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Tools of the trade

The Tribune/Michelle Goodman Harold Hutchison demonstrates how he hand carves designs on leather at his shop, Hutchison Custom Leather and Tack. The shop is located at 110 N. Third St., Ironton.

The Tribune/Michelle Goodman
Harold Hutchison demonstrates how he hand carves designs on leather at his shop, Hutchison Custom Leather and Tack. The shop is located at 110 N. Third St., Ironton.

Carlus Hutchison learned the leather-working trade when he was stationed in Italy during World War II.

His Italian teacher didn’t speak a word of English, nor did the soldier speak a work of Italian.

But somehow, the Scioto County native brought a new skill stateside — one that he passed on to his son, Harold Hutchison.

A truck driver by trade, Harold was taught how to build and restore saddles, design, sew and stain leather when he was 8 years old. He also worked at Capitol Saddlery in Austin, Texas, in the 1980s.

Even after more than 40 years, he said there is always something to learn.

“This is something you have to keep refining,” Harold said.

This past summer, Harold and his wife, Pam, of South Webster, opened Hutchison Custom Leather and Tack by the Rotary fountain in Ironton.

At the front of the store, handmade leather horse halters hang from the wall. Leather keeper loops for belts are displayed on a counter. Custom guitar straps and a motorcycle seat hang nearby.

But in the back of the store, that’s where you’ll, quite literally, find Harold’s tools of the trade, some of which were inherited from his father.

And with those tools, there is no limit to what the saddlemaker can design.

Harold can hand carve or sew leather wallets, belts, vests, motorcycle seats, saddles and tack, gun and knife holsters and more.

“Anything they can dream up, we can make it,” Harold said.

Harold demonstrated his craft by carving a squash blossom — the most common leather design — onto a scrap piece of leather, first creating an outline, then cutting the design with a swivel knife. He then outlined the shape with various carving tools to give the image dimension, followed by a stain to bring out the intricacies of the design.

“We use all American leather if at all possible, “Harold said.

But his favorite kind of work is restoring antique saddles, he said, many of which are from as far back at the mid-1800s.

Harold admitted the leather trade has declined over the years due to a lack of interest from the younger generations. Some people also try to take up the trade without proper training.

“A lot of shops people open up just by watching a video,” Harold said. “We get that stuff in here to repair. We get their ‘oopses.’”

Harold hopes to rejuvenate some interest by hosting beginner classes for those who want to learn the basics. He also recently hosted a local Boy Scout troop and the Scouts made key rings and bracelets with their names on them.

“I enjoy doing stuff like that with the kids,” he said.

Hutchison Custom Leather and Tack is located at 110 N. Third St., Ironton. It is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.