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Punching Leather: Tools and Tips from a Crafter

Leathercrafters may need various tools during their crafting process. I learned that some punching leather tools are essential and can’t be replaced easily, while others can have substitute tools or methods.

Punching leather is a core skill in leathercraft. It is used to produce holes, cut edges, cut patterns, and set hardware. Punch tools come in various shapes and sizes based on need and are often struck with a hammer or mallet on a thick, protected surface. Most projects will use leather punching.

Let’s look at the different types of leather punching and which tools to use during the process.

What Is Leather Punching?

Leather punching is the process of using appropriate tools to create holes and shapes in the leather. One of the most common reasons to use a punch is when hand-sewing leather. Unlike fabrics, leather is a very strong material.

The needles used for hand stitching leather have dull tips (to protect the leather from scratching and the leathercrafters’ fingers). That makes it challenging to penetrate the leather with common stitching needles. Thus, we need to create stitching holes in the leather to make it ready for hand stitching.

Punching leather is a leather working technique that is also required when installing rivets, buttons, belt buckles, etc., for your project. Usually, you create holes with diameters matching your accessories to set the hardware in place. Choosing the right diameter and the right tools for this process means better-looking and stronger products.

Leather Corner Punch - Punching Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Corner Punch

Another reason we punch leather is for fashion and aesthetic purposes. Brogue shoes are a good example of this, where the stylistic pattern is applied to the surface of the leather. Perforated leather is also extensively used in fashion products like bags. Perforation is also a process of punching the leather.

Common Leather Punching Uses

Let’s have a look at these use cases in detail, the different types of punches, and when we can benefit from using them. I learned this is one of the most fun parts of leather crafting. 🙂

Punching Holes in Leather for Stitching

Hand-sewing leather requires pre-punching the leather before the stitching process. The needles used in hand-stitching leather have dull tips. This protects the leather from scratching and is safer for the leathercrafter. Also, leather is a strong material, and even the sharper needles can’t penetrate it too easily. Punching tools make it much easier to get a consistent stitching line, which can improve the appearance of the finished piece.

There are three frequently used options to punch the leather for stitching:

1. Stitching Punches

These tools create a round hole in the leather, and some of the material (tiny round pieces) is removed from the leather during the process. Round holes for stitching are useful for getting straight stitches along the stitching line. Getting a consistent stitch with round holes is easier since diagonal stitches require more muscle memory and precision. With round holes in the leather, you can easily move the needles back and forth and stitch quickly.

Leather Stitching Punch - Punching Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Stitching Punch

2. Pricking Irons

Pricking irons usually leave slits on the leather at a 45-degree angle. Some people use pricking irons to just mark the stitching holes and then pierce the leather with an awl during the stitching. But most people use pricking irons to pierce the leather all the way. A pricking iron enables the crafter to create diagonal stitches and look very good when done correctly.

Pricking irons have different styles. For example, Japanese-style pricking irons have diamond shape tips and create diamond shape slits, while French-style pricking irons create narrow slits.

3. Round Dent Punches

These tools are similar to stitching punches, but round dent punches create a smaller round impression on the leather surface without removing any material.  

Punching Holes in Leather for Lacing

Lacing is similar to hand stitching, but instead of a thread, you use leather strips. Since leather strips are much heavier than threads, the holes for lacing should be much bigger than regular stitching holes. That is the main difference between lacing and leather stitching in terms of punching holes.

Punching Holes in a Leather Belt

Leather belts have holes along the horizontal centerline to adjust the buckle. These holes can be created with different tools. Based on the buckle pin size, an appropriate-sized hollow punch can be used to create holes in a belt. Rotary leather whole punches also punch holes in a leather belt.

Punching Belt Holes - Liberty Leather Goods
Punching Belt Holes

Since punching all these holes on the belt’s horizontal centerline can be tricky, some additional tools, like belt positioning rulers or templates, can help achieve the best results.

Punching Ends of Belts

Round and curvy cuts at the ends of belts look good, but cutting into shape with a hand can be time-consuming. That’s when you need round, half-round, V-shaped, or similar-style strap end punches when making a leather belt. With the help of these tools, cutting the ends of belts to the desired shape can be quite easy. Also, the end result usually looks better than cutting the shapes with a regular knife.

Punching Ends of Leather Straps

Like belts, leather straps used on a bag or long wallet often require you to finish the end of the strap into a specific shape. In that case, you can use the smaller sizes of the strap end punches. While these cuts can also be made by hand, using a punch generally leads to faster, more precise, and more consistent results.

Punching Holes in a Watch Strap

Watch straps are like small, good-looking belts around your wrist. Like belts, they need holes to adjust according to wrist size. Consistent and clean holes are quite important on a watch strap since details matter more with smaller items like watch straps.

Although you can use regular hole punches to create holes in a watch strap, sometimes special watches may require you to punch different shapes, like square holes. In that case, you will need specific punches made for the occasion. Also, you need to be more careful about creating clean holes without any frays to have a premium look.

Hole Punching Leather (various uses)

Setting hardware on leather often requires punching holes. For example, when using leather rivets to hold two pieces of leather together, you need to punch holes in both pieces and set the rivet using these holes. In some cases, you may need to punch rectangular holes to set a lock on a bag flap.

Leather English Point Strap End Punch - Punching Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather English Point Strap End Punch

Punching holes in leather can also be used for fashion purposes. For example, brogue shoes are very popular; a brogue pattern means punching holes of different sizes to create a design in the leather. Another leather punching method is called perforation; in this case, the whole leather piece is decorated with small holes punched using special equipment. Perforated leather is popular for its looks but can also be used for ventilation.

Leather Punching Tools

Simple tools can make the leather punching process easy and effective. There are specialized tools for different punching needs. Let’s explore some of the most popular types and how they can be helpful in the shop.

Leather Round Strap End Punch - Punching Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Round Strap End Punch

Leather Hole Punch

Leather hole punches are among the most common punching tools. With the help of a hammer or mallet, a leather hole punch can create clean holes in leather. The diameter of the hole differs depending on the need, and leather hole punch sets usually start at 1 mm and can go up to 40-50mm or even higher.

Leather Punch Set

Since each project requires different sizes of punches, these tools are usually sold in sets. A A 1 to 5 mm hollow punch set is a very popular leather punch set. Many sets also include punches for various shapes, such as squares, rectangles, or irregular shapes.

Leather Punch Shapes

Cutting leather with a sharp knife is usually fun, but sometimes cutting small shapes, even though they are basic shapes like rectangles with rounded corners, can be challenging and time-consuming. That’s when a basic leather punch can be really useful. These shapes are usually sold in sets; you can combine one or more basic shapes to create a more complex shape.

Leather Stitching Punch

Leather stitching punches are quite popular and often essential in making some leather products. They are commonly used to mark/pierce the stitch line, enabling you to hand-stitch leather consistently.

Oblong Leather Punches

If you are making belts or straps, oblong leather punches can save you a lot of time while installing the buckle. Oblong leather punches create a rectangular hole in the leather so that the buckle prong can move easily after the buckle is riveted. Choosing the right size is important; however, if you have a smaller oblong punch and you want to create a bigger hole in the leather, you can always use the oblong punch twice along the desired path to get bigger, clean-cut holes.  

Leather Oval Punch - Punching Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Oval Punch

Decorative Leather Punches

Punching the leather is not always about functionality; sometimes, it is about looks. In some projects, you may need to add a little bit of fun to your leather product, and depending on your project, you can use decorative leather punches to punch different shapes, such as hearts, stars, or other shapes.

You can buy some decorative punch sets directly, but if you need a custom shape, you may need to consult your die-cut maker or make one yourself.

Common Leather Punch Sizes (inches and mm, round and end punches)

The most common leather punch set starts with a 1 mm round hole and goes up to 10 mm. A 1 mm punch is usually used for stitching purposes, but a 2 mm punch can also be used for stitching, depending on the thickness of the thread. Punches that are 3-4mm can be used for installing a rivet or a button. Bigger round punches can be used to install eyelets or other hardware.

Stitching punches have different spacing options, making the stitching finer or wider based on the selection. The most commonly used spacing options are 2.7 / 3.0 / 3.38 / 3.85 / 4.0 / 5.0mm. Stitching punches usually have 1mm round tips, but they may have up to 2mm, depending on the thread size that will be used for stitching.

Pricking irons have spacing options similar to stitching punches. The tip of the pricking irons usually leave a 1.5 or 1.8mm wide slit in the leather. Here are some quick reference tables covering the sizes:

Round Punches

Hole SizeCommon Uses
1 mmStitching, watch strap holes
2 mmStitching, watch strap holes, small belt holes
3 mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, watch strap holes, small belt holes
4 mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, medium belt holes
5 mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, medium belt holes
6 mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, large belt holes
7 mmEyelets, grommets, large lacing holes, rivets, buttons, large belt holes
8 mmEyelets, grommets, large lacing holes, rivets, buttons, large belt holes
9 mmEyelets, grommets
10 mmEyelets, grommets
Round Leather Hole Punch Hole Sizes and Common Uses

Stitching Punches

Spacing SizeCommon Uses
2.7 mmSmaller thread or lace distance
3 mmSmaller thread or lace distance
3.38 mmMedium thread or lace distance
3.85 mmMedium thread or lace distance
4 mmWider thread or lace distance
5 mmWider thread or lace distance
Leather Stitching Punch Spacing Sizes and Common Uses

Pricking Irons

Tooth SizeCommon Uses
1.5 mmMedium hole size for stitching and lacing
1.8 mmLarger hole size for stitching and lacing
Leather Pricking Iron Tooth Sizes and Common Uses

How To Use a Leather Punch?

Punching the leather is mostly easy if you have the right leather working tools. All you need to do is:

  1. Prepare the Surface: Place a PVC mat or some scrap leather underneath the piece of the leather we are punching to protect the tip of the punching tools.
  2. Position the Punching Tool: Put it in place right over the leather that it will punch
  3. Hit it With an Appropriate Hammer: This might be a hammer, mallet, or maul, depending on preference and specific type of punch.

If you are punching with a big tool or a stitching punch with 10 prongs or more, you will need more power. In those cases, it’s helpful to punch the leather around the edge of your workbench to transfer more power to the leather piece. If you use the middle of the workbench away from the edge, more power will bounce back from the surface, making it harder to punch.

Here is a helpful video demonstrating some of the most common leather punch types:

Best Leather Punch Tools

1. KS Blade

Korean company KS Blade produces one of the best stitching punches. They are a bit expensive, but the built quality and popularity of the punches justify the price. They also have a good selection of hole punches and strap punches.

2. Sinabroks

Korean company Sinabroks is a pricey but premium alternative for leathercrafters. Unlike KS Blade, they only provide stitching punches. The brass handle punch is popular.

3. Wuta

Another quality stitching punch is Wuta. They are not as popular or expensive as KS Blade or Sinabroks, but they have sharp tools and provide good value for the money.

4. China-Produced Versions

Many punching tools are sold on Aliexpress, and they can cost much less than the above alternatives. Cheaper tools are usually made from lower-quality materials and sometimes are not sharp enough to produce quality results. However, in some cases, they are good tools, they are just not finished well in the production process. In some cases, they can be a good alternative if needed after some sharpening is done with sandpaper or with a Dremel rotary tool.

Leather Slot Hole Punch - Punching Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Slot Hole Punch

Helpful Insights

What is a leather punch called?

Leather punches have different names depending on the purpose of the tool. Leather punch is a term used synonymously with a hollow leather punch. Stitching punches are called pricking irons or stitching chisels. There are also strap punches and end punches.

How do you sharpen a hole in a leather punch?

You can sharpen a hole in a leather punch using some fine sandpaper or a dedicated tool, such as a sharpening stone. You need to sharpen the bevel outside the punch to get a good result. Then you can also carefully use some sandpaper to remove the burr from the inside of the hole created during the sharpening process. That will make the tool sharper.

Can I drill a hole in leather?

You can use a drill to create holes in the leather. It may be useful if you are working with a few layers of thick leather. You need to use a fine tip to drill bit and be extremely careful not to damage the leather during the process. Still, the holes you create may not be as clean as those made with a punch tool.

Where can I get holes punched in my belt?

If you don’t have the proper tools to punch holes in your belt, you can often ask for it to be at shoe repair shops, cobblers, or menswear shops. They often have the necessary basic tools, and prices are generally reasonable.

Leather Shaped Hole Punches - Punching Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Shaped Hole Punches

How do you punch a hole in leather without a punch?

If you don’t have punching tools, you can use many tools to punch a hole in the leather. You can use nails to punch a hole in the leather. Or you can drill a hole using your drill. Sharp pointy knives can also be used for this purpose. It is also possible to use awls. But overall, you need to be careful with other tools, and the holes won’t be as clean as can be done with a punching tool.

In Closing

Overall, punching leather is a vast subject, with different tools and methods used throughout the entire process of making a leather product. You can start using some stitching punches and a decent set of hollow punches, and then you can always add more tools to your inventory as you need them. As you gain experience, you will be more efficient in using quality tools to get the best results.