Leather can be thick, making holes for sewing and lacing is easy with leather pricking irons and chisels. They’re available in so many configurations and sizes.
Leather pricking irons and chisels are tools used for marking, and making, holes in leather. They feature a multitude of equally spaced, sharp points. Pricking irons leave marks and small holes, while leather chisels leave holes fit for sewing or lacing. Often, both are made from metal.
So which type and size would be most helpful for leather projects? Let’s take a look!
What are Leather Pricking Irons and Leather Chisels?
These very popular leather tools are used across a wide array of projects to mark equally-spaced holes. There are some key differences between the two, depending on what you’re working on and the end goal for aesthetic appearance. We’ll explore them more closely now. Here is a great video overview:
Leather Working Pricking Irons
Leather working pricking irons are metal tools with a grouping of equally-spaced “teeth”, sharp points arranged in a line. They are used to mark the location of stitching holes onto leather material.
Since leather is a generally thick material, holes need to be pre-made for the needle and threads or laces to go through. The holes can then be made using awls or chisels.
Pricking irons are made with a set distance between points. This is in order to ensure the hole marks are a uniform and consistent distance apart. This allows for tight seams and a clean visual appearance on the completed leather piece. Pricking irons are usually only intended for marking leather, not pushing holes through it.
While a pricking iron might push into the leather, leather chisels are more functional and intended for making the actual holes that pricking irons are used to mark off. Pricking irons come in variations of tooth counts, commonly ranging from one to twelve. This allows the leather crafter to choose which will be most helpful.
For example, when pricking a length of leather in a straight line, more teeth will help accomplish this faster. When pricking a curved end in a leather piece, fewer teeth will be more helpful as it allows the crafter to follow the curve of the edge prick by prick. Here’s a great video of pricking irons in use:
Leather Stitching Iron
Leather stitching iron is another term used to describe leather pricking irons. Generally, the stitching irons are used to mark small holes into leather, just large enough that it makes it easier to push a hand-sewing needle, or machine sewing needle, though the material.
This makes the needle pass through easier, distorts the leather shape the least, and allows the thread to sit relatively flat on the finished leather piece. Stitching irons are available in a wide variety of sizes and tooth configurations.
Japanese Pricking Irons
Over time, some regions develop aesthetic styles, and the tools that are made often reflect the styles being created. Commonly referred to as the Japanese style pricking irons, these pricking irons create somewhat of a diamond shape when used, and sit relatively horizontal down the pricking line on the leather. Here’s a demonstration of a Japanese pricking iron in use:
European Pricking Irons
Just as there is a Japanese style for pricking irons, there is a European style. These pricking irons generally leave marks that are somewhat vertical slits. In the finished product, the look is often a little tighter. This can be noticed especially on smaller leather goods where the holes and thread make up more of the finished piece. It’s truly a matter of aesthetic preference as to which one a leather crafter likes more. Here is a video demonstrating a European pricking iron:
Crimson Pricking Irons
Crimson is a brand of leather tools that are made in Singapore. While in the past there were only a handful of quality leather tool manufacturers, the last 10 years or so has seen a variety of new, quality manufacturers come up.
Crimson makes nice pricking irons that leave sharp, clean holes. They are available in a few different sizes, and can be ordered as a pricking iron set. Here is a video of one of the leather craft legends, Nigel Armitage, demonstrating the Crimson Hides pricking irons:
Popular Pricking Irons
When looking for pricking irons, there are a few major brands and manufacturers crafters usually look to first. Let’s look at a few of them below.
Sinabroks Pricking Irons
Sinabroks is a Korean leather tool manufacturer makes an absolutely beautiful pricking iron out of solid brass. The replaceable teeth have a 2.2mm width and cut very cleanly. Multiple widths are available, as well as custom orders for specialized tool sizes and configurations. Here is a look at the Sinabroks pricking irons:
KS Blade Pricking Iron
KS Blade is a South Korean leather tool manufacturer that produces very solid leather working tools at affordable prices. They are most all a set above entry level tools, and perform very well, though don’t cost the prices of the highest end tools; definitely a leather tool sweet spot.
Their pricking irons are heat treated for rigidity, come in different blade diameters, and various tooth counts and lengths. Here is a look at the KS Blade pricking irons:
Wuta Pricking Iron
Wuta makes a standard type pricking iron out of steel. They are available for purchase online, and in various tooth counts. Here’s a detailed look at them:
Blanchard Pricking Iron
Vergez Blanchard has made leather working tools in France since 1823. They are often regarded as an industry standard for quality and performance. Their pricking irons, made from steel, come in a very wide variety of tooth sizes and configurations. Custom configurations are also available if needed. Here’s a closer look:
4z Pricking Irons
4z is a Chinese manufacturer of higher-end pricking irons. They are full stainless steel, so they do not rust. Teeth are removable and replaceable, and models come in various teeth counts, as well as teeth shapes.
Lekoza Pricking Irons
LeKoza makes a nice pricking iron in the European style. The bodies of the tool are made with harder machine steel and coated with a molybdenum disulfide resin to help resist corrosion over time and with use. The irons are available in various tooth counts.
Armitage Leather Pricking Irons
Nigel Armitage is a near-legendary leather worker in the leather community. He also produces an incredible amount of helpful videos reviewing leather tools, including pricking irons. If you’d like to view his YouTube channel with those videos and more, click here.
Leather working chisels are metal tools with a grouping of equally-spaced sharp “teeth”, sharp points arranged in a line. They are similar in look to pricking irons, though chisels are intended to make the holes in leather, where pricking irons are intended only to mark the holes in leather.
Leather chisels come in variations of tooth counts, commonly ranging from one to twelve. This allows the leather crafter to choose which will be most helpful. For example, when chiseling a length of leather in a straight line, more teeth will help accomplish this faster. When chiseling a curved end in a leather piece, fewer teeth will be more helpful as it allows the crafter to follow the curve of the edge, hole by hole.
Also important on chisels is the shape of the tips of the teeth. The tooth shape directly impacts the look of the hole in the leather, which will influence the overall visual design of the finished piece. Some chisels have angled teeth, some diamond shaped teeth, and others have finer points.
Keeping the leather working chisels well-maintained definitely helps ensure they deliver smooth, clean cuts. They are available in many sizes, so the crafter can choose what works best, from thin, fine leather projects to thicker, heaver leather projects that require larger chisels. These are very common tools that most leather crafters will have in their leather working tool set.
Leather Stitching Chisel (Lacing Chisel)
A specialized type of chisel is the leather stitching chisel. These are chisels with generally larger teeth, suitable to fit the heavier, thicker leather lace used for lacing projects. While threads are often used in sewing leather, lacing project require larger holes. If you’re interested in lacing details, click here for my article on how to lace leather.
Thus, lacing chisels are perfect for these jobs. They, too, come in various sizes and teeth configurations. Depending on the main type of work done, these might be used more often than standard chisels. Though, for the beginner leather worker or someone who works mainly on smaller project without leather lace, standard leather chisels will likely find more use in the shop. Here’s on in action:
Leather Chisel Sets
Often, it can be helpful to have several different teeth lengths on hand for a project. First, it’s usually important that the tooth size is equal for all chisels used for a single project. This will help ensure that all of the holes made are of equal size and space. Of course, it’s aesthetically possible to want a variation of hole sizes and spaces, though in general, uniformity is preferred.
This is where leather chisel sets are helpful. They often include several chisels of the same tooth size, though different tooth count. For example, on a long length of leather where holes need to be made, it’s easier to hit in 8 teeth at once, then keep moving along. Though, then getting to an edge, or around a curve, maybe 2 teeth, or even just 1 cutting tooth are needed to fill the space.
8 would be too many, though fewer provides for more precise hole location. So, it’s helpful to have several chisels available so the most helpful one can be used whenever needed, and the hole sizing and spacing stays consistent throughout the project. Leather chisel sets come in a variety of options of tooth size and count. Also, some come with variable teeth, that can be adjusted as needed.
Seiwa Stitching Chisel
Seiwa is a Japanese leather tool manufacturer that focuses on suitable tools at lower costs, with relatively good quality. They work well when learning about and trying leather tools, to see which types you like to use and what you might want to include in the shop.
The Seiwa stitching chisel is available in various prong counts and spacing versions.
A good pricking iron or leather chisel set will be something likely used often, and for many years. Personal preferences will vary based on quality the types of holes they make, and how easy they make them. This is the type of tool where one might try a few different ones to find one they are most comfortable using that produces results they like the best. If you’d like to see my overall leather tools list, click here.
Which is better, pricking irons or stitching chisels?
It really comes down to the type of work one is doing. Pricking irons work very well to mark small holes later used for hand stitching/thin threads. Stitching chisels make larger holes suitable for heavy thread or leather lace and heavier threads.
What is the best leather pricking iron?
As with most tools, best is relative to personal preference. There are expensive tools that work well, such as Vergez Blanchard, and relatively inexpensive tools that perform well, such as KS Blade. Trying them out is key to finding the best for you.