to emboss, as the soldering iron will get very hot.

If you are lucky enough to have a soldering iron with different soldering tips, you could experiment with different textures/patterns to fill parts of the design.  For this one, I just stuck with thin lines, which are very subtle and only really noticeable when light shines across it.

Stain the leather panel to match your book – or to contrast with it, if you prefer.  I also finished the edges of the panel by rubbing them with a “bone creaser” for paper creasing, but anything smooth and round would do just as well.

You can purchase reproduction hinges which look beautiful, but they can cost 50 to 70 GBP per set!  I chose to make my own using some scrap sheet brass, but they are a bit fiddly to do.  An alternative would be to tie a decorative ribbon, leather thong or even your own homemade woven band around the book.  Or just leave it without and closure.

Clasp template

Template for the clasp. Note that the front plate is a bit longer in solid area than the back plate, because it needs to roll over the string decoration on the book.

Make a paper template of the three parts of your hinge; the back plate, front plate and clasp.  I’ve added a mock-up here, but you’re going to need to adjust it according to the size and thickness of your book (it will probably be just be the hinge bar which needs adjusting).  Note that the front piece is longer than the back piece.  You’ll see why later.

Use the template to transfer the hinge pieces to your sheet brass – use a scribe (a sharp nail would do) to scratch  the shapes.  Cut out using tin snips.  Clean up the edges using a fine file or wet and dry paper.  Be careful of the sharp edges!

Front and back plates
The front plates need to go over the string decoration on the book, so you’ll need to bend the brass around a thin screwdriver or metal skewer to get the shape of the ridge.  Use two pairs of needle nose pliers; you create the ridge first by bending the brass into a semi-circle over the screwdriver or skewer, then use one pair of pliers to grip along the ridge and the other pair to manipulate the flat areas each side of the ridge until the whole thing will fit over the string decoration on the book.  The back plates won’t need this extra work, so go ahead to the next instruction.

Here are the clasp pieces all ready to attach.

Here are the clasp pieces all ready to attach.

To create the knuckle of the hinge (that’s the bit which goes around the pin), grip the brass rod in the vise – don’t cut it to length yet.  Use your two pairs of pliers to wrap the front and back plates around the brass rod.  I haven’t cut the brass rod to size yet, because it makes it too fiddly to bend the sheet brass if there’s nothing for the vise to hang on to – it’s like having a third pair of hands!

You can now cut two pieces of rod to length for the knuckle of the front and back plates – but only insert the front plate pin at this stage.

Now you can make the clasp.  Using the same rolling technique with two pairs of pliers, create a knuckle at the straight end for the back plate pin to go through.  The rounded end needs to hook over the pin on the front plate, so you need to use your two pairs of pliers again to create a shape which curves over the knuckle, then lips up like a tongue; this is the part that you will flip open.

The rivets on my book are made from copper nails.  You could use a paper fastener if the next bit is too tricky, or if you can’t get copper nails (copper is pliable – steel won’t work):

Lay your hinges on the book where you want them to go.  Mark the holes.  Open out the book and use a drill the same diameter as your nails or paper fasteners and drill through the cover.  Lay the hinges on again and push the nails through; mark the nails at least 5mm or a quarter of an inch beyond the book cover.  Remove the nails and cut off the excess.

Now you’re going to split the nail to make a homemade paper fastener (this is why you could use a paper fastener):
Grip the nail in a pair of pliers close to the head and then grip the pliers in a vise (this protects the head of the nail).  The rest of the nail should be pointing upwards!  Use a fine-bladed hacksaw to carefully slit the shaft of the nail.  Take your time and keep checking that you are cutting true down the centre of the nail.

At last, you can attach the hinges to the book cover!  I spot-glued the hinges just to keep them in place whilst I fitted everything.  Push the nails through the holes and fold out using the needle-nose pliers (yes, just like a paper fastener).  Hammer down to secure them.

And that’s that!  A lovely decorated book!

The finished book!


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