Leatherworking A to Z: Leather Crafting Tools to Know
Just like with any new skill, there’s a lot to learn when you’re getting into leatherwork. What tools do you need? How do you use them? What are the different kinds of leather? With so many new terms, it’s hard to keep it all straight. But don’t worry — our blog series, “Leatherworking A to Z'' is a glossary of important and well-known leatherworking tools, techniques and terms. Scroll on through to discover everything you need to know about leather tools.
Awls & Groovers
Diamond Awl — This awl has a diamond-shaped point used for opening holes in leather when hand-stitching. When used with a European-style pricking iron, the diamond tip creates a hole ideal for achieving the slanted saddle stitch commonly associated with hand-stitched leather goods. Also known as a stitching awl.
Scratch Awl — An awl is a sharp tool used for marking seam allowances, stitch lines or patterning lines. Scratch awls should not be used for creating holes in leather, but they can be used to reopen previously punched holes during hand stitching.
Stitch Groover — This is a tool that allows you to make a groove in leather an adjustable distance from the edge. Use it to mark stitch lines; this will allow your stitches to sink into the groove below the surface of the leather.
Wing Divider — This is an adjustable, two-pronged marking tool used to score lines at your chosen distance from the edge of leather. Use it when hand sewing to keep pricking irons aligned, or for marking seam allowances when machine sewing. You can also use a scratch awl and a straightedge.
From left: Two scratch awls and a stitch groover with interchangeable groove tip sizes.
Edge Bevelers & Skivers
French Edger — A French edger is a shovel-shaped cutting tool used for skiving (or thinning) leather. This tool can be used for edges, but it is best for thinning surfaces to remove bulk in a wallet pocket or along a fold, as a French edger shaves consistent depth of leather across a surface.
Edge Bevelers — Bevelers round the edge of leather to take sharp angles off the cut edge, which makes it easier to burnish. Bevelers come in different shaped and sized cutting grooves to accommodate a range of leather weights and to create various bevel angles.
Super Skiver — This tool is helpful for skiving thicker weights of leather. The blade functions sort of like a safety razor or vegetable peeler: to skive leather, draw the blade across the leather and apply downward pressure. The pressure used determines the amount of leather skived away.
From left: An assortment of French edgers and edge bevelers in various sizes, and a Super Skiver.
Hammers & Mallets
Mallets — Mallets are used to drive punches, stamps or pricking irons into leather. A mallet can also be used for sinking stitches into stitch lines to prevent abrasion if it has a smooth, polished surface (such as a metal head). Nylon, polyamide or rawhide are ideal head materials for leatherworking. Using a metal hammer is not recommended for stamping or punching leather, as you can ruin your tools. Lightweight mallets are best for light stamping; a heavier mallet delivers the force needed for punching tools through leather.
A variety of leather hammers and mallets available at Sailrite.
Knives & Cutting
French Angled Knife — This knife has an angled blade that comes to a sharp tip for small, detailed precision cutting. The extremely sharp point makes it ideal for intricate, shaped cutting and detail work, as well as cutting thin leather.
Mini Round Knife — This is a general-purpose leather knife with a semi-circular head/cutting edge. A round knife is good for cutting curves and rounding corners. Also known as a head knife.
Pricking Irons — These are pronged tools designed to mark holes for hand stitching. There are two commonly used varieties of irons: diamond point, which are meant to punch all the way through the leather; and a European style, which creates diagonal slashes that need to be opened with an awl before stitching. Pricking irons come in multiple sizes and prong counts. They are named either by the stitches per inch they create, or the stitch length (the distance between the points) in millimeters. The prong size will determine the size of the hole created. This is important when working with different weights of thread or lacing. Use a pricking iron with a mallet once your pieces have been glued together to make sure your stitch holes line up on each side of your project. Also known as stitching chisels.
Rotary Punch/Punch Set — Use punches to make holes in leather for things like belt holes, attaching grommets, snaps or other hardware, lacing or hand stitching (pricking iron/stitching chisel preferred); punches come in different sizes and shapes. A rotary punch has a rotating wheel that has several sizes of punch tubes attached to it. You won’t need to use a mallet or separate punching surface with a rotary punch, as an anvil is built into the tool. Punch sets consist of tubes with a sharp end that are driven through leather with a mallet.
Skiving Knife — Skiving is the process of thining down specific parts of leather. There are several different styles of skivers: skiving knives and skiving tools. Skiving knives usually have a large metal blade with a flat or diagonal edge. A skiving knife is best for thinning leather edges because it is used in a downward motion, thinning to a particular thickness. Hand skiving tools, on the other hand, look a bit like vegetable peelers (known as safety bevelers) or razors (called skivers or super skivers).
Straight Utility Knife — This is a straight-edged, general-purpose leather knife good for cutting, skiving and general leatherwork. The versatility of this knife makes it a staple tool for most leatherworkers. This is also frequently called a skiving knife.
Straight Leather Knife— This versatile knife is great for skiving, cutting and general leatherwork. You can also use it for edge and trim work. The incredibly sharp, angled blade glides through veg tan leather for precise and accurate cutting.
Strap Cutter — This tool simplifies cutting widths of leather for bag straps or belts. It is adjustable for both leather thickness and strap width. To use, feed the leather through the arm and the blade will cut along the parallel. It’s important to maintain consistent pressure and to keep the leather edge pressed tightly against the face of the strap cutter for the best cuts.
Tempered Cutting Glass — A tempered cutting glass is a solid sacrificial surface for skiving leather. Knives slide smoothly along the glass without getting stuck or damaging the blade.
From left: French angled knife, mini round knife, rotary hole punch, Damascus skiving knife, utility knife, Damascus straight knife and a strap cutter. Behind: Sailrite® Tempered Cutting Glass.
Leather Strop — This refers to a piece of leather used to hone the edge of a tool. Stropping smoothes and polishes any roughness, scratches or burrs created through repeated use. A strop can be used with stropping compounds, abrasives that aid in polishing the blade. Stropping compounds are applied directly to the leather strop and knives and tools are drawn across the strop at about a 15-18 degree angle to sharpen and polish.
Strop Polishing Compound — These compounds are abrasives that are applied to a leather strop or burnishing machine for polishing and sharpening edges. Apply polishing compound to the flesh (rough) side of a leather strop or to a burnishing machine. Strop polishing compounds come in a range of grits that serve different purposes: coarse compounds are used to remove scratches, rust or burrs from metal, whereas finer grits are meant for polishing.
A double-sided leather strop with various polishing compounds.
Slickers & Folders
Leather Burnisher for Surfaces — This tool smooths out the grain and unwanted creases in leather. To use, dampen the flesh side of the leather and run the burnisher back and forth over the grain to smooth the crease. A surface burnisher can also be used to smooth out stitches, to help crease leather and to set glue lines.
Leather Folder/Creaser — A leather folder is used to get a sharp, precise crease or fold in leather, e.g. in wallets, pockets or bags. Fold leather around the edge to start a crease or run the tool along the folded edge to smooth and set folds or creases. You can also use this tool along glue lines to help them stick, or to break apart set glue lines in wallets or pockets.
Leather Press Roller — A multipurpose tool — you can use it to roll over glued edges to secure, to flatten stitches, or to set creases and folds.
Leather Slicker/Burnisher — This is a notched, wooden tool that uses friction to finish, smooth and seal leather edges with water, wax or gum tragacanth in a process known as “burnishing.” Also called a burnishing tool.
From left: a leather surface burnisher, folder/creaser tool, leather press roller and leather slicker.
Cutting Mat — A self-healing mat is recommended to protect your work surface and tools. Cutting mats can also help absorb some of the shock when using a mallet on stamps or punches. Use an extra-thick mat to ensure your knives don’t cut through the surface.
Leather Roughing Tool — The foot of this tool roughens leather edges or surfaces for better glue adherence. You can use sandpaper instead, but a roughing tool lasts longer, is more precise and is easier to control.
Leather Thickness Gauge — A gauge determines the thickness of leather in millimeters and/or ounces. Every 0.4mm of thickness is 1 ounce of leather weight.
Thread Burner — Used to finish the ends of thread. Once you’re finished sewing and you’ve cut your thread, this tool will melt the ends. This has two main benefits: sealing the thread to prevent unraveling and creating a “cap” on the thread to ensure it won’t pull through the stitch line. Safer than using a lighter, which can damage leather if you get too close to the leather’s surface.
Ruler — With a wood or plastic ruler, there’s potential for your knife to slip and get caught, or to chip the ruler material. A metal ruler with a cork or other nonslip backing will ensure your straightedge won’t slide against the leather and that your knife glides cleanly along the edge.
From left: roughing tool, thickness gauge, thread burner and ruler. Behind: Sailrite® Double-Sided Cutting Mat.
We hope this glossary of leather tools has helped you learn more about leather crafting. Sailrite is your source for leather tools and supplies. Be sure to read our other informative articles on everything you need to know about leather crafting.