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ZEEBEE LEATHER. SPECIALIZING IN CUSTOM HANDMADE LEATHER GOODS

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So You Want to Get Into Leatherworking (Part II)....

Zachary Brown

 

My first leather tool buying guide was created to provide a foundation for the entry-level leatherworker. If you're reading this, perhaps you've committed to leatherworking and want to branch out from your original set of tools; I don't blame you. You've no doubt identified some tools that need replacing or upgrading, and some that are missing altogether. Having the right tool for the job makes things so much easier, and the busier we get in the workshop, the less time and patience we have for tools that don't perform at the level we need them to. A skilled craftsman can make do with just about anything, but the work is easier with higher quality tools. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I've used affiliate links for some of the items below which means that if you purchase an item with the links provided, I get a small percentage of the sale which helps to keep this site running. This hasn't influenced the products that I chose for this list in any way.

Pattern Paper - Consistency and repeatable patterns are really important if you're running a business. Meeting the expectations of a paying customer is important, and delivering a consistent product is essential to your success. I'm sure there are better methods out there for pattern making, but I've been using this 140 lb Canson Watercolor Paper for years and it's worked really well. It comes in a few different sizes, but this 18" x 24" has been my go-to for so many projects. 

Swivel Knife - If you've found yourself wanting to expand your repertoire into the world of leather carving, or you'd just like to upgrade your current Swivel Knife, Barry King makes a phenomenal version for a great price. Leather Wranglers makes a custom Pro-Level version that won't leave any room for excuses. 

Bevelers, Grounders, and Geometric Stamps - Barry King also makes fantastic intermediate level tooling stamps. These tools are very high quality, make clean impressions, and will last you a very, very long time. I use these almost exclusively.  If you decide to make a career out of tooling and want the very best, I can point you in the right direction to get the absolute best available. I know a guy ;) 

Round Knife - This is a really versatile leather tool to have in your arsenal. It's sort of a jack-of-all-trades in the workshop, and if mastered, could quickly become one of your favorite tools. This Al Stohlman version from Tandy is a good medium-quality version if you'd like to test the waters and see how you like it. There are also plenty of vintage versions out there on eBay, or other vintage tool dealers. If you'd like a total Rock Star Round Knife, I highly recommend one from Leather Wranglers. Made-to-order and scary-sharp, a Leather Wranglers blade is the last one you'll ever need to buy. 

Sharpening Stones - Restore the edges on your dull knives with Diamond Sharpening Stones. When sharpening, I start with 1000 grit and move to the 8000 grit stone for a razor sharp edge. 

Strop and Rouge - To keep your tools sharp, regular stropping is a must. I use this Jeweler's Rouge (Green, extra-fine stropping compound) on my strop and it keeps my edges razor-sharp. 

Pricking Irons - These are great tools for lining up your stitching holes and marking them on your piece, and can even be used to punch through a few layers. Once the leather layers start stacking up to a level beyond the capacity of the irons, I recommend only using them for marking the holes, and then finishing with an awl. I use Vergez Blanchard 7 Stitches Per Inch (SPI), and I recommend having at least one with five or more teeth for long stitch runs, and one with two teeth for rounding corners. 

Edgers - I really like the Grooved Edgers from Barry King. I have sizes 00 through 2. These work so smoothly and give a really professional look. The 00 works like a dream on leather as thin as 2oz. I have several of the other King edgers as well for different (and sometimes very specific tasks). Like many leather tools, these serve a very specific purpose and generally can't be used for much else, but they bring something very special to the table with their ability to make an item look and feel nearly finished. 

Strap Cutter - A Classic. It cuts straps, belts, strips, etc. You get the idea. 

Big Cutting Mats - My entire workbench is covered with these mats. They come in different sizes so you can cover your whole work surface with them pretty inexpensively. 

Snap Hand Press - When I first started out, a little hand snap setter was fine for the occasional snaps that I had to set. As I started doing more and more snaps, I quickly outgrew it. You can't beat the ease of use, and consistent quality a Hand Press produces. Additional dies can be purchased to use this tool for setting rivets, grommets, eyelets, and a million other things. The dies are pricey, but they pay for themselves in time saved and frustration avoided. 

Anvil - This 55 pound Cast Iron Anvil was added to my shop to replace the 2-pound Tandy anvil that I used for years. It was a hard surface for setting snaps and rivets, but it was tiny and not quite heavy enough to stay put. With a good sized, heavy, hard surface to work on, setting multiple rivets becomes a much easier task. Also, I made a tight fitting leather sleeve for the base which allows me to use the anvil safely as a weight (no risk of scratching!) to hold a side of leather in place on the workbench and free up my hands for other tasks. 

Granite Surface Plate - This has come in handy more times than I can count for a number of different tasks. I bought it primarily for tooling because it's a hard and certified-flat surface without any perceptible imperfections. The chunk of quartz that I got from Tandy had little divots and imperfections that were damaging my pieces when I tooled on it and it was creating more work for me. It's also a great surface for skiving. I bought this exact Granite Surface Plate because it's a high grade (meaning it's flat to 0.00005") and it was relatively inexpensive for its quality. I put a cutting mat on top to protect it from tool damage and remove it when the task requires the incredibly smooth surface of the granite. The shipping price has nearly tripled since I bought mine (they must have realized their mistake because it weighs 80 pounds!) but I still think it's a good price. It arrived safely and it was packaged incredibly in a wooden crate inside of a padded box. 

Hardware Storage Cabinet - These Hardware Cabinets are absolutely wonderful for organizing all of the hardware that we accumulate in this trade. The drawers are even deep enough for some leather tools. 

Lighting - I have a few of these around the shop to keep my workspace well-lit. The flexible arms are great for putting light where you need it, whenever you need it. 

Shears - These Shears are so damn handy. Having the ability to cut something without laying it on the workbench and using a knife is a wonderful thing. I use these regularly and absolutely love them. 

Needle-Nose Pliers - Handy to have around for a myriad of different things. You probably already have a pair somewhere in the house and might find them useful for pulling a needle through a tight hole, or tightening (or loosening) a wing-nut on your strap cutter, or a million other things. 

Rivet Setter - You'll need one of these to set solid copper or brass rivets. Make sure to get the right size setter for the rivets you're using or you'll end up with a rivet permanently stuck inside of your setter, rendering it completely useless. Ask me how I know that! :) 

Large Square or Straight Edge - I have a few sizes for different tasks, but use a large square like this for making long cuts when preparing a side of leather for belt making. 

Reference - Al Stohlman wrote this book and several others about Leatherworking decades ago (which are quite dated at this point), but the lessons and techniques are timeless; definitely a good reference to keep in your shop. 

Glue Pot - I was skeptical about using one of these at first, but I'm a believer now. Glue/cement is one of those hidden costs that you don't really think about, and buying it in little cans gets expensive very quickly. I started buying it by the gallon to fill up this lovely little Glue Pot that sits on my bench. It's quick and easy to use, and cleans up very easily. Highly recommended. 

Logo Stamp - It's important to stamp our work with a maker's mark, and if you haven't done so already, it might be time to invest in a high-quality stamp that can be used tens of thousands of times without any loss of image quality. I have a few stamps in different sizes from Infinity Stamps. They do really great work and have different products available for many different applications. The first stamp I bought from them is a hand stamp, and must be struck with a mallet. It works great, but as my product line grew, my stamping needs did as well. I now have a few stamps that are flat, and need to be used in a press. A 1-ton Arbor Press is a good size for a leather shop and will serve you for many, many years. This one has a flat surface that's leather-ready. 

Cobbler's Shoe Hammer - A super useful tool for bending leather, tamping, tapping, etc. I don't use mine everyday, but it does come in handy a lot. 

Tape Measure - I'm sure you already have a standard tape measure laying around somewhere, but I find this soft version very useful around the shop. Because it's a soft tape, it can measure bends and curves quite easily. The metric marks are an added bonus. 

Hand Skiver - This Japanese Utility Knife is absolutely wonderful for skiving. It easily takes an edge down to paper thin and because of the type of edge grind, it's very easy to maintain a razor sharp edge with regular stropping. 

Bench Splitter/Skiver - If making belts is your thing, you've probably already figured out that with thicker leather, the ends need to be skived down a little before bending it around the buckle to prevent it from getting too thick. I was skiving by hand with the Japanese Utility Knife (above) for a while, but the belt orders started stacking up, and hand skiving was taking too long. I invested in this Bench Splitter/Skiver to make things a little faster, and it worked. This machine was incredibly time consuming to dial-in and get it perfect, but now that the cutting depth is set, it's an indispensable, time-saving tool. 

Leather Thickness Gauge - I find this is more useful than I could have ever imagined to have around the shop. Leather sides vary in thickness (sometimes one end is different than the other), and sometimes it's useful to have a thinner or thicker portion of a side for a particular piece. This model has a pretty deep throat that allows you to take a measurement away from the edge of your leather, and gives you an accurate read on the thickness at nearly any area. I also find this tool particularly useful when determining which leather to use for a particular piece. Knowing the thickness helps to calculate potential total thickness of a piece when multiple layers are being used. 

Music - 99% of the time that I'm in the shop, I'm listening to music. It keeps me focused (Classical is my favorite when I need to concentrate) and helps me get into a good work rhythm. With all of the devices we have in our homes these days, there are so many ways to consume media, and I picked this bluetooth speaker (see picture below). It's compact, it connects via bluetooth to my phone, it sounds great, and I don't have to fuss with wires cluttering up my workspace. 

Your own two hands - Often times, you'll find yourself scouring the internet for something that will make your time in the workshop a little more efficient, only to come up empty-handed. Or worse, you find what you'd like but you can't justify the price. I've made or modified several tools, and somewhat recently I spent a week building a new tool rack, peg board, and thread spool rack for my shop. Having everything within reach, and not having to dig through a toolbox for something I need is a huge leap forward in efficiency. 

 

I'll continue to add to this list as I think of things. The leather shop can sometimes feel like a bottomless pit of tools, but once you find your groove, develop your product line, and find what works (and doesn't), you can refine your tool list and build a leather shop that maximizes your efficiency and enjoyment (because that's what it's all about). 

If you have any questions about any of the aforementioned tools, or just want to talk about tools and/or leather, please feel free to comment below!