By Ann Leach
It all started when Chad Keutzer built a knife and realized he needed a sheath to hold it. He went to the shoe repair store in Lamar, Missouri, and got some scrap leather and figured out how to create a simple sheath.
“I really enjoyed doing that and thought I’d like to get a bit deeper into that craft,” he said. “I have been working with and tooling leather for a few years now and work to make each piece better than the one I just finished.”
Keutzer, a self-taught craftsman, referred to YouTube videos and took classes with master leather crafter Denny Lowe in Springfield, Missouri, for his learning path. With a degree in wood technology from Pittsburg State University, Keutzer discovered working with multiple materials on each product. He said, “I am a craftsman at heart. I enjoy combining metal with wood, for example (his favorite style currently is the Sheridan western floral carving and tooling). I really like building and making things with leather.
“There are two basic types of leather: vegetable tanned and chrome tanned. I use both. The vegetable tanned is what I use when I need to tool the leather.”
Tooling is putting a pattern or picture on the leather itself. “It’s also used to create wet molded pieces like the bowls I make. And chrome tanned leather is used when I create handbags and earrings. Other results have included Bible covers, belts and portfolios.”
To manage the workload, Keutzer said, “I try to be in the leather room every day. When I cut the leather, I will always strop my knife to get a super sharp edge on it. I will also think about the best use of the leather and the best layout of the pattern to get the most out of the leather piece.”
But the best intentions don’t always pan out: Keutzer learned the truth of that old adage, “Measure twice, cut once.” He had finished a Bible cover to find out he built it too big. “To make the best out of it I now use the cover as a display piece to show people how the cover is built and a possible look for the finished product,” he said.
Yet it is the Bible cover he enjoys working on the most. “I really like visiting with the client and showing them the patterns I have,” he said. “If they want something different, then I will ask for a picture to work from and work up a sample sketch. If they have a particular brand, then I will incorporate that into the design.”
“My favorite part of being a crafter is presenting the client with a piece that not only makes them happy, but that they can pass down to their children or grandchildren.” – Chad Keutzer
To see Keutzer’s work, you can visit Local Color Art Gallery in Joplin, or catch him at a local craft show.