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New Frontier Theme Bucket Leather Kit Review by Charlotte Gochnauaer

Tony Lair and Kay Lair
Tandy Leather Factory
1900 SE Loop 820
Ft. Worth, TX, 76140

When you study different periods in history, it is always helpful to have a project to do with your children that helps to solidify what is being learned. Leatherwork was an important part of American history, from the Native Americans to the Gold Rush. To help you when you are studying early American history, Tandy Leather Factory has put together a product called the Frontier Bucket, a hands-on, complete kit of leather crafts.

In the Frontier Bucket there are three different projects, with enough materials to make 12 of each, for 36 projects total. In the first project, the student can choose between a leather pouch and a koozie (soda can holder). Included in this project is a history lesson on Currencies of the Frontier. In six paragraphs it explains how the Native Americans used currency and how we made the transition to paper money in our country. There is also a vocabulary list with words (and their definitions) that are related to the leather craft process.

For the second craft the students can choose between making a hatband or a belt. The history lesson for this section is on the California Gold Rush; it describes what life was like for a gold miner in 1849. There are more vocabulary words in this section, with a few from the previous lesson for review.

The third project is a wristband with a history lesson about the women of the frontier. Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, and Laura Ingalls Wilder are described, and the average frontier woman's responsibilities are discussed. The vocabulary words in this section are identical to the previous projects.

The leather comes pre-cut and pre-punched for easy assembly. The students will moisten or "case" the leather with water using the provided sponges. After deciding on a design and then drawing it on the template, the students will trace it onto the leather piece. Then using the provided mallets and stamps, they will fill in their design. The entire alphabet is included, along with 12 different shapes of stamps, including a Pear Shader, Beveler, and Camouflager. The next step is to stain the leather using the Eco-Flo All-In-One Stain and Finish. There are six bottles included, two of each color. At this point the leather may be painted or colored, if desired. Paintbrushes and 12 bottles of Cova Colors are included, along with Sharpie markers to use as well. Finally, the piece is assembled, either by lacing or by using a hook and loop fastener. Everything you need to complete the leather crafts is included in the bucket except pencils, scissors, and rulers. The bucket with an attached lid is made of sturdy plastic; it could be used to store art supplies after the leather projects are completed.

The instructions are concise and easy to read; illustrations are included where appropriate. An objective is listed along with a materials list. There are templates for design plans that can be reproduced for the students and suggestions for stamping patterns. Each section has classroom expansion ideas for using the piece further in tandem with the history lesson. Each craft is also divided into either 3 or 4 sessions lasting 45-90 minutes, with set-up guidelines given for the instructor.

A Leather Craft Handbook is also included; this 31-page booklet goes into extensive detail about preparing the leather, stamping, carving the leather, and doing edge treatments. This handbook is very helpful for an instructor who has not had any experience with leather crafts or stamping. The possibilities with the tools provided are endless, and they are described in detail with illustrations.

I found this extensive project to be educational yet challenging for my children. There were numerous steps, but the instructions and booklet were very helpful. I loved studying history along with a craft to be done from that time period, and this did help to make the 1800s come alive for my children. The website has a photo of all the materials included in the bucket, plus the history lessons in Adobe Reader format. The leather crafts could be done by younger children, but with the numerous steps and time needed to complete these projects, I suggest ages 9 and up. I did find that it would have been helpful to have scraps of leather to practice stamping, staining, and painting on. This bucket of fun would be perfect for a co-op; there are enough mallets, sponges, and paintbrushes for 12 participants. The Frontier Bucket is $499, so doing this with a group would make the cost a bit less for each family. Having a lesson plan, all the supplies for 12 participants, and enough crafts for 12 sessions makes the purchase worthwhile.

Product review by Charlotte Gochnauer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2010