Making Of: The classic Mini Toron door handle
Today, we share with you how you make some of your custom parts for Classic Mini at Alps Café-Racers! And for the first Blog-Post of its kind, we invite you to discover one of our Best Sellers’ Making-Of of: the A.C.R. Toron leather door handle, which you can customize on our website!
What is a toron handle anyway?
For those who are not familiar with leather work, you may wonder rather legitimately what it is a Toron handle. It is a technique traditionally used in leather goods to create handles and handles of bags as you can see below. A piece of leather is wrapped and stitched around a rope core, in natural or synthetic fiber. This technique brings density to an handle, that feels soft and robust under the hand, while keeping a certain flexibility. You can see an example here on one of our custom bags:
Starting with the right materials
Of course, our minis are not luxury cars. But that's no reason to deprive them of the best we can do. These french leathercraft bag handles are our source of inspiration for the Alps Café-Racers Classic Mini handle: a set of lightweight, elegant and solid door handles, using quality materials.
Like everything that comes out of our workshop, our door handles meet specifications that are in line to our own core values:
- Quality materials, of French origin, or European if not.
- A hand-made shop here in our workshop in the heart of the Alps.
- The greatest possible care to make your custom pieces.
"So it's all about the right materials."
We source automotive-grade leather from our French supplier. It is available in multiple colors. The peculiarity of automotive leathers is that they are treated anti-UV, which allows them to retain their color longer even in sunny environments. Leather being a living material, the grained skins have imperfections (stings, scars), which are marked to be removed from the cut. We only keep the best parts for the door handles manufacturing. A home-designed template has been specially laser-cut to ensure good regularity in the manufacture process.
Made by Hand
The pieces are then cut to size. A reinforcement plate is also cut from a much stiffer vegetable tanned (or veg-tan) leather: it will reinforce the eyelet locations and procure more stiffness to the handles. The outer leather is then folded to form the back side and around the cord core. This minimizes the number of leather pieces per handle, making the piece more solid in the end.
Once the core of the handle is installed, the excess leather is cut, resulting in leather edge as flat as possible. Of course, at this point, the edge is far from perfect and requires a lot of work to be presentable but we will come back to that.
The different pieces of leather are glued together, as well as the core of the handle using a professional leather bound, but what gives the whole its solidity is stitching. To do this, the different seam lines are drawn and punched using diamond stitching chisels. They are then sewn together by hand using saddle stitching.
"The saddle stitch point is a very old sewing technique that is practiced by hand with two needles."
Unlike the machine straight stitch, this technique uses a single thread, and each stitch node has a knot inside the material which gives the piece a lot of strength and durability. The excess leather is cut away from the stitch line, for a better finish.
Here we see the handle that is beginning to take its final shape! By the way, a little design trick allows the handle to be more pleasant to use every day: the stitch line pattern is curved so that the seam passes on the underside halfway. This design prevents the seam from falling under your hand when you open or close the door, it's much nicer to the touch.
If you want, Alps Café-Racers can put its logo on the handles but it's not mandatory, you can omit the option in the configurator, your choice ! To perform hot marking, we use a funny machine that has a rather special history: See, when I was looking for a marking machine, I found only Amazon devices that did not inspire great confidence. So I searched around my place on the second-hand market and I came across this orange machine!
This is a machine that was originally used to mark the back of very high-end leather-bound books - usually lamb or sheep. It was made in a workshop... near the Louvre Museum in Paris! It's a really heavy press (50kg), going up to 200°C with great stability. Funny enough, It came with a whole lot of decoration and lettering for French classic literature (Zola, Hugo, Molière...). I had a CNC imprint "Alps Café-Racers" manufactured for this press and voilà Monsieur-Madame !
Some leathers do not require very high temperatures, or even can be pushed back cold, but for car leather, it is better to heat the press up.
Edge dying: it’s all about details…
At this point, your door handles are almost finished! The eyelets are set in place of course. But there is still a lot of work to do: the treatment of edges. As you can see from the previous photos, the edges are not very pretty: we still see the reinforcement material, the constituents are not of the same colors, etc. To solve the problem, we work on the edges starting with sanding them to refine the leather fibers.
"Small tip for those who want to start leathercrafting: always sand the edges in the same direction to flatten the fibers on the piece."
The edges is then burnished by hand, using an edge slicker. This step consists of slightly moistening the leather and then rubbing the edge with a wooden grooved instrument. The friction heats the leather up, the fibers collagen melts down and by solidifying, it makes the edge flatter and shinier. A little tip there too: there are chemicals for smoothing the edges, but if you plan to apply an edge dye, better avoid them and stick with water.
Then several layers of Edge dye (Edge Kote) are applied, combined with regular sanding between layers for the smoothest possible rendering. Environmentally friendly acrylic dyes are used and then a final layer of transparent varnish for extra shine is applied here. The "Edge Kote" is a rather amazing paint as it remains flexible: it will follow the natural movements of the leather during its life.
And if we did well, the rendering is smooth and the different layers of leather are imperceptible:
Before shipping ...
Of course, all the handles we make are tested on our mini! They are also treated one last time with a natural beeswax product. This balm has the advantage of nourishing and protecting the leather one last time before it comes your way.
"The part with the logo is wider than the other, it ensures the handle does not get saggy with time."
Once on your mini, leather does not require a lot of care. Still we advise to apply wax balm once a year. We use Fiebing's Aussie Leather conditioner, but your local shoemaker can easily recommend a similar product.
Design your own!
Now that you know how we work, if you want to give your Mini a pair of custom handles, you can design yours in our pages today. Several colors of leather, edge paint and thread are available on our website. And if you can't find the color of your dreams, send me a little message and I'll do my best to help you!
I hope you liked this little making-of! If so, we'll do more to share our experience with you! It is important for us to share what we do and if you need any advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’re here to help.