Leather curling when engraving

I’ve been trying my hand at leather koozy’s(?), and am having issues with the leather curling with the heat when engraving, and messing up the engrave. I’ve tried using magnets to hold down, but the movement of the leather is too strong. This is also true for cutting, when it goes to finish a cut by connecting the cut lines, the original cut mark has usually moved from the curling of the leather due to the heat. This is with vegetable tanned leather, non-proofgrade. Would taping with say painters tape work, or maybe double sided tape? Has anyone found a solution?

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Have you tried using hold down pins?

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Pins might work, but I’d be tempted to use a backer board with some kind of repositionable adhesive. (Could be a cleaning issue, but I’d think that could be dealt with.)


Is the leather proofgrade? How much power are you using?

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how strong are the magnets you’re using? there’s no way leather curl is strong enough to move the magnets i have. if your magnets are strong enough, this won’t be a problem.

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Not proofgrade, power 55, full speed.

I’m not sure how to describe the strength, but I think they’re pretty strong. Not the cheap magnets you get from hobby lobby.

Many magnets list their pull strength in LBS - I have some 7lb pull strength magnets, but I use the pins most often

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i’m not sure what to tell you. i use a mix of rare earth magnets and old salvaged hard drive magnets. there’s literally no way leather could pull either of them up by itself. if i stick them straight to the honeycomb, i need a tool to pry them off. as comparison to what @bigjohn has (7lb pull), the magnets i listed are 12kg (26lb) pull. my hard drive magnets are slightly less, but also have metal plate on the back that can be very useful for covering just a small edge of the material.

i suggest stronger magnets, for sure.

i use a mix of both myself as well. magnets have the benefit of being able to go on top of material and not need open honeycomb to attach. this can be a benefit when you have material that’s not completely flat and open areas in the middle of your job.


Okay, so maybe stronger magnets. Does anyone have a preference for what finish/color works best for engraving in leather. The darker leathers seem to not show the engraves very well.

Are you trying to carve the leather or just tattoo it? If just mark it, 55 is way more than you need. 8-10 gives reasonably dark marks without burning through the skin and without noticeable curling. At worst, run a second pass if you want it darker.

Edit: 10 is about the highest power I would go with unmasked leather on an engrave. I started one at 15, and I started getting smoke and discoloration. If you want to give it a ‘tattoo’ and just mark it, 5-8 is much safer.


Also try draft graphic, but suggest you scale back on the power to 10 and do a small test image and slowly increase the power until you get a good image without curling.

And verify the thickness of your leather vs. the setting you’re using, and either set or same, or OK if is bit larger than actual thickness–e.g. 0.20 when actual is 0.15. (A snap gage is best way to check leather thickness, but micrometer will do, but be aware pending quality of the hide, its thickness can vary. I’ve had horrible experience with leathers from Tandy–great place for tools, but I avoid it for hides).

And alas some leathers are just more prone than others to curling or charring because of their tanning & and dyeing & finishing processes, and can’t be laser etched or cut successfully (as well as some nasty chemicals that can come out when chrome tanned it used).

I use a huge variety of leathers (thickness, tempers, colors) for wide variety of projects, but usually I don’t have much trouble with etching, but cutting is more problematic.

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Leathers that are dark through dye are the least contrast–but can still be interesting.

This was about 2-3oz thick, and I reversed the image so the skulls are unetched–the finish of the hide, and the etched areas provide the matte background.

But thinner calf skin that was black the etched areas turned out brown, for a really nice contrast.
And I’ve found tan, or beige “body” (top finishes vary) can produce nice results–the etched areas will stay darker (I always just use warm water & nail brush or tooth brush to get the soot off etches/cuts–I don’t soak it, and most leathers I use are fine).

But there is no “rule” as the processing and dye method (or even the dyes themselves) will lead to different results. Sometimes something I think should work is crap, something else surprises me and looks great… And I’ve used 1oz up to 10-12oz, mostly cowhides. I’ve tried lambskin, but less consistent results vs. cowhides, and got a decent etching on pigskin.

And I thought I saw it mentioned “tattoo” vs. “etching”–I only do 2 color artwork on leather–you just can’t get the gradation like you can on other media.


I’ve used a mat with Repositionable Adhesive on it pretty successfully.


I was looking atTandy for leather. Where do you buy yours?


I’m near Seattle & really like MacPherson’s for nearly all of my cowhides (they have a sister store in Portland). Tandy is great tools & such, but for leather types I prefer, don’t like Tandy options.

And I do order a lot of smaller or thinner hides from various on line sellers & any weight/finish is available from some–theleatherguy.com is one with a lot & have gotten 5-6oz half hide from him.

I can send you some details on those if you’d like, but let me know if you are looking for pieces or can/want to get full half hides (23-25sq ft), and if a particular type so I can note places I’ve used for those first.


Susan, Bansai8 Creations

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I’m a totally newbie. What leather type and size would you recommend for cozy’s? I like dark brown.


Coffee cup cozies, right? I’ve done some of those–many before my GF, and some with etching, sewn as well as riveted & snap versions…

So first you need to decide how you’ll make them–butt joint & hand sew the ends together, overlap and sew (hand or machine*) or rivet, or set snaps so the can open up flat… And if you want the cozy to be able to keep its shape, or flatten on its own to decide on best weight of leather for that.

I have an industrial machine and have been able to sew up to 12oz thick, but I usually work with 5-7oz and thinner… Most home machines can handle the softer & thinner leathers (~2oz) fine, and leather needle helps a lot there, too.

For the cozies I made this summer, they were about 7-8 oz, and I overlapped and riveted (I overlapped for machine sewing, too, so used my same pattern). A few years ago I did some layering of thin leathers over a 5-6 oz cowhide–I like a cozy that holds its shape, and also thick enough to be an effective insulator of the hand from the heat in the cup. But thicker leather also means shape needs to be good match with the cup, too!

Leather is sold by square foot usually, and referred to by the OZ as expression of the thickness. Higher OZ = thicker (heavier per given area). (But some shops have scrap, which is how I started buying, and many on-line shops sell odd cuts/scraps, too–I’ve thought about doing it via my Etsy shop, but haven’t set up yet–I keep finding my own ways to use my scrap :slight_smile: ).

And “temper” also is important as it lets you know how stiff or flexible the hide will be–leathers for garments are very “soft” but leathers used for belt strapping, for example, will be firm… (and you have have very firm thin leather or soft/supple thick leathers). There are loads of sites with lots more details on all of this–recommend checking some to understand before you order anything on-line, in particular–though I prefer buying in person to feel the hide, and build confidence in what I knew I wanted before buying on-line.

If hand sewing, you’ll either want a punch to add the holes for the needle to pass through or cut those in (most of the GF patterns include holes or slots). And there are a lot of really good books and videos about hand sewing, too. And rivets & snaps you can get in sizes suitable for different leather thicknesses, too.

Some of my favorite on-line resources (with cup cozy weights in mind):

Brettuns Village Leather (website) – they are in Maine, super fast shipping, and very fun to read through the descriptions & their newsletter. I’ve found some really interesting leathers in their clearance section & some other nice hides.

One-way 52 (on Etsy & eBay) – maybe not thicker hides, but great source for small pieces of various types of leathers

The Leather Guy (website, eBay,etc) – years ago I got a nice 5-6 oz cowhide, and always look there a lot, but haven’t ordered…

PeggySueAlso (Etsy, eBay) – shop in Tacoma that I love to visit, too (though not too often–they don’t offer wholesale pricing)–they mostly have garment & upholstry weight and thinner (3-4 and less), but some amazing stuff–and you can buy small pieces (e.g. 12x12")–so maybe not good to list here, since it’s not stuff I etch, use on guitar straps and for bags…

And I have repurposed some old coats (mainly lambskins)–but may be a way to get some leather pretty cheaply to test with, if nothing else!

Overall I have great results etching different leathers (some etch better than others though), but very inconsistent with cutting… And the PG “thick” is actually very thin in the leather world. It’s hard to find natural veg tanned leather split as thin as what the GF sets as “thick”, but some days my machine is happy cutting w/ setting the actual thickness, somedays not… I need more magnets, too, I’m sure.

I hope this helps!



So the one I tested on was 2.5 oz, and I am happy with how it turned out. It was light and flexible, but I wouldn’t mind trying for something stiffer as long as the Glowforge could handle cutting it. What weight is the GF good for? I was intending to make a non-traditional sized cozy with an idea to replace the traditional disposable sleeves with a reusable/cheapish alternative. I overlapped and stitched one together, and another I did a corset stitch, with a small gap in between the two sides. I hand stitched both, but do like the look of buttons, and did some research into those. They seem simple enough to attach, I’ve never done it though so wasn’t sure. I understand the weight part, what I’m not sure about is the different finishes, or tanning methods, and the animal part it comes from, e.g. shoulder, belly, etc. Is the finish just a preference for look, or do some function better engraved, or even a toxic no-no for engraving. Thanks so much for all you advice.

What weight will GF cut? I tried cutting some of my 10-12 oz, and got really bad charring at times (some coasters were OK, got bad on others), but you might be able to avoid that by masking. But you have to test yourself as every hide will vary how it’s split, and rolled, where it comes from, so density can change across pieces.

And your cozy idea is good–as I said, I’ve done some, as have many others, but always fun to get new ones out there! The corset stitch sounds nice. Buttons? Nice for accent, but not for function if it’s a leather thicker and firmer than 2oz garment weight. (But you could always layer so the button hole is thin leather, and the bulk of the cozy is thicker…

At this stage, don’t worry about belly vs. butt vs. shoulder (yet). Finishes is all personal preference, really, which is why if you can get to a store is great way to start finding what you like.

Avoid chromium tanned for the toxicity with lasering, but to be honest, I probably have used it (though I don’t do a few minute jobs at a time), and try to make sure the wind isn’t blowing back towards the window I vent out of!

Veg tanned etches really nicely–which is what the Proofgrade is, though I’ve never seen it split as thin as their “thick” is. The natural (unfinished) can be a nice look–it will darken with use, especially with a cozy from all the hand oils–and lots of options to dye & finish yourself (loads of other GF owners use these with wonderful results).

But you just have to test–I’ve been happily surprised with how good some come out, and some I thought would come out well were crap. If you want contrast betwee the etching and finish, you need to use leathers that are not thru-dyed, but have a top finish with a different color than the body. But some light browns the etching leaves the body leather dark, even after washing the soot off, and makes a nice contrast. Dark browns & blacks usually very subtle.