When I began refining my leather projects, I focused on reducing the bulk of my projects — this taught me how to skive leather. Although there’s still room for improvement, being able to thin areas of my leather projects has made big changes in the final results while also allowing me to use different leathers without having to purchase other thicknesses.
Skiving leather is a technique used to reduce the thickness of leather. Leather is cut from the flesh by using a sharp blade at an angle. This reduction in thickness may be used to reduce bulk or prepare the leather for various techniques. Skiving can be done by hand or with the use of a machine.
Learning how to skive leather is a great way to improve leather projects. In this article, we will look at the tools and techniques needed to begin skiving leather.
What Is Skiving Leather?
Skiving leather is a technique used in leathercraft to reduce the thickness of leather edges. This can be done by hand with a sharp blade or with the help of a skiving machine. Both methods of skiving target the flesh side of a hide and taper it by cutting away excess material along the edge. Leaving the remaining leather the same thickness as it was purchased.
This allows the leather to be less bulky without damaging the structure of the hide. By skiving leather, the final thickness of a project can be greatly reduced, or techniques such as a rolled edge may be applied.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- Reasons You Might Choose To Skive Leather
- Variations or Styles of Skiving Leather
- Skiving Leather Overview Table
- Skill Level of Skiving Leather
- Tools and Supplies Needed for Skiving Leather
- How To Skive Leather Step by Step
- How To Get Better at Skiving Leather
- My Personal Research on Skiving Leather
- Helpful Insights on Skiving Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Although skiving leather is an intermediate technique, poor tool choices can make it more difficult. Often, when cutting leather, we can use extra pressure to make up for a slightly dull blade. Those new to skiving will sometimes attempt this only to tear the leather and potentially ruin their project.
A sharper blade will help alleviate many of the issues that occur when skiving. The knife should be as sharp as possible, where no additional pressure is necessary to cut through the leather. This alone will make skiving much easier and can prevent the leather from tearing during the process. Additionally, the surface the leather is skived on can help improve the process.
Skiving on a cutting mat can work but may cause the blade to catch when passed through the leather. The goal is to make the process as smooth as possible. Therefore, skiving on glass, granite, or marble is preferred. This will allow the knife to pass through the leather and continue along the edge without getting caught in the material underneath.
Reasons You Might Choose To Skive Leather
Skiving leather is often done to help reduce the bulk of a leather project. Items that use multiple layers of leather may quickly become thicker than intended. By targeting the edges of leather pieces through skiving, the thickness can be reduced without jeopardizing the structure of the leather. Skiving may also allow for various techniques, such as turned edges or sharp corners, as the leather will be more malleable.
A great benefit of skiving leather is the opportunity to use thicker leather on projects that would often require thinner hides. This can help reduce the need to purchase multiple weights of leather. By using thicker leather with thinner skived edges, a project may even benefit from added thickness in the center of the piece.
By skiving leather, the final thickness of a project can be greatly reduced, or techniques such as a rolled edge may be applied.
Variations or Styles of Skiving Leather
Skiving can be done by hand and a machine. A sharp blade with a thin handle is best when skiving leather by hand. This process requires a shallow angle to not unintentionally remove too much leather. The sharpness of the knife used is key to producing a high-quality skive, as a dull blade will have difficulty passing through the leather potentially tearing it.
When using a machine to skive leather, there are adjustments provided that will set the depth, width, and angle of the skive. Once set, the edge of the leather will be passed under a pressure foot and into a spinning blade. This quickly and accurately removes the leather, providing a perfect skive every time.
Skiving Leather Overview Table
|Area of Preparation
|Overall Level of Skill (1–5)
|Time to Complete (minutes/hours)
|Dependent on area being skived
|Worktable, or dedicated area for a mounted machine
|Cutting, edge retention, and consistency
|Tools and Supplies Needed
|Skiving knife or skiving machine
|Key Helpful Tip
|Keep skiving blades razor sharp to pass through leather easily
Skill Level of Skiving Leather
Leather skiving can be a tricky technique that requires practice and patience. The hardest part of skiving is keeping the blade sharp. Any knife should be freshly polished to a razor edge when skiving. A dull knife will not cut through the leather well and can potentially damage the project.
In addition to blade maintenance, consistency is key to skiving. When targeting an area, the knife must maintain a shallow angle to avoid cutting too much leather off. Learning to hold the knife and identify how much leather is being removed will take practice.
Tools and Supplies Needed for Skiving Leather
Skiving is a leather crafting technique used to thin the edges or surfaces of leather pieces, making them easier to fold, stitch, and join. You’ll need specific tools and supplies designed for this purpose to skive leather effectively. Here’s a list of the essential tools and supplies needed for skiving leather:
- Skiving knife
- Marble, granite, or glass worktop
- Blade sharpening tools
- Skiving machine
- Double-sided tape
How To Skive Leather Step by Step
Skiving leather thins the edges or surfaces of leather pieces, making them more pliable and easier to work with in various leathercraft projects. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to skive leather using a skiving knife:
- Place the leather on a smooth work surface with the grain side down.
- Mark the area that will be skived using wing dividers to ensure consistency.
- Strop the skiving knife before beginning, and between sections.
- Starting from the marked line, use the tip of the blade to push into the leather to begin a cut.
- Gently push forward while moving the blade along the edge to skive the leather.
In this video by Chartermade, Terrick demonstrates how to skive leather — highlighting the importance of a sharp blade and good technique.
How To Get Better at Skiving Leather
The best way to get better at leather skiving is to practice each part involved with the process. This includes blade sharpening, cutting angle, and motion. Each of these parts will benefit the overall quality of the skived leather. A sharp blade is vital for cutting through the leather without tearing it.
While the cutting angle and motion will help with consistency, it is best to use various leather types to practice. Try skiving them down as thin as possible and then re-sharpening the blade before moving on to the next leather piece. Using pieces of various thickness, tannage, and firmness will give you a better feel of how each piece of leather behaves during the skiving process.
Muhammad Saleem Arain, Muhammad Ali Khan, and Muhammad Ahmed Kalwar, from the International Journal of Business Education and Management Studies, researched the importance of optimizing skiving leather in a manufacturing setting. They found that skiving times play a large role in the production speed of leather shoes and could increase production time by up to 8%.
My Personal Research on Skiving Leather
Most leather crafters come to a point where they will need to thin out leather and attempt skiving it. For many, this can become a frustrating task that can quickly go awry. In my early attempts of learning this technique, I ruined projects. However, with time I have found various tips that I implement each and everytime I need to skive leather.
Ask any crafter how to improve skiving, and the majority will point at the sharpness of the blade, and for good reason. Skiving with a dull knife is exponentially more difficult. To check if a knife is ready for skiving, it should pass one of the common tests. This includes cutting a piece of paper smoothly without catching a single time.
Being sharp enough to shave small hairs off your arm or sharp enough to split a hair strand in half. Each of these tests will give you a better understanding of your knife’s sharpness. The paper test is the easiest, but is often isn’t enough when skiving a firmer vegetable tanned leather.
Although, depending on what the blade is made of, it may need to be stropped multiple times throughout. A knife that is sharp enough to cut hairs off your arm will be a great skiving tool that will easily pass through firm and soft leather.
However, if leather is soft and stretchy, it must be razor-sharp before attempting to skive. The blade should be able to whittle a single strand of hair. If a blade fails to meet the requirements before skiving, it is best to spend the time to refine its edge to avoid the frustration of a too-dull blade.
Although a sharp blade is enough to skive leather, there are times when various supplies can help the process go more smoothly. My personal favorite is using double-sided tape for stretchy leathers. Taping the leather to a work surface will keep it in place, allowing for a much easier cut.
Although since some leathers mark easily, it is best to attempt this on a scrap before applying tape to the surface of leather projects. Another handy tool when skiving leather is a leather grover. This tool works like a wing divider that cuts out a channel in the leather. Typically, this is used when sewing to allow thread to sit slightly below the surface.
During skiving, this is a great way to get a cut started. By removing some of the leather, the blade’s edge can be guided to allow for a much more consistent depth along the edge. In addition, the knife will be seated at a slight angle, taking some guesswork out of the skiving process.
By using some or all, of the tips provided, skiving will become much easier. Although skiving may seem difficult at times, having the proper tools and techniques can help improve results on every project.
Helpful Insights on Skiving Leather
What is skiving in leather?
The term “skiving” used in leather craft is the process of reducing the thickness of a leather’s edge. This targeted reduction is popular for refining leather goods. By reducing only the edge of the leather, a project can be much thinner without jeopardizing the structure. Skiving requires a sharp blade or a skiving machine to produce the best results.
Can you skive leather with a Dremel?
While it is possible to reduce leather thickness with a Dremel tool, it is not ideal. The benefit of using a blade when skiving leather is keeping a clean, undamaged grain. A Dremel will rough up the leather much more. The heat generated from the Dremel may also cause the flesh of the leather to singe, producing an offensive odor.
Do you skive leather wet or dry?
Leather should always be skived dry, as wet leather will be too soft. Wet leather tends to stretch and is mushy, not allowing a skiving knife to push through the leather cleanly. Dry leather will be firm, providing proper resistance for the knife to cut through rather than stretch.
How do you skive down leather?
To skive down leather, use a razor-sharp knife at a shallow angle to cut away leather from the edge. Depending on how much leather needs to be removed, the angle can be adjusted. When working with a skiving machine, a depth setting will be available to provide perfect results.
Can you skive leather with a knife?
Yes, leather can be skived by hand with any knife, although some will be more difficult than others. A key part of skiving leather is getting a shallow angle from the edge to prevent cutting off too much leather. Many standard knives may be too bulky to get into a proper position due to their handles; therefore, a skiving knife would work best.
- A razor-sharp blade is required when skiving leather to prevent tearing and allow for a smooth process.
- Skiving machines are a large investment but are more efficient than skiving by hand.
- Learning to skive leather can help refine projects or allow for more advanced edge finishing techniques.
Skiving leather is a small way to improve projects in a big way. Strategically targeting bulky areas while keeping the structure of the leather is the best of both worlds. By skiving leather, even the simplest of projects can become more refined. Rivaling the quality of, if not surpassing, leather goods found in stores.
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