Top 10 Leatherworking Tools for Beginners
With so many options for tools and brands, it can be difficult to figure out what you need to get started in leatherwork. Here at Sailrite, we want to equip you with what you need to sew your leather projects. We've compiled a list of our 10 favorite tools for the beginning leatherworker. With these tools, you’ll have what you need to start crafting your own leather goods with a professional finish.
For most leatherworkers, knife choice is a matter of personal preference. There are specialized knives that are good for one or two applications, and it's possible to accumulate a collection of knives for specific tasks. But whether you’re cutting or skiving, a flat-edged skiving knife can do it all. This knife can even cut around curves despite its straight edge. Just go slow and make small, straight cuts along the curve. This knife is also great for skiving leather edges to a fine, thin thickness when used in a downward motion.
Proper knife maintenance is a necessary leatherworking skill. A leather strop and stropping compounds are a must for every leatherworker's workshop. Dull knives are not only dangerous; they're difficult to use and they create ragged, sloppy cuts. As you use a knife, the cutting edge accumulates debris, scratches and gets generally worn. Stropping your knives and cutting tools before use will ensure a sharp, clean blade for precise cuts. The fine abrasives in stropping compounds will smooth out any imperfections in the blade as well as polish and clean the cutting edge.
An awl is an incredibly versatile tool you'll find yourself reaching for again and again. A scratch awl is perfect for tracing patterns on leather. You can also use it with a straightedge to mark your stitch lines and seam allowances, or score lines for decorative stitching. Awls should not be used to make holes in leather, though they can be used to reopen holes while hand stitching.
An edge beveler is an important part of finishing leather goods. Beveling takes off sharp edges and rounds the leather. This is both aesthetic — it looks nice — and functional — it makes burnishing easier. You can buy bevelers in a variety of widths (for working with different leather weights) and blade shapes (for different beveling angles). French, bissonnette, grooved and sharp curve edgers all serve different applications, but the most widely used and general-purpose edge beveler is a common edger. Sailrite's 5-in-1 Beveler Set (#123299) saves you the hassle of having five separate tools. The interchangeable common edger tips include 1/16-, 3/32-, 1/8-, 5/32- and 3/16-inch widths, which will fit nearly all your beveling needs.
Edge bevelers and leather burnishers or slickers are a one-two combo when it comes to finishing leather edges. Burnishing is the process of smoothing and sealing cut (or beveled) leather edges. Usually, leather burnishers are grooved, wooden tools that use some form of lubrication (water, wax or gum tragacanth) and friction to create a glossy and smooth edge. The notches on a burnisher are designed to accommodate varying weights of leather. The pointed end is a multipurpose tool in and of itself; you can burnish and smooth the grain of surfaces, set creases or folds, and run it along glue lines to promote adhesion.
Whether hand sewing or machine sewing, a stitch groover is a helpful tool to have on your workbench. This tool will cut a groove in your leather at an adjustable distance from the edge, which allows you to sink your stitches below the surface of the leather to prevent thread abrasion and snags.
Much like knives, the mallet you use will come down to personal preference. However, here are some general guidelines for leatherworking mallets to keep in mind. When it comes to tooling leather — punching, stamping, etc. — the best mallets will have nylon, polyamide or rawhide heads. These materials won't damage your tools. Lighter mallets are good for stamping, whereas a heavier mallet will provide more force to drive punches and pricking irons through leather. A metal hammer with a smooth head can be used for sinking stitches into stitch lines, but should not be used with tools.
Not every project will require a punch. But if you want to install hardware onto your projects, such as grommets or snaps, a punch will make a clean, precise hole in your leather. Another project where a punch would be required is a belt: A punch is the perfect tool to make consistent belt holes. Like edge bevelers and knives, it’s easy to find yourself collecting sets of different sized punches, which you can use with a mallet to drive through your leather. These sets can be difficult to keep track of and take up a lot of space in your work area. A rotary punch eliminates this issue by combining a set of punches into one tool. The head rotates between variously sized punch tubes to make holes. The built-in anvil eliminates the need for a separate leather punching surface.
Sailrite carries two versions of a rotary hole punch that feature six punch sizes. The Sailrite® Rotary Punch (#123273) is an entry-level tool perfect for the beginner leatherworker. The punch tubes cut through up to 5 oz. of material with ease. For more heavy-duty leather crafting, the Sailrite® Professional Rotary Punch (#123274) can handle leather assemblies up to 1/2-inch thick (32 oz.) — that's six times more than the Rotary Punch.
Making sure you have the right work surface when leather crafting is vital. The Sailrite® Double-Sided Cutting Mats are self-healing mats with a unique five-layer construction. Their superior durability make them perfect when using stitch groovers, edge bevelers, scratch awls and when pull cutting with a utility knife. For skiving, you need a hard surface like the Sailrite® Tempered Cutting Glass. Glass won’t dull knives, skivers or bevelers as quickly as cutting mats or granite slabs. And with convenient grid lines, this tempered safety glass is a smart choice for your leather shop. For punching holes in leather, you need a cutting block. The Sailrite® Cutting Block & Die Holder is small and portable. Its thick, black cutting pad handles a mallet and hole punch, as well as a drill hole cutter.
The Leatherwork Sewing Machine is great for current leather hand sewers thinking about upgrading to a sewing machine, or for someone just starting to sew leather. Machine sewing is easier and faster than hand sewing. With a sewing machine’s consistent stitchwork, your projects look more polished and professional.
The Leatherwork is an economical choice for any leather hobbyist. The machine can handle up to 16 oz. of leather, making it perfect for bags, wallets and other similar leather goods. A powerful combination of the oversized balance wheel, built-in speed reducer and Sailrite's Workhorse® Servo Motor gives the Leatherwork incredibly slow, stitch-by-stitch control. What does this mean for your leatherworking? Well, the slow sewing possible with the Leatherwork allows you to place each stitch carefully and precisely. You won’t make any permanent, unwanted holes in your leather assembly and you'll turn out beautiful and professional-looking stitches.
Learn more about the many ways the Leatherwork can step up your leather crafting with our blog, "Why Choose the Leatherwork® Sewing Machine?" (#300470XHT).
Want to see how these leather tools are used? Check out the video below and learn more about our favorite leather tools for beginners. Your journey into leather crafting starts right here at Sailrite!
What do you think of our picks? Are there any other tools you’d recommend for a beginner leatherworker? Let us know in the comments below. And tag us on social media using #Sailrite to show us your leatherworking setup!