Because everyone loves a good list, this is my top 5 budget leather tools!
There is a bewildering (and potentially quite expensive) array of tools out there, so I’ve selected 5 of my must-have budget implements, plus a booby prize for the worst tool I’ve bought so far.
1. Stitching pony
Supplier: Tandy Leather Factory
The most expensive item on the list, but saves me a ton of time on most of my stitching work, so it’s worth every penny. The key benefit here is that it leaves both hands free, which is invaluable when you’re dealing with two needles at the same time. When I started out I wanted to stitch as much as possible because I prefer the look of a neat row of stitching to a line of rivets. Rivets have their place of course, but if I can stitch instead, I usually will.
On my early projects I really struggled with stitching, hurting my hands & spending hours doing needlework. The pony dramatically reduced the amount of time I spent on stitching, and the muscles in my hands got used to the abuse, but I also have to include my next can’t-do-without-it leatherworking accessory.
2. Finger guards
Supplier: home made
My early efforts with stitching caused a lot of damage to my hands, particularly the sides of my ring fingers where I was pulling the threads tight, using my delicious soft flesh as a barrier against the very taut and hurty threads. Not the best idea I’ve ever had. So, after enduring far too much pain, I knocked up a couple of leather finger cuffs to protect my digits, and I’ve never looked back.
These are made from scrap leather so essentially cost nothing. I used a couple of tiny rivets to fix them, but you could stitch nicer ones if you wanted to – just remember to use finger guards while stitching…
3. Strap cutter
Price: £19.70 (currently on sale)
Suppler: Tandy Leather Factory
Pretty straightforward, this one. I need to make straps all the time and this little beauty is my weapon of choice. It’s adjustable up to about 4” and I still haven’t had to change the blade after over 2 years of use. Marking out and cutting perfect straps is no fun without one of these.
You need to start off with a straight edge on the leather you’re cutting the strap from, so some careful marking and cutting is required (a very long steel ruler is highly recommended), but after that it’s plain sailing. I always try to keep one side of a leather hide cut straight for making straps, and then cut out any other parts from the opposite side wherever possible. I am told that some leather merchants will supply hides pre-cut with a straight edge if you ask them to.
4. Stitching chisels
Price: £10-11 each
Supplier: The Identity Store
I love the look of hand stitching, but I find the job of marking out and piercing individual holes with an awl to be laborious in the extreme. Enter the 4 prong stitching chisel – this baby and its smaller 2 pronged cousin makes preparing leather for stitching a breeze.
Whether I’m using 4 or 2 prongs, I always align the chisel so that that one prong passes through the last hole I punched. That way, the stitch holes are always evenly spaced, and when I’m going round a curve with the 2 prong chisel, I’m only punching one new hole so I can always follow the curve exactly. If your budget is really tight you could get away with the 2 prong chisel on its own, but you’ll save a ton of time on long runs with a 4 (or more) prong.
As with any kind of leather punch, it’s important to never punch directly onto a hard surface to avoid blunting the tool – I use a piece of scrap veg tan under whatever I’m punching, and my cutting mat under that. My chisels are still going strong after a LOT of use.
5. Hole punches
Supplier: Tandy Leather Factory
I’ve tried several rotary hole punches – the ones that look like a big pair of pliers – and I just can’t get on with them. The cheap ones aren’t strong enough to work with thick leather, and the handles invariably end up bending. I have a mid-range one which hasn’t bent, but it takes a lot of force to get the punch through the leather, so I much prefer to use single punches and my trusty mallet, which takes the strain off my hands and is way less hassle to use.
Hole punches are essential if you want to use rivets, but don’t be tempted to use them to make stitching holes – even the smallest punch leaves way too big of a hole, and your stitching will all come undone instantly if the thread breaks while your finished item is in use, plus it just looks awful. I suppose you could use a hole punch if you’re using thong to lace your leather, but if you are lacing, you’re better off with a proper lacing chisel.
The punch pictured at the bottom of the image is from Tandy’s Mini Leather Punch Set, and comes with 6 interchangeable steel cutting tubes of various sizes. The two above it are from a set of wad punches I got off eBay for about £3. The largest 2 or 3 of these are bigger than the ones in the Tandy set, so they’re useful to have around just in case.
Dishonourable mention: Safety beveler
Price: £7 more than it’s worth
Supplier: I forget
I wanted a skiver mainly to thin down the ends of straps for making neater belt buckle fittings, and because I’m cheap I went for the budget option. It was not a wise choice.
The blade goes dull before I’ve finished most of the jobs I need it for, and although I’ve had a little success sharpening it using a strop, it doesn’t last long and so it becomes a real pain constantly having to remove the blade. Replacement blades are available, but they only seem to be good for doing one strap – not good enough in my opinion. Maybe I’m just using it wrong, but either way, a proper skiving knife is right at the top of my leather tools shopping list!
So there you have it. I’ll probably make this an irregular series because I’m extremely sad and I really like talking about leather tools!
Feel free to comment if you have any nominations for the next list, or if you’ve had good or bad experiences with the tools I’ve listed here.