Leather can be found in many items we use on a day to day bases such as shoes, belts, wallets, etc. It is a long-lasting material that can resist some wear and tear and possesses a certain charisma that other materials don’t have.
If you own a good leather tooling kit, it is surprisingly easy to start leatherworking yourself. And you will soon be able to make things of higher quality than you normally find in the store.
Of course, you will need to know what each tool does and how to use it. So in today’s article, we will cover the essential leatherworking tools for beginners you will need for getting started in leatherworking.
Basic Leather Working Tools
There is a large variety of different leatherworking tools that you can choose from. Depending on who you ask, you will get different advice on exactly which ones you will need.
We have compiled a small list of items you probably want to include in a leatherworking kit for beginners. Depending on where you buy and from which manufacturer, you can opt for cheap leather working tools or go for more expensive and high-quality gear.
One of the biggest components of working with leather is cutting it into the right sizes and shapes. Since leather can be a little hard to cut, especially thick leather, you want to make sure you use a knife that is as sharp as possible.
One popular and cheap option is to use a utility knife. They are great for cutting big pieces of leather but the blade does waver every now and then. So for more detailed work, you might want to buy a smaller knife as well.
Another option is the round knife, which is used by many experts because it’s very versatile. But it takes a while to learn how to use it properly and requires frequent sharpening.
The groover is a handy little tool that will allow you to cut away a small layer from the top of the leather and create groves at a fixed distance from the edge of the leather, also known as a stitching channel.
It normally has a small screw that allows you to change the distance between the groove and the edge.
These grooves create an area for the stitches to lay in. Since the stitches will be below the surface of the leather, they will be better protected against wear and tear.
Additionally, some groovers have interchangeable parts which allow them to be used as a creaser as well.
After using a groover to create a stitching channel, you will need to create the actual holes you will use for sewing.
If you work on very small projects, you might be able to use a ruler and a pencil to indicate where all the holes should go.
An easier way is to use an overstitch wheel. This wheel will make small indentations in the leather that are evenly spaced out.
Overstitch wheels come in a variety of different sizes that will indicate stitch holes that are more closely or more distantly spaced apart.
The stitching awl is made up out of a single blade that starts small but becomes wider towards the base.
After indicating where the holes should go with an overstitch wheel, an awl is used to punch holes through the leather. You can easily adjust the size of the holes by pushing the stitching awl deeper.
If you are working with thin leather, you might be able to push the awl through by hand. But for thicker leather, you can use a mallet or maul to help you out.
Mallet or Maul
This might not the first thing that comes to mind when choosing a leather making kit. But if you want your tools to last, buying a good mallet or maul is very important.
Many beginners are tempted to use a regular metal hammer to strike their punches, stitching awls, chisels, etc. Unfortunately, many of these tools will break down if you hit them with a regular hammer.
You want to look into plastic and wooden hammer when using these delicate leatherworking tools. Depending on the leather you are working with, you might need a big and heavy model or a smaller and lightweight model.
Optional Leatherworking Tools
With the tools mentioned above, you will be able to make a good leather starter kit. But there are many other tools that are nice to have.
We just highlighted a few of the tools that you might want to buy as well. These tools will either make things a lot easier or are used in only certain situations.
The edge beveler normally comes in either a flat or round variation and is used to apply some finishing touches to your project.
They are used to create round or slanted edges, which make the resulting item look much more polished and high-quality.
Additionally, they can be used to remove a small amount of leather at the location where you want to fold the leather. This makes it much easier to fold thick leather.
The edge beveler comes in different sizes and the right size to use depends on the thickness of the lather you are working with.
Sewing leather is a completely different experience from sewing basic fabrics. Leather is much more sturdy, so regular needles will bend in no time.
Specialized needles for leather are not very expensive. Therefore, if you don’t want to ruin your regular sewing needles, we recommend you make the small investment.
A stitching pony is a device that will help you while sewing. It firmly clamps both pieces of leather together such that you can stitch with both hands.
Some experts say it is a necessary piece of equipment, while others believe it to be optional. It definitely makes the stitching process a lot simpler, so you might want to start with a cheap model.
The stitching chisel looks a little bit like a flat fork that has sharp ends. It can be used to create evenly spaced holes in the stitching channels. It is an alternative to using an overstitch wheel and stitching awl.
Although they are easy to use, one common criticism is that chisels create flat stitches, which are less pretty to look at.
While using a stitching awl is great for making stitching holes, sometimes you need to make some bigger holes. Think for example about the holes needed to make buckles, belts, buttons, etc.
This is where owning drive punches of several sizes pays off. They will let you quickly create a few clean holes of the right size.
Recommended Leatherworking Kit For Beginners
This way you make sure you have everything you need. And often you can get a small discount to boot!
We normally recommend the 25-piece leather sewing kit by Simpzia to beginners just starting out. It offers all the tools you need to get started without being overwhelmed.
Some of the tools it includes are the edge groover, rotary cutter, needles, awl, and most other tools mentioned in the essential tools list above.
All of the pieces are of high-quality and have an ergonomic design, which makes it easy and comfortable to work with them.
Overall, this set offers a great way to learn the basics of leatherworking.
How To Choose The Best Leather For My Project?
You probably noticed that leather starter kits mentioned above don’t include any leather. So how do you know which leather you need for your leathercraft project?
A good first step will be to learn more about the different types of leather you can choose from. If you have any problem understanding certain unfamiliar words, you might want to check this Leather Glossary.
Leather Weight And Thickness
The most important criteria to look for when buying leather is the weight, which will indirectly tell you about the thickness of the leather too.
The weight is measured in ounces and ranges from 1 oz. to 10 oz., which roughly corresponds to a thickness of 0.4 mm to 4.0 mm.
For different applications, you will need different thickness as well. So make sure you have the end goal in mind when choosing
For example, when making a wallet or lightweight garments you want to use thinner leather around 2 to 5 ounces. Whereas boots and belts that need to be able to withstand a lot more, you should go with leather that is at least 6 ounces or more.
Where To Buy Leather Fabric When Starting Out?
You will be able to buy leather in a variety of different sizes, shapes, and types.
Especially some of the leather scraps and strips are a great option for people looking for cheap leather for beginners to start with.
After practicing and acquiring a fair amount of experience, you might want to go for bigger pieces of leather with higher quality. Although you might still able to find what you are looking for on Amazon project, you might have to go to a more specialized store such as TandyLeather.
How To Learn Leatherworking?
Making your own product out of leather might seem a daunting task. But when the entire process is broken down, leatherworking only exist out of 4 main steps.
So let’s look at how to work with leather step by step.
Step 1 – Cutting The Leather And Stitch Holes
The first step of cutting the leather might not look that difficult. But making clean cuts is crucial to make all the following steps easier.
Make sure that your knife is sharp at all times. Especially if you are using new tools, make sure if they need to be sharpened before first use. If you are cutting a lot of leather at once, you might have to sharpen the blade halfway.
If you need to make straight lines don’t hesitate to use a ruler that won’t slip to make the line perfectly straight.
For more intricate designs, you can use an awl to scratch the design on the leather before cutting. Similar to how you would use a light pencil for sketching before using paint.
Step 2 – Gluing Leather Pieces Together
You want to stitch you leather together. But gluing them together first will make that step much easier.
We probably all fancy ourselves experts on how to use glue since primary school. But have you actually glued leather before as well? To do so effectively, you will simply have to keep these three simple tips in mind.
- Sand the area you want to apply glue: this will make sure that the glue can sink into the leather and as a result will stick much better. Especially if you want to glue the flesh side of leather sanding is often necessary
- Press the leather: to achieve the best adhesion you want to press the leather while it is drying. You can easily do this by using binder clips or something similar. Just make sure they don’t leave permanent marking by using a cloth in between the clip and the leather.
- Predict the unpredictable: we all know that glue has the tendency to go places you didn’t want it to go. When applying the glue make sure to work accurately, and when pressing the leather don’t forget that some glue might squeeze out.
Step 3 – Hand Stitching Leather
Before we can do any stitching, we will need to use the groover, overstitch wheel, and awl to make the necessary stitch holes.
The thing in mind here is to use the awl perfectly perpendicular to the leather. If the is a little slant, the stitches on the backside won’t line up properly. Which gives a messy impression.
For the stitching itself, the saddle stitch is often the stitch of choice when you are stitching leather by hand. The saddle stitch is known for its durability and isn’t difficult to learn.
Check the video below for a quick saddle stitch tutorial.
Step 4 – Edge Finishing
The last step is to finish the edges of the leather to give your project the appearance of high quality and a professional look.
This step is optional though and if you only possess a basic leather tooling kit for beginners, you might not have all the leatherworking tools needed.
A general process to finish the edges would normally include beveling the edges, burnishing and applying wax.
- Use a flat or round edge beveler to remove parts that would otherwise fold during sanding
- Sand the leather with 200 grit sandpaper, followed by 600 grit sandpaper to create a smooth edge
- Optionally, you can dye the edges using a wool dauber at this step
- Burnish the edges by slightly wetting the edges and burnish the edges using an edge slicker or similar tool.
- Apply beeswax to the edges to make your project waterproof
Leathercraft Projects Suitable For Beginners
If you read everything on this page so far, bought some leatherworking tools and decided on your favorite leather, it is time to start your first project.
As a beginner, you probably don’t want to start with anything that is too ambitious.
A mousepad is an easy project that you even absolute beginners can finish without too much trouble.