A leather punch is one of the most basic, essential tools in leather working. They make quick, easy work of adding holes and cutting leather for style and function.
The leather punch is a tool used for cutting shapes into leather material. They have a sharp cutting edge, that, when driven into the leather either by manual or machine-drive force, cuts the leather. Most common are hole punches, while end punches are also used when making belts and straps.
So what leather punch will be most helpful on the next project? Let’s learn more about them.
What is a Leather Punch?
Leather punches are tools with rounded blades used to cut holes into leather. Generally, the based are sharpened edges around a hollow metal cylinder, perfect for creating a circular hole. The punch blades can be interchangeable allowing a single handle to accommodate many sizes. Or, they can be individual tools where the blade and handle are formed from a solid piece of metal.
Punches need to be strong as they are used by pounding them with force. A piece of leather to be punched is placed on a nylon surface, on top of a hard, sturdy surface (such as granite). The punch lined up and rested on the leather where it will make the hole. Then, a mallet, hammer, or maul is used to strike the top of the punch.
The force of the strike pushes the punch through the material. The softer nylon surface protects the punch blade from damage, and the granite absorbs much of the force. The result is a, smooth, clean hole punched into the leather.
Leather punches come in a very wide variety of shapes and sizes for many different uses. It is also important to maintain the blades well, as a sharp blade will produce superior punching results.
Types of Leather Punches
Leather punches come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and configurations to serve needs across many styles of leather projects. Let’s explore each a bit more.
Round Strap End Punch
Leather round strap end punches are used for cutting the rounded ends of straps and belts. They work by placing the punch over the end of the leather material that is to be cut, then striking the punch with a mallet, hammer, or maul. The result is a semi-circular cut.
Round star end punches come in a variety of sizes so the proper one can be selected based on the project’s needs. Here’s the round strap end punch in action:
English Point Strap End Punch
English point strap end punches are used for cutting the ends of straps and belts. They work by placing the punch over the end of the leather material that is to be cut, then striking the punch with a mallet, hammer, or maul.
The result is cut that gradually tapers in from the edges and comes to a soft point at the end. The resulting shape is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Round star end punches come in a variety of sizes so the proper one can be selected based on the project’s needs.
Leather Round Drive Punch
Round drive punches are thin, cylindrical steel tools used to cut holes in leather. The cutting end is made of a sharpened edge around a hollow metal tip. There is usually an opening in the cylinder near the cutting end. The other end of drive punches is solid steel.
A round drive punch is set onto the leather it will cut, then hit or “driven” with a hammer, mallet, or maul. The force generated but the hit drives the cutting end through the leather. This creates a hole in the leather and a small leather circular piece that used to fill what is now the hole.
As more holes are punched, the circular pieces begin to push up through the cylinder and out of the opening near the cylinder end. Alternatively, after a few punches, the excess circular pieces can be pushed down and out of the punch with a small pin or other thin implement, pushed through the opening.
Round drive punches are available is many different hole sizes. Some are individual tools fixed in size. Others are handles with interchangeable punch size tips, requiring less storage space, though some additional time to change tips between sizes. Most leather crafters will find themselves with at least a few round drive punches in their leather working tool kit.
They’re so handy and useful. Round punches are great for making buckle holes in belts, as well as across leather projects when creating holes for grommets, eyelets, or even holes for large laces. Here is one in action:
Leather Trace Punch
Leather trace punches are metal tools with a cutting edge used to punch tapered holes into leather. If you imagine an oblong cut, with one side wider than the other, that is what a trace punch creates. They are generally made of steel with highly-sharpened blades for efficient cutting.
Trace punches are most popular for harness work, though can be useful for a variety of cutting/punching needs based on their unique shape. Multiple sizes are available for use based on preference and what might work best for your project.
Leather Oval Punch
Leather oval punches are metal tools with a cutting edge used to create oval-shaped holes in leather material. There often have an opening in the punch near the cutting end. The other end is usually made of solid steel, providing an area to be struck with a hammer, mallet, or maul.
Oval punches come in a variety of sizes, offering many options to ensure the crafter has the size that is most helpful the the type of project and work that they are doing. For example, different straps might require different oval punch sizes depending on their width. Here’s a video demonstrating how it looks/works:
Leather Rotary Punch
Leather rotary punches are manually operated, hand-held metal tools with multiple hole-sized punches used to make holes in leather material. The punches are usually arranged around a rotatable, circular “turret”. There is often an integrated surface for the punches to much onto when cutting. This is the most common punch people often picture when thinking of leather punches.
They work by rotating the turret to select the side punch to use, placing the leather material between the punch and cutting surface, then squeezing the grips closed by hand. The gripping motion pushes the punch through the leather and results in a hole.
Rotary punches are available with different sized punches. Some have interchangeable punches, making it easy to have any 6 or so available at a time, quickly accessible at the spin of a turret and squeeze of the grip.
Individual punches usually yield more precise results, and also allow more force to be used resulting in generally smoother, cleaner cuts. Though, for smaller holes and thinner leathers, rotary punches can be a quite effective leather working tool. Here’s an excellent look at the different types of rotary punches:
Leather Button Hole Punch
Button hole punches are metal tools used to simultaneously cut holes and a connected slit, into leather material. They are a somewhat specialized, though very useful type of punch. When working with button studs, they join leather by pushing through a hole that is slightly smaller than the stud. Hence, once through, the stud holds the button in place.
In order to have enough room to push through, there needs to be extra flexibility around the hole to accommodate the stud. This is done by cutting a slit directly connected to the button hole. The slit parts the leather, making it flexible enough around the hole to accommodate the larger stud.
Button holes can be made using a standard round drive punch, then cutting a slit below it with a knife. Alternatively, they be made with a button hole punch. This makes it much easier, with more consistent results, as all of the cutting is done with one tap of a mallet, hammer, or maul onto the button hole punch.
They are available is different sizes so the proper size can be selected based on the needed sizes of the hole and the button stud hardware that will be used. Here’s how it works:
Leather Slot Hole Punch
Leather slot hole punches are metal tools with a cutting edge used to create narrow, oblong holes in leather material. There is usually an opening in the punch near the cutting end to insert a thin metal wire and push to release the cut leather material. The other end is usually made of solid steel, providing an area to be struck with a hammer, mallet, or maul.
Slot hole punches are helpful when making holes to run straps through, such as in bag or case making work. Here’s how it looks and how to use it:
Leather Corner Punch
Leather corner punches are metal tools with sharp, rounded edges used to cut through leather. Corners on leather projects can be cut by hand, which requires measuring, then carefully cutting out the curved shape. Alternatively, using a corner punch makes this much easier. The corner shape is set as a metal blade and can simply be placed onto the material and hit with a mallet, hammer, or maul to make the cut.
Corner punches are available in different sizes so one can be found that matches the crafter’s need. If there are preferences for more rounded, or more angled corners, different diameters are available as well. If you’re cutting many similarly-sized piece with rounded corners by hand, these punches can definitely a valuable addition to your tool set. They help make quick work of repetitive jobs too. Here’s what they look like and how to use them:
Leather Shaped Hole Punches
Leather shaped hole punches are metal tools with share edges used to cut holes in leather. The cutting edges are available many different shapes, making it easy to add decorative or functional cuts into leather material. An example of the shapes available include stars, diamonds, hearts, squares, and semi-circles.
Cutting intricate shapes by hand can take time. Cutting these with a shaped hole punch make it a much easier, and more efficient process. These punches are usually made of steel with one end the sharpened cutting blade, and the other solid steel. The solid end us used for hitting with a hammer, mallet, or maul to generate the force that drives the punch through the leather.
If you do much decorative leather work or plan to cut out many versions of a specific decorative shape, a shaped hole punch could be a valuable tool to have to make this a much quicker, easier process. Here is an example of a set with various shapes:
Leather Stitching Punch
A leather stitching punch is a metal tool with a group of round punches grouped in a straight line. When making holes along a leather’s edge that will be used for running leather lacing through, it is helpful to have the holes both be a consistent size, and a consistent distance between each other.
If this is done with a standard hole punch, each hole need to be measured, lined up, and punched. A stitching punch makes this much easier as hitting it once will punch several holes into the leather at the same time. Stitching punches might have 3, 5, or more blades.
The size of the holes and number of blades available varies, so the crafter can choose one or more stitching punches that would help most for their particular project. Sometimes, these are called “stitching irons”. Take a look at this one in use:
Hand Sewing Punch
A leather hand sewing punch is used to punch small, round holes into leather. They are usually made of stainless steel, with two grips, a punching surface, and a punch tip. The punching surface is generally circular shaped and rotatable, with about 6 differently-sized holes of differing sizes.
When using it, the preferred hole size can be rotated under the top, and the leather laid onto the punch surface. The handles are then squeezed together, pushing the punch tip down into the selected hole size, and a hole is cut into the leather.
This is another style of hole punch, and can be a quick way to put clean holes into thinner leathers. Here’s an example of what they look like and how a hand sewing punch is used:
Leather Ventilator Punch
A leather ventilator punch is a metal tool that punches a group of round holes into leather material. They have a solid steel hitting end, and a cutting end with several, usually about 6, small, round punches mounted in a generally circular pattern.
Ventilator punches make it easy to punch multiple small, grouped holes in leather goods where air flow can be helpful. This is often seen in bags and cases where air flow can be helpful, and sometimes shoes.
If you’re looking for a ventilator punch it’s likely for a particular project, so ensure the hole size and cut pattern will match your needs. If so, these can surely help save time over manually measuring and punching individual holes.
Leather Rosette/Concho Cutter
A rosette cutter, sometimes referred to as a concho cutter, is a type of metal punch that cuts rosette shapes out of leather. Rosettes are decorative embellishments, made of leather, applied to leather work, usually saddlery. They can come in different designs, though the most common is a circle with about 16 rounded points that make up the perimeter. Think of a many-pointed star, though with rounded points.
Cutting these each by hand can become very, very time consuming, especially with more intricate patterns. With a rosette cutter, it is much faster. Just place the cutter on the leather, hit it with a hammer, maul, or mallet, and the rosette is cut. Many can be made in a fraction of the time of manually-cut pieces. These tools come in various sizes, each of which can be used depending on your needs.
Rotary Leather Punch Machine
A rotary leather punch machine is a table-mounted machine that helps punch holes into leather material. Whereas manual punches are most common, for those looking for ease of use, consistency of results, and mechanically-assisted punching, the rotary punch is available.
They generally have a solid punching surface where the leather can rest. Above is the punch arm that is controlled by a manually-operated, rotating wheel. Offset guides can be set to ensure consistent distance of the holes from the edge of the material, such as when making holes in belts.
The punch holes in leather punch machines are often self-centering, making it very quick and easy to ensure a proper cut. The distance, center-to-center, between holes is adjustable, as is the tube size for the punch cutters. This allows for customizable variation when punching.
These machines are generally very heavy, and do take up table space. If you find yourself doing high-volume or repetitive round hole punching, this could be a useful tool. Here’s what they look like, and one in use:
Self-Centering Leather Punch Machine
A self-centering leather punch machine is a table-mounted punch machine that helps punch holes into leather material. It is very similar to a rotary punch machine, having a solid punching surface where the leather can rest. Above is the punch arm that is controlled by a manually-operated lever that helps apply force that pushes the punch through the leather.
They generally have many punch dies available in different sizes, shaped to cut points, holes, and slots into leather mater of varying thicknesses. The tool is self-centering, helping to provide consistent and accurate cutting results. These can be a very efficient and accurate.
Leather punch machines are generally very heavy, and do take up a fair amount table space. If you find yourself doing high-volume production or repetitive hole punching work for, this could be a useful tool. Here’s what they look like!
Leather Punch Set
When using leather punches, often, different sizes will be needed for different projects and work. Thus, leather punch sets are available. They consist of a group of similarly shaped and styled leather punches, in several different sizes.
What this, they look and generally perform the same, while providing different punch sizes to choose from depend on what is being worked on. Some leather punch sets are small (maybe 2-3 punches in the set), for punches like corner or strap punches.
Other leather punch sets have many punches (maybe 8-16), for example hole punch sets. This is mainly because crafters will often encounter a need for more hole sizes and variations, than corner or strap sizes.
Costs and quality can surely vary. Also, sets can something be purchases piece by piece, over time as budget allows and needs grow. It can be helpful to decide on the leather punch set to ultimately own, then purchase it it full out, or individually punch by punch.
A great leather punch set, if maintained and sharpened well, can last for decades or longer. Here’s an example of a basic set:
Best Leather Hole Punch
As with most tools, the best leather hole punch can vary based on personal preference. Also, different manufacturers make different punches, so the best of one type of punch might be different than another.
Often, budget is not a limiting factor in getting a quality tool; there a few great, affordable options out there for well-performing options. I did a detailed writeup on the best leather punches, click here to check that out.
Custom Leather Punch
Sometimes a project comes up that needs something a little different than what is out there. Here is where a custom leather punch can come in very useful. Some companies will make custom leather punches, either for hand use or for use in leather punch machines. For example, one might be looking for a teardrop leather punch for earrings of a certain size, or a uniquely sized concho cutter for custom saddle or tack work.
They’ll usually be a little pricey due to the nature of them being built-to-order, though if the project you’re working on requires some repetitive, precise cuts, or uniquely-shaped cuts that will be used for high-volume work or production runs, custom leather punches can be a huge time, and cost savings.
How to Use a Hole Puncher
Generally, to use a hole puncher, a piece of leather that is to be punched is placed on a nylon surface, on top of a hard, sturdy surface (such as granite). The softer nylon surface protects the punch blade from damage, and the granite absorbs much of the force.
The punch is lined up and rested on the leather where it will make the hole. Then, a mallet, hammer, or maul is used to strike the top of the punch. The force of the strike pushes the punch through the material. The result is a, smooth, clean hole punched into the leather.
Rotary punches are a little different. They are lined up over the area where the hole is to be punched, then they are squeezed, comprising the punch into the leather, resulting in a hole. When a hole of a different size is needed, the cutting blade mechanism is rotated, until the desired cutting size is lined up.
For leather cutting machines, the size of the hole is selected and positioning lined up, then a level pulled to actuate the punch mechanism, pushing it into the leather. Overall it is relatively easy. Specifics will vary a bit based on the type of leather cutting machine, though overall, that is how to use a hole puncher 🙂
Where to Buy Leather Punch or Belt Hole Puncher?
For those looking for specialized leather punches, often online retailers carry the widest selection. Though some local leather shops, hardware store, and hobby shops often carry a variety of leather punches. Here are the most common places to find some:
Walmart often carries the belt hole puncher. This is handy for most home uses, adding holes to belts and straps. Some Walmart stores also carry leather punch tools in different sizes.
Lowes usually has a mix of leather punches available for everyday needs.
Hobby Lobby, specializing in hobbies and crafts, often has some leather punches for sale that would serve both everyday use and crafting needs.
The Harbor Freight tool shop usually has a leather hole punch or two available and in stock. They’re worth checking if you have one nearby and looking for it the same day.
Michaels crafts is also a great place to try when looking for a leather punch. They usually have a nice selection of crafting tools and options, and a section dedicated to leather working and leather craft tools.
Home Depot, similar to Lowes, usually carries a leather hole punch or two. The options they offer will usually be really functional for day to day needs.
Can you drill holes in leather?
Yes, holes can be drilled in leather. The key to making a hole in leather is using a sharp cutting edge, and removing the leather material. Drill bits can be used for this, generally aiming to use smaller bits at faster speeds, then increasing the bit size to make the hole larger, removing a bit more of the material each time until the hole is the size that is needed.
What are belt holes called?
Belt holes are most often called “belt holes”, “sizing holes”, or “notches”. They can be added to a belt to allow it to fit larger or smaller waists. When making leather belts, usually 5-8 belt holes are added during construction.
How much does a hole puncher cost?
Hole punchers can vary widely in cost. A basic rotary punch can cost less than $10, while individual hole punches can cost from a few dollars per punch to $30-40 per punch depending on brand a quality.
Hole Punch sets can range from $12 for a few basic punches to $300-$400 for a full set of high-quality punches. Custom punches can also cost in the hundreds, depending on size and how interact in detail the punch design is.
All that said, very useful punches suitable for everyday leather crafting do not need to be expensive, $10-$30 should have the common leather crafter covered. Key is keeping the cutting edges sharp. As needs grow, additional punches can be added to the shop.
Punching leather is a very efficient and rewarding skill in leather craft. It can leave very precise results and make the finished products look great. Most leather workers will find they have a few handy punches of different shapes and sizes around the shop. If you’d like to see my overall leather tools list, click here.
How do you sharpen a leather hole punch?
Generally, leather hole punches, in their various sizes and shapes, can be sharpened with a strop. For tough to reach angles, a smaller strop can be used, where it’s able to reach the cutting edge while also being manageable to handle.
How do you punch a hole in leather without a leather punch?
Depending on the size of the hole, an awl can be used to push a one into leather. Also, a drill can be used. The key to leather punching cleanly, is removing material so the hole exists. Drilling can often achieve this well using small-to-large bits.