A Guide to Leather Working Tools for Beginners

Leather Working

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There are few crafting materials more versatile and enduring than leather. Of course, leather is the perfect option for a chic homemade handbag, but it's a great option for a rustic magazine rack or set of coasters too. With its multitudes of finishes (think: pebbled, patent, and nubuck), leather is a great option for handmade goods that require a bit more sturdiness than other natural fabrics. Because it is a rather robust medium, leather working is much easier with a few key tools. For beginners, consider collecting these 13 recommended instruments before starting your first project with leather.

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    Utility Knife

    While you might be able to approach a few varieties of leather with a sharp pair of sewing scissors, a multi-purpose craft knife will always yield a clean cut. In addition to snipping your patterns in one go, a utility knife also allows you a better view of your leather for more precise cuts. 

    Pro tip: Always use a piece of scrap wood or a heavy-duty cutting mat to protect your work table when using a sharp craft knife.

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    Awl Haft


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    With a well-crafted, ergonomic awl haft, you can change the tip out easily to suit your project’s needs. Opt for a haft with at least one flat side, so it won’t roll away from you on your work surface when you set it down. Diamond-tip awls are especially useful: they create a small x-shaped hole in leather allowing for stitches to pass through, then the material seals around the thread giving a flawless finish.

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    Leather Stitching Needles

    Leather demands a strong, long needle to sufficiently pass through two pieces back-to-back. While they definitely need to be sturdy, leather stitching needles needn’t be sharp—most of the time you’ll pass them through pre-punched holes. A set of three needles of various lengths and eye sizes should suit most leather working projects.

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    Synthetic Thread

    Select a bonded synthetic thread when sewing with leather; it’s stronger and more versatile than its natural counterparts. Bonded nylon is an especially strong thread, and it’s available in both waxed and unwaxed variations (waxed thread often yields a tighter grip when working with soft leather).

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    Hole Punch

    Hole Punch

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    Leather hole punches are available in a variety of sizes, widths, and shapes. Smaller punches are great for pre-creating holes for the thread to pass through for an easy seam, while larger punches can easily make holes big enough for a watch band or a belt. Try specialty-shaped punches for more designer-feeling closures and finishes.

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    To drive different tools into your leather, use a poly-head mallet. Mallets are useful for punching holes or creating grooves. In fact, anytime you need to apply pressure to your tools to impact the leather, utilize the mallet. Always use a poly or rubber mallet as opposed to a metal hammer when working with leather to avoid damaging your material.

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    Stitching Pony

    Stitching Pony

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    It’s very important to hold your project stable while you work on it, so a stitching pony is an absolute necessity. Experienced craftspeople can absolutely build their own from scrap two-by-fours and a simple nut and bolt (or begin a woodworking hobby simultaneously), but there are relatively inexpensive ones available on the internet for sale too.

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    Edge Beveler

    Edge Beveler

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    While a beveled edge is more of a decorative choice in leather work, a beveler can also be used to create a groove for easier, more exact stitching in a pinch. Consider buying two sizes to get yourself started.

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    If even to keep your project held together temporarily while you stitch it, glue can be a truly handy material when leather working. Be sure to use a leather-safe formula for your projects, but there are tons of compatible varieties available at hardware and craft stores.

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    Makers Mark

    To finalize your leather projects, apply a personal stamp of your own design. Especially if you’re gifting your finished projects, an original maker’s mark can help your leather work feel extra thoughtful and special. Design your own mark online (there are tons of great retails that will create your individualized stamp), then mallet it in to every one of your finished pieces.

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    Cutting Mat

    Protect your work surface when you make cuts or bevel edges with a heavy, plastic cutting mat. Grab yourself one with gridded lines and it can double as a straight-edge and measuring tool too.

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    When you need a perfectly straight groove to guide stitches or finish an edge, a groover is the tool you should reach for. Leather groovers come with an edge guide piece (often removable) to ensure straight grooves, and you can adjust the pressure you apply to impact the depth of your groove.

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    Overstitch Wheel

    If you're attempting any sort of hand stitching with your leather project, use an overstitch wheel to gently mark your stitch spacing before going in with an awl and your needle and thread.