Working with leather often involves holding it in certain ways that are helpful to the process. Leather pliers and holding tools are just what’s needed.
Leather pliers are a tool uniquely shaped with wide, flat jaws that are utilized to hold leather securely, and safely, in between them. They can be metal, have rubber surface coatings, and can be used by either hand. Additionally, common pliers can be used, depending on the need.
So what pliers would be most helpful depending on the type of project being worked on? Let’s explore a little more about the unique needs for leather pliers, then the different types!
What are Leather Pliers and Holding Tools?
Leather holding tools are used to hold leather while it is being worked. For example, one might want to use pliers to hold a leather piece while burnishing it, or applying edge paint. They might be helpful to hold things while stitching, or making a specialized cut. Others hold glued leather pieces securely in place while the leather glue dries. While not primary leather working tools, tools that hold leather can be helpful every now and then for various needs.
It’s important to remember that any clamp or pliers that come into contact with the leather should have a soft surface on which it contacts the leather. In not, the leather could get deformed, cut, or marred by uneven surfaces on the clamp/pliers. Some clamp/plier jaws are coated with leather, making them perfect for leather on leather contact during holding activities.
Smooth Jaw Pliers
Smooth jaw pliers are a tool with a smooth surface on their “jaws”, or contact points. These can be helpful when working with some leathers, as the smooth surface will be less likely to mar the leather surface.
You’ll need to be aware not to press down too hard as the edges of the jaws can leave an indentation. Though, if used lightly, they can provide a helpful grip during some leather working steps. Here’s a great video showing details of smooth jaw pliers:
Leather Edge Clamp
Leather edge clamps are specialty tools that are usually made of steel with rubberized clamp jaws. The jaws are smooth so they don’t mar the leather, and the rubber coating makes it even less likely they’ll leave any marks. Plus, the rubber coating helps with gripping the leather securely.
Edge clamps are useful for holding glued leather pieces together securely while the glue dries. They can also be used in various instances when holding a piece of leather tightly with one hand is more advantageous using a tool than it is by only a hand.
Some edge clamps are used for flattening leather. Others are made of metal. and yet others are finished with a layer of leather on the flat jaws to ensure a soft and non-marring surface when in contact with leather working pieces.
Cantle pliers are a specialized leather working tool that is used mainly for forming leather around the cantle portion of a leather saddle. They are usually metal with smooth jaws that won’t leave marks on the leather. Cantle pliers usually come highly polished, in zinc or steel, and are also handy for us in shaping leather handles and similarly functioning leather goods parts. Click here for an example of a C.S. Osborne pair of cantle pliers.
What are some of the best, high-quality leather pliers?
A few manufacturers make quality leather tools, including leather pliers. Amy Roke makes a very nice version with leather covered handles and leather covered gripping surfaces.
Vergez Blanchard makes a nice set, with rubber coated handles, and smooth gripping surfaces. Osborne makes a set with plastic coated handles, and gripping surfaces with horizontal channels in it, making them effective for gripping rougher leathers.
Other manufacturers make them as well; key to look for is solid build, smooth mechanics, comfortable feel, and smooth gripping surfaces.
Leather Stitching Chisel Pliers (Hand Chisel Pliers)
Leather stitching pliers are named pliers, though they function more for hole-making than they do for leather holding. This makes them different than most other types of leather pliers.
In general stitching pliers have surfaces with equally-spaced, sharp, protruding points. They are held towards the edge of leather, and the handles closed, pushing the sharp points through the leather’s edge.
This provides a means of making a series of straight holes that can be used for sewing, stitching, or lacing. Often, this is done via pricking irons struck with a hammer, mallet, or maul. Though, an alternative to hitting, is squeezing, and that is possible with stitching pliers.
So while one might not use these for holding leather, it’s noteworthy to share as you might come across them when looking for leather pliers, and it’s helpful to know what they are and what they’re used for. Here is a video demonstrating how the stitching chisel pliers work:
In what sizes are leather pliers available?
Leather pliers generally do not have a lot of variation in sizes. Typically, manufacturers will make one model in one size. They usually fit a range of hand sizes comfortably, thus making them usable for most leather workers.
For hands that are smaller then most, or larger than most, an idea would be to look at the different leather pliers offered from different manufacturers. It’s possible to look for one that might fit your hand best, to ensure that they are as comfortable as possible for use.
Can I use regular pliers for leather?
In general, any pliers can be used with leather. The key though is ensuring that the face of the pliers gripping surface is very smooth, and preferably, soft. When using pliers on leather they will press onto the material; depending on the surface of the faces, they might also dig into the leather.
An example is that some standard pliers have serrated teeth intended to dig into and grip metal and wood. When using these for leather, they would also dig into the leather material, marring the surface. This is likely an undesirable result. Thus, standard pliers should have the gripping surfaces covered with something smooth.
Additionally, the smoother the surface, the better. This allows for even gripping on the leather material. Often, this is why folks get specialized leather pliers, since they are designed to have wide, flat, smooth gripping surfaces that do not mar the leather.
So, regular pliers can be used, just be sure that they’re altered in such a way (possibly with electrical tape, or even scrap leather) so they are strong yet soft when gripping leather.
The leather shop includes a variety of tools that make leather working easier and more effective. Leather pliers, and similar holding tools, can be very helpful depending on the type of leather projects worked on, and the volume at which they’re produced. If you’d like to see my overall leather tools list, click here.
Can a bench or shop vise be used to hold leather?
In general, yes, a bench vise can be used to hold leather. It will be limited in movement (holding leather mainly vertically), and something smooth will need to be used to cover the jaws/faces, to ensure the leather held does not get marked up.
Can a Stitching Pony be used to hold leather?
Yes, a stitching pony can be used to hold leather. It will have less movement than pliers, though in some cases (such as for sewing), stitching horses and stitching ponies work great for holding leather firmly in specific positions.