Making a leather belt is a fun way to begin learning about leather craft. Here’s a look at the second belt I made, a wearable success!
Learning how to make a leather belt allows you to develop a few basic leather working skills. These include skiving, edging, grooving, burnishing, punching, cutting, deglazing, dyeing, finishing, and riveting. Getting familiar with these can also result in a nice, finished, wearable leather good.
So how did belt-making round two go?? Is it better than the first? You be the judge! Let’s check it out.
How to Make a Leather Belt
Ok, so after making my very first leather belt (click here to view that project), I decided I could probably make a better one. The first, dyeing process aside, took maybe less than 2 hours. And that included learning what each tool did and trying it for the first time. Surely, I could do it better if I try again, with a little experience?
The goal of belt #1 was to just make a belt. I’d get familiar with the tools, and end up with something that resembled a belt. The goal of belt #2 is to make it good enough that someone else might actually want to wear it. I know! It wouldn’t be store-bought-nice yet, but maybe something that wouldn’t look out of place on a waist, on some jeans or a pair of khakis.
I was thinking, who could I make a belt for? Well, my Dad likes belts, has always had belts :), and would likely value function over looks (if I messed it up a bit while making it). Perfect, I’ll make my dad a belt! At worst, he could wear it on the weekend while doing yard work or working outside. Alright then, time to begin!
How to Make a Leather Belt – Making the Belt
Here we’ll first explore making the belt itself. Later, we’ll go though the dyeing process.
Awesome, it’s belt time! The first step will be to determine how long the belt needs to be. This will help you figure out how long of a belt blank you need to buy, or how long of a strip you’ll need to cut from a larger piece of leather.
Generally, the belt should be about 10” longer than the waist size. This allows for about 3.5” of material to fold under where the buckle is riveted to on the “buckle end” of the belt. And, it allows about 6.5” towards the “tip end” of the belt for additional holes and to slide into the belt loop.
To get waist size, use a flexible tape measure and measure around the waist of the person. Make sure it’s not too loose or too tight. The measurement you have will be the wise size. An example is 36”. If you take the waist size and add 10”, it would be 46”, the length of the belt blank needed.
Choosing a Belt Blank
Ok, now that we know how long the blank needs to be, we can choose a blank. Generally, vegetable tanned leather is a great choice when learning how to make a leather belt. The leather is strong, durable, and easy to work with.
For this project, I chose a vegetable tanned leather belt blank, in the 8/9 oz range. It measured 1-1/4” wide x 50” long. The weight of the leather is a personal choice; heavier, thicker belts can be made, as well as thinner, lighter belts. Width is a factor as well. Wider belts can be used for more strength, or style.
A common every-day belt width that fits in most clothing belt loops is 1-1/4” so that’s what I went with.
Choosing the Hardware
Once you know the width of the belt, you can get the hardware for it. The belt buckle is a fun piece to look for as a lot of the personality of the belt will be reflected in the style of the buckle chosen. Is it bronze finished, steel, nickel? Matt of polished finish? Does it have square angles, or more curved? Does it have a large design on it, or very minimalistic?
So many options are available and it’s a very personal choice, either for the maker, or for whom it will be made for. Since I knew my belt width would be 1-1/4”, I chose a classic silver buckle with a polished finish. This will work well for dress wear, or more casual every-day wear. Buckles are easy to find online, I got the one for this project from Amazon.
Now that we know the color of the buckle, we can get the rivets. Usually, rivers are most commonly available in gold, silver, and bronze finish. Since I have the silver buckle, I got the silver rivets to match. I already had a rivet kit with assorted sizes and colors of rivets, so I just pulled a few from that.
Cool, so now we have the materials and hardware, its time to do some real leather craft! The first thing I did was to groove the leather blank. When learning how to make a leather belt, grooving is fun. I though it would be a simple, understated, classy element to add by running a small groove along the edge of both sides of the belt. This gives it some added visual appeal, while still keeping it a simple belt.
I adjusted the width of the groover to be about 1/2” inset from the edge of the belt. This was to leave a little too between the groove and the edge so it wasn’t too close, and also to leave room for the edger to take away material later on. The final groove would be inset a little bit from a nicely rounded edge.
So I laid the groover onto the material, and drew it towards me. I try to keep an consistent motion so the starts and stops aren’t reflected in the cut itself. The right hand keeps the groover in place while the left hand holds the leather in place on the table.
Sometimes we have to stop to adjust the material for the next pull. Just be sure to keep the groover right in place, then continue once the leather is firmly held onto the table again. Finish grooving one side, then turn the leather material around, and groove the other side, repeating the same steps.
Once it’s grooved, it’s time to edge! This is fun as you can really feel the material getting cut away based on the pressure and speed of the edger you’re using. To do this, gently push the edger into one edge of the leather, about an inch from the end. Gently push the edger forward, cutting away the sharp 90 degree squared off original edge to the belt blank.
Try to keep a consistent motion as much as possible, to keep the edge looking as consistent as possible. This is impostant especially when learning how to make a leather belt. Once completed, turn the leather around and finish off that last inch or so that’s left from where you started. It’s much easier to start no right on the edge of the material (hence the need to finish off this little bit), though if you have the skills to start from right at the edge, go for it.
Next, do the same to the other edge of the leather If you’d like as well, so this for the edged on the other surface of it as well. Edging all edges of the leather will give it a very rounded, pleasing look, and comfortable feel when being handled during use. Make sure the edges are nice and clean, then move on to burnishing.
Burnishing the Edges
Excellent! The belt blank is edged and ready to be burnished. Burnishing helps to smooth the edges so the exposed leather fibers. It does this by generating heat though a hand motion, running a burnishing tool over the edges quickly, heating up the fibers and gently fusing them together resulting in a smooth, somewhat shiny edge.
Burnishing can be done by hand, or with an electrically powered tool, such as a drill or rotary tool. For these, just use a burnishing bit. Powered burnishing is much faster and can help lead to more consistent results. Though, I had a hand burnisher on hand and was up for a little exercise, so hand burnishing I went! It only took a little while, maybe 10-20 minutes, and I was able to burnish both sides (and all 4 edges) of the leather belt blank.
Once they’re all nice and smooth, we can move on to skiving.
So the belt blank is grooved, edged, and burnished. Next, we have to skive away some material near where the belt buckle will so. So choose the end that will be used for the buckle (the other will be the tip side).
As we learn how to make a leather belt, we do this because when the leather folds over the buckle bar to hold it in place, it will essentially be 2 layers of leather eventually riveted together. This would make it somewhat bulky in that area, and a little uncomfortable to wear. So, we shave away (skive) about 1/2 of each underside of the leather that will wrap around the buckle. This will result in a finished piece with about the same thickness of the rest of the belt.
So skive away! Skiving is a bit like cutting hair. Take your time as you can always skive off more, though you can’t add the material back once it’s gone. Once you have the material removed and all looks good, it’s time to make some holes.
Punching the Belt Buckle Prong Hole
Now that we’ve skived the material away so we can wrap it around the buckle bar, we need to make a hole in the leather for the buckle prong. This will allow it to pass the through the leather, and move about, later able to go into a hole on the belt end and secure it in place.
For the buckle hole, some people use an oblong punch. The hole has to be an oblong shape, so this definitely works. I did not have an oblong punch, so I tried something different. I punched two round roles at the end of the planned cut. Then, I just used a knife to cut straight lines to remove the leather between the holes. The result, an oblong hole 🙂
Perfect. I had to make it a little longer than I would have guessed, as once the leather folds over and the prong is in place, it needs room to move forward and backward. Key to measure here is the width of the prong where it moved towards the bar. The ring hole should be just a little bit wider than that to allow the prong to move freely.
Punching the Tip
Next, we punch the tip! This is fun, as it gives the belt some of it’s character. Some people prefer rounded ends, some more pointed ends. I had an english strap punch, which is more pointed. The punch I have is for a 1-1/2” tip, a little larger than my 1-1/4” belt. That’s OK, I just centered it at the tip of the belt, and punched it right through.
Perfect! A pointed belt. This is a fun part in seeing how to make a leather belt. The edges still have “sharp corners to them. So just as I did with the belt edges, I edged, then burnished the edged of the newly stamped tip. Once they look good, we can move on.
Punching Belt Holes
Now we get to use a hole punch to make the holes for the belt buckle prong. The center-most hole is usually the one that matches the waist size of the wearer. Find the middle of the belt, then mark the hole location. Make 2-3 holes on either side of it, likely 2. Usually, they are spaced about 1” apart. I like to make them 1/2” apart as it gives more subtle size options for the belt. That way, with a little weight gain or loss, the belt will not be too snug or loose going up or down one hole.
If you punch the holes closer together, more can be made in the belt, allowing for finer adjustment when wearing.
Cutting the Belt Loop
This is key when learning how to make a leather belt, and I almost forget this every time. Well this is only my second belt, but it happened both times, so, almost every time! 🙂 The belt loop.
Make sure to cut a smaller piece of leather to use for the loop. I made it similar in design to the belt. First grooved it, then edged it, then skived it (so it will have an even thickness when folded around the belt and riveted together). Lastly, burnish it so the edges are nice and smooth.
At this step, all of the main parts of the belt are complete. Nicely done! I chose to burnish everything again, just to really clean up the edges and make them look nice. By this stage, I had obtained a burnishing bit that goes into a drill. I put it in and power-burnished my way through the belt and belt loop leather pieces.
In just a few minutes, the edges were smooth and consistent. One thing I learned with the power burnisher is that it’s much easier to burn the leather from the friction. With hand burnishing, it takes a pretty good amount of effort to get the leather hot enough to start to see it burn a bit. With the power burnisher it was much easier to press down too hard in certain areas, or hold the burnisher too long in one place and see the leather start to burn.
So just keep an eye on it and get a feel for things as you go as you learn how to make a leather belt. I knew I would be dyeing the belt black later, so burns would not be noticeable in the final piece. Though for other colors or unfinished pieces, I’d have be much more careful in the future.
How to Make a Leather Belt – Dyeing the Belt
Now that we’ve made the belt, let’s look at how to prepare for, and dye it.
Dyeing the Leather Belt
Awesome, the belt is ready for dyeing. This is a fun, but very time consuming step. When factoring in the prep, drying times, and need to buff everything at the end, I’ve learned I’d much rather buy leather already dyed than to dye it myself.
There might be a lot of cases where dyeing leather at home is a great idea, though for me, making a belt, pre-dyed leather likely has a lot of advantages. That said, I’m very glad to have gone through the experience of dyeing to learn about it, ho it works, and when it can be advantageous to dye leather at home.
Dyeing leather is best done outdoors, or in a place with great ventilation. The fumes from some of the deglazers, dyes, and finishes can be less than ideal to breathe in, so the less that we breathe in the better.
I chose a patio table on a nice day, perfect to experiment how to make a leather belt. Generally 60 degrees to 80 degrees is best for an outside temperature, as it minimizes the drying time for things. Colder, and the drying time increases. Hotter, and the dyes and finishes might be too hot to interact with the leather most effectively. Generally, read through the instructions on whatever materials you are using.
To protect the table, I laid down a few plastic trash bags taped together. Spilled dye or finish would be a hassle to clean up on the table alone. I also got some rubber gloves, the deglazer, dye, finish, wool daubers, and some lint-free rags.
Deglazing helps remove any existing finishes or elements from the production process. It prepares the leather’s surface to receive the dye. Lay the belt out flat. I put on the rubber gloves, grabbed a dauber, and dipped it into the deglazer. Also, not recommended to sniff the deglazer very closely. You might be initially curious what it smells like and want to take a big whiff really close up. I, umm, know a “friend” who did that 🙂 Not necessary at all and not worth breathing all that in.
Next I just rubbed the dauber with deglaze across the surface of the belt. The deglazer will darken the leather when it’s first applied, making it easy to know where you have applied it. Just put it on in long strokes, until the entire belt is covered. As it dries, the leather will return to its lighter, original color.
Wait about 15-20 minutes for it all to dry, and you’ll be ready for the next step. Remember to deglaze the belt loop too!
The belt is deglazed and ready for dye. Just dip a wool dauber into the dye, then apply to the leather surface in long strokes. Ensure you get a consistent coverage over the entire surface, so the final color will be consistent. Inevitably, some areas will get a little more dye on them than others. Just apply more to other areas to even it out.
Let the dye dry about 1/2 hour or longer (based on the dye’s instructions) Then, if needed, add another coat to make it all consistent in color and color density. Once dyed, again let it dry. For this step, usually let it dry at least overnight. That way, it will be ready for conditioning and finishing.
Remember to dye the belt loop too! For a more detailed look into dyeing, click here to read an article I wrote about it.
Amazing! We have a dyed belt. However, the deglazer we used, and the alcohol-based dye can really dry out the leather. We’ll need to add some of that moisture back before applying finish to the belt. Adding this moisture is called conditioning.
To apply it, just dip a lint-free rag, or applicator, into the conditioner and rub it in long strokes over the leather’s surface. Try to keep the application even. No big worries if not, excess can be wiped off. Mainly, just make sure to get a good layer of conditioner over the entire belt. Once it’s been applied, rub off any excess conditioner with another, dry, lint-free cloth. Once no more conditioner rubs off, let it dry, usually about 24 hours.
Remember to condition the belt loop too! Your belt with thank you later 🙂
Once dried, use a lint free cloth to buff the belt. A white cloth usually works best as you can see what’s coming off of the belt. Buffing involves rubbing the cloth over the belt to remove any excess conditioner or dyes that have dried to the surface, and bring it to a dull sine.
Buff, buff, and buff some more. It is so important to buff until the white cloth comes out white after rubbing, to ensure no dyes will potentially transfer to clothing or upholstered seats when it’s work later. Not a super-exciting step, though an important one while learning how to make a leather belt. Yes, we’ll add a finish, but if the finish wears away and the belt color starts rubbing off on nice or expensive furniture, it will be very not awesome.
So, really, buff, buff, and buff some more. Or, buy pre-dyed leather. See why I like that option better now? 🙂 Remember the belt loop too!
Now we’re ready for a finish. Usually a protective finish is added to help protect the belt, and to protect the belt color from rubbing off onto clothes and chairs when it’s worn. I used a carnauba wax, essentially a liquid wax that can be applied to the surface and dries clear.
With rubber gloves on, I dipped a dauber into the finish, then applied it across the entire belt, and belt loop. Again, try to keep even coats. Apply to all sides of the belt and belt loop. Usually, do one side, then let it dry enough that it can be handled, then do the other side. The time to wait for drying enough to touch will vary, so check the instructions and be aware of the weather, temperature, and humidity if you’re doing it outdoors.
Once this is dry (about 24 hours or more), buff again. This is the final surface, and the one that will come into contact with clothes, chairs, and furniture. So, ensuring NOTHING rubs off of it is so very important. Use white cloths, and buff and buff until they come out white each time (and no finish of dye rubs off).
You can buff by hand, or use a power drill with a buffing attachment. I did both. It took a while, though white cloth in hand, I called it a day!
Awesome, the belt is ready for the finishing hardware. The buckle needs to be attached to the belt. Also, the belt loop needs to be secured to the belt. Place the buckle end of the belt through the loop, and push the ring through the prong hole. Slide the belt loop onto the material as well, in between the skived ends. Fold the skived ends of the belt together, and plan where the loop and rivets will go.
Generally, a rivet or two will be places towards the end of the folded material, to secure the folded over leather in place. Then the belt loop would be sandwiched in the middle. Next, additional rivets are placed through the skiver pieces to secure it in place around the belt loop. All rivets are done!
The belt is now complete, so cool! I was able to finish it up, and got really excited. It looks like a real belt 🙂 I took a few photos, and got ready to give it to my Dad. He loved it! Partly likely because he’s my Dad, and party because it was a real, functioning belt.
I was worried that the finish and color might rub off, and mentioned he didn’t have to really use it, I was just glad to make another project, get more experience, and learn more leather working skills. However, he started wearing it daily.
I was so worried about the color rubbing off! After a few weeks of wearing it, he mentioned no color was wearing off, and all was great! Awesome, I was so glad 🙂
So there we have, belt #2. It has a little more quality to it than the first belt, and the accuracy is a bit better. So overall a good step in the direction of learning leather craft and improving on some of the basic skills. To see the tools I like the most as I’m learning, click here. I’m excited about the so much more that exists to learn, and more leather projects to come!
What is the best leather for learning how to make a leather belt?
Vegetable tanned leather is generally the best leather for making a belt. It is strong, durable, and can be worked well with basic leather craft tools. It is available is a variety of widths and lengths, and great for beginner leather working.
How can I make my leather belt more flexible?
Leather conditioner can be applied to an unfinished leather belt to help make it more flexible. Adding oils and moisture back into dry leather can help its flexibility. Also, wearing a belt can help make the fibers stretch/become more flexible over time.