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Leather Working How-Tos – Applying the Best Practices

The first step into any new hobby can be daunting, leathercraft included. I remember watching endless videos and thinking, “how will I ever do that?” However, after diving headfirst into the craft, I found that I had the potential to create everything I saw and more. 

Leather working how-tos are the building blocks for any leather project. They’re techniques passed on from leather worker to leather worker that are used constantly in this craft. Learning how to set a rivet, strop a knife, dye, glue, and paint leather are all useful skills in leather work.

I would like to share with you some information and small guides to help you on your journey in leather working. While you may not use everything here in your work, these techniques may help you in other areas of the craft.

What are Leather Working How-Tos & Techniques

Leather working how-tos are techniques used in leathercraft to complete a project. These guides help better understand the material and how its characteristics may differ from fabrics or foams. Techniques presented in these guides are ones any crafter will use many times in this craft.

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A Woman and a Man Working With Leather

Types of Leather Working How-Tos & Techniques

How To Make a Leather Belt

Leather belts are a great entry to leather crafting. They require minimum tools, and pre-cut straps can be purchased to assist the project. To start, grab a straight and long piece of heavy leather with a width of around 1 ½ inches. I start on the buckle side using an oblong punch about 3 inches away from the end; this is where the buckle will go.

Fold the leather on itself, so the hole punched is folded in half. Take a rotary punch to make two holes about 1 ½ inches apart, avoiding punching too close to the edge. While keeping the belt folded, the necessary size can be determined. This is done quickest by using a different belt that fits well or wrapping the leather around your waist and holding it in place at the perfect length.

Add 3 to 4 extra inches in length from this mark to have room for other holes. The tip of the belt is then cut, and the excess can be used to make a belt keeper. Punch a hole using the rotary punch on your perfect size mark, then two holes to the left and two to the right; five holes total.

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These holes are typically spaced 1 inch apart. The belt keeper will be placed between the two holes to install the buckle. The buckle tongue will then be inserted and folded over the bar. Rivets or Chicago screws can then be used to lock in the fold and complete the belt. 

Leather Painting – Application and Finishing Tips

Two things are always important when applying a leather finish. The first is following the instructions on the product, and the second is always using a clean cloth or dauber. When finishing leather, the surface should be prepared for the product. To do this, the leather must be completely dry and wiped clean from any dust or debris.

A small amount of product will be applied to the cloth to prevent buildup in one area, and a circular motion should be used to ensure no steaks in the finish. If more coats need to be added, it is best to wait 24 hours to ensure everything is dry.

How To Drill Leather

While drilling leather may not be ideal for creating holes, it can be used for thick leather. The leather piece should be clamped down to secure it, and a backing board of wood should be placed under it. A small drill bit at high speeds will produce the best results. A depth stopper should be used when drilling leather as the chuck will damage the surface if it is placed against the leather.

How To Strop a Knife

To strop a knife, begin with a flat surface and place your strop on top. This can be leather, denim, or canvas. Add the polishing compounded into the leather generously. Then place the knife at its sharpening angle.

This can be found by lifting the knife until the blade sits flush with the strop. The knife will be run along the strop while maintaining that angle, using little to no pressure. It is important to never push the knife into the leather by always moving opposite the cutting edge. 

How To Stretch Leather Shoes

There are a couple of different methods for stretching shoes, but all require similar methods. The first is to place a slightly larger shoe tree into the shoes that need stretching. This can somewhat be substituted for stuffing newspaper into the shoe as tightly as possible.

Another common method is to put on multiple layers of thick socks and walk around while wearing the shoes in short bursts. Mink oil may assist in stretching the shoes, as it will soften the leather. 

How To Rivet Leather

To set a rivet in leather, a hole must first be created to allow the post of the rivet to go through. The general rule is to create a hole as close to the post size as possible for the tightest fit. Different tools will be required depending on what type of rivet needs to be set. Double cap rivets will use a concave anvil and setter that forces the two parts into each other.

Copper rivets, on the other hand, use a variety of tools. The post is placed in the leather, and a washer is placed on top. It is then forced down with a setting tool. Excess post length will be cut, and a doming tool will help round the top of the rivet.

In this helpful video below, Chuck Dorsett of Weaver Leather Supply goes over different rivets and how to set them. Offering tips along the way.

How To Lace Leather

Lacing leather uses holes in the leather to feed through leather lace in a variety of patterns. This can be as simple as using an “in and out” pattern with a single piece of lace. To do this, lace can be pushed through the starting hole by hand or with the help of a lacing needle. Once through, the lace will go through the next hole from the backside of the leather. This will be repeated until the lacing is finished.

How To Dye Leather

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There are multiple techniques used to dye leather. The simplest is to take a clean cloth or dauber and apply the leather dye in a circular motion. The simplest, and perhaps the best, method is to dip-dye the leather. Leather dye is poured into a container deep enough to hold the dye. The leather is then submerged in the leather dye. Completely coating the entire piece at once. 

How To Split Leather

Splitting leather requires the proper machinery and is not commonly seen in smaller workshops. However, a thick piece is placed and clamped down into a leather splitter to split the leather. The splitter then pulls the leather through a fixed knife blade.

This can be done with a crank or electrically. Once completed, the thick leather will be in two pieces. One with the grain side at the desired thickness and another with the leftover leather. 

How To Age Leather

Aging leather is a natural process for leather products. However, this process can be sped up. The most common method for aging leather is placing the leather in direct sunlight for a long period. This will darken the leather as if it had seen much wear. Alternatively, a felt pad can be used to age leather by rubbing the surface, generating heat and pulling the natural oils to the surface of the leather. 

How To Paint Leather

Painting leather requires specialty leather paints for the best results. To paint leather, the surface must be cleaned and prepared with a deglazer. Once dried, paint can be applied to the leather using a paintbrush. If multiple colors are going to be used in a leather painting, it is ideal to allow 24 hours for the first layer to dry fully.

How To Glue Leather

When gluing leather, follow the instructions from the product. To ensure the strongest bond while gluing leather, the surface must be roughed up to reveal more of the leather’s pores. Once the glue is applied, a polished hammer can be used to press the pieces together, creating the best seal.

This can also be done with clamps if the leather needs to be held in place while drying. Depending on the leather glue, drying times can be two minutes up to 20 minutes. 

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Applying Leather Glue to a Piece of Brown Leather

Tools Needed for Leather Working How-Tos & Techniques

The most common tools needed for leather working how-tos are a knife and a strop. These will cut out the pieces needed and keep your tools sharp. Other tools are a rotary punch, rivets, and the proper rivet setter.

These tools go hand in hand as the rotary punch makes holes for setting the rivets. Dye, paint, and a finish. While optional, if someone wanted to color and paint their leather, those things are what they would need. 

Finally, leather glue is necessary. Being able to hold two pieces of leather together while creating holes or cutting makes for a much cleaner project. Other less commonly seen tools in leather craft are a drill and leather splitters. While these machines serve a purpose in a pinch, there are other options or tools more suited for leathercraft. 

Skill Level of Leather Working How-Tos & Techniques

Most leather working how-tos are achievable with no previous knowledge to leathercraft, and with minimal tools. Precut leather can be purchased, or household items such as a box cutter can be used to cut the leather. A rotary punch needed to create holes for different projects is an easy tool to pick up and learn. As are the rivets that may need to be set.

Leathercraft may seem daunting as there are various tools and methods not commonly seen anywhere else. However, if you dive into the craft, it will quickly become apparent that anyone can achieve these goals with persistence and patience. 

Learning how to set a rivet, strop a knife, and dye, glue, and paint leather are all useful skills in leather work.

Tool Frequency in Leather Working 

ToolFrequency UsedPrice
KnifeEvery time$5+
Strop (with polishing compound)Often$15+
Rotary Hole PunchSometimes$15+
Setting Tool and RivetsSometimes$15+
Dyes, Paints, and FinishSometimes $5+
GlueOften$5+
LaceSometimes$15+
Leather SplitterRarely$160+
DrillRarely$40+
The Frequency of Leather Working Tools

Tips for Leather Working How-Tos & Techniques

  1.  Always check and double-check your measurements before cutting.
  2.  Use the smallest hole possible for setting a tight rivet.
  3.  A funnel can be used to pour excess dye back into the original bottle.
  4. Always apply dyes, stains, and finishes in a circular motion to avoid streaks.
  5. Rough up the top grain of the leather to ensure a tight gluing bond.

How To Get Better at Leather Working & Techniques

The quickest way to get better at anything is to practice. Leather work is no exception. Having a set goal in each crafting session will produce the best results. Focusing on cutting, making holes, gluing, setting rivets, or anything else you want to learn will help develop those skills more consciously.

A good way to practice would be to use leather scraps and practice the techniques you want to learn without making anything. Ronald M. Epstein, MD, from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, with the American Medical Association, describes mindful practice as an effective learning method.

Mindful practice is being aware of areas you can improve without being judgmental. Allowing for targeted practice to occur without feelings of discouragement. 

My Research Collecting Insights From Various Leather Crafters

The first step of leathercraft can be the most difficult. That first step is starting. In an effort to encourage others to get over this hurdle and embrace the craft, I went through many different forums and videos to find out how and why people got started. 

How I Got Started

The reasons I got started in leather working were similar to the responses I found in various forums. For instance, wanting to make stuff for my family and friends. It started with a wallet my friend wanted, and I watched countless videos of the process of making one.

The more videos I watched, the easier the entire process seemed, and instead of buying a wallet, I decided to try my hand at making one. While that first wallet was not my magnum opus by any means. It was my first step into the world of leather working, and I haven’t quit since. 

Common Reasons People Began Leather Crafting

While everyone has slightly different stories of how they got into leather working, many are similar. The first is an inherited hobby. Crafters will have loved ones pass, and leave behind crafting supplies. To which they carry that torch. Often, people will look at the price of leather goods and challenge themselves by making the product themselves.

Most will note they spent much more on trial-and-error supplies but found a craft they loved. Lastly, a common starting point for people was out of circumstances. During the covid lockdown, many people tried a variety of indoor projects to stay busy, only to stick with the craft afterward. 

Common First Projects

Something I found very interesting about leather workers is how everyone’s first projects were the same. Wallers, belts, and watchbands are the most commonly made first projects. This is for a good reason; they are things that can be made with little experience and tools.

A plethora of videos and how-tos online to learn from are also available for guidance on these types of projects. Each of these projects feels unique from one another, with attention to detail being a lot more significant on the smaller watch band. 

Conclusion

Regardless of the reason you may want to start or the project you want to tackle, I believe it’s important to note that leather working can be done by anyone. There are many projects, and you do not have to stick to the most common. This craft is made to be enjoyed; as such, always working on a project you want to do makes all the difference. 

Related Insights

How hard is it to get into leather working?

Leather working is a fairly simple hobby to get into. Many projects can be done with a small investment in tools and leather. Regardless of skill level. To assist, there are a variety of resources online to guide you through your leathercraft journey. 

Is leather working easy?

The core techniques used in leathercraft are fairly straightforward. Cutting, gluing, and sewing are things many are familiar with. However, while the basics of leathercraft may be simple, mastering the craft is not. Leather working is seemingly endless; as you perfect each technique you learn, you will be simultaneously learning more of them.

Final Thoughts 

Leather working is a rewarding and fulfilling hobby. Every finished project is something you make by hand and get to show off as you use it. These techniques shared will hopefully encourage you to try leathercrafting and help you with your projects. 

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