Around 2011/2012, there seemed to have been an explosion of interest in leather crafting – with handy folks taking up leatherwork, and part-time crafters turning their hobby into a profession.
One of the many American craftsmen to launch their brand at the time was John Faler of Dayton, Ohio. His work had been introduced to me on Superfuture back in 2011, but it wasn’t until recently, via Instagram, I learnt a little more about John and his brand, Faler Leathers.
Though not aggressively curved or flamboyant in details, John’s crafts interested me greatly – there is a signature styling that I found to be very new and exciting to me, having recently started to re-explore the leather crafting scene. Featured today is a sample bifold wallet that is not yet part of John’s online webshop offerings, but could perhaps be representative of his craft in general.
Let’s take a closer look!
This is a bifold (or billfold) type wallet in basic design, with one notes compartment, six card slots and two storage compartments under the card slots.
From the side, when folded and compressed, the wallet is 12 mm thick – you wouldn’t mistake this for a bifold that you can find in a mall shop!
This wallet differs in a small way from some of John’s more recent work, having the top edges of the inner and outer matched at the same height, and having the inner panels rounded on the outer corners both at the top and the bottom. This creates, in my opinion, an even more streamlined look on what is already a very clean bifold design.
As per what I understand to be John’s signature style, the wallet features extensive edge creasing, straight card slots and hand-stitching that frames not only the outershell, but also the left & right internal panels. There are seven layers in total, with the thickest portion containing five such layers.
This is very much a wallet for the denim/workwear/heritage-wear enthusiast, definitely not something that’ll fit in your shirt pocket 😀
The bovine leather used to construct this wallet is Wickett & Craig’s (W&C) vegetable tanned natural leather, which had been initially developed for tooling and carving. Originally a Canadian tannery, W&C is now one of the only two American tanneries which continue to operate true vegetable tanning (the other, I believe, is Hermann Oak).
The mixed bark tanning that W&C employs is a quick and high-tec process. The hides spend an average of only two weeks in the tanning vats, and, as opposed to traditional bark tanning where the pits are kept minimally disturbed, here the tanning liquor is cycled and flows through the vats.
The difference, compared with a very traditional single bark slow tan, is that the grain growth is more shallow and the leather fibres are firmer and more compacted.
The colour is initially quite pale, with an interesting yellow tone that I tried to capture in some of the photos. However, with one feeding and a couple of wears, the leather quickly turned pink and developed a strong red tinge.
This leather is a little bit shinier compared with other W&C natural leathers I’ve seen, maybe due to John manually brushing and cloth polishing the leather in his workshop.
To nit pick just a little, the backside of the leather, whilst smooth, could perhaps be further finished to facilitate easier insertion of bills in the notes compartment.
Unlike the Village Works natural pit-tanned saddle leather that featured on this blog recently, this W&C leather is unfinished – starting with a much lighter colour, lower oil content and firmer temper. A true blank canvas for patina development, but not as beginner friendly in that there are likely large variations in how this leather might achieve patina depending on how it is used and treated. There is potential for great colour development, but could possibly look very average if not properly fed – all a matter of individual taste, of course.
It is in the construct of this front pocket wallet that much of John Faler’s signature is revealed. Despite the heftiness and ruggedness of this bifold, there is an usual level of detailing and precision that is, at first glance, difficult to pin down and only apparent with use and examination.
First, look at his hand saddle-stitch. Precise, regular, evenly pulled and symmetrical on both sides of the wallet. The natural Lin Cable thread sits extremely close to the surface without cutting into the leather, and should provide great contrast as the leather darkens.
I caught myself looking over every stitch on this wallet, even the ones hidden beneath the card slots, thinking there must be a wonky stitch somewhere. There were none to be found.
Second, the hand burnish utilises organic beeswax sourced locally in Ohio and is applied to all edges. The finish is superb – no further words are necessary, just have a look at the photos above!
Third, the precision edge pressing & creasing are notable too – the width and depth of creasing being remarkably consistent despite the extensive application, this regularity adding to the clean and streamlined aesthetic of the wallet as a whole. The pressed edges give the wallet very neat profiles from all sides, despite the thickness of the leather.
Finally, whilst not immediately apparent in these photos, this wallet has been very neatly and precisely put together. The panels are not only carefully matched and stacked, but skiving is done where required to keep the thickness of the wallet consistent from the top down. The left and right look identical, and the “error” in paneling between each side is less than 1 mm! Especially impressive considering the overall thickness of the wallet – it is a beast of a bifold, though a very elegant and symmetrical beast.
I have shown photos of this wallet to a few different leather craftsmen whose opinion I trust, and they all remark that John’s work is superbly clean.
This is certainly also my own impression. I think John’s precision and consideration in crafting, especially given the heavy, Americana style of this wallet, is extraordinary. Remembering that John is working with layers upon layers of 4 oz unfinished veg tanned leather – not some chrome tanned goat or oily calfskin – I can only imagine the intense focus required in the creation of this wallet.
I have seen and handled many workwear/Americana style wallets made by different crafters and workshops from across the globe, and it is only in less than a dozen instances – mostly bespoke Japanese wallets that cost as much as bench-made boots – where the precision in detailing and finesse in handwork were in the same tier as this Faler Leathers wallet.
However, unlike many high-end Japanese pieces, John’s work is neither exaggerated nor ostentatious. Again, clean.
The many straight lines of the wallet are balanced by the corner curves, and I do think that this new/sample design is a little sexier compared with some of John’s earlier work. Perhaps a couple more curves on the inside might make a monogamous wallet-user out of me.
In practical terms, this wallet is sturdy, spacious, user friendly and very compatible with denim and other workwear fabrics.
The W&C natural vegetable tanned leather that is used might not be at the same level as Baker’s oak bark leather or Pailot River’s Himeji pit-tanned leather, nevertheless it is probably as good as it gets in terms of an unfinished North American leather, and I do prefer it to most of the Italian stuff. I know that John is able to offer additional finishes with this particular leather, such as hand-glazing. Though, in the raw state, this leather is a remarkable blank canvas on which to produce patina. Hobbyists who have a basic idea regarding the care of vegetable tanned leathers (if you’re reading my blog there is no excuse for ignorance :P) should be able to derive much enjoyment out of this leather.
I have absolutely no hesitations in recommending John’s work, and in fact I’d say you really must have a look at his website. Order one of his crafts, and see how the rest of your leathers compare.