Brad Smith is an artist with leather and he is passing his knowledge on to the next generation.
"I've always liked making things and having something when you're done doing it," Smith said. "I'm not one of those people that can watch TV for hours."
Under the name of Rafter Cross Leather, Smith produces leatherwork partially as a way to remember the friend who taught him how to do it.
Christmas stockings, rope bags, notebook covers and more are some of the items Smith creates in his workshop.
“You'd be amazed at some of the off-the-wall things people come up with for you to make," Smith said.
He stitches together guitar straps, wallets and belts, but purses are the most popular thing he makes.
"I'm getting a lot of Christmas orders, now," Smith said.
With the help of his family, Smith recently finished an order for 32 belt buckle hangers that were given away as prizes for a rodeo.
"You win a lot of buckles over the year, and you can kind of display your favorites," Smith said. "I think I figured I punched 30 holes in each one. It went fast, but it took forever."
He starts to work with a piece of leather by spraying it down with plenty of water.
"It'll hold all that moisture and become more pliable," Smith explained.
Textured designs of simple geometric shapes or delicate flowers are added to the leather. Sometimes, Brad is asked to hand-tool a person's signature or family brand.
"I like doing the custom things more, because it means something to people," Smith said.
As he works, he picks up tools from his collection of around 100 different stamps.
"I could get another 50 and still not have everything I need," Smith said.
Using a mallet, Brad pounds the tool harder towards the edge of a flower, lightening his taps as he worked his way inwards to create a three-dimensional effect.
"The deeper you go, the more definition you can get in it," Smith explained.
The leather is then oiled and dyed to a customer's specifications.
"When they want the background dyed black, it really makes it pop," said Smith’s wife, Jenny.
Smith finds the shapes he uses for stamping in a pattern book or creates them from his own imagination. The designs he works into the cowhide will hold up for many years.
"The leather I use is the same stuff they use to make saddles with," Smith said. "They should last a very long time."
Rafter Cross Leather creations are made of American cattle hides, which are often a solid color, or Brazilian cattle hides, which are spotted.
"They have a little different color variations on their cattle," Smith said.
Smith marks everything he makes — from picture frames to Western chinks — with his family's Rafter Cross brand. Some of his favorite items are larger pieces that require more than 50 hours to make.
"Eventually, I want to build my own saddle," Smith said. "I don't want to go into the saddle-making business, but just to say I made my own saddle."
Smith is teaching his three sons the art of hand-tooling leather.
'The boys enjoy it," Smith said with a laugh. "We have more coasters than anybody I know, because that's the first thing I have them do."
Each boy has their own table that holds a small set of tools and work area. Breck and Blain are old enough to do leatherwork as a 4-H project, an activity little brother Brody is eager to join.
"We've got all kinds of scraps of leather all over the house," Jenny Smith said. "When they have friends come over, they make them a coaster with their initials on it."
For more information about Rafter Cross Leather, visit their Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.