As I further my skill in leather craft, I want to make more refined, luxurious goods, meaning honing all aspects of the craft. One area that has continued to cause me trouble is skiving. Thin leather items look fantastic, but without the help of a skiving machine, maintaining an even thickness even can be difficult.
A leather skiving machine is a tool used to thin the edges of leather accurately. Machines allow adjustments to the skiving angle, width, or depth. They speed up the skiving process, becoming invaluable for production. Skiving machines cost $40–$2500 and may be hand-operated or electric.
Skiving machines can be costly, especially for those who only do leather work as a hobby. I will break down the uses, pros, and cons of purchasing a skiving machine to help you decide if it suits your workshop.
What Is a Leather Skiving Machine?
A leather skiving machine is a hand-operated or electric tool used in leathercraft to thin the leather’s edges. A hand-operated skiving machine requires pulling the leather through a fixed blade, while electric skiving machines will pass the leather through by itself.
Both types of leather skiving machines offer speed and accuracy when thinning leather. Thin leather helps keep seams, layers, and other parts of leather craft thin enough to work with. They make for more effortless punching, sewing, and turning and keep the final look professional without sacrificing the overall durability of a project.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- When You Might Use a Leather Skiving Machine
- Leather Skiving Machine Quick Reference Table
- Leather Skiving Machine Types and Variations
- Leather Skiving Machine Characteristics
- Leather Skiving Machine Pros
- Leather Skiving Machine Cons
- Leather Skiving Machine Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
- Leather Skiving Machine Costs
- Alternative Options to a Leather Skiving Machine
- Experienced Tips for Working with a Leather Skiving Machine
- My Personal Research with Leather Skiving Machines
- Leather Skiving Machine Care and Maintenance
- Helpful Leather Skiving Machine Insights
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
A common misconception regarding leather skiving machines is they are often confused with leather splitting machines. While both tools thin down leather, they have one significant difference. Leather splitters are used over the entire hide, while leather skiving machines are only for the edges.
This difference allows a project to retain the body of thicker leather without having bulky or unusable edges. Most crafters opt for a skiving machine, purchasing hides in the necessary thickness and thinning out the leather as needed. However, neither machine is better than the other, as each leather project is unique.
When You Might Use a Leather Skiving Machine
Skiving leather is an optional part of leather crafting that many will forgo. However, more refined crafters will use skiving in many ways to make their projects more professional. The most common use for a skiving machine is reducing the overall thickness of a layered project.
A wallet is a common place where thickness can make a big difference. With multiple card pockets, lining, and body leather stacked on top of one another, it can quickly become bulky. A skiving machine can reduce the bulk in the edges while keeping the rest of the leather solidly thick.
Skiving machines may also be used to create turned seams, seen in items such as tote bags and Dopp kits. A skiving machine works best in any area where reducing the thickness may help the project overall.
Leather Skiving Machine Quick Reference Table
|Tool||Leather Skiving Machine|
|Component Materials||Cutting blade, clamping foot, adjustment knobs|
|Common Sizes||8” for hand-operated, up to 48” for electric|
|Cost Range ($)||$40–$2500|
|Recommended Maintenance||Blade sharpening, parts oiling, and cleaning|
|Recommended Storage||Powered off with the blade cover on, and with a dust cover if applicable|
|Common Uses||Thinning edges for layered edges, turned seams, or turned edges|
|How Long It Lasts (on average)||A lifetime with routine maintenance|
Leather Skiving Machine Types and Variations
There are two main types of leather skiving machines, hand operated and electric. Hand-operated skiving machines will clamp onto the leather, only cutting as the piece is pulled through the blade. Hand-operated machines are best suited for thick or stiff leather that will not stretch or tear while being pulled through.
Electric skiving machines use a rolling grip that pulls the leather through the spinning blade. The speed of the process can be controlled, which can help when skiving small leather pieces. One of the main benefits of an electric skiving machine is its ability to skive thin, floppy leather.
Leather Skiving Machine Characteristics
Leather skiving machines can be straightforward tools when broken down. They comprise three main parts, the cutting blade, clamping foot, and adjustment knobs. The cutting blade is the most important part of any skiving machine. The sharper the blade, the easier it is to skive leather.
Only the sharpest blades should be used in any machine. Clamping feet hold the leather in place while it is pulled through the blade. The foot may be shaped differently for each machine, but they serve the same purpose: guiding the leather. Adjustment knobs are the final part of skiving machines.
Adjustment knobs will set the depth of the skive, the thickness removed, and the angle of the blade. These fundamental elements allow for detailed skives, targeting where you want leather removed. More complex skiving machines will also adjust the speed of the skive, how close the blade is to the foot, and controls for how the feeding wheel behaves.
Hand-operated skiving machines are typically small, at only around 8”. These machines are intended to be clamped to a table when in use and can be stored away when finished. While the small size benefits a small workspace, it restricts the maximum blade width available.
On the other hand, electric skiving machines are extremely large and will take up a significant portion of any workshop. Electric skiving machines come mounted to a table, similar to sewing machines, and are around 48” wide. The size of electric skiving machines can be a deciding factor for hobbyists looking for a skiving tool.
Although the most significant variation in skiving machines is if it is eclectic, there are other variations between units, including blade width, motor, and venting process. Blade width determines the maximum width a piece of leather can be skived in a single pass.
While some machines have an adjustable depth stop, hand-operated skiving machines may only include a fixed blade. Motors are limited to electric skiving machines but can play a large role. The ability to start a skive slowly and then speed up when it is secured in the machine helps ensure the best skiving possible.
Lastly, how dust and remnants are handled is important. Hand-operated skiving machines will have the remnants fall onto the ground below. Electric skiving machines can trap the debris while also providing a vent for loose fibers that may pollute the air.
Hand-operated skiving machines require pulling the leather through a fixed blade, while electric skiving machines will pass the leather through itself.
Leather Skiving Machine Pros
The best part of using a skiving machine is the speed and accuracy it provides when using it. Typically, it can be difficult to make the entire edge an even thickness when skiving by hand. With a skiving machine, it will be perfect every time, making your products look more professional.
While skiving machines only do one thing extremely well, it can be applied in many ways. Thinning edges on products are the most common. Though it may also be used for turned edges, thick seams, or when creating leather for piping.
These techniques allow for higher quality work and can help when using chromium tanned leather, as their edges cannot be burnished. Skiving machines also work well with thin or stretchy leather. This can prevent using some leather when attempting to sew by hand, but a skiving machine will make the process possible.
Muhammad Saleem Arain, Muhammad Ali Khan, and Muhammad Ahmed Kalwar of the International Journal of Business Education and Management Studies, a peer-reviewed international journal, discussed how skiving is used to optimize the footwear industry. With their data collection method, they found creating a skived joint was more effective than rolling the edge.
Leather Skiving Machine Cons
The big cons of skiving machines are their cost and the amount of space they may require. A high-quality skiving machine can cost upwards of $2500 and take up 48” or more space. While smaller and cheaper skiving machines are available, they may not perform as well as the electric ones. Skiving machines are also limited by their blade sharpness.
If the skiving blade is poorly maintained, it greatly limits how the machine performs. The setup process required for skiving machines may also be overwhelming for some. Each thickness and leather type will require making adjustments to the machine.
Leather Skiving Machine Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
Skiving machines are assembled in parts. The skiving machine’s casing, or frame, is made through a mold filled with molten metal. Once removed, the metal will be heat-treated, ground, and polished for assembly. If a skiving machine uses a motor, it will most likely be outsourced. The blades of a skiving machine are also molded if the shape requires it.
Bell skivers, in particular, use a circle-shaped knife. All blades used in skiving machines will be polished to a high shine to provide the best cutting results when using the machine. Once all the pieces are gathered, the machine will be assembled into the final product. Optionally some leather skiving machines will be mounted to premade tables before being shipped out.
Leather Skiving Machine Costs
A leather skiving machine can cost as little as $40. These inexpensive machines will be hand-operated and clamped onto a work surface. Lower-cost skiving machines will use disposable blades to keep the tool sharp but will lack the ability to cut soft or stretchy leather. Electric skiving machines will be much more expensive, typically over $1000 for basic models. While the price jump is massive, so is the tool’s usability.
Electric skiving machines have many possible adjustments and a rotating blade that can cut softer or stretchy leather. In addition, the speed and accuracy of the machines are unmatched. As electric skiving machines increase in price, they may include more customizable controls, additional warranty, or provide features like dust trapping.
Alternative Options to a Leather Skiving Machine
Without a leather skiving machine, one will most likely need to use hand tools to achieve the same result. A hand-skiving knife is the best tool for this job. A skiving knife will be used at an angle to thin out the leather from the edge, but it struggles to provide consistency throughout. Another option is to use a french edger.
A french edger evenly removes leather in a set width. This tool may not be as quick as a leather skiving machine, but a sharp french edger can provide comparable accuracy. Both hand tools must be as sharp as possible to achieve a proper skive. Hand tools also struggle to cut thin, soft, or stretchy leathers, which may require patience.
Experienced Tips for Working With a Leather Skiving Machine
- Use a scrap piece of leather before sending your project through the machine.
- Change the foot clamp when necessary to avoid marking the leather’s surface.
- Sharpen, polish, or change the cutting blade often to ensure the machine performs its best.
In this detailed video provided by Maker’s Leather Supply, Aaron Heizer covers the basics of working with a leather skiving machine, explaining how to set up the various controls.
My Personal Research with Leather Skiving Machines
Electric leather skiving machines can be a large investment that most crafters must consider seriously before purchasing. The machines are expensive and require a lot of space and consistent maintenance. I searched for various information, from retailers to hobbyists, to provide additional points to consider when purchasing a machine.
My first information source was from Leather Machine Co. I wanted to see how much a leather skiving machine would cost. While they have multiple models at various prices, one thing that I did not consider was the shipping cost. Since leather skiving machines are heavy, they need to be freight shipped. Leather Machine Co charges a $380 flat rate fee. Other retailers I searched were similar.
This is no small shipping cost and should be considered when purchasing a machine. Leather skiving machines also require some assembly. Their website provides informational videos, including how to assemble the machine. While there are many assembly and set-up tutorials, it is important to note that these machines do not come ready to go.
Lastly, in their collection of video tutorials, they showcased general maintenance and common replacements that could be necessary. While the tools are built to last, this shows how the machine will require constant care to keep it working smoothly. For many, that is part of owning an expensive tool. However, for those looking for an easy tool with little maintenance, a leather skiver might be more work than expected.
While you can learn a lot about a machine through information provided by retailers and manufacturers, nothing beats firsthand knowledge from those who work with it daily. A common question in leather craft forums is, what is the cheapest option? Electric skiving machines can be expensive, but many can see how it would benefit them.
Unfortunately, crafters do not suggest buying a cheap option. They state purchasing a reputable brand from a reliable dealer is necessary. The machine is an investment, so it should be the best. In addition, they noted how things break down or wear out. Wear and tear is unavoidable, and having a well-known machine makes replacement parts abundant.
They also considered how well-known brands keep their resale value if you sell the machine. With thin leather, crafters suggest attaching the leather to a thicker piece to create stability while passing it through the machine. While thin leather can be passed through the machine, it can leave a wavy or uneven thickness throughout. They also suggest moving the blade closer to the foot for thinner leather and further away for thicker leather.
After learning more about leather skiving machines, there is much to ponder. These tools are not immune to wear, and the cost of maintaining and shipping them should be considered. However, with the help of retailers and the crafting community, I am more aware of the investment cost and procedure of purchasing a machine.
Leather Skiving Machine Care and Maintenance
How to Clean a Leather Skiving Machine
Before cleaning any leather skiving machine, the tool should be completely turned off and unplugged for safety. Removing the blade, safety cover, and clamping foot allows for complete cleaning. A clean rag with a small amount of water can be used to rub the various parts of the machine.
If residue is left, isopropyl alcohol can be used in small amounts to break down any stuck-on mess. After cleaning the machine, the parts should be dried with a separate cloth and reassembled.
How to Maintain a Leather Skiving Machine
Regardless of the type of leather skiving machine being used, the most important part of every machine is the blade. Blades will need to be replaced or sharpened with the provided tools. Electric skiving machines typically have a stone built-in.
Electric skiving machines will also have many areas that need oiling or greasing. Manufacturers will provide information regarding the locations that must be maintained to ensure the machine works smoothly.
How to Store a Leather Skiving Machine
When storing any skiving machine, be aware of a few safety measures. Electric skiving machines should have the blade cover attached and powered off. Hand skiving machines should have the blade removed or stored away safely. Since hand-skiving machines are much smaller, most can be placed in a drawer, keeping them out of the way.
Electric skiving machines can not be stored as easily. The best option is to place a dust cover over the machine to prevent any dust or debris from clogging it. All spring action levels should be set in their default position not to wear out the part.
Helpful Leather Skiving Machine Insights
What does a leather skiving machine do?
A leather skiving machine removes leather from the edge of a piece. By doing so, the leather will become thinner on the edges. While this can be done by hand, a leather skiving machine is much quicker and more accurate.
What can you use to skive leather?
A leather skiving machine is the best option when skiving leather. However, many hand tool alternatives can be used to perform the same task. Skiving knives, round knives, and french edgers can all skive leather, each with pros and cons.
How do you skive leather at home?
Skiving leather at home without a leather skiving machine requires a sharp hand tool and a smooth flat surface. As you use the tool to skive the leather, the flat smooth surface will allow the tool to glide without damaging the blade. Skiving leather may take multiple passes and requires practice to perform accurately.
How do you evenly skive leather?
The best tool for evenly skiving leather is a leather skiving machine. It will set a depth, locking the leather at the perfect height for reducing the thickness evenly. However, when using hand tools the most accurate tool is a sharp french edger. Instead of skiving at an angle, the french edger is pushed through the leather flat. Since french edgers are made at a specific width, they ensure the skive is even throughout the piece.
- Leather skiving machines are both quick and accurate.
- Electric machines are an investment, costing upwards of $2500.
- Skiving machines allow for edge-turning, piping, and seam-flipping techniques.
While leather skiving machines are not a required tool for working with leather, those who choose to invest in the quality machine will find it invaluable. Skiving machines allow various refinements of leather projects, improving the quality of any work. Nothing beats a leather skiving machine when it comes to skiving leather quickly and accurately.
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