How to Mold a Leather Mask

Written by patti perry
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How to Mold a Leather Mask
Vegetable tanned leather is very mouldable when dampened and formed. (leather background. image by wrangler from

Leather mask making has an old lineage in the theatre. Use vegetable tanned leather, which is treated in oak bark or other plant extracts, to obtain the best moulding results. Salt cured rawhide is too stiff for this work. Damp leather can be shaped, stretched and carved to create the mask of your dreams. Once it dries, it will retain the shapes you have given it.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 3 pieces of pine (12 by 3 by 12 inches), no knots
  • 2 large C clamps
  • PVA (Polyvinyl acetate) glue
  • Calipers
  • Pencil
  • Drill
  • 1/4-inch drill bit
  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Gouges
  • Knife
  • 60 grit sandpaper
  • 100 grit sandpaper
  • Leather, top grain vegetable tanned, 21.3gr
  • Warm water
  • Spoon
  • Fabric scissors
  • Razor blade knife
  • Spray bottle
  • Leather dyes
  • Acrylic paints

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  1. 1

    Cut three 12-inch by 3-inch by 12-inch pieces of pine. Align them so all the grain is running in the same direction.

  2. 2

    Use PVA (Polyvinyl acetate) glue on all facing surfaces.

  3. 3

    Clamp with two C clamps and allow glue to cure for 24 hours. Remove clamps.

  4. 4

    Use calipers to measure your face dimensions and transfer these to the wooden block with pencil lines to indicate carving areas. Mark the high and the low points and identify the eye centres and cheekbones.

  5. 5

    Measure the depth and width of the nose. Drill holes in the wooden block at the appropriate spots to indicate these depths. This will allow you to see these measurements as you carve away the wood.

  6. 6

    Hammer and chisel away the large areas of wood that need to be removed. Work from the centre of the form out to the sides, always protecting the nose shape.

  7. 7

    Use a gouge to start refining the face form. Continue to measure with the calipers and transfer these measurements to create a face shape.

  8. 8

    Whittle smaller areas with a knife and refine further with 60 grit sandpaper. Use 100 grit sandpaper for the final smoothing.

  1. 1

    Wash your hands and do so regularly throughout this process. Grease from your fingers can get into the leather and make it difficult to colour.

  2. 2

    Soak 21.3gr top grained leather, vegetable tanned, in warm water for a few minutes until it is thoroughly wet,soft and pliable. Wring and work the leather in all directions to pulverise the grain fibres.

  3. 3

    Lay the softened leather over the wooden face form. If there is a thick end to the leather, place it at the bottom of the mask. Fold the leather under the nose area.

  4. 4

    Force the leather onto the face form with your hands to get an initial impression.

  5. 5

    Use a spoon, as a modelling spatula, to push the leather into smaller crevices. Cut small V's in the leather, if necessary, to ease the leather into small areas.

  6. 6

    Dampen with a spray bottle to rework areas.

  7. 7

    Cut details, such as wrinkles, with a razor blade knife.

  8. 8

    Allow to dry for 24 hours.

  9. 9

    Cut out eyes and any other openings with a razor blade knife.

  10. 10

    Trim the outer edge with heavy duty fabric shears.

  11. 11

    Paint the exterior with leather dyes or acrylic paints.

Tips and warnings

  • Tacking with brass or steel tacks may be required around the eyes shapes to keep the damp leather in position.

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