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Round Knife – What to Look for in This Leather Cutting Classic

Leathercraft workstations can be a mess; mine included. I have found that having a round knife can keep one’s workflow consistent and reduce the number of tools needed on a project.

A leather round knife is a semicircle blade used to cut and skive heavy-weight leathers. They allow for a variety of techniques, including push cutting, push skiving, rocking cuts, and roll cutting. Leather round knives can generally range from $20–$300.

Round knives can be a game changer for some crafters with their ability to take the role of similar tools. Let’s look at how these knives help within projects and how to utilize them best.

What is a Leather Round Knife

The iconic leather round knife is a semicircle knife whose purpose goes beyond cutting. Its unique design allows crafters to perform various tasks with a single tool. A curved blade allows an apex point when skiving, which can roll around corners in one fluid motion and be pushed rather than pulled when cutting. These techniques enable the round knife to be used as a skiving knife, utility knife, or pattern knife.

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Types of Leather Round Knives

Types of round knives are defined by the shape of their blades. Head knives, a variation of round knives, tend to have larger, more curved blades ideal for a more shallow curved cut. To visualize this if one were to mirror a standard round knife, the semi-circle shape would form a perfect circle. Alternatively, a head knife with larger curves would create an oblong shape.

Characteristics of Leather Round Knives

Material

Round knives can be made from various metals, each with its unique properties. Two common types of blade steels used are stainless and carbon. For his thesis, Dhruv Shrenikkumar Kothari of the New Jersey Institute of Technology tested various metals and their ability to resist different types of corrosion and found that carbon-based steels were more susceptible to corrosion.

Tandy Leather uses stainless steel for their round knife, leading to a more corrosion-resistant, harder blade. While Weaver Leather Supply uses high carbon steel, offering a sharper and more easily maintained blade edge. Other materials used for these knives are handle choices. Knifemakers will use a variety of woods and also include or exclude ferrules and fasteners. 

The round knife goes by a few other names such as circle knife, moon knife, and head knife.

Size

There is a large variety in sizes when addressing round knives. However, common sizes are a maximum blade width of 3”, 4-⅝”, and 6”. A larger blade allows for cutting thicker leathers, a greater distance traveled when rolling the blade, and a larger area skived when pushing through the leather.

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 Leather Round Knife Sizes and Uses

Tool SizeBlade WidthIdeal Leather Cutting Weights 
SmallLess than 3”6oz and below
MediumBetween 3-5”6oz to 10oz
LargeGreater than 5”10oz and above
Leather Round Knife Sizes and Uses

Variations

The round knife goes by a few other names such as circle knife, moon knife, and head knife. However, the head knife variant has one distinct difference, which is the shape of the heel of their blades. Round knives are flat, while head knives curve along with the shape of the blade. 

Pros and Cons of Leather Round Knives

Pros of Leather Round Knives

Round knives can be very helpful in any workshop by combining the workload of various tools. It can be pushed through leather like a rotary knife, giving you additional control while keeping the blade away from yourself.

Round knives also have large blades allowing them to go through heavier-weight leathers in a single pass. Its round blade design lends itself to cutting around corners using the blade’s tip. An additional noteworthy benefit of these knives is their ability to push skive leather.

Cons of Leather Round Knives

On the other hand, when discussing whether or not to own a round knife, maintenance and ease of use are big talking points. Sharpening the knife’s edge becomes a longer process as you must carefully work around the entire radius of it.

Using the knife also comes with its own learning curve and techniques that may be foreign to some. When compounding this with the blade’s size and exposed length, the knife requires much more caution in both use and storage. 

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How Leather Round Knives Are Made

Like any other knife, the round knife starts from a piece of steel. The initial shape is cut out of the steel, followed by creating a cutting angle to the creator’s desire. The knife’s tang is then drilled to fit fasteners for the handle.

Wood is selected, glued, and fastened with rivets to the knife’s tang. At this point, the knife maker will determine the ergonomics of the handle. With the knife freshly created, the blade will then be polished and buffed to a mirror finish creating the sharpest knife possible. 

If you find yourself without a round knife; one can substitute it for a variety of knives that do similar jobs.

Cost of Leather Round Knives 

Round knife prices start at around $50 for a standard stainless steel blade. Prices increase to $100 utilizing high carbon-based blades. However, because round knives are so customizable, from their blade size, metal type, and wood type, one could purchase an exotic knife from a bespoke maker for upwards of $300.

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Tips for Working With a Leather Round Knife

  1. Strop often to maintain the blade’s edge 
  2. Push through the leather rather than pull  
  3. Roll the blade from tip to tip through curves for cleaner lines 

Alternative Options for a Leather Round Knife 

If you find yourself without a round knife; one can substitute it for a variety of knives that do similar jobs. Utility knives can be used for most of the cuts required. If a piece of leather needs thinned, one may use a skiving knife, super skiver, or a french skiver. For rounding corners and small and more precise detail and patterns, a clickers knife or a precision knife can be used instead of a round knife.

Examples of Items Made with Leather Round Knives

  1. Horse Saddles
  2. Duffle Bags 
  3. Gun Holsters
  4. Knife Sheaths
  5. Leather Armor

Expert Advice About Leather Round Knife Selection and Use 

Talking to Weaver Leather Supply about round knives and their uses, their spokesperson pointed to saddle and holster making as key uses for these knives. When questioned about their particular “Master Tool” line, they assured me their round knife could be used for thinner leather, 3oz and below. However, a point was made that the larger blade was better suited for leathers 6oz and above.

Leather Round Knife Care and Maintenance

How to Clean a Leather Round Knife

If one’s blade gets dirty from dyes, glue, or any other debris, the knife can be cleaned with a damp rag. One would rub away the unwanted mess on the blade, ensuring to quickly and thoroughly dry it to prevent corrosion.

Isopropyl alcohol may also be used sparingly and in small areas to address harder-to-clean grime. When doing so, the former still applies, as the isopropyl alcohol will need to be rinsed off and immediately dried. 

How to Maintain a Leather Round Knife

While undergoing day-to-day use, continuously stropping the knife is key to keeping the blade edge effective. Following further damage to the edge, one may use traditional whetstones, diamondstone, or ceramic stones to hone the blade.

Joshua Mulder and Jonathan Scott from the School of Engineering, University of Waikato, Hamilton studied various methods of sharpening blades and found using traditional sharpening stones creates a more durable edge with twice the lifespan. Upon doing so, the knife may be polished with the user’s choice of stropping compound. 

How to Store a Leather Round Knife

When storing a round knife, safety and edge retention are key. A leather sheath will protect the blade while ensuring a safe work environment. Alternatively, they can be kept in their original packaging until a proper sheath can be acquired. 

Related Insights

What is a circle knife?

A circle knife has a semicircle-shaped blade used in leathercraft to cut and skive. The rounded cutting surface allows the user to roll the blade partially when cutting.

What is a moon knife?

A moon knife has a crescent-shaped blade and shares a circle knife’s cutting and skiving roles. The moon knife differs in its edge, with a more pronounced curve allowing for tighter corners.

Final Thoughts

While leather projects can be completed using a variety of knives; the iconic round knife stands on its own. It’s an advanced tool that requires more effort to maintain than most knives, but it also allows for the user’s skill to shine through, playing the role of many tools. 

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