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Homepage / Arts + Culture  / Crafting a Legacy: The Art of Leatherwork and Tool Preservation Through the Eyes of a Local Artisan

Crafting a Legacy: The Art of Leatherwork and Tool Preservation Through the Eyes of a Local Artisan

Lifetime Leather owner Ty Bowman preserves the rich history of leatherwork with handcrafted goods.

By Carly Scholl | Photography by Rob Ballard | Styling by Len Loria

In the midst of the housing crisis in 2011, Ty Bowman’s construction gig was looking bleak. “I was panicked because I didn’t know how I would get Christmas presents for my family,” he recalls. Around the same time, his wife’s step-grandfather passed away and serendipitously left his collection of leatherworking tools to Bowman. “We had never talked about leatherwork, and he didn’t know that I had some experience in it,” he asserts. “I had no idea why he wanted me to have them, but suddenly I had the tools, I had the knowledge, and I just needed the material.” Another serendipitous event followed—one day while driving, Bowman spotted a leather couch on the side of the road. He took it home, cleaned it up, and used the material to create Christmas gifts for everyone in his family. They were a hit, and the rest is history. 

“I just love the craft, so it doesn’t matter what I’m making—even if I’ve made it a thousand times—I still love the process,” Bowman says of the line of leather home goods and accessories, handcrafted at his San Tan Valley-based business, Lifetime Leather. “What is really interesting about this industry, though, is the tool-acquisition process. You can’t just buy them online or from a hardware store if you want quality pieces that will last. You have to go to specialty dealers and collectors and travel all over the world to find these tools.

“The craftsmanship and steel quality is so different now,” he continues. “Today, things are strategically made to wear out over time. But back then, things were made to last forever.” Unfortunately, the preservation and acquisition of tools is sort of a dying art. “I’ve been going to the same dealers and collectors for years, and they have no idea how to use websites, credit cards or print receipts. But they’re the keepers of the tools, and when they’re gone, I hope the next generation will continue the tradition.”

1. One of the most versatile tools in Bowman’s workshop, this all-purpose head knife is crafted from Damascus steel and fitted with a moose-antler handle. 

2. Able to cut through thick leather, zippers and metal, these 150-year- old shears are have never been sharpened since Bowman acquired them. “These were found in a cabin in the backwoods of Maine,” he notes. “You cannot find a pair of shears on earth that could beat these.” 

3. Used to give a decorative look to a leather edge, this edge creaser (left) is from the collection left to Bowman by his wife’s step-grandfather. A wooden dowel called an edge burnisher (right) smooths leather edges and gives them a glossy finish. 

4. (Clockwise from left) A stitch groover, hole puncher and sewing awl are all used in the sewing process to make stitching easier.

5. Durable waxed polyester cord adds a colorful touch to handstitched items, such as wallets, journals and toiletry bags. 

6. A stitching pony clamps to the edge of a work surface and holds leather in place for precision sewing.


Lifetime Leather, San Tan Valley,


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