Learning how to make a leather belt is a great way to get into leather craft. It only involves a few basic tools, easy to learn skills, and an afternoon of fun.
To learn how to make a leather belt, you’ll need some cutting tools, a cutting surface, a leather belt blank, rivets, and a belt buckle. Skills can include edging, grooving, cutting, stamping, riveting, skiving, dyeing, polishing, burnishing. In the end, you’ll have a great wearable belt.
It will probably be a lot easier than you think. At first, I thought it might be a little too much for a first project. Though taking my time, I realized it was a great way to get exposed to a few tools and end up with a usable leather item. Let’s check it out!
How to Make a Leather Belt
Exciting! So where do we start? There are a few things to think about related to the whole project. They can help ensure you’re interested in the end result, while also not spending too much early on for materials and tools. We want this to be fun, and allow you to explore the craft.
With a little more experience, you’ll get to know what tools you prefer to use, what style of belts you like to make, and even what finishes you prefer. Hardware (buckles and rivets) has a lot of options too, many colors and finishes are available.
There will also be a few steps you’ll learn. They’ll involve preparing the materials, how and when to decide on different shapes and cuts, and what tools will work best. To make a leather belt, without dyeing it, a afternoon will be all you need. A little longer if you take your time (which works too!)
So let’s dive in and get started.
Deciding on Making a Leather Belt
Awesome, so I spent a lot of time learning about leather craft (a tiny, tiny amount in the grand scheme), though enough to feel confident enough to start a leather craft project. As I thought about what I wanted to make, I kept in mind it should be pretty simple so I don’t get frustrated.
I also wanted it to be easy enough that I can try a few skills and see how I fare. Also, I didn’t want it to be too expensive for materials and tools, and ended up with a leather belt project. Great, but what kind?
Some belts have intricate patterns carved or stamped into them. Others have lines that run along the edge. Others are thick, some are thin, some are natural-toned leather and some are dyed colors. Some have buckles that hook closed, and others that secure with a prong.
I usually try to keep things simple on the first run, so here was my thought process for each of the main pieces.
How to Make a Leather Belt – What Type of Leather to Use
Commonly available today are leathers of all types. One of the main distinguishing factors is the process used to tan it. Chrome tanned produce soft, flexible leathers. Vegetable tanned leathers are usually a little more rigid, thicker, and have the natural hide color on the surface. Vegetable tanned (also referred to as veg-tanned) leathers have been made for thousands of years using that process.
I want to make a classic belt! And veg-tanned leather is excellent for belts and straps, so that was my choice. It is available in full or partial hide sizes (the entire hides from an animal). These can but cut down into belt straps. It is also available in pre-cut straps. Yes! This is the way to go. For not much cost, you’ll have a long strap of a consistent width, ready to become a belt.
The one I got was 1-1”4 wide, 50” long, and 8/9oz weight. Weight, I learned, also refers to leather thickness. 8/9oz is a generally good weight for belt making.
How to Make a Leather Belt – What Tools Do I Need?
Once deciding on making a belt, I learned about what leather working skills I could practice my hand at. A few skills seemed fun, so here’s what I planned for:
- Deglazing, Dyeing, & Sealing
- And hopefully, wearing 🙂
Each usually has a unique tool that helps with the task. Let’s check them out. Here’s an easy-to-check table, with details on each below. If you’re not dyeing the belt, you won’t need the deglazer, dye, sealer, and wool daubers.
If you’re interested in a full guide to all leather working tools, click here to read the one that I put together.
|Edger||Tool used to shave off the corned-edges of leather material|
|Groover||Cuts grooved lines into leather|
|Xacto Knife||General cutting tool – sharp and works great on leather|
|Cutting Mat||Provides a cutting surface that protects the table, and knife blade|
|Awl||Thin, metal tool for marking and making holes in leather|
|Hole Punch||Bladed-tool for making holes in leather|
|End Punch||Specially-shaped tool for cutting the ends of belts and straps|
|Nylon Board||Soft, dense surface on which to use leather punch tools|
|Maul||A rounded, hammer-like tool for hitting leather tools|
|Skiver||Shaves thin layers of leather meaterial away|
|Rivets||Metal hardware used to join leather material together|
|Rivet Setter||Tools that are used to join metal rivets|
|Belt Buckle||Hardware that connects the ends of the belt together|
|Tape Measure||Flexible rules used to measure waise size|
|Burnisher||Wooden tool used to smoothen leather edges|
|Deglazer||Compound used to clean leather before dyeing|
|Dye||Pigment used to color leather material|
|Sealer||Compound used to protect dyed leather|
|Wool Daubers||Wool balls used for applying deglazer, dye, and sealer|
Leather edgers are used for shaving off the squared corners of leather material. I chose an edger that wasn’t too expensive. They come in several sizes, I picked one in the middle of the size range (size 2), thinking I could always get a larger or smaller one for future projects once I learned what was preferred.
I had read that groovers are helpful to groove out lines of leather where stitches can rest. They also can be used for decorative purposes. Since they looked really cool grooving out little channels of leather, I definitely wanted to try one. so a groover I got.
A sharp blade is critical to smooth leather work. Several different types of common knives can be used here. These include utility knives, box cutters, and crafting knives. I had an xacto knife handy, so used that.
It also helps to have a cutting mat to use as a work surface. I have one of those green Olfa mats, it works well.
Awls are thin, metal tools used for marking leather and making small holes in it. The belt will use mostly marks, which can be made with our knife. So while an awl isn’t required, feel free to use one if you already have it around.
There are so many types of leather punches available for all sizes of holes and shapes. This was going to be a basic belt, and I’d need to make holes in it for different sizes. A hole punch would make this job easy.
Some are hand-held that have the punch rotate among different sizes. Others are single punches of a particular size. I wanted to feel like I was a real leather worker! So I got a single punch. It was a common size, so I also though if I didn’t enjoy leather craft, I’d be able to at least adjust my own belts the rest of my life. 🙂
Also, punches need to be struck with a softer surface than a hammer, so the metal of the punch isn’t damaged. There are things called mauls. They have a round, nylon hitting surface and look really cool. I hadn’t really heard of them before, though based on how great they looked and that I could use it to hit the fancy single sized punch I was going to use, I was in!
There are also punches designed to cut the end of belts and straps, called strap punches. Instead of slowly cutting the tips by hand, you can just lay the metal punch over it, hit it, and it trims the tip shape just perfectly. I got an English point strap end punch. A bit of a splurge for a cut I could have done by hand, but again, I wanted to be a real leather worker 🙂
Underneath punches it’s recommended to use a soft surface, so the punch blades don’t slam into something hard and get damaged. A nylon cutting bard (like used in the kitchen) works great. I got a small one (maybe 8” x 6”) online and it worked like a charm.
Skivers are used to shave away layers of leather. “Why would I need this for a belt?”, I thought. Ah!, that piece that folds over around the buckle. If we just folded the leather over it would be twice as thick there, and really bulky. Skiving it to about 1/2 the original thickness means it’ll be about even with the rest of the belt once folded and secured with rivets. Nice.
I got a Tandy skiver that wasn’t too expensive and looked like it would do the job pretty well.
I’ve heard of these before, though never used them. It sounded interesting that it required pounding on metal to make something work. Ok, sounds good, let’s rivet. They’re usually made up of two pieces of metal, one with a long prong and one with a hole. The rivets are pushed through the leather and set with a rivet setter.
The rivet setter is just two different parts (on the entry level, manual setters – there are specialized tabletop riveting machines, though that’s way beyond our first belt). There is a metal base where the bottom rivet sits securely into. And a metal rod with a curved end that sits over the top rivet.
That metal rod is struck with a maul, and the force drives the rivets together, setting them. With that, you could say, “you’re all set”. 🙂 Ok, ok, I’ll stop with the terrible puns. Or will i?…
For these I just bought a rivet kit from amazon. I think it was under $10 and included many sized rivets, a base, and a setter. Perfect.
Belt buckles come in many shapes, styles and sizes. I went with a basic one, with a silver-colored finish. The photo above is a solid brass one I had around for a future project.
This is a flexible ruler that can be used to measure the size of person you’re making the belt for. They’re commonly available at crafts stores, hardware stores, and online.
The edges of leather can expose the natural fibers. Over time they can fray and weaken. Also, they don’t always look great. Generally, the edges are finished in some way to provide protection and nice visual appeal.
Burnishers are usually wooden tools that use friction to heat up and bind the fibers of leather edges together. It make a sort of smooth surface, that can be quite nice.
The burnisher (sometimes called a slicker) I got was a simple one (I think made from pine) for just a few dollars Fancier ones made of fancier, denser woods are popular too.
Deglazer, Dye, & Sealer
In hindsight, I definitely would not have dyed and finished a first project belt. Or maybe even some later project belts. The dyeing process can be lengthy, temperature dependent, and require cleanup. while dyeing can be a fun project on its own, I wouldn’t recommend it in tandem with a first belt.
Since I did it though 🙂 I’ll include it in the steps. The dye I got was the Fiebling’s pro. It had good reviews and seemed to work well. It dd work pretty well. I also got the Fiebling’s deglazer, a chemical formula used to clean/prep leather before dyeing. It seemed to work well too.
The sealer goes on last. It is used to protect the leather, and also keep the dye from rubbing off onto clothes. Wool daubers are helpful too. They’re small wool balls attached to a thin, wire handle. They make it easy to dip into and apply the deglazer, dye, and sealer.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 1: Gather All Tools & Materials
This might seem obvious, though in all the excitement it’s easy to dive right in. a little preparation makes it all smoother, and more enjoyable.
Clean off a work surface. It can be a kitchen table, workbench, even a coffee table. It should have sturdy legs and be able to be hammered on. Don’t worry! The surface should be protected with the cutting mat and nylon board when punching/rivet setting, so you don’t leave dents in the nice dining room table 🙂
Make sure all of your tools are materials are ordered, received, organized, and in place.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 2: Measure
You’ll need to decide how long the finished belt will need to be. Do this by using a tape measure and measuring around the waist of the person you’re making the belt for.
A common “rule-of-thumb” is to add about 9” – 10” inches to the waist size. So for someone with a 36” waist size, the belt blank should be trimmed to about 46” long. This will leave enough material to fold over by the buckle, and some to extend beyond the buckle prong holes.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 3: Edging
This would be a good little adventure, so off I went. I ordered the tools (many noted in this post), and got everything together. I wasn’t planning on writing about it or I would have taken more photos, though I have a few and will include them as I go.
To start, I unrolled the leather belt blank. It smelled nice (mmmm, leather), and felt good in the hand. A comfortable material to work with.
It was a little stiff but not too stiff, more a nice, pliable thickness that can be worked/shaped. So this is all new! What to do first? 🙂 I thought edging would be fun, so grabbed the edger and started on an edge near the end of the below (in case I really messed up and needed to trim it off).
It went smoothly, slowly and evenly taking off a bit of the corner. Wow, cool! I did a little more and got a feel for it, not as hard as I originally thought.
From watching online videos I held the edger at about a 45 degree angle to the leather corner, and pushed it forward slowly, letting the tool do the work. The blade was sharp and it cut nicely. The one I used was a CrazeEve edger – I had never heard of that brand before but it had great reviews on Amazon. I would have to agree with those review, based on the first use.
Here is a video of edging in action:
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 4: Grooving
So now I had a few leather edge scraps around the table, I was starting to feel like a craftsman haha! But there’s way more to do. so what next? I had purchased a groover and thought I would try it on the same end (also in case I messed up and had to cut it off).
For the groover, I got a Kyoshin-Elle, hoping for a bit more quality than pure entry level ones. I adjusted the width and slowly lowered the cutting element onto the leather; I was expecting it to scrape and be difficult to pull towards me. Surprisingly, it cut an even groove so smoothly into the leather edge.
Pulling it towards me, it kept a straight line and a little thread of leather spooled up through the cutting hole, making almost a leather thread by the time I worked my way down the belt. I would have stopped earlier, though it was going so smoothly and it makes one connected cut, I didn’t wan’t to stop too many times. This video shows the smooth lines grooving makes:
Once or twice I did just to check the work, and before I knew it, I had a groove the length of the belt. I did the same to the other side, and now the belt had some simple, yet classic decorative lines to it.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 5: Skiving
Then I measured about where the buckle would go and the leather need to be folder over, and used a skiver to shave off some of the leather. This is definitely an acquired skill (I didn’t really have yet!). The skiver had a good sized blade, so I carefully pulled it towards me and removed layers of leather.
Some cuts I pushed too deeply and had to skiff around it to even things out, but luckily, I didn’t cut the leather so thin it separated, so in the end all is good enough to proceed. And, since this will fold onto itself, it won’t be seen in the final product anyway.
Here is a block-style skiver in action:
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 6: Punching the Holes
Next I was excited to try out the punch. I got a 4.5mm, thinking it would serve purposes for most holes I would need, if I had to choose only one punch to get initially. I measured for the belt buckle hole (where the bar pushes through the belt, the one that goes into the holes), and used a simple CS Osbourne awl to mark the hole location.
Since I didn’t have an oblong punch, I just marked a second hole about 1 inch away, punched both (with a really basic mallet), and used a cutting knife to make straight cuts between the holes to join them, and make an oblong opening. Done.
After I was feeling pretty good about punching the buckle holes. I wasn’t too concerned with spacing initially, just wanted a bunch of holes for practice, and that would hopefully fit me later on, so measured about where I thought they should start, and punched several holes in, maybe about 1/2” apart.
This might be too close, then again, I’m just experimenting at this point. The punch was really smooth and sharp, making the holes with really crisp, clean cuts with little effort.
Here’s a multi-hole punch in action:
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 7: Punching the Tip
I wanted to give the belt tip some character, so had an english point strap punch, also a Kyoshin-Elle, lined it up, and punched the end. It came out pretty clean. The punch was a little wider than the leather (I should have used a different size, though only had one so was going to make it work 🙂 ).
I used the edger to go around all of the edges, and lightly burnished it with the wood hand burnisher. looking at it, not too bad.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 8: Making the Belt Loop
I then remembered I needed to make a belt loop! Luckily I had a little piece of scrap that I cut a small width from. It was just long enough to work, whew 🙂 I grooved and edged it similar to the belt, so the styling matched.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 9: Prepping & Dyeing
(Again, in hindsight I wouldn’t recommend dyeing a belt for a first project, it adds a lot of time. Though, I thought I would include it here since that was the experience I had).
Next, it was time to dye it. I went out in the yard and laid a trash bag onto a plastic shoe tray (like the ones you put wet shoes in by the door after coming in from outside on a rainy or snowy day), and put that onto a table. It’s usually best to dye outside since the vapors of the deglazer aren’t great to breathe in.
I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, and applied the deglazer, with some daubers (I had only recently learned what those were haha), and let it dry. A little while later, maybe 20 minutes, I did the same to apply the dye. I waited about 15 minutes more, probably should have waited longer, applied a second coat of dye, and let it site to fully dry.
Oh! I almost forgot again, the belt loop 🙂 I quickly did the same to the loop, and let it sit to dry next to the below. About 2 hours later, I applied some wax sealer, and it was ready for finishing! I probably should have left more time before sealing it, though again this was just to try everything out and see how the process went.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 10: Riveting
Now we get to put on the hardware, so close to being a real belt! But I’ve never really riveted before, ample opportunity to mess it up, oh no haha. I fed the buckle through the oblong hole and test folded the leather over, it worked. The buckle I have is wider than the belt leather, though it was the only buckle I had on hand and would make it work.
Next with the awl, I marked off two holes behind the buckle, stamped them and riveted them. For the rivets, they get pressed into each other loosely (they sort of stick together which makes it easier), then one rivet is placed into a concave metal holder to hold it in place while the second is positioned under a rod with a concave end (to hold the top rivet in place) and hit with a hammer. The hitting force sets them together, and the rivet is solid!
The buckle is now firmly in place, and next I needed to add the loop. I joined the flat leather piece of material for the loop, into a loop by riveting it in the middle, then slid it over the belt. I marked two more rivet holes, stamped them, riveted them, and the loop was then secure too.
There was a little bit of material left beyond the loop rivets, so I added one more rivet to secure that in place. I might design it differently next time (more for aesthetics), but for this, it worked great.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Step 11: Be Excited!
I stood back, and looked. Before me was this thing, a belt, with rounded edges, a buckle, loop, and holes. Whattt? But would it work? I picked it up and slowly wrapped it around me, bringing the holes closer to the buckle, would it fit?
Yes! I put so many holes so close together that one of them had to work 🙂 I fastened it and stood proud at the very basic, but very finished piece of craft I now had – it wasn’t pretty, and maybe a little rough, but it was there 🙂 And more than anything, it was fun.
So that was the first project; I certainly learned a lot, and tried out several new things. I hope you’ll enjoy your first project too. It’s pretty easy to learn how to make a leather belt. For a list of my favorite tools as I’m learning, click here.
What is the best leather for making belts?
The best leather for making belts is usually vegetable tanned leather. It is a strong, wear-resistant leather that is comfortable to work with, available in a variety of thicknesses, and looks great over time.
How thick should a leather belt be?
A leather belt should be about 1/8” (3.2mm) thick. This would be leather that weighs in the 8oz – 9oz range. It provides a sturdy thickness that wears well and lasts a long time. Personal preference can also be a factor in choosing a thickness.