Leathercraft can require different thicknesses of leather depending on the project. Instead of buying leather of varying thicknesses, I use a skiving knife to thin any leather.
A leather skiving knife is a specialized tool used to thin leather. The unique single bevel, low-angle design is crafted to slide taper the thickness of leather. Skiving knives come in various types and price points. Skiving knives cost $10–$200, mostly dependent on their quality.
With a variety of skiving tools available for purchase, which one is best for you? This article will discuss each tool to help uncover the differences.
What is a Leather Skiving Knife
A leather skiving knife is a single bevel, low-angle knife used to reduce the thickness of leather. There are a variety of skiving knives, such as the Japanese knife, paring knife, lap skiver, and round skiver. These tools all perform the same job though each has its unique characteristics.
Types of Leather Skiving Knives
There are various skiving knives, such as the Japanese knife, paring knife, lap skiver, and round skiver. They are defined by their blade or handle shape or origin. Some knives, such as the Japanese knife, are made for general cutting, with their skiving ability being an added benefit.
Japanese Leather Knife
One of the most common skiving knife styles is not actually a skiving knife. The Japanese leather knife has a single bevel, flat cutting edge, and round handle. These knives are extremely common in leather craft and are most crafter’s first “skiving knife.” However, these knives are more of a multi-tool. Japanese crafters use this knife for straight cuts, rounding corners, and skiving.
A paring knife, also referred to as a “tina” blade, is a skiving knife used in shoemaking. A paring knife is a single bevel, slanted angled blade that does not have a traditional handle. Instead, the entire knife is a single piece of metal. These knives can be curved or rigged to have a more ergonomic design. The main benefit of a paring knife is the lack of a handle. This allows the blade to cut at lower angles.
Lap skiving knives are very similar to paring knives. They have a single bevel and slanted angled blade. However, the immediate difference is the lap skiver has a handle. The handle of a lap skiver is flat rather than round. This change gives the user comfort while holding the knife while also providing a lower profile for lower angled skiving.
A round skiving knife has a single bevel and round blade and can come in various handles. The benefit of having a curved blade is cutting may be easier. If you push a flat blade through leather, all points that make contact with the knife must be cut through.
With a curved blade, the tip of the curve will cut, and as you push the knife forward, only then will the sides cut. This design lowers the force needed to push a knife through the leather.
Types of Skiving Knives
|Skiving Knife Type||Blade Shape||Handle Shape|
|Japanese Leather Knife||Flat||Oblong|
Characteristics of a Leather Skiving Knife
The main, and sometimes only, material used for a skiving knife is metal. The metal chosen by a bladesmith will define the characteristics of a skiving knife. A stainless steel metal may offer better edge retention, while a high carbon blade can become sharper. A bladesmith may also decide to create a handle using a variety of materials, such as wood.
Skiving knives come in various sizes, with the blade width typically ranging ⅝–1 ½”. The blade width affects the way the knife works. Smaller blades will cut leather more easily than a wider blade. However, the wider skiving knives will produce a more even cut as they pass through more material at once.
Pros and Cons of a Leather Skiving Knife
Pros of Leather Skiving Knives
A leather skiving knife is one of the few tools a crafter has that can thin leather. When kept sharp, it can thin any leather to any thickness. Learning the techniques used in skiving opens up various possibilities when working with leather. Things such as lining, piping, and rolled edges become much easier and provide a more professional look.
Additionally, it allows the use of thicker leathers for projects as one could skive the edges to a usable thickness. Abduletif Habib, Kassu Jilcha, and Eshetie Birhan of Addis Ababa Institute of Technology investigated skiving within a manufacturing workflow and found that skiving is a critical part of determining the most efficient process when making bags, belts, wallets, and clothes.
Cons of Leather Skiving Knives
The main con of a skiving knife is the technique and maintenance required when using one. If the blade is not kept sharp, skiving will become difficult. More force will be exerted to compensate, which is dangerous and potentially damaging to a project. A lack of technique can also ruin a project. When skiving, if the angle is too high, the leather will not be thinned but cut off.
How a Leather Skiving Knife is Made
Like all knives, skiving knives begin as a piece of metal. The basic shape is cut out, and the bladesmith begins shaping the ergonomics of the blade. Once the handle is formed, the blade will be ground to the desired angle of the blade on one side, the other kept flat.
The blade will then be sharpened through various means and finished with a mirror polish for a perfect edge. Alternatively, the bladesmith may use wood or other material as a handle. In this case, the process will mostly be the same, except a tang will be cut out, drilled, and the handle will be riveted in place.
Cost of a Leather Skiving Knife
The price of leather skiving knives varies. A basic Japanese knife used for skiving can cost less than $10. However, these cheaper knives will need to be sharpened before use which can deter many people. Most quality skiving knives will begin at the $40 price point. At this price, the metal will be of higher quality, providing a more easily maintained blade, but it will also come sharp.
The trade-off at this price is the blade lacks any handle and may be difficult to hold. Around the $80 price point, knives will begin to use better material and provide the buyer with handles for a more ergonomic grip. Prices $120 and above are professional-level tools.
While they may use the same metal as other knives, these will be razor sharp right out of the box. Additionally, the handles selected may begin to use more exotic woods and materials.
Tips for Working With a Leather Skiving Knife
- Keep the knife as sharp as possible through constant stropping.
- Use tape to hold the leather still while skiving.
- If necessary, use multiple passes to reach desired thickness.
- Skive on the glass to prevent blade dulling.
- Dampen vegetable tanned leather for an easier skive.
Check out this helpful video by Terrick from Chartermade for more tips and tricks to improve your skiving skills.
Almost any sharp knife can be used to skive. The act of skiving is no more than cutting leather at a shallow angle. However, some knives do not have the profile to create the same angles as skiving knives.
Their handles may be too bulky, or their blades may require awkward cutting positions. A great alternative to a skiving knife would be a round knife. The blades are usually large enough to create the angles necessary for skiving.
Examples of Items Made with a Leather Skiving Knife
Places where skiving can be seen the most are in smaller detailed goods, such as wallets, or thick items, such as bags. In wallet making, a crafter will skive down the inside pockets and the edges around the wallet to keep the piece as thin as possible.
Similarly, larger, thicker items that may use multiple layers of heavier leather will be skived. Thinning down the leather, in this case, may help a bag’s stitching or turning process by making the edges more manageable.
Things such as lining, piping, and rolled edges become much easier and provide a more professional look.
Skiving Issues and How to Fix Them
Skiving is a technique used in leather crafting that people tend to avoid, myself included. I searched through forums and skiving issues with other crafters to better understand. The most common problems during my search were tearing the leather and stretching or moving it too much.
I began searching for solutions. The most common response I found was blade sharpness. While that is the key to skiving and can solve the issues, I wanted to focus on other tips.
Tearing the Leather
This was my biggest issue and fear when it came to skiving, as it could easily ruin a project. When researching why it occurs, there were two main reasons. One was applying too much force. The other was a poor skiving angle. Visually you can identify the issue by looking at where the mistake occurred. If the end cut is jagged or rounded, it was most likely from too much pressure.
This can be fixed by limiting the force you put into the blade. Making multiple passes at a skive instead of trying to push through all at once. If the end cut looks straight but is cutting off too much, the knife was being used at too high of an angle. Laying the knife flat next to the leather, and slowly lifting the blade while watching from the side, may help you understand where the cut will be made.
Stretchy or Moving Leather
Although I wanted to focus on technique, it must be said that a sharp skiving knife is vital here and will make the biggest difference. If your knife is sharp and you’re still experiencing this problem, I have tested a couple of methods to share. The first method may seem obvious, but it is simply taping the leather down to your cutting surface.
In practice, this worked well for me and is my go-to solution. However, oily leathers or weak tape can easily ruin this. The next method I tried was wax. I rubbed a fair bit of beeswax along my cutting surface and placed the leather on top. This had varying success. Initially, it felt as if this method was as useful as tape.
However, there were two main flaws. The first was the wax would lose grip as I skived along the edge, eventually coming completely free. The second was the wax left on the leather’s surface when I finished. As a result, this method was underwhelming, and I would personally recommend sticking to the tape.
Leather Skiving Knife Care and Maintenance
How to Clean a Leather Skiving Knife
A skiving knife can be washed off with warm water and a small amount of dish soap. Always remember to dry the knife afterward to prevent rusting thoroughly. If additional cleaning is required, you can use a cloth with rubbing alcohol for sticky or hard-to-clean areas.
How to Maintain a Leather Skiving Knife
There is a lot of maintenance when owning a skiving knife. It must always be kept as sharp as possible, requiring stropping and sharpening. It is good practice to continuously strop your knife using polishing compound and leather throughout a project. However, the knife will eventually dull and require sharpening using whetstones or other methods.
If the blade is not kept sharp, skiving will become difficult.
How to Store a Leather Skiving Knife
A blade cover should always be used when storing a skiving knife. This not only prevents any injuries but also protects the blade from damage. Skiving knives should also be stored free of moisture and completely dry so the blade does not develop rust.
How do you make a skiving knife?
Skiving knives are made by bladesmiths who select a piece of metal to create the knife. They begin by cutting a basic shape, which determines the blade’s size, angle, and ergonomics. The bladesmith will then begin grinding one side of the blade to the desired cutting angle.
Skiving knives have a more shallow angle than most knives, the standard being 15–20 degrees. John D. Verhoeven from Iowa State University discusses the effect a shallow angle can have on a blade. The 15–20 degree angle that skiving knives have is similar to the cutting edge of a razor blade.
Once this is finished, the knife’s cutting edge will be sharpened and polished by the bladesmith’s preference. If desired, a handle can be added when making the knife. This process requires rivets to be added to the knife to secure the handle material.
How do you strop a skiving knife?
Stropping a skiving knife requires a piece of leather and a polishing compound. The leather should be placed flat with the compound embedded in it. The skiving knife will then pass over the strop at the same angle as the cutting edge. It is important never to push the cutting edge into the strop and remain consistent.
How do you sharpen a skiving tool?
Skiving knives such as tina blades, round knives, Japanese knives, and other larger bladed knives will be sharpened on a whetstone and stropped for a polished finish.
While skiving may seem like an advanced technique, a properly sharp blade will make a world of difference. Skiving will continue to elevate your work as a leather crafter.
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