Purchase photos

Master of leather

6/15/2014

By JUDY SHERARD

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

La CROSSE -- Wallets to baby buggy covers, if it can be made from leather, Bob Litson probably has made it.

Some things such as wallets and checkbook covers, he's made dozens in a variety of styles and colors.

Litson learned leather crafting in the 1960s from his father, Wayne Litson, who was self-taught.

"When he died (in 1979), he had leather in all of the states and 13 foreign countries. He was an artist," Bob Litson said of his father.

Bob Litson didn't believe he was as good a leathercrafter as his father, "so I didn't do it."

A few months after his father's death, Litson's friend asked to learn how to carve leather.

Litson taught him, and took up the craft again himself, turning it into a part time business.

He and his wife, Lynn, own R Litson Leathercraft.

"My dad was Litson Leathercraft," Bob Litson said. "I didn't want to use that name, but I didn't want to get that far away from it."

Bob and Lynn Litson sell their leather items at craft shows, and take orders for custom items.

Most years by November he has three pages of orders for holiday gift giving often finishing his last project on Dec. 24, Lynn Litson said.

"This year I was early; I delivered the last one the 23rd of December," Bob Litson said.

Litson plans to retire from his job as an accountant at the end of July and work on his leather business full-time.

"Once I retire, we'll try to do a lot more shows."

He's setting up shop in a building next to his home.

"When I'm home, I'll probably be out here eight hours a day, and people can stop by," Bob Litson said.

Lynn Litson helps with craft show displays and sales.

"I try to give him new ideas," she said.

At least 90 percent of the business is special orders for items that range from belts to custom gun holsters.

Bob Litson recently made a holster from a drawing and measurements without ever seeing the gun it would hold.

The color range of leather is finite, but using water-based stain and acrylic or oil-based dye, color choices are infinite.

He free-hands some designs, but most are traced using computer generated designs.

It's important to keep the design being traced in same spot "or lines go everywhere," he said.

Once the design is traced, carving comes next.

Pre-embossed leather is available, but that isn't Bob Litson's style.

"I sit here and do it."

Though he's used carving knives with metal blades, Litson usually uses a newer swivel knife with a ceramic blade.

Ceramic blades stay sharp longer, and the blade "moves as I go, it will follow lines -- go in and out," he said.

Litson sometimes uses a straight edge as well.

The designs are traced, but each item is different "because I never follow the lines exactly. When I go to carve it, it gets changed every time."

Once the design is carved, beveling insets the design and gives it a 3D effect.

The final step is finishing -- applying an acrylic that provides a super sheen.

Items like wallets and notebooks are finished with a double loop stitching around the edges similar to braiding.

"He's trying to teach me how to lace," Lynn Litson said. "It's not as easy as you think."

Bob Litson has sewn so many, he can just about do it with my eyes closed.

"The only problem with doing leather is that they don't wear out real quick," Bob Litson said.

What wears out usually is the sewing or lacing on a billfold, and that can be replaced.

In fact Bob Litson has relaced the lacing on some of the items his father made.

Some customers come back year after year for youth belts and billfolds, and this is the 28th year he's made the McCracken Rodeo buckles.

Prices vary depending on the piece, but he admits he doesn't get paid much for the time it takes to make most items.

"I get paid more in the satisfaction of getting the job done," he said.

To contact R Litson Leathercraft email bobatdnt@gbta.net.