Caleb's Bio: I am 21 years old, and the oldest of five kids. I'm from Yuma, AZ. My college major is Aerospace Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ.
All four of my siblings, two brothers and two sisters, are dyslexic. I noticed that was one of the things that is mentioned in the about section on your page. Each one of us learns in a slightly different way, so my mom has had to do a lot of curricula tailoring (though her core curricula have been Sonlight and All About Learning). In highschool my mom let me have a small say in the direction I wanted to take, so I chose to have a very math and science heavy education, though she balanced it with plenty of history and literature, among other subjects. My mom's desire for us is to get useful college degrees (like my engineering or my sister's nursing), or vocational certifications (such as welding, for example).
Blue Collar Homeschool (BCH): How did you get started working with leather? Did you learn as a hobby? Did you have a mentor?
Caleb: I got started with leatherworking when I was 11 in 4-H. It was offered, and I wanted to try making something in addition to raising a rabbit. In the 4-H club I did have a mentor, though I can't remember his name. He did leatherworking as a hobby and enjoyed teaching it. My second year in
4-H leatherworking I won a Best Amature Leathercraft award for a wallet I made for my grandfather. After that I sort of left leather alone until last year. I picked it back up last summer because my dad needed a couple items made, and a lot of people told me that I was good enough I could make a business out of it.
BCH: What kind of skills would someone need to get into this line of work?
Caleb: The most important skills to have in this line of work are dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Leather can be used to develop those skills, but professionally it is necessary to already have them. It helps to be able to draw well, but there are thousands of leathercrafting patterns available online and in books if drawing is something you struggle with.
BCH: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Caleb: The thing that I enjoy most about my job is showing something new and unique to the world. Equally enjoyable is seeing the reaction when someone first sees in person this thing that was only in their mind before.
BCH: I know your business is a bit of a side business type venture to help pay for college. Had you studied entrepreneurship prior to beginning? How have you marketed your leather items?
Caleb: As for entrepreneurship education, whenever I find a Ted Talk or article on the subject I listen or read for advice. Perhaps my best entrepreneurship teacher has been my previous business, Leviathan Logos, in which I made custom logos for businesses and individuals. I learned that I need to have a good idea of the time it will take me to finish an order, and that I need to charge enough to be worth that time. I also learned that people respond better to physical products than to virtual (like logos in image files). I have primarily marketed through word-of-mouth (both in person and online) - that's where I find the best and most loyal customers. I have also tried Facebook advertising a couple times with mixed results.
BCH: Do you like custom work?
Caleb: I *love* custom work! It is by far the most satisfying of the work that I do - especially when I can deliver in person and see the customer's face light up. Each custom order is a new challenge and new inspiration.
BCH: What did you think you wanted to do in high school? What's your college major?
Caleb: Since I was nine years old I knew I wanted to be an engineer in some capacity or another. In high school I realized that I also want to be an entrepreneur and own my own business. An engineering business would be especially great, but I know for sure I need to create. I'm most happy when I'm making things.
BCH: What is a typical day like at work for you? Do you get an order and spend many hours on it, or spread out your time on it?
Caleb: Typically when I get an order I get inspired and want to start as soon as possible. So I usually start as soon as I find time and as soon as any I receive any materials I have to order. During spring break this year I spent 12 hours a day, two days in a row working on and finishing a chessboard. Occasionally a large or repetitive project will drain my inspiration and I spread it out more. However, I always finish by the time I have told the customer it will be done.
BCH: Do you consider your work difficult? Rewarding?
Caleb: Occasionally it can be difficult. I remember one project for which someone ordered a trifold wallet with a violin on the back. I made a first run of the wallet, but it ended up too small to even hold credit cards. I had to start over on that project. Sometimes stitching can also be difficult physically on my fingers. Though, in my experience so far, every project has been more rewarding than difficult.
BCH: What advice would you give to someone who might be considering this for a career? Do you think someone could make a go of this full time, and if so, what sort of specialized area would you think would be most profitable?
Caleb: I think that if anyone likes leathercraft and wants to make a full-time go of it that it is definitely possible. One of the easiest areas in leathercraft to get into is Western style, as the modern art of leatherworking was born in cowboy culture. One of the most profitable areas is comic book and fandom culture, though it is an extremely hard market to break into and requires a lot of determination and guts (mostly because of potential legal problems). Another good avenue might be YouTube, but that also takes a lot of patience. My advice is to find what you enjoy the most and do everything you can - practice, fail, learn - to be the best in your market. I would love to get into that fandom market, but until my business is large enough to support that I am taking any leather jobs I can to build my skill and my audience.
BCH: Are the tools and materials expensive to get started? If you do more work, are higher quality tools very expensive?
Caleb: Tool and material prices are, as with anything, relative. In the beginning, with no prior experience, the cost of tools and materials is pretty steep - a 7-tool starter set costs $50 and a mallet, depending on type and quality, costs anywhere from $6-$25 at first. Then you also need a hard, flat surface you don't mind hitting on accident (I use a granite slab), and your leather. It's best to start small with pre-punched kits (as low as $20 from Tandy Leather), these usually have good instructions to get you started. Later on, when you've gained experience and skill, new tools - for edge dressing, hole punching, stitching, and more - cost more. Leather costs less, though, because you start making your own patterns from bulk leather. I currently have about $150 in tools, and there are still a few that I would like to acquire.
BCH: Do you have a shop or dedicated space to work in?
BCH: Do you have a shop or dedicated space to work in?
Caleb: I do not have a dedicated workspace, though I would really like to have a standing height desk to work at. No, I am working out of my living room currently. Though I do try to keep all my tools in one place.
BCH: Are you continuing to add to your skills and knowledge in leathercraft?
Caleb: Yes, I am always trying to improve my leathercraft skill. My skill improves with every project I take on, and occasionally, when I have a lot of down time, I find projects so that I can try new techniques and broaden my horizons.
BCH: Are there learning links for leather work that you could share for us if one of your readers is interested in trying it out and learning more?
Caleb: There are a few links that I would recommend:
Tandyleather.com is where I get my tools and supplies from. They also have a lot of learning resources. Tandy also has a YouTube channel with a lot of great instructional videos as well as their "Maker Series" which are a set of short videos in which they interview full-time leatherworkers for their advice on running a business.
I would also recommend a YouTube channel called Alec Steele. Alec is a blacksmith, not a leathercrafter, but he is my age and has a booming blacksmithing/YouTube business. He often gives great business advice for the aspiring craftsmen.
BCH: As a homeschool graduate, do you think homeschooling prepared you well for college and career? Are there deficits you are noticing, or strengths you have that public education students don't seem to have?
Caleb: I think that homeschooling prepared pretty well for college. I am wonderfully average here at school - basically it's a good challenge. The only deficit that I've really noticed is that I struggle with timed tests - though many of my peers do as well, so it could be other reasons. One advantage I seem to have over my public-schooled peers is my willingness to meet and have meaningful conversation with new people and authorities, like professors, despite the fact that I am rather introverted.
I would like to thank Caleb for taking the time to answer our questions. If you would like to contact Caleb, you may reach him at WilliamsCT@outlook.com, or at his Facebook page for his business, Leviathan Leatherworks www.facebook.com/LeviathanLeatherworks/
Here are a few more photos of Caleb's amazing work!