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A craftsman’s expertise makes up a whole universe: from the basic material to the gestures, specific vocabulary and tools. Leather-work requires many specific tools. Essential work companions, the leather tools enable the best possible work on a piece of leather, allowing the worker to fully deploy his creativity.

What is each tool used for ?

There are a number of tools for leather and for each tool, several different designs: all have the same purpose, to facilitate the craftsman’s work. The ideal toolbox isn’t the same for everyone but needs to contain tools for cutting, tracing, sewing, decorating,

First tool: the cutting mat or carving plate. These are often made of plastic and are very resistant. A cutting mat preserves the tools and protects the work table. A cutting knife can leave marks, leather glue can be knocked over, the hammer can bounce off…it is an essential base for the work space.

Cutting tools

There are several tools for cutting leather: cutter, hardie, scissors, ceramic knife, semi-circle knife,…whichever cutting tools is used, it is accompanied by a sharpener which is to be used often in order to maintain a sharp cutting edge. Some cutting tools are more precise than others: a spatula to thin out the leather, a square-headed hammer to break the edge of the leather and make rounded edges with a soft touch, an opening knife to create incisions in the leather during the embossing or the shape-cutters to create clean holes in the leather.

Tracing tools

Tracing tools are also essential when it comes to leather-work: dry-end compass, tracer, cornet, scribing point,…all of these tools draw lines on the leather piece in order to prepare the sewing line, copy a stencil or make a decoration. Some have several usages, like the grooving tool which is used to draw lines and also dig a furrow in the leather in order to bury the thread (this technique protects the stitching from rubbing).

After being traced, the sewing line is a guide that marks out the stitching on the leather. The claw wheel or fixed claws are then used. One is rolled over the leather, the other has to be hit using a small hammer. The leather is marked out, lightly pierced, by these tools but in no way the whole way through. The purpose of this step is to place the futur stitching points and make sure they are even by marking the leather; when it comes to the stitching step, the leather will be fully pierced using an awl. Using this tool determines the spacing between stitches.

Stitching tools

The stitching can be done by hand or with the help of a sewing machine. Specific sewing machines are available If you wish to stitch using one (professional or industrial) but a domestic sewing machine can also work if the leather is not too thick: it does however have to be a triple feed sewing machine that has been equipped with a needle that is capable of stitching through leather. Leather is very different to material, it is therefore advised to replace the standard presser foot with an anti-adhesive presser foot. Clips can be used to hold the piece of leather in place when sewing but it can also be glued beforehand with an aqueous base leather glue.

Before hand-stitching leather, it is also advised to use clips or leather glue. Glueing the pieces together is a preporary stage: it is not used to replace stitching but to facilitate the process. The sewing clamp or saddler’s clamp holds the piece of leather during the stitching work: acting as a third hand, it frees up both of the worker’s. Most commonly made of wood, it is a simple tool but is essential to the craftsman. Before the needle is used, the leather can be pierced using an awl: a round awl enlarges the holes, a diamond shaped awl (also called awl clamp) pierces the leather at the right angle. As the leather is pierced by an awl, the needles used for leather sewing have a rounded point. For a saddle stitch, two are used. The thread is waxed or greased using a wax block that glues the thread fibres together. This facilitates sewing the leather and protects the inside of the stitches from humidity.

Other essential leather-work tools

Aside from these specific tools, other more common tools alsp play their part: a ruler to trace lines or take measures, a wire-cutter to cut the thread as close to the leather as possible and a hammer, an essential tool in leather-work as it is complementary to other tools:

  • shape-cutters, perfect for cutting clean holes in leather. Several sizes and shapes exist, they are often sold individually. cookie-cutter clamps can also be found., sold with several nozzles; these clamps make the piercing easier by accompanying the craftsman’s effort.
  • stamps, used to make patterns and shapes of all sorts on the piece of leather by pressing.
  • finishing tools, used for adding buttons, eyelets and rivets. For example, a rivet is easily put on a piece of leather using a rivet-setter, a type of small anvil…and a hit from a hammer.

The toolbox can also contain other leather-work tools like a smoother, folder and clasps, useful when a fold needs to be marked or the leather needs to be molded or smoothed when using leather glue; brushes, sponges and various applicators varying in size can be used to dye the leather or draw out a pattern.

Lastly, beeswax and leather balm made from neats foot oil are used to maintain the leather tools and the leather itself: it is essential that the leather-worker takes good care of the tools and the material that are part of the craft.

How to sew leather

The sewing can be done by hand or with a sewing machine. In both cases, certain habits and movements can make the work easier: one thing that can be done is to trace the sewing line beforehand, reducing the chance of any mistakes; holding the pieces that are being sewn with clamps or sticking them with leather glue.

Working with a machine can seem simple, but it requires a fair bit of practice and some specific tools have to be bought. Other than the leather needles, the tool that can make working on leather with a machine easier is a non-stick presser foot. This will slide on the leather and will avoid slowing down the rhythm of the sewing machine.

When sewing by hand, saddle-stitching causes great tension on the thread. To avoid it getting away from the needle, it is advised to block it at the eye of the needle. To do this, the needle can go through the thread twice, the thread is then pulled towards the eye. It is also advised to grease the thread before use with beeswax, this will help the thread slide through the leather. The thread is run several times over a block of beeswax: the wax will glue the thread fibres together which will higher the resistance when used.

There is a third way of sewing leather: using a quick-sew awl. Without using a machine or a saddle-stitch, this manual tool, sometimes called an automatic awl, allows for quick sewing: in the shape of an awl, it has a needle linked to a reel of thread. The final stitch is similar to the one you would get using a machine.

Making shape-cutters for leather

The name speaks for itself: a shape-cutter is a tool that can cut out a piece of leather. Technically, it is the sharpened end of a metal rod with a nozzle that is hammered onto the leather that makes the cut. The shape of this nozzle gives the shape of the cut on the leather: this could be a split, a hole (round, square,…), the shape of a piece of belt or a hole for a collar button…using a cutter is very simple, all it takes is a hammer and a cutting mat: between the two, the cutter cuts straight through the leather.

Some cutting mats are specially designed to resist cutters: called cutting blocks, made of wood or plastic, they are thick and very impact resistant.

Piercing leather with a cutter can be needed for cutting holes for a belt, installing snap-fasteners or for putting a thread through for telephone cases. It can also be used creatively, allowing accessories to be added like rivets or eyelets.

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