Tools for Book Engraving

Updated July 20, 2017

Although you commonly find leather book covers in upscale bookstores and craft shops, they usually fetch a pretty penny. No matter their affordability, you can't always find one that suits your individual style. The fact is that leather is not very difficult work yourself so long as you have the proper tools for the job. With these tools and design in mind, you can engrave your own leather book cover or modify a plain cover to suit your tastes. Just be sure that your chosen piece is made out of real leather, as these tools will not work well on imitation leather. Bear in mind that you will need to moisten the leather before you begin the engraving process.


Stamps are usually used to create repeating designs on a book cover or, for merchants, to create the same image on a number of different book covers. The benefits are that you can cut your work time dramatically by using them and yet still get great looking results. The downside is that stamps lack any sense of variation and they can be costly. Large stamps can be particularly expensive. Still, they make a nice addition if you wish to create a repeating border or make several versions of one book cover. To create an impression, you simply place the stamp over the leather and pound it with a mallet.


Leatherworking requires a lot of pounding with a mallet. Not only stamps, any of the other tools used in the trade must be tapped repeatedly to create a good impression in the leather. However, you cannot simply use any mallet. A purely metal hammer will damage your tools. Instead, use a wooden or rubber mallet. Do not pound too hard, as you can accidentally punch right through the leather.

Backgrounder Tool

Use the backgrounder tool to level the background of your carved image, creating a raised appearance for the foreground. Simply place the tip of the tool to a part of the background and tap it with your mallet. Slide it along the background, tapping it repeatedly, to go over the entire area. Backgrounder tools have a variety of different textures available.

Wood Burner

Aside from etching wood, you can use a wood-burning tool to burn grooved lines into leather. This tool works very well for fluid, organic lines if you use a fine tip. Simply plug in the tool, let it heat up (without resting on anything flammable), then go over your design. Do not use damp leather with this tool.

Beveler Tool

The beveler tool creates the illusion of a raised area on your leather. It does this by compressing the area around the spot that you wish to appear raised. Hold the beveler straight up and down relative to your leather and insert the groove along a line to be bevelled. Tap it with your mallet.

Veiner Tool

Veiner tools have a lot of variation between them. Craftsmen often use them to create leafy or scalloped edges. Basically, they create a curling pattern of some kind. Simply place the end to the leather and tap it with your mallet.

Seeder Tool

Seeder tools are used to create small, round circles surrounded by an area of lowered leather. Simply treat them as a very small stamp. You can find them in a variety of sizes and textures.

Swivel Knife

The swivel knife is a bladed tool used to cut designs into leather. The blade may be changed out. The tool also rotates, so you can change directions as you work. You hold it by placing your pointer finger in the U-shaped piece on the top and gripping the sides with the rest of your fingers. Use your fingers to twist the knife as you place it to the leather and be sure to apply pressure with your top finger.

Camouflage Tool

The camouflage tool is a texturing tool used to create feathered lines. Simply lay the grooves of the camouflage tool on the leather and tap it lightly with your mallet.

Carbon Paper

Carbon paper is very useful to transfer a design sheet of paper onto your leather so you can go over it with tools. Simply lay your carbon paper on the leather, put your sign on top, then trace over your design with a pencil to transfer it to the leather.

Pear Shader

The pear shader is used to create gentle dips in your leather and is particularly good if you need to sculpt muscle tone in an image. It has a rounded end, and you can hold it any way you like when you pound it with your mallet. You can slowly move the pear shader while tapping it repeatedly to affect larger areas.

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About the Author

Jennifer Meyer received her B.A. in anthropology, specializing in archeology, in 2004 from Beloit College. She then earned her master's degree in museum studies at Indiana University in 2007 after being awarded a university fellowship. She started writing in 2005, contributing podcast scripts, procedural guides and exhibit copy to museums in the Indianapolis metro area.