Steve Beat loves the rich smell of leather, working with his hands, and the product itself.
That is why he opened his business, Buffalo Creek Leather, offering Hays-made hand-crafted leather goods such as gun holsters, knife holders, key fobs, billfolds, lots of flip phone pouches, and a few other things.
A special pleasure for Beat is the enjoyment others receive when they order a product and are pleased with the results.
“I get to see the look on peoples face when I hand them the finished product,” he said. “If it’s legal and within reason and doable for me, depending on my skill level, I’ll do it.”
Right now, he sells items he has pre-made and takes custom orders at Downtown Hays Market during the summer, has a Facebook page, and has started selling items to a retail store, Bull City Gun Shop in Alton. He also is a licensed vendor for Fort Hays State University and can sell products with the school’s logo.
The crafter enjoys the Hays Market. He might not sell much, but spending time visiting and helping out the other vendors makes it worthwhile.
“That’s how I got started,” Beat said.
He is methodical, practical and careful with his work. He doesn’t consider himself highly creative, but keeps in mind how the customer intends for the product to be used and what they want.
“I like everything to look nice, but ultimately it’s got to function,” Beat said. “I like to make something someone can use.”
Although Beat has a full-time job at FHSU as the custodian at Forsyth Library, he works approximately 25 hours a week in his small shop in the backyard at his home, which is filled with bulk leather and tools. Beat will retire in five or six years and plans on building his leather business as a part-time retirement job.
“I’m building it slowly,” he said. “I’m still in the learning process.”
Beat learned the basics of leather working while he was in high school. He picked up the hobby again a year ago, learning from the Internet and with some assistance of a friend.
“I was interested in holsters and purchased some. I decided I probably could just make them myself,” he said. “I starting with hand stitching and doing things with a minimal amount of tools, and the next thing I know, I’m in business.”
Beat has added tools and equipment little-by-little to his shop. Starting with round knives for cutting, he has added a industrial leather sewing machine, at a cost of $3,000, and a press for imprinting the leather.
He is dismayed at some of the leather products he sees in stores. So, he uses high quality thread for sewing, and good quality, thick leather so that his products will last a long time.
The hobbyist can dye his leather into bright colors such as pink, blue or purple. He also has natural brown and black.
Beat generally makes his own patterns, using old manila file folders. He then outlines the pistol or whatever the pouch is for on the folder.
Leaving a little extra on each side, he then will cut the folder into the desired shape.
He spends quite a bit of time on patterns and uses the old adage, measure twice or three times and cut once. He’s not really fast at making patterns because he likes it to be right the first time. Patterns can be purchased, but when Beat buys a pattern, he ends up fine-tuning it anyway.
“Making patterns takes the most time and patience. I like it to be right the first time,” he said. “Sometimes the pattern making takes almost as much time as it takes to make something. If you leave a little extra leather, you can trim it, but it if you can’t stretch it very much.
“You can mold it around things, but you can only stretch it so much.”
Cutting with the round knives also takes care because they have to be kept very sharp and dull very fast. Leather costs quite a bit, and Beat doesn’t want to waste any.
The product is then glued and sewn.
Ultimately, for Beat, the time invested in a product he enjoys is worthwhile.
“I love leather. You’ve got to love leather to work with it.”