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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 some others can have substitute tools or methods.

Punching leather is a core skill in leathercraft and is done 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 have a 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 is to punch the leather to make it ready for hand stitching. Unlike fabrics, leather is a very strong material and the needles used for hand stitching leather have dull tips (to protect the leather from getting scratched and also to protect 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 also required while you are trying to install 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. Also, perforated leathers are 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 stitching leather requires us to pre-punch 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 the leather too easily.

Another reason we pre-punch leather for stitching is that it is much easier to get a consistent stitching line with punching tools. Consistent stitching can help make the finished piece look much better.

Another reason we pre-punch leather for stitching is that it is much easier to get a consistent stitching line with punching tools.

There are 3 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 being removed from the leather during the process. Round holes for stitching are useful while trying to get straight stitches along the stitching line. It is easier to get a consistent stitch with round holes 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 go all the way and pierce the leather. Pricking irons enable the crafter to create diagonal stitches and they 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 in 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 of the belt to adjust the buckle. These holes can be created with different tools. Based on the buckle pin size, an appropriate size hollow punch can be used to create holes in a belt. Rotary leather whole punches are also used to punch holes in a leather belt.

Punching Belt Holes - Liberty Leather Goods
Punching Belt Holes

Since it is a bit tricky to punch all these holes on the horizontal centerline of the belt some additional tools like belt positioning rulers, or templates, can be used to get the best results.

Punching Ends of Belts

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

Punching Ends of Leather Straps

Similar to belts, 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 and good-looking belts around your wrist. Similar to belts, you need holes on a watch strap to adjust it according to the wrist size. Consistent and clean holes are quite important on a watch strap since with smaller items like a watch strap, details matter more.

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 into your watch strap. 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 the premium look.

Hole Punching Leather (various uses)

Setting hardware on leather often requires punching holes. For example, if you are using 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 be used for fashion purposes too. For example, brogue shoes are very popular and brogue pattern means punching holes of different sizes to create a pattern in the leather. Another leather punching method is called perforation and in this case, the whole leather piece is decorated with small holes punched using special equipment. Perforation is mostly for the looks but it 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 punch is one of the most common punching tools. With the help of a hammer or mallet, a leather hole punch can create a clean hole in the leather. The diameter of the hole differs based on the need and leather hole punch sets usually start from 1mm diameter 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. 1 to 5 mm hollow punch set is a very popular leather punch set. Also, there are many sets that 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 a rectangle 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 and 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 to make some leather products. Leather stitching punches are all commonly used for the same purpose: mark/pierce the stitch line to enable you to handstitch leather in a consistent way.

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 the functionality but sometimes it is for the looks. In some projects, you may need to add a little bit of fun to your leather product and you can use decorative leather punches to punch different shapes such as hearts, stars or some other shape depending on your project.

There are some decorative punch sets you can buy directly but if you need 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 from a 1 mm round hole and goes up to 10 mm. A 1 mm punch is usually used for stitching purposes but based on the thickness of the thread 2 mm punch can also be used for stitching. 3-4mm punches can be used for installing a rivet or a button. Bigger round punches can be used for installing eyelets or some other hardware.

Stitching punches have different spacing options that make the stitching finer or wider based on the selection. Most commonly used spacing options are: 2.7 / 3.0 / 3.38 / 3.85 / 4.0 / 5.0mm for stitching punches. 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 similar spacing options like the 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
1mmStitching, watch strap holes
2mmStitching, watch strap holessmall belt holes
3mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, watch strap holes, small belt holes
4mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, medium belt holes
5mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, medium belt holes
6mmLacing holes, rivets, buttons, large belt holes
7mmEyelets, grommets, large lacing holes, rivets, buttons, large belt holes
8mmEyelets, grommets, large lacing holes, rivets, buttons, large belt holes
9mmEyelets, grommets
10mmEyelets, grommets
Round Leather Hole Punch Hole Sizes and Common Uses

Stitching Punches

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

Pricking Irons

Tooth SizeCommon Uses
1.5mmMedium hole size for stitching and lacing
1.8mmLarger 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 an easy process if you have the right 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 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.

Sometimes the punching tools can get worn and harder to pass through the leather. In that case you can use some sharpen them to help rgain their edge and make it easier to cut through the leather.

Sometimes the punching tools can get worn and harder to pass through the leather. In that case you can use some sharpen them to help rgain their edge and make it easier to cut through the leather.

If you are punching with a big tool or if you are punching with a stitching punch that have 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 tranfer 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 and it will be 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 of their punches 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 they provide good value for the money.

4. China-Produced Versions

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

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 synonymous with hollow leather punch. Stitching punches are called pricking irons or stitching chisels. There are also strap punched and end punches.

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

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 sharpening stone. You need to sharpen the bevel outside the punch to get a good result. Then you can also 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 to not damage the leather during the process. Still the holes you create may not be as clean as can be done with a punch tool.

Where can I get holes punched in my belt?

If you don’t have 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 basic tools necessary, 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 use 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 the leather is a vast subject with different tools and methods used throughout the whole process of making a leather product. You can start using some stitching punches and a decent set of hollow punch and then you can always add more tools to your inventory as you need them. As you have more experience you will be more efficient in using quality tools to get the best result you look for.

Other Resources: