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How To Cut Leather – Useful Crafting Methods and Options

When I first learned how to cut leather, I used an old box cutter with a dull blade. Since I had no experience cutting leather, I thought the material was tough. After months of using the same knife, I finally purchased a new blade and quickly saw the difference. Since then, I only seek out the sharpest tools to cut leather. 

Learning how to cut leather is a vital part of the craft. It is used in every project and may impact the final look. While each hide cuts differently, leather as a whole can be resilient. It can be cut using various tools, only requiring a sharp blade for smooth and, more importantly, safe cuts. 

With countless leather tool-cutting options available, finding a comfortable blade is important. Let’s explore the options when cutting leather and discuss the benefits of each tool. 

What Is Cutting Leather?

Cutting leather is passing a blade through leather to cut off sections from the hide. It is a vital part of leather craft as each project will require many cuts. Leather can be cut with various tools, but the most important part is the blade’s sharpness. A sharp blade will allow a much smoother cut. More importantly, having a sharp blade reduces the chance of injury as less pressure must be applied while cutting. 

Although a sharp knife is a great start when cutting leather, various techniques are also required to achieve consistency throughout hides. Each leather will have its own unique properties, including thickness, texture, stretchiness, and firmness. All of which will impact how easily or difficult it may be to cut a straight line in leather. 

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons You Might Choose To Cut Leather
  • Variations or Styles of How To Cut Leather
  • How To Cut Leather Overview Table
  • Skill Level of Cutting Leather
  • Tools and Supplies Needed To Cut Leather
  • How To Cut Leather Step by Step
  • How To Get Better at Cutting Leather
  • My Personal Research on How To Cut Leather
  • HelpfuI Insights on How To Cut Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Hand Cutting Leather With a Sharp Blade - How To Cut Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Hand Cutting Leather With a Sharp Blade

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

A common misconception I see with new leather workers is that they need expensive and specific leather knives to have clean cuts. While investing in good tools is always a smart option and will ensure the quality of the blades is high, they may have some unforeseen problems. A higher-priced knife will often be a fixed blade requiring maintenance to remain sharp. 

Having to maintain a blade is an entirely different skill set that those unfamiliar with the process must invest time and money in. In addition, many knives designed for leather craft have a unique shape that may be dangerous. A round knife, for example, has a large cutting area that must be respected at all times. 

Disposable blades are just as effective as high-priced knives. They are often extremely sharp but need to be replaced often as they dull quickly. These are a great option for those new to the craft, want a lower cost, or do not want to maintain a knife.

Reasons You Might Choose To Cut Leather

Cutting leather is one of the most common practices in leather craft and is an essential skill to create and perform various techniques. When purchasing leather, it will arrive as a large panel that must be cut to the shape of one’s project. When leather pieces are attached, there is often an excess of material that also must be cut away. Almost every step in leather craft will require leather to be removed using various knives. 

Making cuts in leather may also be for decoration. One popular technique for this is to use a filigree cut. This removes part of the leather to show another material behind it. Cuts can be made strategically to create various patterns or images. 

In this video provided by Weaver Leather Supply, Chuck Dorsett demonstrates the beauty of filigree cuts, providing a step-by-step guide on how to create a lettered design.  

Variations or Styles of How To Cut Leather

Disposable Blade 

One of the most common, and budget-friendly methods of cutting leather is using a disposable blade. This includes box cutters, craft knives, and any other tool in which the blade is replaced rather than resharpened. Disposable blades are maintenance-free, with the blade needing to be replaced when dulled. 

In addition, the blades sold will always be sharp. Ensuring the cutting process is as smooth as possible. Unfortunately, disposable blades do not last as long as others, requiring the blade to be changed at least every project to keep the cutting smooth.

Fixed Blade 

Fixed-blade knives are another popular choice for cutting leather. Typically, these will be sold in different shapes, including crescent, half-crescent, and angled. With fixed blades, the knife will retain its sharpness much better but will require periodic maintenance. This may include resharpening and consistent stroping. 

The larger variety of shapes may also help those find a knife that suits them more comfortably, as they each have their benefits. The quality of a fixed blade varies widely and often costs much more upfront. Purchasing from a reputable supplier is often best, as a knife will come sharp, and the metal will require less maintenance. 


While not as possible as knives, shears can be a great way to cut some leather. Shears are used like scissors, making them one of the safest and most intuitive tools for cutting leather. They allow for easy curved cuts and do not allow the leather to stretch during the process. 

Shears are limited by the thickness and firmness of the hide; however, they’re best suited for thin or soft leathers. While shears last a long time without becoming dull, the sharpening process is much more difficult than a knife, typically requiring a professional or replacing the tool entirely. 

How To Cut Leather Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueCut Leather
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)1
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)Varied
Workspace NeededWorktable or larger
Skills NeededBlade maintenance, accuracy, and pressure management
Tools and Supplies NeededAny knife, replacement blades (if necessary)
Key Helpful TipAlways use a sharp knife and metal ruler 
How To Cut Leather Characteristics

Skill Level of Cutting Leather

Cutting leather is a basic skill in leather craft that anyone can immediately pick up. Most of us have used a knife at some point and are familiar with passing a blade through materials. While this motion is similar in leather craft, each leather will provide a different feel that requires some adjustments. 

Leather surfaces are often textured, requiring slow passes to ensure the bumps do not move the blade off the guided line. Alternatively, the leather may be stretchy or firm. Therefore, while cutting leather is a straightforward process, it is important to avoid rushing. Not only will this help make more consistent cuts, but it will also keep the cutting process safe. 

Tools and Supplies Needed To Cut Leather

Potential tools used for cutting leather are disposable blade knives, fixed blade knives, or shears. Only one tool is needed as they can be used on most leather projects. If a disposable blade is used, purchasing plenty of fresh blades is best to keep the tool working its best. 

While not necessary, a metal ruler is a great tool when cutting leather. It will help keep lines straight while protecting the blade from cutting into the tool, keeping the user safe if the blade is ever improperly positioned.

Another great set of supplies for any cutting tool is a method for keeping the blade sharp. This may include whetstones, sandpaper, polishing compounds, or strops. The key to cutting leather is having a sharp blade; using these supplies will allow a blade to perform its best at all times.

How To Cut Leather Step by Step

Cutting leather is a fundamental step in many leatherworking projects. Whether you’re making a leather wallet, bag, belt, or any other item, knowing how to cut leather properly is essential. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to cut leather:

  1. Prepare the tool for cutting by stropping the blade or replacing it.
  2. Mark on the leather where the cut, or cuts, will be made.
  3. When possible, place a ruler along a marked line to keep the cut straight.
  4. Plunge the blade tip into the leather, smoothly drawing it along the surface.
  5. If necessary, repeat a cut to completely remove the piece from the hide.

More importantly, having a sharp blade reduces the chance of injury as less pressure will need to be applied during a cut.

How To Get Better at Cutting Leather

The best way to get better at cutting any type of leather is to practice on various hides. Ideally, the hides should be extremely different, offering more challenging textures, stretchiness, or firmness. The goal during improvement is to learn how to cut straight and curved lines regardless of the quality of the leather. This will make crafters become more comfortable with the knives they are using and understand the intricacies of cutting each leather type. 

When practicing, the goal is to be as consistent as possible. This may require slower cuts and multiple passes. Muscle memory can be built by going slow and learning how to manage a safe amount of pressure, allowing crafters to speed up. However, going too fast early on may cause cuts to jump or be more dangerous during the process.

Raymond W. McGorry, Peter C. Dowd, and Patrick G. Dempsey, from Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, researched the effects of blade sharpness in the meat industry. Finding a dull knife decreases productivity by increasing grip forces and cutting speed. 

While leather craft is not about speed, the changes in how a blade is held and cuts can greatly impact the quality of the work produced. In addition, the increase in pressure required may cause more harm to individuals if a mistake is to occur. 

My Personal Research on How To Cut Leather

Cutting curves may be a tricky task for those new to leather. Many of the knives we choose will have firm, straight blades, preventing them from easily making tight curves. For my research, I looked at various ways to cut more rounded shapes into leather, providing options for those looking to improve. 

Craft Knives

The first option I looked into was using a craft knife. The blades are sharp like others but come to a point and slightly bend. When cutting paper, they are a great tool for cutting curves and a popular choice when working with leather. I started by testing the thinnest leather, some goat scrap no thicker than 3 ounces (1.2mm).

This leather had a slightly shrunken texture, but not enough to cause problems. It also had a small amount of stretch, which I knew to watch out for. The craft knife did great cutting through the thin leather. The blade was both and accurate. Curves were also not an issue since the knife could pass through the leather smoothly.

I was able to change directions with very little unwanted stretching quickly. However, moving up to standard 5-ounce (2.0mm) vegetable tanned leather proved more difficult. The blade could no longer pass through immediately unless extra pressure were applied. By doing so, the blade would lose its ability to curve easily. The best method I found when using this leather was to make multiple passes very slowly.

Clicker Knife

A clicker knife is a handle that offers many styles of replaceable blades. For this test, I put in a curved cutting blade. The blade resembles a crescent, coming to a very fine point with the body shape out of the way. In practice, this allows for the crafter to change the amount of blade they are cutting with, potentially only using the tip to achieve the tightest curves. I tested this knife on the same goat, and vegetable tanned leather I used for the others. 

An immediate problem I had with the clicker knife was getting a cut started. I would poke the knife where I wanted to cut but had difficulty getting the leather to catch against the blade. Instead, it would scrunch up. However, once the edge got caught in the leather, it was an extremely smooth knife. The ability to focus on sections of the knife made controlling it simple, and the curves would remain clean. 

I had a similar problem getting the cut started when using this knife on vegetable tanned leather. However, the thicker, firmer leather was much quicker to catch. Unlike the craft knife, the clicker knife had plenty of length to go through the vegetable tanned leather, allowing me to cut in a single pass. Curves proved slightly more resistant but could be obtained with some patience. 


Shears are my favorite tool for cutting curves as they are simply scissors and feel very natural. They use metal blades that close on the leather, preventing it from stretching during the cutting process. I used my shears on the same leather to compare them to the other tools used for cutting.

Cutting the thin goat leather with shears is exactly what the tool is made for. The thin leather cuts like paper and does not bunch up during the process. The quality of the curve, however, is highly dependent on how the tool is used. I do not always do a great job of making clean cuts, and I often need to go back to address problem areas after the piece has been cut out. 

Using the shears on the thicker vegetable tanned leather is more difficult. The tool will cut through the leather but has a lot of trouble creating curves. Here, I often make rough cuts and fix them later with a knife and sandpaper. However, I still find the shears useful as they are easy to use and efficient.


Each tool covered has its pros and cons when it comes to cutting curves in leather. Typically, it is easier for tools to perform on thinner leathers than thicker. In my opinion, there is no bad option, but rather, finding what is comfortable makes all the difference, as practice, patience, and a sharpened tool can make curved cuts on any leather.

Hand Cutting Leather With Leather Shears - How To Cut Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Hand Cutting Leather With Leather Shears

Helpful Insights On How To Cut Leather

What is the best thing to cut leather with?

There is no best tool to cut leather, as comfort is subjective. Any sharp blade should cut leather effectively, so the best tool would be one that you are confident in using. Although blades may be specially designed to perform various tasks, practicing techniques can make any blade a universal tool.

Can you cut leather with an exacto knife?

Yes, exacto knives are fairly popular for cutting leather, as their flexible blades allow for precise, curved cuts. However, as leather thickness increases, an exacto knife may not be able to pass through the leather in a single motion. Potentially requiring multiple passes to cleanly cut the leather. 

Can you cut leather with a Stanley knife?

Yes, Stanley knives or any other utility blade may be used to cut leather. These work well for straight cuts and can be used on thicker leather with no issue. While curved cuts are not as easy with these knives, crafters have learned how to control the blade to achieve clean cuts with some practice. 

Can you cut leather with regular scissors?

While it is possible to cut leather with regular scissors, it is not recommended. Most household scissors will not have the power to cut through many hides, requiring thin leather even to work. In addition, the scissors will create an uneven edge, which can make a project look messy. Shears are the best option for a cutting tool that works like scissors. 

Do you wet leather before cutting?

You should always try to avoid cutting wet leather when possible. When any leather is wet it will be more likely to stretch, resulting in uneven cuts when the material has dried. Therefore, waiting for the leather to dry before cutting the material is always best. 

Why should hard leather be soaked in water before cutting?

While some may like to rehydrate their leather before cutting, as it makes the material softer. It is important to fully allow the leather to dry if it is wet first. Cutting leather while it is damp will cause stretching, which can result in uneven cuts. After hardened leather is dried, it will most likely shrink and can be cut freely without issues. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Regardless of the tool used, blade sharpness is key when cutting leather.
  2. Each leather will have its own cutting challenges and should be practiced when possible.
  3. Be patient when cutting leather, and use multiple passes when necessary for the cleanest cuts

In Closing

Cutting leather is a vital skill in leather craft that will be used for every project. Learning how to effectively and safely cut various hides will make the process much smoother. As workers, we must maintain and be comfortable with our tools to perform daily tasks and techniques. 

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