In looking for the best way to make a cinch for a top-closing backpack, my search led me down a rabbit hole of sorts. There is more to a simple strip of leather than I would have guessed. Let me show you what I learned.
Leather strips are lengths of leather cut from the main hide. Divided into cording, lace, and straps, they can be purchased online or in-store. Custom strips can be created using machines or manual strap/lace cutters. They have countless uses: braiding, weaving, decoration, and structural.
The term “Leather Strips” sounds kind of boring and plain. What I have learned is that they are critical in crafting. In their various forms, leather strips are used by a wide variety of crafters across many trades. Let me show you what I found out.
What Are Leather Strips?
Leather strips have various names depending on their intended use. Long strips of leather used to hold up pants are called “Belts”. While those same pieces of leather used on a backpack are now called “Straps” – “Shoulder Straps”, to be specific. Thinner strips of leather used for braiding or weaving are commonly referred to as “Lace”. Sometimes there are long lengths of dense leather cut into round “Cord” or “Cording”.
Belts, Straps, Strips, Lace, and Cording… These are the most frequently used terms and each one has its own unique uses. They are common among leatherworkers and will greatly improve one’s shopping experience when looking to complete a project.
How Leather Strips Are Made
Leather strips are simply long narrow “strips” of leather that are cut off the main leather hide. They can be long, wide, straight belt blanks cut from the hide using a straightedge and a leatherworker’s knife. They may also be cut using a wooden “Strap Cutter” which is a tool specifically designed for the task. Much thinner, narrower laces of leather can be made using a “Lace Cutter” which is designed to maintain a consistent width for a perfectly uniform strip of leather lace.
Strap Cutter Machine
For the growing leather business there are machine options available to increase the efficiency of the job. They vary in price and quality. Strap cutting machines are adjustable and can typically cut leather hides into strips of leather from ½ inch to 3 inches wide (12mm – 76mm).
Adjustable Manual Strap Cutter
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The Adjustable Manual Strap Cutter has undergone various changes over the years. The wooden adjustable strap cutter is popular for crafters needing an affordable option. One thing to keep in mind is that using a strap cutter still requires first cutting a straight edge of the hide as a guide for the strap cutter to follow.
Leather strips are simply long narrow “strips” of leather that are cut off the main leather hide.
Popular Uses for Leather Strips
Leather strips have countless uses in a wide range of trades. Leather lace is used to wrap knife/sword handles. Round leather cording is used in many crafts from jewelry making to bag making. Leather straps are found in or on nearly every leather project as a decoration, border/edge protection, as a closure piece for a snap or lock, or as a handle on a briefcase, backpack or overnight bag. Leather strips are critical as guitar and camera straps for musicians and photographers. There is no end to the list of uses for leather strips so let’s look at some others.
Braiding leather is a beautiful and timeless tradition going back thousands of years. There are a variety of braided goods on the market today such as braided leather steering wheel wraps, braided leather belts, braided leather straps, braided leather bracelets, braided leather cord, and likely the most well known of them all is the braided leather whip.
Bracelets are a very popular fashion accessory worn by men and women around the world. Leather bracelets are commonly taught as an entry level project for new leathercrafters as a way to practice new skills in cutting, edge finishing, dying, hardware installation and more. There are countless ways to make a bracelet and using leftover leather strips from another project is a cheap, efficient option.
Leather lacing is very popular in a wide range of leatherworking projects. Weaved leather goods all use leather lacing. It can be used as a decoration or highlight placed in a conspicuous location to catch the eye. Lacing can be used as a drawstring for lightweight leather bags. It is used in making footwear such as leather moccasins and as wraps for wood handled tools such as axes, and hammers. Leather lacing was, and still is, widely used in the making of some swords and custom knives. Leather Lace is a popular product with unlimited possibilities among crafters of almost any trade.
Leather strips are a crafter’s best friend. Blacksmith’s use leather in a variety of ways including blade sheaths and handle wraps. Woodworkers use leather in countless projects to line drawers, provide padding under table legs to avoid scratching floors, as box wraps and tool keepers. Leather strips and straps are highly prized by crafters of most trades.
Wrapping leather around the waist can be traced all the way back to the bronze age, however the modern leather belt we use today has only been around for about a hundred years. Prior to the early 1900’s, pants didn’t even come with belt loops. Today’s most common belt widths are 1-½ inches (38mm) for most denim jeans, 1-¼ inches (32mm) for most dress/suit pants and 1 inch (25mm) for most ladies’ belts.
Weaving leather is different from braiding leather. While it does involve intertwining leather strips together, weaving requires multiple loose strips interwoven together (over -> under -> over) and secured on each end using some kind of hardware or adhesive and typically a wood, metal, or plastic frame. Braiding is interlacing long strips of leather secured together at one end then all together at the opposite end when the braid is complete,
Leather furniture made from strips of leather are most commonly done in a woven pattern. Chairs are by far the most common leather strip furniture. There are some very artistic furniture designs that utilize strips of leather secured at either end to a wood or metal frame without first weaving them together.
Types and Sizes of Leather Strips
Leather strips can be made from all types of leather. Veg tan leather is stiff and used most commonly for belts and as straps on other various items such as leather, denim or waxed canvas bags and backpacks. Chrome Tan leather is often chosen for its value (often cheaper than veg tan leather), color variety (commonly found in a wider variety of colors and patterns than veg tan), water resistance – because of how it is made, chrome tan leather is more water resistant making it a better choice for humid/rainy environments.
Suede Leather Strips
Suede strips are fantastic for use as things like camera straps and for use as liners for thin leather straps. One thing to keep in mind for suede is that it needs to be waterproofed – Suede cannot be allowed to get wet. Suede is now sold in a massive number of colors which makes using suede a no brainer for leather projects.
Faux Leather Strips
Faux Leather Strips can be purchased cheaper than its full grain counterpart because of how faux leather is made. Faux leather strips can be used as bag shoulder straps, camera straps, belts, etc. Faux leather is waterproof because it is non-permeable and won’t absorb moisture. Faux leather strips can be found in a wide variety of colors because of its man-made chemical makeup.
½” (13mm) Leather Strips
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Leather Strips ½ inch and under are referred to as Leather Lacing. Leather Lace down to about ⅛ inch can be used for weaving, braiding or for its namesake… as laces for leather goods such as bags, apparel and moccasins. Leather Lace is also a great option for decorating leather goods.
1” (25mm) Leather Strips
Leather strips wider than about ½ inch (13mm) are commonly referred to as Straps. 1 inch (25mm) leather straps are frequently used as shoulder straps for lightweight bags. They are also common as camera straps and ladies belts. 1 inch (25mm) leather strips are popular for western tack such as halters, bridles, and reins.
Custom Leather Strips
While there are standard sizes commonly found online and in leather supply stores, sometimes a project calls for a custom width strip. It could be extremely thin or exceedingly wide. The best option for getting the desired width is to use a manual/handheld strap or lace cutter.
Here is a helpful video on cutting and edging your own leather strips.
Leather Strip Insights
Whether it is leather cording (1-6mm dia.) , leather lace (⅛ -¾ inch (3mm – 19mm)) or leather straps (1 inch (25mm) and up)… These long narrow strips of leather serve a countless number of tasks from decoration to structural integrity. They can be found on or in nearly every leather item that is made. Leather lacing is used to secure pages in a leather journal while a narrow strap is used to wrap around the outside of it and keep the contents of the journal secure.
Where Can I Buy Leather Strips?
Short answer: Online leather suppliers or in person at leather supply retail locations. They all carry leather straps from about 3 or 4 inches (76mm – 102mm) wide down to ⅛ inch (3mm) leather lace. Leather strips will vary in width, length, thickness and color. Be aware that two identical leather strips will still vary in price from seller to seller.
Can I Make My Own Leather Strips?
Yes. Using a manual strap cutter or a lace cutter, it is possible to create strips of leather as wide or narrow as one desires. There are many benefits to buying a larger piece of leather hide and cutting it to size at home or in the shop. Typically the cost of the strip will be lower than if it was purchased online and shipped.
I sincerely hope this deepdive into what leather strips can be used for, where to get them, how to make them, and the creative ideas they inspire have inspired you.
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