How to Decorate Leather

Decorating the surface of a piece of leather is called tooling. The tooling is fancy cuts or stamps placed on the surface of a wet piece of leather. Special tools are required to complete such a project. The best leather to decorating with tooling is called top-grain leather. This means the leather has a smooth side which is the natural surface of the hide. Leather that has not been oiled or waxed is preferred when tooling. A vegetable-tanned leather is appropriate.

Cut the leather to the desired dimensions. Use a craft knife to cut the leather rather than a pair of scissors. For example, cut a bracelet 1 inch wide and 9 inches long.

Burnish the surface of the leather by rubbing it firmly with a burnishing tool or wooden stick. The surface will become very smooth and shiny if done correctly.

Trace the design pattern on the leather. Place a piece of carbon paper with the carbon side against the leather. Center and place the pattern on the carbon paper and leather. Trace the design onto the leather. Use a ballpoint pen or a stylist. Push firmly while tracing over the pattern design to ensure the carbon is transferred to the leather. Remove the pattern and the carbon paper.

Soak the leather in a container of water for 30 minutes. Remove the leather from the water and place it on a stable, flat work surface.

Select the desired metal stamp or modelling tool. Place the stamp in the desired location. Put the metal shaft into the stamp. Hit the shaft firmly with a rawhide mallet. Alternatively, place the modelling tool in the desired location. Hit the shaft of the modelling tool firmly with a rawhide mallet. Repeat the process until the design is finished. Re-soak the leather in water, as needed.

Smooth the cut edges of the leather with a burnishing tool or a wooden stick. Rub the burnishing tool or wooden stick over the cut surface making sure to round the top and bottom edge of the cut.

Allow the tooled leather to dry for 24 hours. Seal the surface of the leather with a spray or rub-on leather sealer.


Dye selected parts of the leather to add additional colour and depth.


Decorating or tooling dyed leather will show a different coloured leather in the stamped design.

Things You'll Need

  • Top-grain leather
  • Craft knife
  • Pattern
  • Carbon paper
  • Ballpoint pen or stylist
  • Water
  • Water container
  • Soft cloth
  • Burnishing tool or wooden stick
  • Leather stamps
  • Leather modelling tools
  • Rawhide mallet
  • Spray or rub-on leather sealer
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About the Author

Kim Blakesley is a home remodeling business owner, former art/business teacher and school principal. She began her writing and photography career in 2008. Blakesley's education, fine arts, remodeling, green living, and arts and crafts articles have appeared on numerous websites, including DeWalt Tools, as well as in "Farm Journal" and "Pro Farmer."