Ragnar Goods – Torstein bifold wallet review

The bifold design is my favourite type of wallet by far, and in my experience of collecting wallets, work-style bifolds worthy of collection are few and far in between. There’s a little less room for deviations from the standard, and creativity may very well jeopardize user friendliness or carrying capacity. This might explain why most bifolds tend to be a little more forgettable compared with, say, a sleek mid-wallet. Even more rare would be a bifold that I’d consider a statement piece.

Keeping this in mind, I’d like to show you what I would consider to be a statement bifold: this heavy-duty Torstein wallet made by Chris at Ragnar Goods!

You might remember Chris’ work being featured on this blog last year when I reviewed his Thor belt, which I rated very highly. His work focuses on minimalist design and traditional crafting, and his Ragnar Goods workshop is one of the premier makers of English oak bark leather goods.

Since last year, Chris has been incorporating new techniques and patterns into his crafting, and there’s been a few new additions to the line-up at Ragnar Goods, with the headliner piece being this Torstein wallet.

Let’s take a look at why this wallet might be rather special.

 

Design

The Torstein wallet features a fairly traditional bifold layout.

The wallet measures 9.5 cm x 11.5 cm when folded.

The thickness comes in at a hefty 1.8 cm when folded and loaded.

This is not a small wallet. One of the largest bifolds I’ve ever seen, in fact.

You might notice the colour scheme is designed to showcase the Norvegese stitching.

The six card slots are symmetrical and horizontally oriented, with an additional storage slot on either side.

The space between the outshell and the inner base panel forms the notes compartment.

This compartment is framed but not lined.

The majority of the corners are rounded.

There are no other significant curves on the inside.

This being a large sized bifold, storage is ample.

The card slots allow quick access and the storage compartments further enhance the holding capacity, able to hold two or three more cards per side without distortion. The notes compartment is full sized, and there should be no problems with keeping $$$ worth of notes.

Overall, the design is fairly minimalist and utility-oriented.

The focus is clearly on the leathers and the Norvegese stitch.

 

Leather

Long time readers of this blog will know my love of Baker’s English oak bark tanned leather and should know about this leather in a bit of detail already.

In terms of tannage, this is the very best in the world. No other tannery today is able to tan their leather as gently or as thoroughly as the masters at J & FJ Baker of Colyton.

(I’d like to think I’ve played a small role in the history of this leather, as it was Terry Dear & I that popularized this leather within Internet menswear circles back in 2010.)

Baseless bragging aside, let me quote myself from a previous discussion about Baker’s oak bark leather:

“There are only a handful of tanneries left in the world that slow-tan leather, and J & FJ Baker is the last tannery left in England which still practices the ancient method of oak bark tannage. At the Baker tannery, it takes on average 18 months for cattlehide to be made into oak bark leather, with the actual pit tanning of the hides occurring over at least 12 months and 1 day. Each hide progresses through pits with increasing levels of oak tannins, up to a maximum of 72 pits for leather which is intended for shoe soles. So, this leather that you see on the Natural belt spends at least one year in the tannin pits – far longer than any other vegetable tanned leather, which usually spends only 2 to 6 weeks in tanning drums. There is no acute physical disturbance or heavy chemical agitation, unlike modern vegetable drum-tannage, and the resulting leather is closer to natural perfection than any other.

Usually, then, the leathers are immersed in a combination of tallow and fish oils – the exact recipes being the trade secrets of tanneries and curriers (leather dressers) – and subsequently ‘set’, increasing the density of the leather and smoothing the grain. Variations & additions to this basic process produce England’s famous bridle leathers. The natural oak bark leather featured …… does not go through this bridle finishing process (currying and setting), and remains as natural as can be, a treat for the leather purist.”

Sure, there are other pit-tanning operations around the world, yet they mostly utilize tannin concentrates and powders nowadays, and the duration of tanning could be as little as one month.

No other tannage is as considered or lengthy as Baker’s tannage.

Unlike shell cordovan or other English bridle leathers, Baker’s bridle does not require excessive post-tannage processing or currying to impart the required strength and flexibility – the foundation of the leather, it’s tannage, is simply superior.

Without excessive processing then, Baker’s oak bark leather retains all the natural characteristics of leather – the scars, the pores, the textures.

This is leather at its purest, and in my opinion, the oak bark grain is so much more beautiful compared to the glossy & uniform surfaces of what are considered to be high end leathers these days.

I really believe there is no cattlehide leather which can compare with Baker’s oak bark bridle in terms of toughness, density, flexibility and grain growth… it is the final ‘old world’ leather left in the world.

The only aspect in which Baker’s is not the world champion, I feel, is the evolution of grain colour – the crown here, I feel, belongs to Shonan’s saddle leather.

Chris has utilised two types of oak bark bridle shoulder leather here. The outershell features the bridle in the dark stain, waxed finish, whilst the inner panels consist of the natural/russet bridle.

You’d have seen the dark stain version previously on the Thor belt, noting that the waxy bloom has been buffed off here. The russet version you’d have seen on the various other oak bark belts featured on this blog in the past few years.

What is outstanding here too, is that Chris has utilized some very heavy thicknesses of leathers for this wallet.

The outshell leather measures a whopping 2.7 mm!

The inner base layer even measures 2.4 mm, while the thinnest leathers are found on the card slot panels at 1.0 mm.

TL;DR   Oak bark leather  =  #1

 

Construct

Everything about this Torstein wallet is made by hands, of course.

This wallet looks hefty and rugged for sure, and everything about it – from thread to leather – is extra heavy duty, but the construct is deceptively careful.

The general impression and neatness has much to do with how accurately the leather has been cut and paneled by hand, and with respect to this I could find no significant errors.

The main feature in terms of the handcrafting on this wallet is no doubt the Norvegese (or Norwegian) stitch.

This is a wallet and not a shoe, so there’s no welt to speak of.

The term Norvegese here simply refers to the braided stitching that is often decorative on hand-made Italian shoes made using the Norwegian welt method.

Chris has executed this braided stitching use heavy braided linen threads, at 4.5 SPI.

This is the first time I’ve seen this style of stitch used on a wallet!

The inside of the wallet also features a more traditional saddle stitch, sewn at a denser 6.5 SPI.

There is remarkable neatness in the sewing on this wallet, considering the high density of stitch placement and large caliber thread being used.

The cabled linen thread featured is heavy duty, the type used for welting bench-made English country boots.

Therefore, despite the braided stitching sitting much above the grain of the leather, I’m not overly concerned about the durability of the threads at all.

The panel work and stitching is very symmetrical from left to right, giving the inner of the wallet a neat and tidy appearance.

The edge work of the wallet is also nicely done.

The card slot panels feature edge creasing at the top edge.

All edges of every layer and panel are hand burnished with wax.

I’m a fan of simple wax burnishes on traditional style vegetable tanned leathers, though the effect is rather more pronounced on Baker’s oak bark leather due to its high fiber density.

Through the years of wearing oak bark belts, I know that the edge of oak bark leather goods can age well whether it’s left raw after a clean cut or burnished with waxes, yet I do appreciate the extra effort Chris has made to burnish to tough leather.

Finally, there are various options when it comes to embossing the wallet.

To sum up the construct of this wallet, I would say that there is an interesting juxtaposition of extremely heavy duty materials and considered hand-crafting. Much like the Thor belt from Ragnar Goods feature previously, this Torstein wallet is rugged but finely made.

 

Thoughts

The Torstein wallet is a very interesting bifold for sure, and I would consider it to be a statement wallet as far as work-style goods are concerned.

I’d have to acknowledge my own bias here: not only am I a huge fan of over-sized monster bifolds, I’m also a huge sucker for oak bark leather, so when the two are combined I’m bound to rate this wallet highly.

Yet, a good work-style wallet is not just about thickness or ruggedness. The element of considered handcrafting is of vital importance: If the hand-stitch on the wallet had been wonky or the edges less than perfect, the untidiness would be amplified by the overall largeness of the wallet and the appearance would become entirely unpleasing.

As you can see in the photos here, Chris has managed to execute this heavy-duty design very neatly. There are no considerable flaws. Instead, what I’ve found is a surprising intricacy in the crafting that is superficially masked by the overall chunkiness of this bifold. The most important factor here, I feel, is the remarkable stitch-work which has tied the different aspects of this wallet together very nicely.

It is easy to forget too, that Barker’s oak-bark tanned bridle leather is an insanely dense and rugged leather which is no where near as maker-friendly as, say, a veg tan from Italy or even other English bridle leathers. Cutting a heavy strap for belting from oak bark shoulder is difficult enough, as your hands need to be as good as the very best awl… using it at reasonable thicknesses to construct a wallet is another level of challenge!

The fact that this all-oak-bark wallet doesn’t look like a mess is testament to the amount of time and effort which have been invested into this Torstein wallet.

Further, I feel like the Torstein wallet has managed to showcase the decorative, braided style of stitch-work without looking too busy. The minimalism that usually underpins Ragnar Goods’ pieces still flavours the entirety of Chris’ work here, and the bifold design retains full functionality and capacity relative to its larger than usual size.

The leather featured here, as I’ve mentioned earlier in this review, is absolutely world class. Whether it is on a belt or a wallet, Baker’s bridle is a must try for anyone interested in leather. I would even venture to provoke some discomfort and say that you can’t claim to know about good leather unless you’ve had first hand experience with oak bark leather. This one is the king of all pit-tanned leathers, and thus, by default, the best vegetable tanned leather.

Overall, the rugged appearance and artisan workmanship of the Torstein wallet run parallel to the aesthetics of Japanese jeans and bench-made boots, allowing this bifold to combine perfectly with work-wear and even Americana garments.

The only minor suggestion I have for this wallet is perhaps the shaping of the card slot panels to incorporate some type of thumb groove, in order to enhance card access.

Otherwise, top marks for this remarkable bifold. There are options for a all-natural colour scheme and the omission of the braided stitch too.

At £175, this Torstein wallet from Ragnar Goods is the workshop’s premier product. It’s in the same price range as medium-tier wallets from the better Japanese makers and at the lower end of the pricing spectrum as far as true bespoke wallets are concerned. Given the careful and extensive (i.e. time consuming) hand-work as well as the top tier materials, I would consider the Torstein to be very well priced. It certainly represents much better value compared to Japanese (and even American) works of similar quality.

Pricing aside, I am aware of only one other maker who can craft an oak-bark wallet, so this Torstein wallet can easily be recommended to any leather hobbyist. Also, there are actually not that many leather craftsmen in the world who specialize in true work-style leather goods, and even fewer who can match Chris’ hand-work. Therefore, Ragnar Goods is an easy recommendation too for folks who like work-wear.

Definitely check out the Ragnar Goods website and see for yourself the different oak bark leather goodies that Chris has been crafting.

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