The art of a great man’s wallet

Best Leather Wallets For Men  

“The first few I made were really, really bad,” Jesse Ducommun tells me, gesturing to a shoebox of rough looking leather wallets that sits beside a four-ton clicking press he keeps inside his home. In the two years since Ducommun first made those wallets, he has become one of the go-to small leather craftsmen online; his shop, Guarded Goods, sells wallets and other goods crafted by hand from high-quality leather. Because he had no instruction or training, Ducommun’s process involved a great deal of trial and error: “I had no direction, and bought hundreds, or even thousands of dollars worth of tools that I don’t even use. I could do everything with about five tools.”

Great Leather Wallets

Ducommun uses a special stitch called a saddle stitch, which involves threading a piece of cord through both sides of a hole in order to create a more durable stitch that won’t unravel if one part of the thread should break. Stitching by hand and not with a sewing machine is indeed slower—it takes up to two hours to complete a 4-slot bifold wallet—but creates a resilient product. His inspiration came when his eye landed on a wallet that was $180. Ducommun decided that for far less than that, he could go out and buy the tools to make it himself.

Ducommun’s background in graphic design made it easy for him to sketch out patterns on his computer, in illustrator. He then printed his patterns out onto a template, which was used to cut the leather to shape. The steel press that sits in a bedroom of his house, where all of Guarded Goods’ wares are produced, reduces production time significantly, as a metal die is placed over the leather and is cut to shape out by the press. For the most part, leather no longer needs to be traced out by hand. The rest of the process, however, has remained largely unchanged.

guarded goods leather wallet

Once the leather is cut, he will bevel the edges of each piece, making sure no edge is square. The slots of his wallets are then glued down, and then marked up by an overstitch wheel, which creates a small indentation where each stitch hole should go. Spaced roughly 3mm apart; each hole is punched out by hand. Some leather craftsmen choose to use a tool that makes a series of holes at once, but Ducommun finds this method leaves the maker with less control over the appearance of a final product: “If you use a pronged tool, you need to place a chisel above it, which could mean the holes come out crooked.” This arduous process of punching out each hole individually is part of what allows Ducommun to send out cleaner looking products and operate with a smaller margin of error. Once the wallet is assembled, the exposed edges are burnished with a combination of a gum and beeswax, which flattens the exposed rough nap of the leather.

Ducommun Part of what makes Guarded Goods so popular online is not only that the amount of work that goes into each item, but that the owner carefully selects which leather to use. A popular option at the moment is a waxed flesh. The rough, suede side of the leather is waxed and flattened; the appearance of this leather changes significantly over time. Few other craftsmen are using it at the moment, Ducommun notes, but it is in high demand at his shop.

Another popular leather is shell cordovan—a leather made from the membrane on the rump of a horse. It is a popular choice in footwear, and while Chicago’s Horween Leather Company supplies most of the cordovan in the U.S., Guarded Good uses cordovan from the UK, and from Shinki Hikaku, a tannery in Japan that is notoriously hard to source leather from. When toying with a new leather, Ducommun may test the way it ages in his own pocket over the course of a few months.

Guarded Goods has recently started offering belts in addition to its signature wallets and card cases. Online one can find a variety of other objects, like iPad cases, as well. The shop’s single, self-taught craftsman works in his leather shop until 3am, designing new models, tinkering with a variety of leathers, and filling the many orders that come in every day. It is clear that he has gone from amateur leatherworker to skilled craftsman, almost to his own disbelief. “I love to go back and look at where I was almost two years ago when I first started,” he tells me, with the box of his first wallets sitting next to him, “and to realize where I am now.”

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