How to Start Leatherworking
[Beginners Guide 2022]
As someone who’s been reviewing leather goods for quite some time, it was only natural that I had to learn, and quickly, what it takes to make a good leather item whether it be the choice of leather, the leatherworking technique, or the best and most frequently used tools. It’s no secret that leatherworking has a long and rich history and with such an affiliation with leather goods (hence the wallet website) I wanted to learn what it takes to get started in such a craft.
But, the more I learned the more I became overwhelmed with the sheer variety and array of knowledge out there. Videos, tutorials, and infographics helped but I didn’t know the authenticity of what I was reading and information commonly contradicted itself. I really didn’t know where to start. It was with this dilemma, that the idea for this article came to fruition, and with little knowledge myself, it was only natural to reach out to those who know better – meet the leatherworking experts.
Beginner’s Leatherworking Tools
Before we get started, the below section outlines some of my top recommended tools for beginners. This exact list was compiled thanks to the help of some very experienced leathercraft experts (mainly Black Flag Leather).
The video above is also one of the most popular videos on YouTube from the channel Little King Goods that goes into great detail regarding the best beginners tools. It’s defiantly worth a watch and echoes the sentiment of other recommendations in this article.
A sharp knife
Exacto knives are sharp and cheap with replaceable blades – Black Flag Leather
A set of Stitching Chisels
Diamond chisels are decent and affordable. Just make sure you don’t buy black ones – the black on those is a coating that makes them hard to remove from leather – Black Flag Leather
John James harness needles are what I use.
Buy a variety of grits. Amazon has a good pack that has 120-3000 grits
A cutting & punching mat
A really cheap and affordable way of not ruining your table. You’ll be doing a lot of cutting so this is a must. I recommend one of these cheap A3 Cutting Mats at only $XXX.
A maul or mallet
Not a hammer. You want something with a soft head on it so you don’t hurt your chisels, punches, etc. – Black Flag Leather
Ritza Tiger Thread is the best but expensive. There is ok cheaper thread on Amazon, search for waxed braided polyester thread – Black Flag Leather
Owden has a pretty good affordable one available on Amazon.
You can buy a cheap one then use the sandpaper to get it really smooth.
Advice from STR Leather
Like many, STR Leathercraft, founded by Tom, started as a hobby and eventually become a full-time job as his skills increased and he built a following from his fantastic work.
Based in Lithuania Tom handmakes a wide variety of leather wallets made from some of the best leather in the world – Shell Cordovan.
We reached out to Tom and he was happy to provide his own advice on what it takes to get started in leathercraft.
Here’s what Tom had to say:
I started leather crafting as a hobby and later it developed into a full-time job. Probably as many, when I started I bought cheap-made Chinese tools, and started with them. The main point was the price. Later when it got into that more deeply, I started obtaining quality, precision-made tools. I love Korean companies such KS Blades which produces great pricking irons or Palosanto (Edge Bevelers, French Skivers, Knives).
My advice for new hobbyists would be, to start small, not necessarily to buy expensive tools immediately. Sure if you can afford it, it would be better than working with cheap tools. But overall cheap tools are good to start to get practice and experience in leathercrafting. Even with high-end tools, your first crafts wouldn’t be good enough you would be proud of it after a year of practice in leathercraft.
Advice from Damn Pine Leather
Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, Damn Pine Leather is a fantastic brand run by passionate leatherworking expert Yordan. I had the pleasure to speak with Yordan and his variety of advice from beginners tools.
Here’s what Yordan had to say:
I don’t think you need expensive tools in order to start with leathercrafting. Get only the must-haves first and invest in leather so you can start practicing. When I was first starting I bought the majority of my tools from AliExpress. If I had to choose one tool where I’d invest more as a start that would be the pricking irons.
Good pricking irons in my view do make a difference. The rest can be rather inexpensive tools. I think it’s much more important to spend your money on leather, so you can practice as much as you can. Start with some simple projects.
A big thank you to Damn Pine Leather for such a detailed response. Knowing that your tools are only part of a bigger picture and you may not need to spend an arm or a leg on the very best tools – when first starting out – is really interesting.
I probably wasn’t the only one who thought leatherworking was going to be a costly hobby to start so it’s great to know I can get started on a budget. If you’d like to check out Damn Pine Leather and their fantastic work check out their Instagram or visit their Etsy shop.
Advice from Night Heron Leather
Founded by Jason, Night Heron Leather was another leathercraft brand that immediately caught my attention. Their attention to detail, amazing photography, and sheer variety of leather goods really made them stand out and it was clear their skills were second to none.
Jason was happy enough to give some fantastic advice regarding his favorite tools, where to buy them, and advice on getting started.
Here’s what they had to say:
Please know that you are welcome in the leather community. The more crafters and creators we have the better the entire craft is. So, pick up some tools, get some leather, and get after it. I am excited to see what you will come up with. For beginners, don’t hesitate to pick up a cheap tool set from Amazon and buy leather by the square foot. Springfield Leather has some great prices on leather by the square foot. Practice, Practice, and Practice some more!
When it comes to tools, it’s best to start with the basics I have as part of my regular making of leather goods include: Ruler, scratch awl, rotary knife, glue spreader, I use several types of wing dividers to create the stitch line, Crimson Hide Pricking Irons, Palosanto Edge Beveler, Tokonole cream, and a wood burnishing stick from Rocky Mountain Leather Supply.
A big thanks to Night Heron Leather for his words of wisdom. It’s lovely to know the leathercraft community, although small, is so welcoming and willing to provide amazing advice free of charge. So many communities, big or small, can be quite daunting to get involved with so it’s fantastic to know.
Advice from Black Flag Leather Goods
I first spoke to Tim from Black Flag Leather when he reached out to me. I wasn’t entirely aware of them until this point but it was clear I definitely should have been.
Tim runs a fantastic YouTube Channel going into great detail regarding everything leathercraft with in-depth articles for beginners and experts alike.
Along with the advice, Tim also offers free downloadable templates so you can quickly and easily get started with professional templates for various leather goods.
Here’s what Tim had to say:
When you start out, I don’t recommend that you sink hundreds into nice tools. For one, there’s a chance that you end up not into it, then you’re stuck with expensive tools you don’t use. Secondly, learning basic tools, then leveling up is sort of a rite of passage for a leatherworker. Learning to make good products with cheap tools and then upgrading once you have the basics down will just make you a better leatherworker.
I started with an Amazon starter kit. They are definitely affordable, but the quality is mediocre at best. Much of my starter kit went unused. Some of it broke. Still, the price on these kits is pretty good if you just want to get your feet wet.
Tim also commented on what he felt were websites or brands that he’d recommend purchasing high-quality tools from:
For the leather-specific tools, I’d recommend Lonsdale Leather. They have several different beginner tool kits with decent tools in them for a reasonable price. Tandy Leather also has pretty good prices. You can pick up quality tools on Amazon as well, but pay attention to the reviews.
Start by watching videos on YouTube and following leather workers on Instagram. There’s a good leatherworking community on Reddit and a handful of them on Facebook. Most leather workers I’ve talked to are very willing to help out if you ask.