Mike Insko is a man of many talents, but his pride is in being a leather craftsman. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Mike grew up working in his dad's shop in Lexington where he learned to make and repair leather products for the horse industry. He is a third generation leather craftsman and to further his knowledge he studied to be a machinist. When you step in his Allegheny Township shop today and learn how he plies his craft it becomes evident that his machinist training plays a big role in his work. Most of his machinery was built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.
But, before I get ahead of the story let’s start at the beginning. Mike only deals with Grade A cow hide leather from U.S. cows. The reason for this is the quality and consistency of thickness. Each cow produces two sides of leather that is treated and prepared for Mike. All his leather products are crafted from these sides. The first step is hand cutting the product he will make. These are belts, gun holsters, key chains, saddles and saddle repairs, golf belts, slings, and other crafts. After cutting the piece of leather, Mike will then, depending on the product, use a number of machines. If it is a belt, he uses the creaser to make edges. Some other machines are sewing, drills, and embossing. By being a machinist, Mike is able to make the parts to keep these machines running all these years.
When it comes to craftsmanship, the Western and English saddles that Mike makes and repairs really show the high quality of leather products. Some of these saddles can run up in the $3,000 range! Mike told me that it takes a whole cow to produce a saddle. And, depending on the elaborateness, it could actually take more leather. Another part of the business that isn’t on the website is gun holsters. These are made for customers locally because it requires having the gun to make the holster the right size. The same high quality goes into these holsters and it does make a difference!
Tammy Insko, Mike’s wife, also plays an active part in the business. She heads up the business web site at www.inskoleather.com. “We just sent an order to the Netherlands,” she told me during the interview. They also sell a lot of their products on eBay. Tammy also has a hand in creating exclusive designs for their leather products. One interesting aspect of the business is school and Scout fundraisers where key chains and door knobbies are very popular.
Mike found his way to this area when his mom died from Leukemia. His older brother had moved here to teach and he moved in with him. He began his work career as a CNC Machinist. He met his future wife, Tammy [Starr], a cousin of his brother Bob’s wife Shelley, and later married when Tammy completed College.
Mike also works with his other brother Chuck who owns a leather business in Lexington, Kentucky. They often trade ideas and information and sometimes share in each other’s work. His dad has since retired from the business.
Mike and Tammy have four children and the oldest, Nicholas, 14, is already using the sewing machines to make gun slings and key chains which he sells from time to time. Tucker, 11, Jocelyn, 9, and Zachary, 7, also seem knowledgeable about the business as they pointed out things to me during the interview.
You can see their products on the website at www.inskoleather.com or call 724-845-8072 for further information. If you live locally, the shop is located at 124 Airshaft Road in Allegheny Township, just off Melwood Road. You can visit after 2 p.m. and on weekends.