Like most people, when I started leathercraft, I didn’t fully understand the importance of sharp piercing tools. I spent many months trying to cut, punch, and push through leather with dull tools. Then I purchased a nice awl and realized what a difference a good tool made. Since then, I’ve changed all my punches, now only using sharp piercing tools.
Leather piercing tools are various devices used to push through leather. Once through, the tools can remove or push the leather aside, creating holes. The holes are key in leather crafting and used for sewing, lacing, and much more. Leather piercing tools can be purchased for $5 and up.
Many different tools can be used to pierce leather. Let’s cover the most common choices and why they’re popular.
What Are Leather Piercing Tools?
Leather piercing tools are devices made to cut through the leather’s surface in various ways. There are hole makers like round punches, slot punches, or die templates and stitching tools such as awls or chisels. Each tool will create a unique shape for various purposes, but all must be sharp to perform their best.
Leather piercing tools are extremely common when working with leather, and almost every project will use one or more. Piercing tools are helpful in any workshop, from making holes for hardware to small slits for detailed stitching.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- When You Might Use a Leather Piercing Tool
- Leather Piercing Tool Quick Reference Table
- Leather Piercing Tool Types and Variations
- Leather Piercing Tool Characteristics
- Leather Piercing Tool Pros
- Leather Piercing Tool Cons
- Leather Piercing Tool Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
- Leather Piercing Tool Costs
- Alternative Options to a Leather Piercing Tool
- Experienced Tips for Working with a Leather Piercing Tool
- My Personal Research with Leather Piercing Tools
- Leather Piercing Tool Care and Maintenance
- Helpful Leather Piercing Tool Insights
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Many who are new to the hobby think they need the best tools available. They may watch experienced crafters using luxury tools and become frustrated with their own. However, sharp is not the same as expensive. There are many ways to achieve sharp tools within a budget.
Many middle-cost tool brands make excellent tools that can be used for a lifetime. Alternatively, tools can be purchased and used, allowing one to cut down on the price. Lastly, even the cheapest tools can be sharpened. Investing in a good sharpening and polishing system can turn any tool into a good one.
When You Might Use a Leather Piercing Tool
Leather piercing tools can be seen everywhere when working with leather. Round hole punches come in various sizes that can be used for many things, including stitching and fitting hardware. A hole punch will be used whenever you’re setting a rivet, snap, or other hardware with a post. Similarly, flat slot punches are a standard tool in leathercraft.
When combined with round punches, they can create an oblong shape. However, their best use is creating slits for spots and other hardware with tines. Other tools, such as awls or stitching chisels, can be used to make holes for sewing. By having premade holes, needles can pass through the leather much more easily.
Leather Piercing Tool Quick Reference Table
|Tool||Leather Piercing Tool|
|Component Materials||Various steels and handle materials|
|Common Sizes||Dependant on each tool|
|Cost Range ($)||$5–$250|
|Recommended Maintenance||Sharpening and polishing using a leather strop|
|Recommended Storage||In a dry environment with their cutting edges protected. Blade covers on when necessary to prevent injury.|
|Common Uses||Creating holes for hardware setting and sewing|
|How Long It Lasts (on average)||Lifetime|
Leather Piercing Tool Types and Variations
Many types of leather piercing tools are available, each with additional variations. The two main types of leather tools are punches and cutters. The term “punches” refers to tools that remove leather. Hole punches and cutting dies are the most common. Both pierce through the leather in their unique shape and remove the middle.
Cutting tools cut a slit through the leather for their purpose. Tools such as flat chisels, stitching chisels, and awls go through the leather like punches, but they push the surrounding leather out of the way instead of completely removing it. In addition, each tool described has various sizes and shapes that can be purchased to complete specific tasks.
Leather Piercing Tool Characteristics
All leather piercing tools will be made with steel. This material is hard enough to be pushed through leather and can be sharpened to maintain the edge. The steel used in knives is broken down by the amount of carbon used. High-carbon steel, commonly found in budget tools, is easily sharpened but has limited edge retention.
Steels with less carbon or no carbon are much harder to sharpen but will keep their sharpened edge much longer. The most expensive piercing tools will strive for balance by using higher-grade steel. Regardless of the type of steel used, the item needs to be sharpened and polished.
Patricia W. Freeman, and Cliff A. Lemen, from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, tested puncture resistance of different types of leather used with gloves. They found that even the slightest change in bluntness can cause the force required to pierce the leather to double, if not quadruple, depending on the type of leather.
The size of a leather piercing tool depends on its tool type. Any sort of punch or die tool will have many different sizes and shapes. While round punches will be commonly found in 0.5mm, and up to 100mm, die sizes depend on the shape being cut out, including organic shapes. Similarly, piercing tools such as awls and stitching chisels also have their own sizing.
Awls will be broken down by blade shapes, such as flat, diamond, or oval, while also changing blade width. Standard sizes for awl blade width are 2mm–4mm. Stitching chisels do not vary as much in their blade size but rather in their spacing. The larger the spacing, the more distance between each stitch. Common sizes for stitching chisel spacing are 2mm–5mm.
Leather piercing tools can be broken down by their task: punching and cutting. Punching tools like die cutters and round punches remove leather in the shape of their tool. Cutting tools like awls, flat chisels, and stitching chisels only cut the leather. The tools type can further break down both tool categories. Dies come in any imaginable shape, and awls and stitching chisels can come in diamond, flat, or oval shapes.
Leather Piercing Tool Pros
Piercing leather is the backbone of leather craft. Almost every project will require a hole to be made in some way, including adding stitches, setting hardware, and much more. Each leather piercing tool will excel at its task. Hole punches are essential to ensure rivets and other hardware have a snug fit in the leather, while stitching tools such as awls allow for additional techniques, like box stitching.
Quality tools improve each task by easily going through leather without tearing or deforming it. With specialized leather piercing tools, each hole created will be consistent, improving the final look of a product.
From making holes for hardware to small slits for detailed stitching, piercing tools are a helpful tool in any workshop.
Leather Piercing Tool Cons
The main con of leather piercing tools is their limitation. While tools can be used creatively to achieve some tasks, in most cases, they will only do a single task well. Punches will only create a shape, and stitching tools will only make sewing holes. This is further limited by each tool having a unique size.
This results in needing multiple sizes of each tool, potentially becoming costly and taking up space. In addition, lower-quality piercing tools may need constant maintenance to be used, with budget materials causing the cutting edge to dull more easily. Piercing tools are also more challenging to sharpen than blades. Cutting edges can come in various shapes that make simple maintenance more complex.
Leather Piercing Tool Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
While leather piercing tools may have different manufacturing processes, they have important similarities. Since they are all metal, the tools will go through a molding process. Molten metal is poured into molds where, once cooled, they will be removed to be refined.
Most quality leather piercing tools will be heat treated, causing the metal to strengthen. From here, the tools can have handles added by pinning the cutting surface around a handle material. For those without handles, the tools proceed to the final steps, sharpened, polished, and prepared for sale.
Leather Piercing Tool Costs
Leather piercing tools cost around $5 each for an entry-level tool. At this price, the tools will not be the sharpest and will most likely require polishing to make them work smoothly. While hole punches can be slightly dull, with items like awls, and stitching chisels, sharpness is key. As the price of piercing tools increase, so does their fit and finish.
Tools will come ready to use and be durable enough to last a lifetime. Luxury piercing tools take these same concepts but include improvements to the materials. Better steel that stays sharp longer, a powder coat to prevent rust or wooden handles for a nicer grip. All are ways manufacturers improve their leather tools.
Alternative Options to a Leather Piercing Tool
Alternatives to leather piercing tools depend on the goal. A nail or drill can be used if round holes are needed for setting hardware or lacing items. While they do not produce the nicest holes, they can be used with thicker leather.
It is not uncommon for those making leather knife sheaths or thick holsters to use a drill press to pierce through all the leather. Replacement for stitching tools is a little more complicated. While a thin nail can be used on delicate leather, thick leather will require a proper tool or drill.
In this fun video provided by Corter Leather, see a wallet made using nontraditional leather piercing tools like a nail and fork.
Experienced Tips for Working With a Leather Piercing Tool
- Always ensure there is a punch pad or other backing to protect the tips of piercing tools.
- Avoid steel hammers when driving tools into leather, as they will damage the tool handles.
- Strop leather piercing tools often to maintain their sharpness and ensure they perform well.
My Personal Research with Leather Piercing Tools
With many different leather piercing tools available, I decided to look at some of the more uncommon ones. This got me more familiar with other tools and allowed me to pass on my findings on how they are used.
The stitching wheel looks very similar to a spur on the back of cowboy boots and spins freely. It has pointy tips spaced evenly to provide markings for leather. The stitching wheel is used on a sewing line. The first tip is placed at the beginning, and the wheel is pushed or pulled, following the line.
As it spins, the tips lightly pierce the leather’s surface, marking it. While they don’t create stitching holes, they allow an awl to be used at an equal distance. Since I primarily use stitching chisels, this tool can feel redundant. However, those who primarily use an awl for sewing projects may find it quicker than using chisels to mark the area.
Another benefit to the stitching wheel is the different sizes you can purchase. While stitching chisels stay between 2mm–6mm, wheels can start at 1mm up to 8mm, allowing many different spacings for different leather projects.
The speedy stitcher is a hand-sewing tool found almost anywhere. It has a sharp needle with a hole for hanging thread. The needle passes through the leather, and as it is pulled out slightly, the end of the thread is sent through the loop created. This is then tightened, making what is known as a lock stitch. This tool is cumbersome at best.
The setup instructions are unclear, requiring a video to be watched, and the stitching itself is clunky. As you sew, you must make the locking knot every time and manage your thread length. Pull too much out, and it can tangle easily.
While I can see the benefit of this tool for on-the-go repairs, it is outclassed by tools found in every leather workshop. Not only will awls or chisels produce a nicer hole, but you can then saddle stitch them, making the final product more durable.
When I first started leather work, the noise was a big issue. I looked for many solutions before discovering punching pliers. These are diamond-shaped teeth with a rubber pad that you simply squeeze onto the leather.
While the punch pliers can cut through thin leather without an issue, thicker leather becomes a problem. Not only does it take more force, but the angle starts to change. This is also true if you don’t hold the leather still while punching. Overall I think they’re an okay piercing tool for someone making small items, but I prefer using an awl blade with cork, even if it is slower.
After looking at more unique leather piercing tools, I realized that simplicity is sometimes best. The stitching wheel worked wonderfully, but I think the speedy stitcher and punching pliers fell short. I think nothing beats stitching chisels or the classic sewing awl for tools to use when sewing leather.
Leather Piercing Tool Care and Maintenance
How to Clean a Leather Piercing Tool
Most leather piercing tools can be cleaned by rubbing the tools thoroughly using water on a clean cloth. Small amounts of isopropyl alcohol can help break down stuck-on messes. Regardless of what is used, it is essential to thoroughly dry the tools before putting them away to prevent rust.
How to Maintain a Leather Piercing Tool
The cutting edges of all leather piercing tools must be polished to maintain the tool well. Most tools like stitching chisels and awls can use a simple leather strop with a polishing compound to hone the edge. Punches, however, will be much trickier. For these, special tools are sold to reach the edges. Another option is to use fine sandpaper to target the hard-to-reach edges.
How to Store a Leather Piercing Tool
Leather piercing tools should all be stored with their blade cover on. Chisels, awls, punches, and other tools can be extremely sharp, potentially causing injury or damaging the cutting edge if dropped. It is also necessary to ensure the tools are stored completely dry and in a moisture-free environment. Rust can quickly develop, jeopardizing the longevity of the tools.
Helpful Leather Piercing Tool Insights
What is a leather piercing tool called?
Leather piercing tool is a catch-all term for any tool that cuts leather. Tools that cut leather are chisels, awls, punches, and dies. Chisels and awls are used for stitching leather, pushing the material aside as they make holes. Punches and dies, cut out an area of leather to make the hole. Overall, awls are the most common tool when referring to a piercing tool.
How can I pierce my leather at home?
Plenty of leather piercing tools can be purchased for household use. Tools like an awl blade can be used alone to create holes. Other tools, such as stitching chisels, hole punches, and dies, will require a mallet, punching pad, and hard hammering surface. These tools must be forcefully driven through the leather to create the intended holes.
- Leather piercing tools are useful for most leather projects containing stitching, hardware, or lacing.
- Budget piercing tools can be sharpened and polished to perform more smoothly.
- Each of the different piercing tools will create a different shape, and size, hole.
We use various tools when leathercrafting; each serves a unique purpose. Leather piercing tools are a prime example. While punches, awls, chisels, and dies all pierce through leather, they each have various purposes. By utilizing the proper piercing tool when working, every task can be completed flawlessly.
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