What you need to start leatherworking

What you need to start leatherworking

Leather crafting can be a fun and rewarding hobby or business venture. But in order to start working on your next big project you might want to figure out what you need to start leatherworking. We’ll go over some basic tools, dyes, finishers and added attachments to bring you work to life.

It also doesn’t have to be too expensive to get started working with leather. Our estimate is for around $100 you can make your first wallet or two. This will also supply you with tools you will use for many years to come.

Also a forewarning is to avoid the leather tooling sets you see on Amazon, most the items are junk. I made this mistake when wanting to make my first wallet and many, if not all the items were junk. I knew to avoid these sets, but figured why not try them out.

It left me with an awl and a wobbly spacer wheel that I don’t use. The thread was too big and heavily waxed, the scissor would barely cut thread, and the needles broke on me. I only bought a $20 set but I figured a couple items would be worth keeping, I was wrong. Just save the money and buy each item separately.

In saying that, Amazon has great products for leather crafting it is just the sets that are not very good, especially if you plan to use them more than a handful of times. Tandy leather or Weaver may have some good sets, but you will be paying the price for some of them so just be aware.

What you need to start leatherworking – Tools

In order to start a project we want to go over some of the basic and advanced tools you will need.

Bare Minimum

When making leather projects you are going to need a way to cut the leather and many leather can be hard for your average scissors.

This is why in the beginning we recommend an X-Acto knife or Rotary cutter. While an X-Acto knife will work well, the rotary cutter is great for any long straight pieces of leather you need to cut. Although having an X-Acto knife to get around tight corners will be a bit easier than using a rotary cutter.

Leather cutting tools

You can use an average razor blade and they work just as good. The issue with these is since they have a wider body it can sometimes be hard to see the cut. And unlike an X-Acto knife, the blade will not bend as easily going around edges.

It is also recommended to have a self-healing cutting board to prevent damage to your table plus it will help your blades last longer.

After cutting your piece of leather you will need some sandpaper to smooth out your cuts. This is why fine grit sandpaper is recommended, usually around 150-220 grit will work well with your leather.

Sewing your leather by hand can be a tedious task but it needs to be done. To start sewing your pieces together you will need to create holes for your needle and thread. This can be done either by using a stitching spacer tool and punching the holes with an awl. Or you can go with the leather hole punch chisels. I prefer the chisels as they take a lot less time and produce pretty identical sized holes.

I bought the Aiskaer 4mm diamond shaped chisel set about a year ago and for $12 I definitely got my money’s worth out of it. They are not the best chisels out there but they are very good when you are starting out and don’t want to spend too much.

In order to punch the holes with the chisels you will need a rubber head mallet. These are needed throughout leather crafting whether you are adding buttons or stamping your leather as well. Rubber mallets cost around $15 and will last a long time and come in handy for a lot of different features. If you have an average mallet lying around, it will work just as fine, you don’t need to buy a leather crafting one.

 And for the first few months I had used a hammer and glued some pieces of leather on the head to avoid the harsh hammering. This works until the leather started ripping apart on me.

You will eventually need an awl throughout your leather crafting life to mark lines, widen holes or crosshatch leather for glueing. These are fairly cheap so picking one up will come in handy once in a while. I mainly use these for making trace marks in my leather so the X-Acto knife slides a bit more straight through the line.

Before you punch holes for your stitching you will want to make a straight line for your chisel or stitching spacer to follow. For this you will want a stitching groover. These will help keep your stitching and hole lines at an even width with the edge of your leather and can be purchased pretty cheap.

Alternatively, wing dividers work very well also for accomplishing a very solid line into leather.

Some of these groovers come with interchangeable heads that will let you bevel the edge of your leather. This is desired so you can smooth out these edges making them have a rounded edge. These edge bevelers can be purchased separately at all different sizes, I usually stay around a zero-two size.

Edge slickers can be bought fairly cheap for handheld or dremel attachments. The two that I have are were purchased in a pack around $18 and work with a dremel tool for fast slicking. I tend to use the dremel every once in a while if I am working on a big project or a lot of small projects. If not I will still use these as handheld ones and they work fine but can be hard to get a good grip.

You can also make your own from wood if you have some scrap pieces. Just make sure to sand down your pockets very well or the wood will catch in the leather.

Lastly you will need some needles and thread to stitch with. These needles are not your average cloth sewing needles as they have a fatter body, wider eye and a dull point. This is because you cannot punch through the leather as easily as cloth fabrics and it helps avoid running your needle through thread.

While sewing you want to avoid this because it will frail out your thread and reduce the strength while making it look less appealing. You can check out our leather thread guide to get a better understanding of the types of thread used for leather. These tend to be thicker, longer-lasting, Nylon or Polyester thread.

Last small tool you probably have around your house are binder clips. These will be used for molding and glueing your leather pieces together.

Extra tools to help out leather crafting

Poundo boards or cutting boards are very helpful when punching holes and chiseling the thread holes. These can also be used as your average cutting board but they aren’t usually as big as a flat cutting board.

Using the poundo board will allow your tools to last longer to avoid damaging the blades. It also helps reduce the noise of punching holes into your leather.

Even still I will use some stacked up pieces of leather instead to put below my punch and chisel but it does waste leather fairly easily. The leather will rip away much quicker and can be a pain trying to get your chisel out of six layers of leather.

So you have the board, the next might be the hole punchers used on them. This will depend on what you are making as there are many items that won’t need to be hole punched while some use a bunch.

If you plan on making belts you will definitely need some hole punchers. Many bags, cases and key chain accessories will need holes for rivets or snaps.

You can try cutting out your own but it will become very frustrating looking at uneven holes and slipped slices into your leather.

Next to punches are stamps to add some texture or words to your leather. Stamps come in many different kits or can be bought one at a time for around $3-$6 and will add some style to your leather. This also depends on what you are making and if you want to personalize items for other people but can come in handy. You can also purchase customized stamps which is very common to add a logo or business name into your product.

Carving tools are a whole nother category here in itself but this can add some original style to your leather than stamps can do. These will let you edge out custom artwork and graphics into your leather project. I have a starter guide on how to carve leather you can check out if this interests you.

A leather skiver tool is something I need to add to my own set as I have cut my finger too many times not to have one. These will let you thin out a piece of leather. Very common for the parts of a wallet pocket where the stitch will go. It allows for a little extra leeway for the pocket and creates a flush look on the side of the pocket.

This can be done using an average blade/razor knife but can be very hard and dangerous. There are even anvil style manual machines and electric machines to create a near perfect skive you can check out.

Stitching ponies are used to help keep your project in place when sewing. These run around $20-$25 and can be very useful to speed up the sewing process. It allows you to clamp your project together so you can efficiently use both hands to thread each needle.

I will be making an article and video soon about making your own as it is fairly easy to do.

Sewing machines can also be a great advantage to someone looking to speed up projects and even work on much bigger items. Some machines can handle leather crafts while others cannot. So spend some time looking into which ones will be able to handle the thickness of leather you aim to sew.

Half-Round Punches can help around to stamp out edges of your leather project. This can create a very smooth finish when trying to round off an edge along your project.

Materials Needed

As you can assume, you may need some leather to start working on a leather craft project so you might want to start with that. There are many different types of leather out there and we have created a buyer’s guide for leather. This will go over what to look for when buying leather!

Dyed Veg-Tanned Leather.

But for starting out you should look for top/full grain veg-tanned leather. This will allow you to stamp, shape, cut, and mold the leather to create a sturdy item.

I usually tend to look for cowhide leather since it is fairly inexpensive than some other high end animal leather. It is a very nice leather used in a lot of high end products.

There are different types of weight (or sizes to leather) where you can check out our sizing guide to ensure you get the right size for your next project. But if you are unsure of what to make you can always buy a scrap lot. They tend to have various sizes included and can get you started making small items.

I would recommend to look on Tandy Leather as they have some good deals on leather and check out the veg-tanned leather section. If there is nothing in your price range on their site you can look on a couple eBay stores I recommend. Which would be SLC Leather and The Leather Guys.

They usually have some good pricing with different shapes/ sq.ft to buy and different size(weight) to choose from. I still buy leather from eBay and have not had a problem any time I did.

When buying, you will be charged more though if you buy a perfect cut-out piece of leather like a 12” x 12” or 24” x 12”. These are nice slabs to work with and you know the whole piece will be usable.

Buying a belly, side or shoulder piece will give you more bang for your buck but may have some unuseable pieces. There will usually be a small percentage that will be unusable or will be cut/damaged. Many companies tend to have a less than 10% damage rating or else the piece will not be sold, so just be aware of that.

Even with some areas too damaged to use, you will get more out of a 5sq. ft piece with some damage  than a 24” x 24” square slab that are around the same price range.

Next you will need some thread and luckily we have put together leather sewing thread guide for you to check out. In short though you will want have smaller thread when using smaller leather and larger thread for heavier pieces. Look for nylon or polyester leather thread and decide whether you want it waxed or not waxed. The wax will help it last longer and be more resistant to weather but cannot be used in sewing machines.

Thread will come in usually flat or round thread and that will be personal preference. I recently bought this coffee color wax at 45.mm round cord. But Ritza “Tiger” Thread is a very common thread that a lot of leather workers use!

Ointment & Dyes

You will need to add some protective layers to your leather to ensure that it lasts a long life. This is where you have finishers and there are many out there.

Before anything, you will need some glue for your projects. This will secure your items in place before stitching. You can use Fiebing’s leathercraft cement or your average contact cement. Either one will work fine for leather but I like the Fiebing’s since it does not have a harsh smell.

You can add some acrylic resolene by Fiebing’s which will help protect the leather from ware and tare. There are different looks to finishes and it is really personal preference whether you want a glossy or matte look. Some finishers will be a sheen and these work well but have a very shiny coat to them that I don’t like too much.

Wax can be applied to your leather as well to protect and bolden the color of the dye. These are usually made with beeswax and can come in a liquid or a solid state.

Saddle Soap is another popular treatment for leather and can be added to finnish as well throughout the life of your leather item. This will help protect and preserve the life of your leather and helps clean off the leather after usage. I use Kiwi Saddle Soap, although it’s not the best compared to Fiebings but it is fairly cheap and can be found around Walmart in the shoes section.

If you beveled your edges and got done sanding them you may want some gum tragacanth. This is very useful when burnishing the edges and even can be used to smooth out the back (furry) side of the leather. This will make the leather edge sticky when wet and shiny/satin finish when dried and slicked. The Seiwa Tokonole is some of the best to use for slicking and is highly recommended.

If you do not have any, try using saddle soap with the edges. This works pretty well but not have the glueing affect as the gum tragacanth/Tokonole.

Dyes have a wide range of colors from natural brown to bright red and it is all based on your project and preference. Fiebing’s has a nice color chart to show the types of dye you can choose from.

You can also check out Eco-Flo as they are a highly rated product and work well with many leather. You can check out our tips on how to dye leather with two different methods.

Closing

So if you bought some of the basic tools, thread and a piece of leather you should be looking at around $100. Of course I am sure you may have some of these tools laying around your house and maybe even some old pieces of leather from items you don’t use anymore.

Use any old belts or bags you have lying around the house to start. You can even find some nice leather items at thrift stores. Use our guide to see if the the leather is real or not and start taking apart the item.

These tools will last you a decent amount of time if you take good care of them so your money will not be wasted.

Leather itself can get pretty expensive though so that’s why you may want to start small at first. My first purchase of leather was from The Leather Guy eBay, two square foot slabs for around $22. Now I am buying full shoulders and sides while still using the same tools I started with.

Hope this helped explain what you need to start leatherworking and you give it a try! Avoid the basic sets you see for a very cheap price and use our site to help guide you through some of the basics to leatherworking.

You can also check out our resources page to see some upgraded items you may want to invest in. And if you ever get stuck and are not sure what to make, check out our templates. We do not have many right now, but more will be coming very soon.