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My mother tells me that when I was a kid, I showed some interest in leathercraft after making a few things at summer camp. So she used to take me to a local shop where we’d buy little kits. I remember carrying a wallet for a number of years that I’d made myself. By “made,” I mean I sewed some pre-cut leather together with thick cord and stamped my name in it with some pre-made leather stamps. Not so long ago, I saw some much more detailed and kick-ass leatherwork crafted by a friend who’s into costuming, and it got me thinking how nice it’d be to be able to make custom cases for some of my equipment and so on.

So my question: What are the best tools and learning resources for someone who wants to get into serious leathercraft?

Thankfully the Internet makes the learning process a bit easier than when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure that the shop my mother took me to visit was a Tandy Leather Factory, and their site does indeed list a number of kits like the ones I remember. They offer some starter kits, too, including a Deluxe Leathercraft Kit containing a lot of various stamps and brushes, plus some basic tanning materials. Tandy also slips in some I-made-it-at-camp kits, like a cell phone case and checkbook cover.

But I’m more interested in learning to shape leather to make more complex items. I noticed a Leathercraft’s Ultimate Workshop kit, too, though it’s priced at a whopping $600. It looks like pretty much an everything-we-have-to-offer set with lots of shaping and custom-carving tools.

Hopefully some of you Toolmongers are experts, though, and can direct me to a cheaper place to start. I like the idea of building up a tool set as I learn, as opposed to just buying my way in. In my opinion, at least, tools are only as useful as the artisan who holds them.

(The photo above comes from the Marcy J. Miller’s website. She’s an artist out of Cave Creek, AZ. Check out her site for lots of cool leather work.)


17 Responses to Questionmonger: Best Tools For Beginner’s Leathercraft?

  1. craig says:

    this hobby/craft is just as bad as any other.

    money, money, more money.

    other than stamping and carving tools you can get by with what you probably already have in the house…box cutter, plastic hammer (i often use a harbor freight dead blow).
    i used a nail to punch stitching holes for years…some guys use their dremel or a drill press even. a pair of heavy scissors are great. the two tools that will make your work look better are good metal rules (straight lines) and a quality compass (curves and contours).

    there are a lot of websites out there. sites that target shooters or knife fanciers usually have a forum dedicated to leatherwork. if you can’t come up with your own designs, steal (i meant borrow) your inspiration from the vast amount of stuff out there. search the various patent databases for ideas.

    a prime example is baker’s pancake holster. the patent was for THREE slots, not the pancake design. every tom, dick and harry has used the design, even a craig or two.

    the leather is very expensive. you can start out using bellies (buy them on sale). i’ve used old leather jackets, belts and boots for stock. which will teach you the difference between vegetable tanning and chrome tanning.

    texas has some good shops and great craftsman. take a look and i’m sure you’ll find help, if you want it.

  2. Angelbane says:

    Go to the Leather Factory in Mesquite (they actually own Tandy IIRC) they have just about everything and are pretty helpful. They also have scrap bins where sometimes you can get good stuff … especially for practice.

    There is also a Tandy shop on North west highway I think and they have a lot of knowledge but are a little harder to deal with as a novice.

  3. fred says:

    I’m no great leather working craftsman – but have taught leatherworking merit badge with Boy Scouts since 1989 – and have made my fair share of belts, handbags, wallets, key-cases, moccasins and the like – many from kits with the scouts – and others from scratch. Like most hobbies – you collect tools as you need them for projects. Tandy Leather (now taken over by The Leather Factory) used to offer (and may still) books and plans for projects with tool lists provided. They had a local store (long since gone) in my area that gave classes and had all their brand (Craftool and Tandy) tools available for use. Their brand tools were sometimes offered in different grades (their Al Stohlman brand now seems to be their premium line) some of which may have approached professional grade tools from C.S. Osborne.
    For scout projects we often used: 3D stamps (stamp head plus drive handle), a sponge/spray bottle to wet the leather, a mallet, and rivet/snap/eyelet setters. If lace holes were not provided – then the thronging chisels (different number of tines) came out. More adventuresome projects required stitching awls, hafts, needles, belt hole punches (a high quality revolving punch is a start), oblong (bag) punches, oval punches, belt-end punches, a slicker and a pair of quality leather shears . Moving along to free form design – leather modeling tools, wheeled embossers and Craftool stamps (there are many dozens to create different effects) would be laid out on the bench. Leather Creasers and gouges would be used if project involved folds and bends. For edge treatments – Bissonette edgers were my choice – and stitching was laid down in a cut groove to give a finished look. If you get better than this in your abilities – then maybe a quality swivel knife or 2 with some different blades (ceramic blades were the rage at one time) would be in order. Overall – I’ve collected over 500 leatherworking “tools” – but since many of them are relatively small items – like curved needles, stamp heads knife blades etc. – they store away in 2 – 22 inch long toolboxes. The size of the collection was also dictated by wanting to have enough of the popular stamps (arrowheads, scout emblems etc.) for several scouts to use at the same time.
    Some years ago a group of scouts presented me with an Osborne Head Knife. It and its cousin the Round Knife are often used as the symbols for leatherworking. While that may be, I have yet to acquire the skill or need to use it. It is stored away in its leather sheath.

  4. Brian says:

    I started out a little over a year ago.
    I have found many of my tools on craigslist and yard sales.
    and there are a few tools that I wanted so I went to the local Tandy.
    I have a few stamps and a diamond shaped awl for making holes. I use a razor knife for cutting and am on the lookout for a metal ruler since I’ve trashed a wooden and a plastic ruler trying to just get by. I have some brown and black dye. I have a few other tools that I dont ever use that I picked up at yard sales not knowing what they were but knew that they were leather tools.
    So far I have made a couple of guitar straps a couple of holsters, a watch band for my watch and a few key chain straps. I like it alot, but its time consuming trying to learn as you go.
    I’ve utilized the local library and checked out books to help me along. I also use http://www.leatherworker.net forums.
    A good place for inexpensive tools is http://www.stleather.com/

    hope this helps.


  5. ambush says:

    My grandpa works with leather a bit. I don’t know that much about it but he has a punch, and a sewing machine that will do leather, lots of leather lace too.

  6. Brau says:

    Yup. Learned a lot doing crafts at camp. Made a stamped belt, a suede watch band, and a stitched wallet. In-between supervision I also learned how to pick the cupboard locks so I could, uh, *glean* stuff so me and my pals could make slingshots.

  7. DoItRite says:

    I did a little leather work many years ago. At that time I didn’t have access to anyplace that sold tools, so I made most of my own.
    It was pretty easy: All were made of large nails (30d and larger) and the heads were modified with a file into a wide variety of patterns and designs.
    I did purchase a rotary punch, and still use it.

  8. Blake Girardot says:

    I think most Tandy Leather Factories have a free “class” that lasts about an hour or two. We made a coaster at ours and I was pretty happy with it over all. You use their basic tool set for the class.

    Their website also has a pretty good number of videos for instruction.

    So I can’t recommend tools per se but I think their basic set is pretty in expensive and I bet it would take you a long way in the learning department.

  9. Bob A. says:

    I too was a Leatherworking merit badge counselor in Boy Scout camp and I still carry the wallet I made while working there in 1998. I think the key is to use good sinew lacing when you stitch together your projects instead of the plastic lace that comes with many of the kits that looks sorta tacky. Pick some good leather and cut a groove with a swivel knife like in the photo above or even a dull chisel and punch the holes for the lace with an awl or finishing nail so they aren’t too large. The big expense will be the leather but Tandy has some good stuff and sometimes you will find castoff lots from similar sites online. If you make a knife sheath or wallet out of the right leather and lace and it will last a long time and suit you much better than something from the store that is made out of plasti-leather. Good luck.

  10. leather = sacrificed animals says:

    On Marcy Miller’s website- Can someone explain to me why is this weapon of death being glorified in the leather encasement wrought from an animal’s carcass ? I’m at a loss 🙁

  11. Kurt says:

    Well I suspect they encased the weapon of death to make it easier to carry. And it looks pretty nice – some people appreciate the craftsmanship of good leather work or the gunsmith’s art.

    As far as leather goes, when a cow is slaughtered the alternative to using the hide would be to discard it. Now, at that point, the cow doesn’t care much, but it does seem rather wasteful. As long as we eat meat, why not use the entire animal, that it’s sacrifice was not in vain?

  12. D.McG says:

    The leather Crafters and Saddlers Journal is full of great explanations and patterns for carved leather items. http://www.leathercraftersjournal.com

    Buying the large kits seems like a waste of money. They are bound to be full of tools you will never use. Start out with a small kit, or just a box cutter and a metal rule. Buy a pound of scrap leather off ebay.


  13. Leon Gamble says:

    make leather craft

  14. Anna says:

    etsy has a good amount of second hand tools. I got my basic kit there from buying bits and pieces. The three most useful tools are the swivel knife, tandy B200 or tandy P206, tandy A104, and something you can poke holes with. I use a hammer I covered with a bit of rubber taken off an old cane, though I would suggest springing for a real mallet. (I miss sometimes and hit my hand pretty hard) you can tan/dye the leather using watered down acrylics or shoe polish.

    this all still set me back about $60. But considering that’s not a bad start up price.

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