Material Challenge: Leather and Metal

In class this week, we were challenged to fabricate something that made use of two different materials, and neither could be acrylic or plywood. I have been trying to replace my wallet for the past couple of months, so I was eager to try making something with leather that could give me some experience working with it.

Metal provides a great foil (yes, pun intended) to leather. Just ask any punk or biker. So I set out to do some shopping at two shops that specialized in just those items: Global Leathers and Metalliferous.

Global Leathers was super helpful and had a ton of variety. Picture courtesy of Yelp user Bob R.

I was concerned that Global Leathers might not be interested in helping someone looking to essentially buy scraps, but they were actually very helpful and didn’t really mind that I wasn’t putting in a wholesale order. Metalliferous had many small pieces of sheet metal that I could choose from, but I ultimately ended up buying the aluminum. I figured it would be easiest to work with.

So now that I had some material to work with, I had to figure out what to make. I generally want to make something useful, and since I’m not that familiar with the material, I decided to make a tray. I know really exciting.

Leather tray

I wasn’t quite sure how to incorporate the metal yet, but I figured I could at least us it as a bottom for the tray. The leather I purchased was a sheep skin, so it wasn’t very thick and was very soft. Having something stiff on the bottom would help to keep the tray from being too floppy. I cut two sides of the tray in case I wanted to hide the aluminum in the middle of the two pieces.

Sheepskin leather that has been laser cut

I then cut down the aluminum to size. I used the metal shearer first but then cleaned up the edges using the nibbler and a file.

I had to file the edges down to remove the sharp bits.
I’m wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to hide the aluminum or expose it.

I tried sandwiching the aluminum and leather, but one of the problems I ran into was that the inside sheet of leather began to buckle once I started folding it together.

Without modifying the inside piece of leather, it begins to buckle near the center of the tray

I also checked wether I would be okay with the aluminum being exposed.

Still not sure whether I should use the second layer of leather, this looks pretty good.

I decided to go for the second piece of leather because the aluminum had some scuff marks I couldn’t quite ignore. But I had to recut the second piece of leather in order to accommodate for the folded geometry.

I modified the inside layer to fit while folded up. I included slots near the creased areas and shifted the holes inward and also shaved a bit off the edges as well.

The second layer this time accounted for the thickness of material when folded so the holes and edges line up when folded. Unfortunately, the walls were still a little too floppy.

The tray looks better and the buckling in the middle has been solved, but the walls are still too loose to stand upright on their own.

I then cut strips of aluminum to act as edges for the sides. Using the bender, I shaped them into channels and secured them to the leather with a pair of pliers. The rigidity of the aluminum gives the tray walls enough stability to stay upright.

I cut 1/2″ strips from the aluminum I had left and crimped them against the leather using pliers.

The final tray works at least. The aluminum feels somewhat cheap in comparison to the sheepskin. The edges, while functional are maybe too rigid and cause the tray to lose some of what makes leather such an alluring material.

View of the final version with aluminum reinforcement and binding barrel feet.
Bottom side of the final version of the tray showing the binding barrel feet.


  1. Nice work, I’m glad you tried materials that are new for you. Do you think Global Leathers should be added to the Resources page on the Fab site?

    I like that you experimented with the design – metal on top, on bottom, sandwiched between leather. If you look at the design of the tray that inspired you, there is a sewn hem edge. I wonder if that stiffens the leather somewhat. Also, they are probably using stiffer leather. I wonder if you segmented the aluminum to be a bottom piece and 4 side pieces, and then sandwiched those pieces between leather if it would have worked for you.

    1. Definitely. The staff were really friendly and didn’t mind the fact that I was only purchasing a small amount. There may be some places with better prices, though. I also found that McMaster sells pieces of leather as well

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