Tools and Hardware
Leathercrafting can require an abundance of specialized tools for everything from cutting and finishing to stitching and installing hardware. This section outlines the most important tools to outfit the beginner’s workshop. For more information on where to purchase these tools, see the Resources section.
Cutting is the first step of any project. You’ll need to create templates, snip thread, and cut the leather itself. Whichever tool you use, keep it sharp for safer and easier cutting.
The ever-sharp point on a mechanical pencil is ideal for making precise, light lines when tracing a template and for mapping out and planning a cut.
Dependable and versatile, the precision knife is used for making both long, straight cuts (with a straightedge) and gentle curves when cutting freehand.
Self-Healing Cutting Mat
A self-healing cutting mat protects your worktable from cuts and punches, but doesn’t dull the sharpness of your tools.
Best for handling tight curves, robust construction and an ultra-sharp edge differentiate leather shears from regular scissors.
Designed specifically for cutting thread cleanly and precisely, thread snips (also called thread nippers) give your thread a clean cut for hand stitching.
A deceptively simple tool, the strap cutter easily cuts even straps and belts of any length, while also minimizing waste.
A metal straightedge ensures crisp, straight lines when used with the precision knife. It is also helpful in measuring and folding.
The quilter’s square is an excellent tool for mapping parallel lines to the edge of your project. When handled carefully, it can also be used to guide straight cuts in leather.
In the leather workshop, clamps act as a third hand to secure projects and tools and prevent mistakes due to slipping. They are also helpful in measuring, marking, and folding.
From color dyes to everyday care, finishes change the look of leather and add protection, particularly for vegetable-tanned leather.
A high-quality, penetrating dye that applies earth tone colors to the surface of vegetable-tanned leather. These dyes are different from acrylic dyes, which coat the surface like paint.
Leather conditioner, also called dressing, extends the life of leather by replenishing it with oils, adding a mellow shine and slightly darkening the leather. Some conditioners include wax to aid in waterproofing.
Gloss provides a highly protective finish that adds a level of shine while protecting and setting oil dyes on vegetable-tanned leather.
Cotton or Poly-Blend Rag
A clean rag is an inexpensive, disposable applicator that holds dye, gloss, or conditioner in its tight weave for an even, smooth application.
This absorbent wool puff with a metal handle is the traditional tool for edge or surface dyeing. Daubers are less precise and more difficult to control than rags.
Widely available and disposable, gloves provide a barrier to protect the leather from oils in your hands, and your hands from permanent dyes and finishes.
Finishing Work Surface
To mitigate spills while using finishes, cover your work surface with an absorbent layer of thick paper, such as newspaper, kraft paper, or butcher paper.
The level of craftsmanship in leather work can be read by the treatment of the edges: carefully finished edges radiate beauty and convey clear attention to detail.
Also called an edger, this tool cuts a rounded profile from sharp, freshly cut edges. Beveled edges are easier to finish and less prone to wear over time.
Cotton swabs are perfect for applying dye inside tight corners and holes. Seek out one-sided, wood-doweled swabs or prune excessively large heads.
Used to polish edges, burnishers are made from smooth, hard, dense materials, such as wood and plastic. Most have one or more concave surfaces for cupping variously sized edges while burnishing.
A drugstore staple and modern hack, makeup sponges absorb oil dyes evenly and have an ultra-smooth surface for a clean, precise application.
Paraffin or beeswax is traditionally used for sealing the edge of leather in burnishing, creating an attractive, glossy edge.
Uniform, consistent holes are vital for proper hardware installation. Common shapes in standard sizes are achieved with punches. Punches can be purchased individually or in sets and are used with a mallet.
Round Hole Punches
A fast and easy way to perforate leather and essential for attaching hardware, hole punches come in standard hole sizes ranging from #0 (smallest) to #12 (largest).
These oval-shaped punches remove an oblong piece of leather that allows a strap to neatly pass through. Bag punches are also commonly used for attaching buckles.
A medium-size, medium-weight mallet made of wood or plastic is used to strike punches through leather. Avoid using metal hammers for hole punching, as they will degrade metal punches.
Available in a variety of widths and profiles, end punches quickly and cleanly cut the ends of straps into a neat finished shape.
Punching Work Surface
A self-healing cutting mat placed on a stable table or workbench makes a good work surface for striking punches.
This multi-tool is a must-have for a beginning leathercrafter. It consists of five to six round hole punches in different sizes, and is less expensive (but also less durable) than a hole punch set.
Hardware elements, such as snaps, buttons, and buckles, are used in leathercraft to create connections and add functionality. Hardware varies widely in material, size, and purpose.
Double Cap Rivets
Inexpensive and simple to use, rivets fasten two sides of metal together to connect two pieces of leather. Once set, rivets cannot be undone.
Mini Sledge Hammer
Sometimes you just need a bigger hammer. The medium size, heavy weight, and large, flat face of the mini sledge hammer packs a greater wallop for striking rivets.
A classy connector often associated with women’s handbags, magnetic clasps are effortless to unfasten, but may be more expensive and difficult to install.
Button snaps hold together tightly but fasten and unfasten readily. Linge 20 button snaps are a common size and easy to set in place.
A specialized but inexpensive tool, snap setters are used to secure the snaps in place and must exactly match the snaps they are setting.
This classic toolbox staple is a household necessity. In leathercrafting, it is used to tighten Chicago screws.
Handmade Leather Hardware
There are many other creative ways to fasten, connect, and close leather pieces using leather itself.
A standard-size screw that threads into its own decorative cap, forming a mechanical bond that is readily unscrewed and easy to remove.
The belt loop gathers the excess length of a belt or strap. Belt loops can be handmade from leather or purchased as metal rings or leather blanks.
This self-gathering belt buckle does not require a belt loop. It is most commonly used with narrower belts.
A D-shaped ring is used with a clip to secure a belt or strap with a quick release.
An economical buckle, utilitarian in material and design, the standard buckle must be used with a belt loop to secure the belt tail.
This quick-release clip rotates 360 degrees and can be attached to a D-ring. It’s also useful for key chains and lanyards.
What it lacks in security, the button stud makes up for in quickness and ease of unfastening. It is a creative and striking connector when used properly.
Hand stitching is a labor of love that requires time and patience. These are the tools needed to hand stitch, as well as some helpful aids.
Adjustable Stitching Groover
Stitching groovers are used to mark the line to be stitched and produce a channel that protects the stitching from surface abrasion. Adjustable stitching groovers have a guide that marks a line parallel to straight edges.
Freehand Stitching Groover
Like the adjustable stitching groover, this style of stitching groover marks stitch lines and channels, but it does not have a guide and can move freely across the leather surface. It can also be used to add decorative elements.
Multi-Prong Pricking Iron
This fork-shaped punch is used to create a line of stitch holes, commonly ranging from two to eight prongs. The prong width and angle varies.
Single-Prong Pricking Iron
A punch used to create a single stitch hole, often used in combination with the multi-prong pricking iron on corners and curves.
Perhaps the simplest of tools, this metal spike with an ergonomic handle opens and widens stitch holes. It can also be used to scratch lines on the leather surface.
Robust, blunt, and available in sizes 000 (large) through 4 (extra small), these needles are designed for leatherwork.
Waxed Nylon Thread
Waxed thread is commonly used in sailmaking. Wax protects the synthetic thread for durability and a long life. Available in 3-strand and 5-strand thicknesses.
Often a handmade tool, a stitching horse acts like a giant clamp to hold projects in place when stitching. It is particularly useful for the saddle stitch.
These commonly used tools are particular to specific techniques, such as cementing, folding with a channel, and skiving (thinning).
Not your average rubber cement, the professional-grade cement used for leathercrafting is strong enough to bond leather to itself, yet can be easy to clean. Look for a clear, toluene-free cement, such as Barge all-purpose cement.
An adhesive eraser can be used to remove excess cement when gluing leather. It’s best to use erasers before the cement fully dries.
This tool removes leather in a U-shaped channel to variable depths to help fold and shape leather.
This razor-shaped blade is used for thinning leather. Using a handheld skiver effectively can be a challenge and requires practice, but is versatile in its uses.
This style of skiver is specifically designed for thinning straps and belts. It is easier to use than a handheld skiver, but also bulkier, more expensive, and limited in its uses.