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Leather Cutting Tools – What to Use and When for Results

When I first started in leathercraft, I purchased a bundle of various tools from Amazon. To this day, some of the more specialized tools go unused, and if I were to do it over again, I would focus on tools I knew I needed.

Leather cutting tools have a variety of purposes, from cutting out shapes, thinning a piece of leather, rounding an edge, or as a large die to quickly press out leather. Some of these tools may overlap in their purpose or can be specialized. Others may require additional equipment when using.  

This article will summarize various leather cutting tools and how to use them. With this information, you can decide which ones apply most to the leather crafting you plan on achieving. 

What Are Leather Cutting Tools

Leather cutting tools cut leather in various ways. Some tools, like skivers and splitters, may specialize in thinning a leather piece. While others, like the round knife, will excel in multiple tasks. Cutting leather is a cornerstone of leathercraft, and choosing the right method of cutting that is most comfortable to an individual is most important. 

Various Leather Cutting Tools on a Cutting Mat - Leather Cutting Tools - Liberty Leather Goods
Various Leather Cutting Tools on a Cutting Mat

Types of Leather Cutting Tools

Leather Edge Beveler

Edge bevelers are specialized cutting tools that round the edge of a leather piece. This necessary step in leather craft removes sharp edges and prevents the leather from “mushrooming” over time. 

Leather Splitter

Leather will sometimes need to be thinned for specific projects. Leather splitters are one way to achieve this. A leather splitter is a large machine that pulls leather through, cutting the piece into two parts, one with the top grain of the leather at the desired thickness and another that is all flesh. 

Round Knife

A leather round knife is a tool unique to leathercraft and made to do all the tasks a leather worker would perform. It can roll, cut, and skive due to its shape and can be used as a more precise blade when utilizing its endpoints. 

Leather Punch

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Leather punches come in varous shapes, but all serve the same purpose of cutting the ends of a leather piece uniformly. These tools are typically shaped like a half circle or English point. Leather punches will need to be used in tandem with a mallet and proper punching surface, as the tool is forced downwards through the leather. 

Leather Hole Punch

Similar to leather punches, leather hole punches are tools used to create holes in the leather by using a mallet to force the punch through the leather. Hole punches come in various sizes and shapes, with their main purpose being to produce perfectly sized cuts for hardware. 

Leather Strop

A leather strop is one of the most important tools in a leather crafter’s workspace. The strop is used to polish finely and sharpen various leather tools. Strops can be used on leather knives, as well as skivers, scissors, edgers, and a lot more.

Leather strops require a technique to be utilized properly but will benefit any workspace. John D. Verhoeven, from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, experimented with angles when sharpening and polishing a knife and found an increased polishing angle helped create a sharper edge. 

Leather Strop and Green Sharpening Compound - Leather Cutting Tools - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Strop and Green Sharpening Compound

Leather Die

Leather dies are like cookie cutters in leathercraft. Smaller dies are to be used with a mallet, though most will require a clicker press to put enough pressure to cut through the leather. A leather die can be custom-made for any shape needing mass production. Though the proper machinery required for leather dies may be expensive, it is the quickest and cleanest method for cutting leather.

Leather Knife

There is a large variety of leather knives, but all serve the same purpose, cutting leather. The most important part of a leather knife is its sharpness and comfort. A box cutter is a very common knife used in leather crafts, as its blade can be replaced as it dulls. More advanced leather knives are made of better steel but require upkeep to maintain sharpness.   

Leather Die Cutter

A leather die cutter is a machine used with leather dies. The purpose is to put tons of equal pressure on a die, pressing it through the leather to cut out a piece. Leather die cutters require dedicated space as they are large machines used in the mass manufacturing of leather goods.

Skiving Knife

Skiving knives are leather knives that specialize in thinning down areas of leather. They are typically single bevel, and are razor sharp so they can precisely cut the leather without tearing it. Skiving knives are made to be used at the edges of leather, and are not the ideal tool for thinning down an entire piece to a single equal thickness.

Leather Skiver

Leather skivers serve a similar purpose to leather knives though they can also be used inside leather edges. These tools utilize a replaceable angled blade that is drawn across the leather to cut out sections. Leather skivers are also referred to as “safety skivers” and “super skivers.”

Leather Scissors

Leather scissors, also known as shears, are heavy-duty scissors that are sharp and strong enough to cut through leather. These tools work best on thin or stretchy leather that requires less cutting force. Leather scissors are difficult to sharpen and will need to be purchased sharp and maintained. 

In this helpful video below, Chuck Dorsett from Weaver Leather Supply goes over the pros and cons of six commonly used cutting tools in leathercraft. 

Characteristics of Leather Cutting Tools

Materials

Most leather cutting tools will utilize high-quality metals to create a blade that can cut while being easily maintained. In addition, tools will have various handles, from plastic, wood, or metal, that provide comfort and security. 

Sizes

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Each leather cutting tool will have its unique sizing. Knives will focus on blade length for a large cutting surface. Edge bevelers use a numbering system starting from zero with increments of one. This denotes the amount of material being taken off an edge, with zero being the least.

Similarly, punches are of various sizes but are measured by their diameter or two widest cutting points. Leather dies come in standard shapes that are often used in leathercraft. They can also be custom-made to any size or shape necessary. 

Variations

Many variations of each leather cutting tool exist. Edge bevelers may be held nearly vertically or pulled backward for the cutting action. Leather splitters can be industrial-sized to fit an entire hide or smaller for workshops to pull through a blade. Round knives have slightly different shapes and sizes.

While leather knives generally range from a simple box cutter to a Japanese-style flat blade. Leather punches and hole punches can come in various shapes and sizes. Leather die cutters and dies can also vary in shape and size. The die cutter specifically can be a large machine or a much smaller one used for a home workshop.

Pros and Cons of Leather Cutting Tools

Pros of Leather Cutting Tools

No matter your experience in leather craft, cutting leather will always be necessary. Each tool provides its benefits in different parts of the craft. Edge bevelers will round sharp edges. Leather splitters, skivers, and skiving knives will thin the leather allowing for more layers without the added bulk. Round knives, leather knives, and leather scissors will cut leather.

However, each and every knife will have a different feel and become a more personal choice. Leather punches, hole punches, and dies will cut leather perfectly each time, leading to consistent results. Finally, a leather strop can be the tool that keeps every other tool in your workshop performing at its best, improving overall workflow. 

Leather cutting tools have a variety of purposes from cutting out shapes, thinning a piece of leather, rounding an edge, or as a large die to quickly press out leather.

Cons of Leather Cutting Tools

While every leather cutting tool may be useful, they each have quirks that may present a challenge. Edge bevelers do not work well on thin or stretchy leather, and a dull one may mar their edge. Leather skivers require peak sharpness to operate properly, leading to plenty of maintenance.

Any knife, round knife, or leather scissors will require a technique to get the cuts just right and will need maintenance to keep the blades sharp and safe. Leather punches, hole punches, and dies need extra tools to be taken advantage of, which may come as a mallet or clicker press to push these cutting tools through the leather.

While a leather strop can keep your tools as sharp as possible, good technique is necessary. With every leather tool needing a different sharpening point, one must learn various techniques to make the most of it. 

Costs of Leather Cutting Tools 

Leather crafting tools prices vary. Beginner cutting tools such as box cutters, edge bevelers, precision knives, skivers, leather strops, and budget-friendly punches can be found for as little as $5–$20. These tools alone can make for a great starting point. However, as one progresses through the craft, tools will become higher quality and more niche.

Round knives, scissors, skiving knives, and higher-quality punches and edge bevelers begin to cost between $30–$100. As leather crafting becomes a small business, production may switch to machinery. Leather splitters and cutting dies have a wide cost range, starting at $300 for home-use equipment. However, if mass production is needed, proper machinery can cost well over $1000. 

Leather Cutting Tools Cost Breakdown

PriceQuality Tools Available 
$5–$20Hole punches, Leather punches, Small dies, Knives with replaceable blades, leather strops
$30–$100Edge bevelers, Skiving knives, Leather knives, Round knives, Larger dies, Leather scissors
$300–$1000Small die presses, Manual leather splitters
$1000+Large die presses, Electric leather splitter, Bell skiver 
Leather Cutting Tool Prices

Tips for Working With Leather Cutting Tools

  1. Always cut with a sharp blade, and away from oneself
  2. Strop and sharpen tools often to maintain their best performance 
  3. Choose a tool that is both comfortable and effective for you

Examples of Items Made With Leather Cutting Tools

Leather cutting tools are necessary for making every leather item. Edge bevelers will cut the edges of belts or wallets, making them feel smooth to hold. Any knife will be necessary to cut out the pieces required. Leather hand skivers or machine skivers can be used to thin down the edges. This is used in bag making to allow for tighter corners or a more easily sewn bag.

Punches and dies will make consistent holes for rivets or other hardware necessary. Some punches may also be used at the end of straps for a decorative finish. The leather strop itself will keep all these tools working when creating a leather project. 

Testing Leather Cutting Tools for Multipurpose Abilities

One of the earliest misconceptions I had when starting leathercraft was thinking I needed every tool I saw in a crafter’s video. Over time I purchased a wide variety of knives, punches, shears, and many other tools that have only collected dust or filled cabinets. For this testing, I wanted to review some of my most used tools and explain why they’re essential. 

Edge Bevelers

Edge bevelers are indispensable in leather crafting. No other tool does the job required of edge bevelers. I use this tool on every single project. However, I do not believe that a full set is necessary. Typically I use two sizes, a very small one for most of my work and a large one for things like straps and bag handles. I recommend deciding what you want to make before purchasing the wrong size for your project needs.

Leather Knives, Strops, and Shears

Leather knives and other cutting tools are where I’ve spent the most. I saw crafters smoothly and perfectly cutting through thick leather in every video I watched. However, my knives required much more pressure and multiple passes when cutting leather. This led to me buying everything I saw in those videos. Japanese knives, X-Acto knives, round knives, shears, and every other variety I saw.

Ultimately, I realized that a sharp knife was one of the most important tools. I purchased some polishing compound, began using scrap leather as a strop, and immediately found success. In the end, all my knives were relatively similar, and I started picking my favorites. I use a box cutter with replaceable razor blades for most of my cutting.

I find I can easily get a clean cut by simply replacing a blade leading to little or no downtime. I also use leather shears quite a bit. I find the cutting action more ergonomic, and they feel unmatched when cutting curves on thinner leather. Lastly, I use a Japanese knife for flat straight cuts and small skiving areas. 

Punches and Dies

Similar to edge bevelers, I found punches invaluable. Whether I use a rotary punch or single-sized punches in a set, I always find myself reaching for them. Round punches let me set rivets, corner punches keep my punches even, and round punches make my straps look nice.

While these jobs could be done by other tools or careful cutting, the value of the punches quickly earned their stay. Dies, on the other hand, are not used in my crafting as much. I do not mass produce leather items and tend to keep every product I make difficult. This means the few dies I have do not see as much use as someone with a larger shop might. 

Punching a Hole in Leather - Leather Cutting Tools - Liberty Leather Goods
Punching a Hole in Leather

Skiving Tools

Skiving leather was one of the biggest issues I used to have with leather. I would dread needing to skive as I knew that there was a high chance I was about to ruin a project I had worked so hard on. I started with safety skiving knives and a super skiver, but neither produced the desired results.

Both tools dulled often and would not cut into the leather that was anything less than rigid. I quickly moved away from them as an option. The next thing I purchased was a Japanese-style knife, often seen for cutting. Immediately I felt like I was getting much better results, but I experienced some problems. The handle would limit the angle I could cut, and the blade was not ideal for long skives.

Eventually, I researched and found a single bevel skiving knife with an angled blade. That is what I use today for most of my skiving. The single bevel allows the knife to sit flat, giving me the steepest angle, and the angled blade lets the knife focus on a single point before pushing through the full length of leather.

Conclusion of Testing Leather Cutting Tools

It was easy to get caught up in all the fancy tools I saw online, but after working with leather for some time now, it is clear that nothing beats a sharp blade. A leather strop, edge bevelers, hole punches, and a knife(s) of your choice makes the perfect toolkit, in my opinion. 

Cutting leather is a cornerstone of leathercraft, and choosing the right method of cutting that is most comfortable to an individual is most important.

Leather Cutting Tool Care and Maintenance 

How to Clean 

Leather cutting tools almost all have a metal blade. This means that if cleaning is necessary, any added water, soap, or cleaning solution must be quickly removed to avoid rust. Isopropyl alcohol can be used in small amounts to target hard-to-clean areas.

How to Maintain Leather Cutting Tools

Leather cutting tools need to be kept sharp and polished for the highest performance. Whetstones or sandpaper can be used to create the edge. While a leather strop with a polishing compound can polish it. Joshua Mulder and Jonathan Scott from the School of Engineering at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, researched the best ways to create a sharp, durable blade and found whetstones were ideal.   

How to Store Leather Cutting Tools

All leather cutting tools must be stored safely, with their blades covered, to prevent injury. They must be stored dry and in a moisture-free environment to ensure no rusting will occur. 

Related Insights

What is the best tool to cut leather with?

There is no “best tool” for cutting leather. Each one will perform a specific task based on an individual’s needs and preferences. It is important to research, and if possible, try different leather cutting tools before deciding the one for you.

Do you wet leather before cutting?

No, there is no need to wet leather when cutting it. Wetting leather may cause undesired effects, such as becoming deformed, and shrinking when dried. Cutting leather while it is wet may lead to straight cuts becoming wavy, or for the overall piece to be smaller than originally intended.  

Can you use a rotary cutter for leather?

Yes, rotary cutters are excellent tools to use in leathercraft. Similar to box cutters they offer the ability to change the blade as it dulls, making it a low maintenance tool. Rotary cutters are ideal for cutting long straight lines as they offer a pushing motion which many prefer. 

Can you cut leather with regular scissors?

Not really. Some household scissors may lack the sharpness to cut leather, or require excess force. In the best cases regular scissors may be able to cut through thin leathers, but are not ideal for the task. Leather shears are specifically designed to be sharper, and more durable. They are less likely to buckle or bend out of shape while also producing a much straighter line than regular scissors.

Final Thoughts 

There is a wide variety of tools used to cut leather, with some overlapping purposes. You may not need every cutting tool available, as the most important thing is finding ones that work for you and keeping them sharp. 

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