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How to Split Leather – Step by Step Guide to Leather Splitting

A common problem I face when working with leather is having a piece that’s too thick. Currently, I skive the leather manually or don’t use it at all. I have been searching for better ways to make leather a more even thickness, leading me to various splitting machines that do just that.

Splitting leather is cutting the grain side away from the flesh side at a set even thickness. While similar to skiving, splitting focuses on thinning large areas or full hides at a single time to an even thickness. Leather-splitting machines can be electric or manual and range from $75–$3,500. 

Since leather-splitting machines can be an investment, let’s review their uses and discover if these leather-thinning machines are right for your workshop.

What Is Splitting Leather?

Splitting leather is thinning leather by cutting the grain side away from the flesh. This can be similar to skiving; however, splitting focuses on large areas of the hide and cuts the entire piece at an even thickness.

Tanneries or leather vendors will offer splitting to their customers when purchasing leather. However, with proper machinery, it can be done at a home workshop. Splitting leather allows thick leather to be used in thinner projects, making each hide more versatile. 

What We’ll Explore

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

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Many crafters feel limited regarding ways of thinning leather. Most order the leather in a “universal size” or skive. The common perception is splitting leather is best left to companies rather than the individual. However, even the smallest splitting machines can make a difference in many worker’s shops.

Belt ends are the most common area where a splitter is needed, and a budget-friendly manual splitter is more than enough to do the job properly. This same machine can be used for smaller leather projects such as wallets, watch straps, or narrow bag panels. 

Reasons You Might Choose to Split Leather

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Splitting leather is all about removing bulkiness from a leather project. Making the use of previously thicker hides possible. If a wallet is going to have the pockets lined, the number of layers used can make the wallet thick very quickly. A leather splitter will allow the pieces to be cut evenly, reducing the thickness of the final product.

Additionally, leather splitters can be used in targeted areas, such as the end of a belt. Where the leather will be folded over, causing the section to be larger than others. A splitter can thin the leather so the belt can sit much more evenly throughout. Professor Salah-Eldien Omer, a business researcher, and consultant, in Zagreb, Croatia, covered the various types of leather used in furniture.

While split leather loses strength and becomes more fragile, it is not a waste since it is still leather. The split side of the leather will have an artificial coating applied or pressed together to form a leather board, expanding the uses for the leather.

Variations or Styles of Splitting Leather

Manual Leather Splitter

Manual leather splitters are the most common type of splitter found in hobbyist workshops. There are two main types of manual splitters, one without a crank and one with one. Splitters without a crank will use a longer piece of leather than required and clamp it onto the roller, leaving an excess to grip onto.

The user then pulls the leather through the blade. Splitters using a hand crank will turn the rollers, allowing the leather to be fed into the machine without requiring excess material. Another benefit of having a crank is the ability to more precisely control the speed at which the leather passes through the blade, helping keep the final cut as even as possible.

In this helpful video provided by Chartermade, Terrick, a bladesmith and leatherworker, breaks down the purpose of the leather splitter, going in-depth on how and when to use a leather splitter.

Electric Leather Splitter

Electric leather splitters are large machines used in more professional workshops. They work the same way as higher-end hand crank splitters but automate the process. The machine’s rollers will spin as you place the leather in, pulling the leather into the blade at an even speed. This consistency helps the final product avoid any unevenness and can be used to thin larger pieces of leather to full hides.

How to Split Leather Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueHow to Split Leather
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)3
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)5mins–1 hour
Workspace NeededLarge area for a machine to be bolted onto
Skills NeededHow to operate the machine safely, blade sharpening, and thickness setting
Tools and Supplies NeededElectric or manual used splitting machine
Key Helpful TipSet the splitter slightly thicker, leather can be thinned more, but not made thicker
How to Split Leather Details

Skill Level of How to Split Leather

The cutting blade on the splitting machines can be dangerous, and I believe any splitting device should be thoroughly inspected before use. This requires learning how the machine operates and how to use it safely. It also includes knowing how to remove the cutting blade and replace or sharpen it.

Once learning how to operate the machine properly, one must understand how to gauge the thickness settings and feed the machine. While anyone can use splitting machines, it is important to be patient and always use them safely.

While similar to skiving, splitting focuses on thinning large areas or full hides at a single time to an even thickness.

Tools and Supplies Needed for Splitting Leather

The only tools needed for splitting leather are the machines themselves and blade replacements. Leather-splitting machines are all-inclusive and contain everything you need to start thinning leather.

However, as the blade dulls, it may need to be sharpened or replaced to keep the machine working flawlessly. In addition, thick leather is needed to use a leather splitter. Already thin leather may not work in some available leather splitters. 

How to Split Leather Step by Step

  1. Determine the desired thickness for the leather to be split to – When possible measure the exact thickness required in order to set the splitter at the proper blade height. Leathers that are already thin may require a much lower blade height to pass through properly.
  1. Set up the leather splitter to the desired thickness – Each machine will have a different process, but all should be done with the power off. Following the provided instructions should allow you to adjust the blade height to what is needed. A test piece of leather should be used before attempting to split the final product to ensure everything is set up correctly. 
  1. Turn on the leather splitter and carefully feed the leather into the machine – If the machine is not electric, set the leather in place with your fingers far enough away from the rollers to prevent injury. Use the longest side of the leather when possible to ensure the best safety conditions. As the rollers begin to pull in the leather, let go of the piece and continue to crank or pull the leather through. 
  1. If the machine is electric, turn it off before retrieving your leather piece – Splitters will cut the leather in two, with one side having the grain and the other being all flesh. The grain side is your finished piece that can be used. Ensure to clear all leather before using the machine again to avoid jamming the machine.

How to Get Better at Splitting Leather

You will improve at splitting leather as you become more comfortable and dial in your machine. There are many working parts in every leather splitter that may need to be adjusted to ensure a good finish. However, the technique will also need to improve for those not electric.

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This could be cranking speed or pulling force, as both can affect how the leather is split. Many tests should be run before attempting to split leather intended for projects to avoid waste. Regardless of comfort level, situational awareness and safety must always be used when working with a splitting machine.

My Personal Research on How to Split Leather

To benefit those looking to purchase a leather splitter, I collected various information and tips regarding manual and electric splitters. While they may seem similar, some differences should be noted. 

Pull-through Manual Leather Splitter 

Various models of manual leather splitters exist;  I will discuss them in the order of cost. The cheapest is found under $100 and is a pull-through design. These models have much smaller blade widths at only 4 inches.

When reading what various leather workers had to say about this tool, they stated that leather that was too thin or not stiff enough would bunch up as they attempted to pull it through. They warned that only vegetable tanned and similar leathers would cut smoothly. In these cases, they limited this leather splitter’s use to only strap work.

They also noted that constant pressure must be kept on the splitter’s handle to keep a more even thickness throughout the cut. Larger pull-through splitters can be found with blade widths up to 6 inches.

Hand Crank Manual Leather Splitter

An upgrade from the pull-through splitters is hand crank machines. These can be found for $800+ and can be a better way to split leather for those seeking more convenience. The blade length is 6 inches. Crafters owning this machine describe the thorough setup process required to use it properly.

There can be a crank to adjust the leather thickness, which needs to be dialed in, and the blade may need adjustments to stay even throughout. Those who have used similar machines also note that many do not offer any reverse function. This means the leather must fully pass through the machine, removing the ability to split targeted areas.

Crafters say a pull-through splitter is preferred for those looking to thin belt ends. Hand crank leather splitters offer the ability to skive different leather areas. The pressure from the roller helps less stiff leather pass through, although thin or chrome tanned leather may come out uneven.

Electric Leather Splitter

The most expensive leather splitters available are electric. At prices around $3,000, making it an investment for most workshops. Electric splitters have a larger blade width of 14 inches; however, crafters online noted pieces larger than 13.5 inches might not split smoothly.

Electric machines often come with a hand crank to control the machine more precisely. Leather workers noted the same setup requirements for electric machines, but blade changes are simpler. Unlike the hand crank machines, some electric machines may offer a reverse function allowing targeted splitting.

Overwhelmingly, those who have used an electric splitter praise the ability to use most leathers — having slight issues with thinner or softer pieces. A workaround they suggest is gluing the leather to a stiffer piece before splitting, allowing the machine to better target the thin leather. 

Conclusion 

Home leather splitters seem limited in what they can accomplish, and soft or thin leather may provide a challenge, requiring a workaround. However, as the machine’s qualities improve, they become much more helpful in providing a way to split leather.

Electric splitters may be more expensive but can be invaluable for those working with varying thicknesses. Belt makers may find that budget leather splitters are more than enough to complete the splitting they’re after.

Helpful Insights On How to Split Leather

How do you split a large piece of leather?

Splitting is limited to the blade length in the machine. The maximum width available is 4–14 inches, meaning any larger piece will need to be trimmed beforehand. Some leather companies may offer splitting services during or after purchase, where they can split entire hides for a price.

Can leather be split multiple times?

Yes, while it may become more difficult as the leather thins, leather can be split as many times as needed. When first learning how to use a leather splitting machine, it is advised to go slightly thicker, as more material can always be removed later.

Key Takeaways

  1. Leather-splitting machines can be a costly investment.
  2. Situational awareness and safety are a priority when using leather splitters.
  3. Most leather splitters will be limited by the leather’s size, thickness, and stiffness.

In Closing

Leather splitting machines may be a situational tool not required for every workshop. However, those looking to invest will find more versatility in the leathers they purchase, making the leather splitter invaluable in their workshop.

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