Berthoud, Colorado 89 Sales On Etsy since 2017

5 out of 5 stars (33)



Berthoud, Colorado | 89 Sales

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From The Sandal Factory to The Hired Hand, and Back Again

My interest in leather-working began in the summer of '69, when I accepted a job at The Sandal Factory in Cincinnati, apprenticed to the owner. I progressed from making straps for leather sandals to making the sandals themselves after a couple months. Far as I know, I’m one of very few people alive today in the U.S. who know how to make sandals with hand-formed arches using a process used by the ancient Greeks. When sandal season was over, I moved to belts, purses, vests, tunics and leather pants. Like many others, I developed a love for working leather that remains to this day.
Before long, the wander lust that first brought me to Cincinnati took me on the road again, until my old truck broke down in Denver. I found work there making sandals in a little shop near the University, and after slaving there for a few months I put together my own shop in the evenings, while I continued to work days at the other place.
That didn’t last long. Within a few weeks I was making 10-15 pairs of sandals per day, working 18 hour days as The Hired Hand, the name of my shop. At summer’s end, I had some inventory in the shop, and things slowed down enough I could catch my breath. By Christmas, I was hiring sales people so I could make leather goods to sell.
After a year or so, I was burned out on the business end of running a small business and missing the fun creative part I had loved so well. I decided I needed some mental stimulus, so enrolled in a state university. A few months later, I sold off my inventory and equipment and closed the store on April Fools Day so I could go back to college.
Some time later, with an advanced degree, I spent 30 years teaching students from small towns in Maine about their government, until retirement brought me around again to the creativity that is leather making. So here I am, once again The Hired Hand, making leather goods for anyone who might like them. I strive to create value and make heirlooms, things that will be passed down to children and grand-children over the years because they last so long and are attractive and valued by those who receive them. These are durable goods: I wear every day a 7-way "mystery" braided belt I made over 35 years ago!
A word about the dyes I use: Because most commercially available dark brown dyes tend to have a greenish tinge, especially as they age, I use one that is the color of a rich milk chocolate for dark brown. The medium brown dye I use has subtle reddish highlights that remind me of mahogany. Light brown is probably closer to what most people think of as a real brown, and the tan dye reminds me of fine English harness leather. The black dye I use is the same color used by the U.S. Marine Corps to get a sparkling “spit shine,” which would not be possible but for a deep royal blue pigment it contains to counteract the black pigment, which does not reflect light well. I often augment it with a coat of blue dye before the black is applied.
Of course, the most accurate way to measure somebody for a belt is to use a cloth or plastic measuring tape around the exact place where the belt will ride, whether high on the waist or lower around the hips. Men tend to be larger around the waist than the hips, but with women it is often just the opposite; this may produce a hip measurement that is a couple inches larger than the waist of a woman.
If an actual body measurement is not possible, measure a favorite belt instead. To do this, measure from the buckle cross-bar that is farthest from the most frequently used hole in the belt to determine what length to order. Ordinarily the tongue of the buckle that goes through a hole in the belt to secure it will rest on this cross-bar rather than another. If the buckle is a flat or curved plate of metal, measure from the prong on the back of the buckle to the most frequently used hole. Measure from the prong that is farthest from the hole if there is more than one.
This measurement will determine the middle hole in a series of five holes spaced one inch apart. This way, if you are off by a little, the belt will probably still fit.
I'm a devout practitioner of Hamilton's First Law of Laziness: Anything worth doing is worth doing well, the first time, so you don't have to do it a second time. This Law underpins my craft. I try to make heirlooms every day.

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  • Michael S. Hamilton

    Maker, Owner, Designer

    I'm a retired college professor returning to my roots of making leather goods after a teaching career. Selling my store in Denver, The Hired Hand, in 1972 helped pay for my education, but now I do it for fun, not for the money.

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