I frequently get asked what kind of sewing machine I use. Prior to June 2012, I was using the Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher, available from Tippmann Industrial at http://www.tippmannindustrial.com. If you’re not familiar with it, the Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher is a hand-powered stitch’r capable of sewing up to 3/4″ thick leather, as well as “nylon, canvas, urethane, plastic, sheepskin, etc.” It’s a great little machine with a very small footprint. It’s also very light (compared to the powered machines) so it can easily be moved around, or stored away when not in use.
Do you recommend it?
The next question is always “do you recommend the Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher for a starter machine?” That’s a tougher question to answer, but here goes… Yes, I recommend it, but it depends on what your goals are. There are other options that you might consider, depending on your future goals for your leather endeavors.
As I mentioned previously, it’s hard to beat the tiny footprint. The big machines can weigh hundreds of pounds, whereas the Boss weighs 23 pounds (for the current aluminum frame version).
The Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher is relatively easy to maintain. If you’re mechanically inclined, you can refer to the schematic diagram posted on the Tippmann Industrial website for a complete list of part numbers. It’s very easy to access all parts of the machine, making cleaning and oiling quick and easy.
The Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher is almost perfect for sewing holsters and magazine pouches. Being able to precisely place each stitch is a wonderful thing. Belts can easily be sewn on the boss, but hand-cranking the machine gets old very quickly.
If you ever have major problems with the machine outside of warranty, I’ve heard you can ship it back and Tippmann will completely overhaul the machine for a very reasonable price – I don’t know the price off-hand, but I believe it was around $200. If you get a good price on a used machine, this might be something to consider if the machine isn’t running quite like it should.
What are some of the negatives of the Tippmann Boss?
For a hand-powered machine, the Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher is fairly expensive. Considering that you can buy an excellent brand new powered machine from a reputable seller for around $1,900, or used machines for considerably less, the Boss is a tougher sell. When I bought mine a couple of years ago, it was on sale, and it stayed at that sale price until just recently, pushing the price again closer to that of a powered machine.
The throat depth of the Boss is 6.5″, vs. 9″ on a standard cylinder arm powered machine. This can be a problem with some holster patterns, but I’ve always been able to make it work by slightly bending the leather to fit inside the throat area. Do you see the problem with this yet? One hand is powering the machine. The other hand is guiding the leather through the machine… Having to both bend and guide the leather with one hand definitely complicates things, but it can be done – just take your time and you should be fine.
Some people knock the Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher for its aluminum frame. I’ve not personally had any problems with it, but others swear they saw a reduction in durability when it went from cast iron to aluminum. If this bothers you, search for an older used machine that’s made of cast iron. Most owners know the cast iron is preferable, so it shouldn’t be hard to track one down because it’s usually clearly stated in the seller’s description. I’m fine with my aluminum model since I’ve not had any failures of any kind.
The Boss uses a “Needle Feed” feed type to pull the material into the machine. Generally speaking, this works pretty well, but I’ve found it can easily result in inconsistent stitch lengths if you don’t keep your presser foot tension tight enough. For holsters, you want to use as little pressure as possible to avoid presser foot marks on the leather. The downside to inadequate pressure is the leather can slide around a bit when you press the stitching handle all the way forward to pull tension on the thread. To compensate for this, I slightly push the leather into the machine as I stitch. I could simply tighten the presser foot to increase downward pressure on the leather, but that just results in presser foot tracks on the leather that can be difficult to remove. A “Triple Feed” feed type is ideal if you decide to shop for powered machines. The photo above shows the stirrup plate installed on the machine. Note that the stirrup plate arrives with very sharp edges. I was able to easily smooth the edges with the wire wheel on my bench grinder since the actual mounting plate (at least at the time of this writing) is made of aluminum.
This isn’t really a negative if you’re an owner, but if you’re looking to buy a used Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher, they hold their value very well. So, even used, they are still quite expensive.
The Bottom Line?
Ultimately, you have to decide where to plan to take your leather craft. Are you planning to simply make things for yourself, friends and family? Can you live with the shallow throat depth? Are you on a strict budget and simply can’t afford to “spend a little more”? If so, the Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher may be perfect for you and should provide you years of trouble-free service.
Will you be doing lots of intricate and/or decorative stitch lines? Are you planning to turn your leather craft into a side-business to make ends meet? Provided you can still live with the shallow throat depth and quirky one-hand feeding of your project through the machine, the Tippmann Boss leather hand stitcher is probably still a good choice – especially if you can’t “spend a little more” and can buy the machine while it’s on sale.
Are you hoping to grow into a profitable business at some point to generate notable income? If so, you really should consider stepping up to a powered machine with a 9″ cylinder arm and Triple Feed (also known as Compound Feed) feeding mechanism. Even better, go with a 16″ cylinder arm machine if you can swing it. They’ll have higher resale value, and you’ll be able to sew much larger items.