As my workshop grows and I find myself making the same item repeatedly, I find it near impossible to keep everything perfectly consistent when cutting. In search of a solution, I stumbled across leather die cutters, which keep cuts consistent and efficient.
Leather die cutters are templates with a clicker press to cut leather efficiently. The clicker press applies pressure to the back of the dies, pushing the metal blades through the leather. Leather die cutters can be custom-made to any shape, with prices starting at $45 for a smaller size.
Leather cutting dies can be a game-changer for some leatherworkers. However, they are a costly investment. Let us look deeper into these tools and decide if they are for you.
What Is a Leather Die Cutter?
A leather die cutter is a template used in leather craft to cut out leather pieces with precision and efficiency. It is made of metal that is sharp on one side and flat on the other, allowing pressure to be applied to the die, and spread evenly throughout. Leather die cutters are of various shapes and can provide the user with an easier, more consistent method for producing leather goods.
What Is a Leather Clicker Press?
A leather clicker press is a large machine that pushes down onto leather with tons of force. These machines will typically have a swing-out style flat surface for pressing. On the bottom is where a cut-safe surface will be placed.
A clicker press will have a handle or another means of pressing the top surface down. Compounding the pressure the user exerts when pulling the handle downwards. The clicker press can be used with cutting dies to make leather pieces or, if used carefully, with stamps to achieve a clean impression on the leather.
How To Die Cut Leather – Step by Step
To die cut leather, one needs the proper equipment; a die and a clicker press. Simply place a cut-safe surface onto the clicker press and add the leather on top of the cutting surface. Line up the leather die cutter and place blade side down onto the leather. Adjust the clicker press to hover over the die and leather, and press down through a handle.
Larger clicker press machines may have buttons that will mechanically press down. Then move the clicker press, and retrieve the leather with the die. If done correctly, the leather die cutter will contain perfectly cut leather pieces that may fall out or be removed for use.
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Chuck Dorsett of Weaver Leather Supply demonstrates the uses of a clicker press in the helpful video below.
Leather Clicker Press vs. Leather Cutter Machines
A clicker press alone can not cut leather. This machine is designed to put pressure onto the surface it is being used on. When a leather die cutter is introduced, the leather clicker press acts as the force pressing the blades through the leather. This act is very similar to a cookie cutter used in baking.
Leather cutting machines, on the other hand, use a knife with a program guiding the blade to cut the leather. Both can be effective in making intricate cuts, but leather cutter machines may not go through thicker leather. However, they offer the benefit of not needing additional tools for different shapes as they may be programmed to cut any shape.
The clicker press can be used with cutting dies to make leather pieces or, if used carefully, with stamps to achieve a clean impression on the leather.
Leather Clicker Press vs. Laser Cutting Machines
The use of laser cutting in leather craft has grown as technology has become more available. Laser cutting machines are similar to blade cutting machines as they are controlled via a program. Laser machines are not limited to thinner leathers like blade machines. However, laser cutting machines have two large drawbacks.
The first is the cost. These machines still cost $3500+, double the average clicker press cost. The second is the potential damage the laser can cause to the leather, mostly burn marks and destroying the edge fibers. Research by S.Vasanth and T. Muthuramalingam, published in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series presented newer methods in laser cutting leather that limit the damage done to the edges.
However, compared to leather die cutters, this drawback remains fairly large. As a result, using a clicker press with die cutting templates continues to offer the most consistent and fast results.
Clicker Press Vs. Leather Cutter Machines
|Comparisons||Clicker Press||Leather Cutting Machines||Laser Cutting Machines|
|Effectiveness||Works with any leather||Limited to thinner leathers||Works with any leather|
|Ease of use||Simple mechanical action||Requires cutting program knowledge||Requires cutting program knowledge|
|Versatility||Limited to shape of dies||Can produce any shape||Can produce any shape|
|Finished cut piece||Flawless||Can leave loose edge fibers||Can cause burn damage|
Leather Die Cutter Parts
Leather Die Cut Shapes
The most common die shapes are those used in leather craft the most. Rectangles, circles, and squares of varying sizes. These shapes cover the average production of items such as:
- Key chains
Custom Leather Die Cutter
There is only one limit to custom leather dies, and that is size. Leather dies can be any shape and include multiple holes within one shape. For example, an id window on a card slot for a wallet or stitching holes around the project.
The problem with larger dies is getting a machine large enough to put proper pressure, finding a die maker who can produce it, and providing a sufficient cutting surface. While this may be done at an industrial level, most crafters will not be able to use large dies.
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Pros and Cons of a Leather Die Cutter
Pros of a Leather Die Cutter
Having a leather die cutter can optimize a busy leather workstation. The die allows for cutting out multiple leather pieces in minutes. This speed is unrivaled and offers precision cuts every time.
Research published in Physics Procedia by Alexander Stepanov, Matti Manninen, Inni Pärnänen, Marika Hirvimäki, and Antti Salminem from the Machine Technology Center in Finland found that die cutting leather keeps the fibers more densely packed on the edges compared to both laser cutting, and a traditional knife. Using a leather die cutter can also be less strenuous over time when compared to cutting multiple pieces with a knife.
Leather die cutters are a variety of shapes and can provide the user with an easier, more consistent method for producing leather goods.
Cons of a Leather Die Cutter
The major con when using a leather die cutter is the price of the machinery necessary to use them effectively. A clicker press can cost over $1000, making it a large investment for hobbyists or smaller crafters.
Different shapes for leather dies will also need to be purchased or custom-made, adding to the already high cost. Leather die cutters will also dull over long periods of use. The sharpening process of leather dies can be a delicate one. Requiring very little material to be removed to preserve the die’s shape.
How much do custom leather dies cost?
The price of custom leather dies is largely determined by their size and complexity. A small, simple design could cost as little as $45. While a larger, more complex design would cost $150 or more.
Which cutting machine is suitable for cutting leather?
There are three main machines used in cutting leather. The clicker press, circuit cutter, and laser cutters. The clicker press can cut any thickness with a proper die. The circuit cutter is limited to thinner leather but can be programmed for any shape. The laser cutter combines both, being able to cut any thickness and be programmed. However, laser cutters may burn the leather, resulting in unsightly marks and unsavory smells.
Can you die cut without a machine?
Yes, some dies are much smaller and can be used with a mallet. The larger the die, the more pressure is needed to cut the leather effectively.
What are clicking dies?
Clicking dies are a metal outline of a shape intended to be cut from leather. One side is flat with a large surface area to distribute pressure evenly. The other has blades that determine the shape being cut.
How do you sharpen clicker dies?
Sharpening a clicker die is a delicate procedure. One must utilize fine grits of sandpaper to refine the cutting edge. It is important to go slow, as the material removed from the die can affect its shape. Focusing the sharpening on the outside edge of a die can help prevent any changes to the overall shape.
Testing Hand Leather Cutting Dies
After researching the uses of leather cutting dies, I felt I could benefit from them. However, the price of a clicker press was too much for me to invest in. Therefore, I found smaller leather dies made for use with a mallet. I purchased a large 4” square with a handle stemming from the middle of the piece. A smaller 2” circle die, and a ½” oblong die, both without a handle.
When testing these dies, I started with 5oz veg tanned leather. My first impression from all the dies was pretty good. Although they required multiple heavy swings with my mallet, they could all go through the leather quickly. The large square with the handle required the most hits but never felt difficult as the handle made for a consistent contact point while my hand held it in place.
Alternatively, while the smaller dies cut the leather much easier, the lack of a proper handle made holding them in place awkward. As I swung, I found myself pinching or hitting my fingers with my mallet. The results, however, were nearly perfect for every size. The large square die had no issues when cut and, to my eye, was flawless. The smaller dies, however, did not always cut perfectly.
I often attempted to pull out my pieces to find that only half was cut through. Additionally, not having an easy way to hold them, I found myself creating pieces with divots due to the die moving around too much. These mistakes were cleared after using them for longer, and once addressed, their pieces were also flawless, like the larger die.
To put these tools to the test, I glued two layers of the 5 oz veg tanned leather together. The large square mallet still made it through the leather and produced a nearly flawless piece. The circle was the most difficult here, requiring me to hit it all around the edges. The smallest die was much easier than the circle and produced a clean shape, but it was not as nice as the square.
Overall when testing these with thicker leathers, I felt the amount of effort required to push them through the leather was not efficient. They all took many swings, resulting in a lot of noise, and my arm was tired.
While the resulting pieces were nice and fairly consistent, I would prefer a traditional knife. It may take longer and have more inconsistencies, but the hand dies were too demanding to be used properly with thicker leathers. If I had used these dies on thinner leathers, I feel I would have found much more success.
Leather die cutters may be the best way to get quick and consistent results if you have the right machinery. When producing large batches of product, these dies are invaluable.
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