A Beginner’s Guide to Leatherworking

A Beginner’s Guide to Leatherworking main article image
Posted on January 27, 2022 by Lyndsey Drooby

Leatherworking is a great skill to learn that can result in a variety of different projects from the simplistic and useful to artistic and ornate. It may seem daunting to learn but is one of the easiest trades to get into as an introductory project can be easy to make and as your skills improve, you can easily jump into advanced projects. It won’t be long before you find yourself looking back at your first leather project. 

Startup costs to get into leatherworking can be low, which is a great risk at trying something new and once you’re into it, you can always add more tools and accessories to your collection. Leather is used to make so many items like footwear, clothing, purses, furniture, and other accessories, and those are made with putting the practice in of molding, dyeing, stamping, and much more techniques. 

How to Get Started

The best way to start is to pick a project that interests you. Why? You want to pick a project that piques your interest because it will motivate you to try it out and complete it. It will also help keep your focus on the particular skills needed to finish. Once you know those, you can transfer those to a new project or continue making more of the first project you completed. It is a good idea to start out on something small before making a larger investment into leatherworking. Some small projects include a cardholder, wallet, dog collar, book cover, or bracelet. 

Picking Up the Skills Needed 

There are quite a few basic skills to learn in leatherworking. Most require or at least include saddle stitching, cutting your leather pieces, and edge finishing. Also, as your basic skills improve, there are skills to pick up that would refine the project, such as ornate details such as carving or stamping. Skiving, knife sharpening, and stitching would come as standard skills in these crafting projects. 

The Basic Tools Needed

Some of the most basic tools to start might already be found in the home: knives, glue, needles and thread, chisels, a hammer, and a ruler. Of course, before starting with what you already have, make sure the glue is suitable for leather and suede materials and the needles are appropriate to go through without breaking. As you advance in leatherworking, you may need to pick up the right tools to get more intricate jobs done, such as:

  • A variety of cutters
  • Bevelers 
  • Burnishers
  • Maul
  • Various hole punches
  • Stamps
  • Cutting mats

Sourcing Leather 

There are many options when it comes to leather. It is easier to know at the beginning what to look for as leather has different features to look for. A thick, firm leather may be hard to work with when the project calls for something a bit more flexible. It is important to consider these factors: 

  • Tannage
  • Weight
  • Temper
  • Finish

Once you understand what you’re looking for, and have decided what you need for the project, it’s time to source the leather. Look around for local crafting and textile shops for pieces that you can start with. Also, there are great leather and fabric shops around online and all it takes is a quick Google search. Tandy Leather is a great place to start looking for leather material online and get the gist of techniques and tools. 

Starting the Project

Once you have your leather, lay it out and look at it for any uneven surface spots, since it is a natural material, making note of these spots will also determine where you are cutting. Mark spots that are going to be cut with a pencil or chalk. Cutting can be done with scissors or leather shears. Utility knives can be used, which are good for cutting around curves and straight lines. For a smaller project like a wallet or collar, use leather shears for precise cutting. 

Gluing leather is straightforward, as you are fusing pieces together with an adhesive made for leather and suede. It is a good idea to work in a ventilated area as most of these adhesives have a strong odor. Scratch the surfaces that are going to be touched with glue so the pieces bond stronger, especially if you are working with soft, glossier leather. 

Saddle stitching pieces together is a strong hand-sewn style of stitching to join pieces together. Saddle stitching involves waxed thread and two harness needles. The needles go in and out on each side, serpentining twice through the layers of leather. 

Other techniques to learn in leatherworking are dyeing skiing and burnishing. Leather can be dyed any color, using spirit-based dyes as they penetrate the material deeper and achieve a rustic, uneven look. Water-based dyes can work but offer very minimal penetration and is best for a project that doesn’t have much bending or folding. 

Burnishing leather is polishing the rough edges of the leather. Time-consuming, but when done with great detail and care, can result in having clean edges. Using a wet cloth and a slicking wheel will create a glossy look and will feel smooth to the touch. 

To reduce the thickness of leather, skidding would have to be done so folds and bends can be made. Skiving is also done to hide seams. This is done using a skiver tool that is a metal tool meant to shave away layers of leather off the surface. 

So now this is the basic rundown of getting into a new craft and skillset that can be rewarding to show off your latest accomplishment. Leatherworking can lead to limitless possibilities from creating small to large projects to being a crafter of shoes and handbags. 

Learning leatherworking is not as hard as you would think, especially when it comes to getting started. It just involves a bit of effort and taking your time by starting with projects at an introductory skill level. So with some basic cutting, stitching, gluing, and polishing, it doesn’t sound that hard, does it? 

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