Getting Started in Leathercraft

Working with leather can seem like a daunting endeavor but even complete beginners can create beautiful projects with just a few tools and some patience.

Leatherwork Tips
Monday, December 17, 2018

Have you ever been intrigued by the intricate designs and detailed stitching of a finely crafted leather handbag or wallet? Well, you're not alone. The art of leatherworking has been around for centuries, and today, it's enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Thanks to a growing interest in sustainable and artisanal goods, more and more people are interested in learning how to make their own leather products. If you're thinking about giving leathercrafting a try, here's what you need to know to get started.

The Basics of Leathercrafting

Leathercrafting involves working with different types of leather to create a variety of products, from belts and wallets to handbags and even shoes. The first step in any leatherworking project is choosing the right type of leather for the job. There are many different types of leather available on the market, from full-grain to top-grain to bonded leather. Full-grain leather is the highest quality and most durable option; it is made from the outermost layer of the hide and includes all of the natural grain. Top-grain leather is also made from the outermost layer of the hide but has been sanded down to remove any imperfections; as a result, it is not as durable as full-grain but still quite sturdy. Bonded leather is made from bits and pieces of lower quality hides that have been glued and pressed together; it is the least expensive but also the least durable option.

Once you've selected your leather, it's time to start working on your project! If you're a beginner, it's best to start with a relatively simple design like a belt or wallets. These projects will help you get a feel for working with leather before moving on to more complex designs.

Tools of the Trade

When starting out in leather work, there are a few essential tools you'll need to have on hand. Don't go out and buy the most expensive tools when starting either. You'll want to get a feel for what direction you want to go before making any investments. Will you be making small hand goods, belts, bags, backpacks? Will you use vegetable tanned leather or chrome tanned? Do you prefer to buy leather in full hides or panels? The answers to all of these questions will inform what kind of tools you will need. That's when you can begin looking at higher quality tools. To start, stick to the basics.


Your most important tool is your cutting instrument. Luckily, a sharp knife or rotary cutting blade can be found in any local crafting store or online retailer. These usually run about $6-$10.

Olfa - 9mm SVR-2 Stainless Steel Auto-Lock Knife (Amazon.com)


Have you ever seen a leather product impressively thin, smooth edges? That’s likely the result of leather skiving. Skiving is the process of thinning and smoothing the edges of leather using a special tool called a skiver. Leather craftsmen use skivers to create clean, seamless seams and to add decorative accents to their work. Skiving also helps to make thicker pieces of leather more pliable and easier to work with. These vary in price and style but you can find some starting hand skivers for around $15.

C.S. Osborne 925 Skife (Buckleguy.com)


Before you stitch two pieces of leather together they needs to be adhered to each other. This makes your final product more likely to hold up over time and also makes sewing leather a lot more efficient. Any leather glue will do and everyone has their preference. Leathercraft cement is a great option. A small bottle is around $7.

Fiebing's Leathercraft Cement (Buckleguy.com)


You'll likely begin by hand-stitching your projects using a saddle stitch. You might end up never wanting to use a sewing machine. Hand-stitching gives a project a unique essence of craftsmanship you just won't find with machine sewn items. But doing it right takes time and practice. To get started, you'll need some chisels, awl, harness needles and waxed-thread.

Chisels are used to punch the holes for the stitches. An awl is a tool that is used to make or open up stitch holes. An awl can also be used to mark lines on leather before cutting. Blunt tip harness needles keep the leather from tearing and ripping when hand-stitching. The size of chisels, thread and needles will depend on the thickness of the leather, the utility of the item and look you're going for but all items are available at relatively low costs.

517 Harness Needles for Hand Sewing, Blunt Tip (Buckleguy.com)
Diamond Stitching Chisel Set, 5 mm (Weaverleathersupply.com)
Ritza 25 Tiger Thread, 0.8 mm, 50 Meter Spool (Weaverleathersupply.com)
144-43 Haft with #43 Harness Awl Inserted


We can't forget about the leather itself. When starting out, it might be tempting to buy a whole hide or side of leather. Don't. Start out with the least expensive leather to get the job done. This is a period of experimentation; go for bulk not quality. Once you feel comfortable working with the leather, try out different styles, finishes and tanneries with panels. Panels often come in sizes like 1 or 2 square feet. They are a great way to get a feel for higher quality leather without the larger price tags of a side or shoulder.

Get Going

Leathercrafting is a complex art that takes time and practice to master. However, even complete beginners can create simple yet beautiful projects with just a few tools and some patience. So if you've ever been curious about this timeless craft, why not give it a try? You might just find that you have a hidden talent for working with leather!

Disclaimer: This content is NOT associated with or sponsored by any linked or aforementioned company.

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