Hand Tools for Leather Working

Written by dan antony
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Hand Tools for Leather Working
Leather work calls for speciality tools. ("Three Daisy Mixed-Media Chainmaille & Leather Cuff" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: The ChainMaille Lady (The ChainMaille Lady Andersen) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

There are two general types of leather craft, stitching and tooling. Most leather crafters do both, though each calls for a distinct set of hand tools. These tools are expensive but readily available from such retailers as HideCrafters and Tandy Leather. Beginners typically buy economical starter kits of around £39 (2009 figure), before investing more money.

Swivel Knives

Swivel knives are used to cut designs and patterns into leather. These roll between the fingers to produce clean, complex cuts. The cuts produce a basic pattern, a "sketch," and the crafter then uses stamps to finish the design. These cost between £16 to £113 in 2009. A beginner should opt for a medium-thickness blade.

Stamps, Mallets and Mauls

Stamps are made of stainless steel (which does not stain leather) to create patterns in leather. Hundreds of stamps are available, in three basic kinds. The first creates repetitive patterns such as Celtic knots, rope and barbed wire. You use the same stamp several times to create the pattern. The second kind includes individual stamps such as letters, numbers, stars, acorns, musical notes, guitars and eagles. The third category used to shape and style the leather and includes bevelling stamps, shader and grain stamps. Stamps in 2009 cost anywhere from £2 each for the most basic to £29.

Mallets, or the heavier mauls, are used to tap the stamps. These are made of poly material, wood or rolled leather but never metal; metal on metal would damage the stamps and have too much bounce.


Punches are used to make holes, for example, in belts and straps. These come in individual sets of common sizes, such as 1/16 inch, 1/8 inch, 3/16 inch and so on.

A more economical choice is the rotary punch. This resembles a crescent wrench and has six or more sizes of punch on a rotating disk.

Rotary Cutters, Knives and Shears

Leather is not your usual material; it dulls cutting edges quickly, so the leather crafter typically sharpens cutting instruments several times during a project.

A rotary cutter is much like a pizza cutter but heavier duty and very sharp, with interchangeable blades. You roll the cutter along a straight edge to cut the leather. These are readily available in fabric shops. Buy extra blades; you will dull them.

A round knife is shaped like a half moon, much like a Japanese-style herb chopper. The round knife is far more costly but can be sharpened and is better suited to heavier leathers than the rotary cutter. These are typically available from leather craft suppliers, but a stainless-steel culinary chopper from a kitchen retailer will work just fine.

There is nothing magical about shears; these are heavy-duty scissors, suitable for thinner leathers, available from leather craft retailers or simply from a fabric store.

Lacing and Stitching Tools

A lacing nipper has a head that resembles the tines of a fork. It punches holes along the leather's edge for stitching. It is virtually impossible to stitch leather without punching holes; the strain snaps needles and warps the leather.

A stitching awl feeds thread from a bobbin into the head of a needle. If the crafter chooses to stitch by hand, he uses stitching, lacing or harness needles. These are strong enough to stand up to leather, with eyes large enough to accommodate lace, sinew or heavy-duty leather thread (which is about as thick and strong as dental floss). He uses an awl in stitching, to pre-punch a neat hole for a new stitch.

Finally, he uses a sewing palm to push awls and needles through the leather. The sewing palm is a combination wrist brace and hard palm.

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