Knives are the most basic tools for leather working. Keeping things simple works best here, and great ones don’t have to cost a lot.
My favorite knife to use for leather work is a basic X-Acto #1 Precision hobby knife (click here to see it on amazon). The blades are relatively inexpensive, are very sharp, and the knife is easy to control. It works for detailed cutting, as well as larger cuts. For longer cuts, I really like the Fiskars rotary cutter (click here to see it on amazon). The handle is comfortable, locking mechanism easy to use, and the blades are sharp.
The staple leather working tool is the knife. There are so many variations that are used in so many ways. In some cases the only tool one might need for leather craft project is just a knife.
So where to begin? Like most things, simply. The most basic knives (such as utility and crafting knives) can go a long way. As your skills in leather craft evolve, you’ll get a better feel for what specialized knives might work best for the type of leather working you do. You’ll also develop a preference for what types/style you like best.
Leather Straight Blade Knives
Straight bladed knives can have fixed blades, or replaceable blades. Fixed blade versions will require sharpening, while replaceable blades just require swapping out a new one. Utility knives can be used quite successfully. My preference is for the basic X-Acto knife (click here to see it on amazon). It’s inexpensive, light, sturdy, easy to control, and cuts very smoothly.
Another that I do keep my eye on is the somewhat famous in the leather working world, Vergez Blanchard L’Indispensable. This is a brass-handled knife with an interchangeable steel blade. However, instead of the blade being frequently replaceable like the x-acto, the L’Indispensable features a steel blade that can continually be sharpened over and over as it wears down. so one blade can last a very long time.
Also, the blades come in right-handed and left-handed versions, where the blade bevel is more appropriately suited for it’s respective hand position. This help with cutting accuracy. This is the type of tool one likely buys once, and has for life. Click here to check it out on amazon.
Leather Rotary Cutters
Rotary cutters are tools with circular blades that can be continuously pushed or pulled to make cuts into fabrics, leathers, and many materials. Since the blades rotate, they can cut along curves very easily, making them a great option for more complex designs.
Rotary cutters also cut straight lines very well, usually when used with a straight edge as a guide. Blades are as share as other knife style blades, and can be sharpened often and replaces when necessary. This is a great tool when looking for something beyond a fixed blade knife.
I have and really like the Fiskars basic rotary cutter (click here to see it on amazon). It operates very smoothly, feels sturdy in the hand, and cuts thicker leathers easily. Overall, I’m very pleased with it.
I also tried the much more expensive Gingher rotary cutter (click here to see it on amazon). The build quality felt very solid and more premium, though it truly didn’t cut leather as well. Surprised, I tried cutting thinner fabric with it. Lightyears above the Fiskars for cutting fabric, so smooth and simple. However for cutting leather, the Fiskars was so smooth, easy, and much better – love it.
Leather Swivel Knives
The swivel knife is used for leather tossing and carving intricate patterns into leather pieces. Usually made of metal, sometimes brass, they have a chisel-edged blade and are held upright in the hand. On the top is a curved piece of metal that acts as a finger rest, so the index finger can lay across the top and help control the angle and pressure applied to the blade.
Blades styles can vary from straight to angled, each benefitting different cutting style and uses. It takes some time to learn and master the swivel knife. Once familiar with the techniques, one can craft some incredibly detailed and impressive decorative work into leather.
To get a feel for these knifes and see if you enjoy working with them, the Tandy Easy Comfort Swivel knife will definitely work (click here to see it on amazon). Just be sure to keep the blade sharp.
For an investment quality swivel knife that will perform well for years, the Barry King swivel knife is highly favorited (click here to see it on amazon).
Knives are one of those leather working tools you’ll likely use every day. Hopefully this help you find one that is comfortable, functional, and you love working with.