Skip to Content

Drilling Leather – How To Drill Leather The Easy Way

When I first started leather craft, I lacked the proper tools to make holes in thick pleather pieces and began looking for solutions until deciding to simply drill the leather. At the time, I had no clue how to create a clean hole, but the experiment was successful. While I have expanded my toolkit since then, I am glad I can always turn to drilling leather in a pinch. 

Drilling leather is an unorthodox method for making holes in leather. It can be done with a hand drill or press with standard twist bits. Using a drill can help make holes through multiple layers of thick leather quickly, providing a resource for those with no other options when creating holes.

While using a drill may not be the most common method for creating holes in a project, let’s look at ways it can help, including tips to help keep holes clean and professional. 

What Is Drilling Leather?

Drilling leather is the method of making holes using power tools, or machines, typically seen in other construction areas. A drill is a standard household tool many already own and can be an okay option for creating holes in leather projects. Any drill can be used with twist bits, at a moderate speed, with a good level of success. 

Ideally, drilling leather should be reserved for extremely thick and firm projects where traditional leather tools may not reach. However, with the speed and accuracy of a drill press, drilling leather can be used as a crafter’s main method of creating holes. 

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons You Might Choose to Drill Leather
  • Variations or Styles of Drilling Leather
  • Drilling Leather Overview Table
  • Skill Level of Drilling Leather
  • Tools and Supplies Needed for Drilling Leather
  • How to Drill Leather Step by Step
  • How to Get Better at Drilling Leather
  • My Personal Research on Drilling Leather
  • Helpful Insights on Drilling Leather
  • Key Takeaways
A Coiled Brown Leather Belt - Drilling Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
A Coiled Brown Leather Belt

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

When looking for information regarding drilling leather, most crafters say to avoid the method and write it off as useless. However, with some fine-tuning, drilling leather can be a solid method for adding holes to any project.  Choosing leather and a solid material for it to sit on is important. With firm leather on a solid surface, the drill bit can pierce through the leather without puckering too much. 

The surface below prevents the leather from having tons of loose fibers by pushing the drill through the material. However, setting up the proper conditions for drilling leather may take some trial and error. 

Writer Image

Once it is dialed in, though, this method can be quick and extremely helpful for those looking to make holes in multiple layers of thick leather. While many crafters will prefer traditional leather working tools, the drill is just as viable when working under specific circumstances. 

Reasons You Might Choose To Drill Leather

Using a drill with leather is an unorthodox method for creating holes, but it can be helpful in certain circumstances, mostly for convenience. For many, a drill is a standard household tool, unlike leatherworking chisels. Instead of purchasing a new tool, a drill can be used in its place for one-off tasks. However, a drill’s utility goes much further than that. 

When making leather sheaths, or holsters, multiple layers of thick leather are stacked together, making it difficult for traditional leather tools to piece through. In these cases, a drill may be a good option, as it can create an easy-to-sew hole with solid consistency. This only improves if a drill press is used. 

A drill press is quicker than leather hand tools and keeps the drill bit perfectly straight, ensuring the front and back sides of any leather project are uniform. This makes the drill press an extremely helpful leather craft tool for those specializing in heavier-weight projects. 

Ideally, drilling leather should be reserved for extremely thick and firm projects where traditional leather tools may not reach.

Variations or Styles of Drilling Leather

Drilling leather can be done with a handheld power tool or a press machine. A handheld drill will be portable and can add holes in harder-to-reach areas of leather projects. A handheld drill, however, will make the outcome reliant on the user’s ability with the tool. 

Therefore the holes created will be comparable to a drill press but may lack the same consistency. When possible, using a drill press is the better option. Drill presses provide quick and perfectly straight holes since the bit is locked in place on a track. With most leather projects that sit flat, this leads to much more consistent holes. 

However, leather items with a bow may be harder to align when using a press properly. Regardless of which type of drill is used, experimentation is necessary to find which speed and bit combination provides the cleanest outcome for you.  

Drilling Leather Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueDrilling Leather
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)3
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)Seconds 
Workspace NeededWorktable, or larger
Skills NeededPower tool usage, hole alignment
Tools and Supplies NeededDrill, various-sized twist bits, backing material, and masking tape
Key Helpful TipAlways drill into a surface underneath the leather to create the cleanest exit hole.
Drilling Leather Characteristics

Skill Level of Drilling Leather

Drilling holes into leather can be a straightforward task but involves experimenting to get it right. The most important part is to hold the drill at a consistent angle and the same speed. These skills may come more manageable for those with previous experience with a leather drill but can be picked up quickly. Using a drill press to add holes to leather is easier, requiring less skill. 

Since the drill bit is held in place, the speed at which the hole is made is the only thing that changes. This makes it a much more consistent method for adding holes. Setting the spacing between holes is also an important skill when drilling leather. Wing dividers make a great tool for this, as they can be adjusted to any width, allowing for any spacing size. 

Tools and Supplies Needed for Drilling Leather

To drill holes in leather, you will need, at minimum, a drill and twist bits the size of the necessary hole. This will be enough to create holes in the leather roughly. For better results, masking tape and a backing material should be used. Masking tape is placed on the surface of the leather to prevent the surface from becoming marred. 

A backing material such as wood, or more leather, allows the bit to continue past the end of the leather. Doing so helps keep the exit hole clean and consistent. If hole spacing is an issue, wing dividers make the perfect tool. They are adjustable to fit any desired spacing, and their sharp points allow for clear marks when lining up the drill.

Asif S. Pathan, and P.T. Borlepwar, from the Mechanical Engineering Department, Maharashtra Institute Of Technology, in Aurangabad, India, discussed creating an automatic leather-cutting machine, using drills to provide information on creating holes in leather. Before a larger hole is made, finding a small pilot hole helps keep the leather stable while cutting. 

A Handheld Drill and Drill Bits - Drilling Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
A Handheld Drill and Drill Bits

How To Drilling Leather Step by Step

  1. Tape off the surface of the leather that will be drilled to protect the hide.
  2. Mark holes with an awl or wing dividers on the masking tape.
  3. Attach the smallest twist bit to create a pilot hole. 
  4. Drill through the leather at a moderate speed and into a backing material like wood.
  5. Increase the size of the bit, and repeat the process until the correct hole size is created. 

How To Get Better at Drilling Leather

Drilling holes in leather will take some experimenting to create the best-looking results. Drill bit size, type, and speed will all affect the outcome. In addition, how thick the leather is and the backing material used can also change the results. To improve, prepare the surface by marking drilling holes and covering the area in tape to prevent marring the leather. 

Place the leather on top of a solid backing material that can be drilled into; this will prevent the exit holes from fraying as much. Always hold the drill as straight as possible; even a slight angle can cause the exit holes to be misaligned. Overall, practice while dialing in the settings works best for improving at drilling leather. 

In this helpful video by Weaver Leather Supply, Chuck Dorsett explains how a drill press can be used in leathercraft, providing helpful tips for producing clean, straight holes in the leather.  

My Personal Research on Drilling Leather

To research, I looked at how drilling leather worked with different types of hides. I started with a firm, thick vegetable tanned leather as my guide and followed with oil tanned, chrome tanned, and suede leather. I examined how the final hole looked and if there were any unforeseen issues. 

Vegetable Tanned Leather

Having previously drilled vegetable tanned leather, I knew it was possible and used it to dial in the speed I would be using for other leathers. I chose the thickest piece of leather I had at around 8 ounces and drilled a few holes through it into the wood. I kept this the same through testing and did not use masking tape to see how the surfaces changed. 

With vegetable tanned leather, the holes were fairly clean. My speed on the first one was too high, resulting in more marks along the hole, but it was otherwise nice. The back of the leather had some slight fraying, but nothing out of the ordinary when drilling leather. 

Oil Tanned Leather

I then moved onto a semi-firm oil tanned leather that was slightly over 7 ounces. This leather was waxy and felt oily to the touch. I immediately noticed I had to put more pressure on the drill to start the hole as softer leather pushed down. Drilling the leather went fairly smooth otherwise, though my bit at the end was coated in waxes and needed to be cleaned.

Looking at the holes, the surface of the leather had more damage. Pushing downwards caused a ring pull up effect around the hole, with puckering. The backside was similar to the vegetable tanned leather, with a bit more fraying. It was overall a success, but less than the vegetable tanned leather. 

Chrome Tanned Leather

The chrome tanned leather I chose was soft, flexible, and only 5 ounces thick. This leather had a similar problem when trying to start the hole. The surface would start pulling towards the spinning drill bit in an unsightly manner. 

When I finally made the holes, the results were not good. The leather bunched up around the hole, with one even being torn. The holes were stretched and seemingly different sizes as a result. While the back of the leather remained similar, the exit hole also showed signs of the leather stretching. 

Suede Leather

When choosing a suede, I wanted to give the drill the best chance possible. I picked a thick 6 ounces cow suede with tightly packed fibers. The leather was still flexible and had some stretch to it. Starting the hole on the suede was only slightly better than the chrome tanned leather. The bit would pull the nearby hairs, but enough pressure added made it possible. 

Drilling the suede leather smelled; the heat generated by the friction burned some of the fibers emitting an odor. I was able to get this under control by adjusting the speed. The final holes were better than the chrome tanned. The surface of the suede had very slight visual damage but remained mostly clean, similar to the backside of the leather. 

Some hair fibers twisted around the area but could easily be cleaned with a knife or shears. Although drilling through suede was pretty successful, I would warn about the potential for suede fibers to get tangled in the drill, especially if using a shorter drill bit. 

Conclusion

While creating holes in leather with a drill is possible, there are a few things to consider. A thicker piece will hold up better, but firmness is the most important factor. A soft piece leads to the surface of the leather being pulled into the spinning bit rather than creating a nice entrance hole. Surprisingly, most leathers I tested worked well with a drill, with only the soft chrome tanned leather being a true failure. 

Helpful Insights On Drilling Leather

What kind of drill bit for leather?

A small twist bit will work best for drilling leather. The bit’s size is chosen by how big the hole needed is. When creating larger holes, a small bit may be used to create a pilot hole, allowing a larger bit to follow, creating a cleaner result when drilling leather. 

Can you use a drill on leather?

Yes, a drill can be used on leather with a few adjustments to prevent the leather from being damaged. The surrounding area may be taped off, and a drilling surface should be placed underneath the leather. These two changes will help keep the surface and exit hole as clean as possible. 

Can I drill a hole in a leather belt?

Yes, a drill can be used to make an additional hole in a leather belt for those in a pinch. A small twist bit is recommended to make a pilot hole before using a larger bit to create the size needed. In addition, a drilling surface should be placed underneath the leather to keep the exit hole clean. 

Can you use a drill press on leather?

Yes, a drill press can be used on leather, and is preferable to a hand drill. The drill press keeps the hole completely straight, which can be helpful when drilling through multiple layers of thick leather. Like other drilling methods, taping off the surface, and placing a drilling surface under the leather, will provide the best results. 

Should you drill leather slow?

Leather drilling speed should be experimented with to find one that produces the cleanest results with the chosen bit. Signs of a too-slow speed may be excess puckering, while a too-fast speed could be scorching the leather and loosening the fibers around the exit hole. 

Key Takeaways

  1. A firm thick leather is preferred when drilling holes in leather. 
  2. Using a drill is a good way to put holes in multiple layers of thick leather.
  3. When possible, a drill press will produce much nicer results than a hand drill. 

In Closing

A large part of leather crafting is developing ingenious ways to solve problems. Utilizing a drill for leather is a great example. While unconventional, a drill can be a great tool for making holes in leather after making some adjustments. It may not be for everyone, but those who prefer the method can find great success with it. 

Other Resources: