Homemade DIY Leather Keychains

Posted on: October 29th, 2019 by Quentin Burns

Homemade Leather Key Tags

This leather craft tutorial will teach you how to handmake etched and stamped DIY leather keychains like the ones below. Key tags are a good project for people just starting leather work: they’re small, they aren’t expensive, they don’t take long, and they don’t require too many supplies. Best of all it is easy to learn how to make keychains with the many ideas demonstrated.

Finished stamped leather key tags.

I’ll take you through my process of making the etched cat key tag on the left and the stamped green key tag on the right.

Supplies Needed For DIY Leather Keychains

For this DIY Leather Keychain project you will need:

– A leather key fob piece. We sell key tag kits which include precut keychain blanks together with rivets and split metal key rings. If you’re making this project with kids or as a group activity, I recommend that option, because cutting the leather will be the most difficult step for a beginner.

If you’re cutting the tag shape yourself, you’ll need a piece of vegetable tanned leather. We use 7 oz tooling leather for our key tags, which means the leather is 7/64” thick. Anything from 6 to 9 oz vegetable tanned leather will work, depending on how firm you want your leather key fob.

I also recommend having some scrap leather or a few extra key tags on hand to practice your tooling techniques. You might be able to save money on leather by buying scrap pieces from a local leather shop or craft shop. We currently sell our scrap leather to local customers by the grocery store size bag for a small amount of money. The pieces are too small for belts and guitar straps, but plenty big enough for key tags and other small projects.

– A sharp utility knife to cut out the tag. Make sure you have a fresh blade, as this will make getting a smooth cut much easier.

– A round drive punch or other punching tool to make holes for the rivets. For more info on how to punch holes in leather, see our blog post on how to punch holes in leather.

– One medium rapid rivet or one medium double cap rivet.

– One split key ring.

– Supplies to decorate and finish the key ring. This might include stamping tools, etching tools, leather dye, acrylic resolene polish, edge kote and / or leather paints.

I’m going to cover a lot of options for key tag decorating. You can pick and choose based on your preferences and what supplies you have available. For example, I’ll include instructions for dyeing and polishing your tag, but you can also choose to leave it the natural leather color.

Cutting Your Leather Key Tag

If you aren’t starting with a key tag kit, you’ll need to draw a pattern for your tag shape. You can draw the pattern directly onto the leather in pencil, or cut a template out of paper or card stock and trace it onto the leather.

The easiest leather key tag to cut is a simple rectangular strip, like the tags below, which are 5” by 5/8”.

Two leather rectangular numbered key tags for cars.

We made these simple rectangular numbered key tags from leather for vehicle registry numbers and hotel room numbers.

Any shape can become a key tag, as long as it has a tail for securing the key ring. Below you can see our standard key tag shapes. Our standard round tags are 2″ in diameter, and our standard rectangular tags are 2 1/2″ by 1 1/2″. On all our tags, we space the rivet holes 1 5/8” apart.

If you’re confident cutting leather, you can get more creative with various shapes of your DIY leather keychains. The most intricate custom key tag I’ve made for a customer was in the shape of an acoustic guitar.

Three blank keychains cut from leather.

Our standard blank keychain leather shapes, with rings and rapid rivets.

Cut any straight edges first before tackling the corners. When cutting straight edges, I find it easiest to make two passes with my knife. I line up my ruler and drag my utility knife against it, just firmly enough to score the leather. Then I remove the ruler and follow over my first cut, this time applying enough pressure to slice all the way through. Make sure to hold your blade perpendicular to the table when you cut. It’s best to have a nylon or rubber cutting pad under the leather.

Cutting on a curve takes some practice. For tight curves, I find it easiest to carve off pieces in a series of tiny cuts until the corner is smooth.

Once your key fob is cut, you can punch the holes for the rivets using a 1/8” drive punch.

Tooling The Leather Key Fob

Now that your blank tag pieces are ready, you can start customizing them.

Creating Stamped Designs:

Wet the surface of your key tag with water on a damp sponge, and line up your leather stamp. Give the stamp a light tap with your mallet, just firmly enough to make a slight imprint on the leather. Then lift the stamp to check that your design is placed correctly and deep enough. If the placement looks good, dampen the leather once more and stamp again to make the impression deeper. It should slide back into the groove you’ve made for it.

Give the stamp a stronger tap and check the result again. If part of the impression is too shallow, you can tilt the stamp to focus the force of the mallet onto just one side or corner. Continue tapping and checking the impression until it is uniform and as deep as you want it to be.

Progress photos for stamping a DIY leather keychains.

Test your stamp placement by making a light impression. Then replace the stamp and hammer more firmly to deepen the impression on your DIY leather keychains.

If, after your first tap, you find the image appears slightly crooked or off-center, you should be able to adjust it somewhat. When you replace the stamp, twist it into the correct position and hold it there firmly when you tap it again.

You can get as simple or as elaborate as you like with your stamped designs. I could leave the tag as is, with just an initial in it, but I decided to add floral design just to show you some more options. You could also use smaller stamps to add a decorative border to your tag.

Close up of stamped design on a leather key tag.

I used a leaf stamp and a rose stamp to create this design.

Creating Etched Designs:

Another option for creating impressions on your tag is to etch them. Etching is a good option if you don’t have any stamping tools, or you can’t find one for the specific design you want. All you need is a ball point stylus, a pencil, and a piece of paper.

First, draw or print the design you want to transfer to your leather. Remember that the tip of your stylus is wider than the point of your pencil, so you don’t want to use a design with fine lines close together or the detail will get lost. For this tag you can see that instead of drawing a whole cat, I’ve used a few lines to give an impression of a cat, which will make the design much clearer when etched.

To transfer your design, dampen the leather with a wet sponge and lay the paper on top of it. Trace over your lines with the pencil. When you lift the paper, you will have an image on your leather.

Wet the leather again and retrace the image, this time with your ball point stylus. You’ll need to press down firmly and keep a steady hand.

Progress pictures of etching a key tag.

Left: my inital image transfer. Right: my final etched design.

Since the wet leather is malleable, it is somewhat forgiving of mistakes. For this tag I decided the cat would look better without eyes as if the cat is looking away, so when the leather was still wet I used a tool to smooth over that area where I marked the eyes and flatten it out again. You can also use your fingers to smooth wet leather.

Once you’re finished tooling or etching your homemade keychains, wait for them to dry completely before doing anything else with them. You can lightly blow them dry with a hair dryer to speed things up.

Dyeing Your DIY Leather Key Tags

On my stamped key tag, I wanted to dye the body of the tag while leaving the stamped impressions undyed. To do this I applied dye to a folded cotton cloth and wiped it lightly over the surface of the tag. Then I used a Q-Tip to clean up any areas that needed more dye.

If you push down too hard with the rag or Q-Tip, or if they are overly sodden, dye will seep into the impressions. I recommending practicing your dye application technique on a stamped scrap leather piece first.

Dyeing a leather key tag.

I applied leather dye with a folded cotton cloth and a Q-Tip.

If you want the entire tag dyed one color, impressions and all, you can instead apply the dye with a wool dauber or a piece of sheepskin.

After the tag was dyed, I applied neatsfoot oil which is a leather conditioner, with another cotton rag. This deepens and evens out the color.

For my etched tag, I decided to darken the tag only with neatsfoot oil. I applied the oil with a cotton rag, just as above. You don’t have to be nearly as precise with the neatsfoot oil as you do with the dye.

When the tags are dry, if the color is uneven you can use another cloth or a Q-Tip to add more leather dye or oil where needed.

Polishing Your Homemade Keychains

To polish the key tags using acrylic resolene polish, apply the polish to a folded cloth and wipe it lightly across the tag. If you press down too hard, polish may flood the stamped impression; and if you’re unlucky it may carry some of the color of the dye with it. If you get polish in the impression, use a Q-Tip to dab it out. If there is any discoloration from transfered dye, you can use a tool with a fine point to scrape the inside of the leather impression. We use a dentist tool for this.

Two key tags with freshly applied resolene polish.

I brushed on a light coat of leather polish with a cotton cloth.

Wait for the polish to dry completely before adding a second coat if you want the leather glossier – about 10 minutes. You can also choose to leave your tag unpolished, for a more rustic look.

Painting Your Cool Keychain

If you’re going to paint your homemade key tags, make sure you find a paint made specifically for leather. Leather paints dry rubbery, so they can bend and flex without flaking off the way an ordinary acrylic paint would. For this project I used edge kote, an acrylic leather dye, to dye the edges of my tags and also to paint the cat design on the etched tag.

To paint the tag edges, I used a sponge brush. This is the quickest way to get an even line and coat the whole edge of the tag. I waited for the paint to dry, and then burnished the edges by rubbing beeswax on them with a cloth.

Dyeing the edges of key tags with acrylic dye.

I used a sponge brush to quickly edge dye my key tags.

To paint the etched impression, I used a ball point stylus. You can use the same one you used to create the etching. You can also use a paintbrush, but I find the stylus gives me more control.

Painting an etched key tag.

I used a ball point stylus to paint my etched key tag.

You may need to apply two coats of paint, especially if you’ve dyed your tag a dark color and want to paint a lighter color on top of it.

Riveting the Split Rings on your DIY Leather Key Fobs

There are two ways to secure your rivets. On the stamped tag, I used a rivet setting tool to maintain the domed shape of the rivet. Hold the setting tool perpendicular to your anvil, and hammer directly downwards onto it. I usually give it two or three firm blows with the hammer.

If you don’t care about preserving the domed shape, you can also set rivets using just a hammer. Hammer straight downward onto the rivet.

Two methods of securing rivets in your DIY leather keychains.

Left Photo: I used a setting tool to maintain the rounded rivet shape. Right: Photo I used a carpenter’s hammer to flatten the rivet in the DIY leather keychains.

The Finished Custom Key Fob

Here are my finished key tags, with an assortment of other personalized key rings from around the shop. You can get as simple or as complicated as you want with these DIY leather keychains, from a basic initial to a miniature work of art.

Various finished homemade DIY leather keychains.

An assortment of finished DIY leather keychains.

If you make key tags using this tutorial, we would love for you to send us pictures to share on facebook!


Travel Money Belts For Men & Women

Posted on: July 25th, 2019 by Quentin Burns

How and When To Use Money Belts

You can find many types of concealed money pouches. I’ll be talking in this post specifically about a true money belt – a regular belt with a concealed pocket on the inside, used to hide money while traveling. First I’ll cover the advantages of these types of travel money belts, and then I’ll go over the recommended uses for them plus some issues you might run into.

3 Handmade Travel Money Belts

Three of our long-zippered travel money belts made of quality full grain cowhide.

Advantages Of Travel Money Belts

My case for the traditional money belt, over other types: it’s a belt. Other concealed pouches and attaching type money belts will affect the silhouette of your clothing. If your shirt is thin or you’re carrying a lot in the pouch, it may even be visible through your clothing. Wearing a pouch next to your skin for a long time can become sweaty and uncomfortable, as well.

With the traditional belt style there’s no need to worry about concealing the belt itself. It’s as easy to wear as a regular belt, making it the most comfortable money belt option. This means you will feel more natural when walking around in it. You won’t be holding yourself strangely or trying to sneakily adjust a hidden pouch, which could make you conspicuous.

The disadvantage of the traditional money belt is less vertical space. On our money belts the concealed pocket runs the entire length of the belt, so they have more horizontal space available than other types. The 1 ¾” wide money belts are roomy enough to conceal a small thumb drive. Nonetheless, you cannot keep everything in them. I discuss in the next section why money belts are best used in an emergency backup and not as a a daily wallet.

Lots of storage space in this long zipper travel money belt.

A travel money belt with a small thumb drive and folded money.

How To Use A Money Belt

The main purpose of a money belt is to prevent pickpocketing and grab-and-run thefts. Money belts and other types of concealed pouches are unlikely to foil a serious mugging attempt, and of course the belt can still be stolen when it’s off your body, if it’s been left behind in an unsecure room. Therefore, you should plan when to wear your money belt and what to store in it in order to maximize your security.

It’s recommended not to use or remove a money belt in front of others. If no one realizes you’re wearing one, they can’t make plans to rob it later. Keep cash for the day on hand elsewhere. Use the money belt to secure emergency funds and folded photocopies of your passport and important documents. If a pickpocket targets you, you should have what you need in your money belt to get out of a bind.

This function is especially important and useful when you’re moving between two stops. Once you’ve reached your destination, you can leave your bags in your room and your valuables in the hotel safe. But when you’re en route not only do you have all your things and travel documents with you, you are probably accessing it all frequently. That makes everything more vulnerable to loss or theft. In this situation it’s an especially good idea to have a copy of your passport secured somewhere on your person. Losing a passport in transit can become a nightmare scenario for travelers.

When you’ve reached your destination, if you find there isn’t a safe available you may wish to keep using the money belt this way. If you’re confident your location is secure, you might choose to downsize what you keep in it. However, either way you should keep wearing the money belt as your regular travel belt. That way no one will realize you have a money belt, or chance on an oppourtunity to steal it.

How To Recognize Quality Money Belts

When looking for a travel money belt that will last, you’ll want to consider the quality of the materials, the sturdiness of the construction, and the design of the money pocket.

If you’re buying a leather money belt, don’t take labels like “genuine leather” for granted. That only means the belt contains some small piece of leather. “Genuine bonded leather” is especially suspect, as this describes the leather version of particle board. To make bonded leather, they mix ground-up scraps of leather together in a glue solution to make a sheet of manmade material. It rips easily. Instead look for “full grain leather,” and make sure it is the only material used. The best part of the hide is the bend, which is where we cut our money belts from.

For more information on recognizing different grades of leather, see Jamie’s detailed rundown on types of leather belts.

For the buckle, look for something solid. Our gold buckles are all solid brass, and our silver buckles are chrome / nickel plated solid brass. Solid brass belt buckles won’t rust or snap like the white metal buckles often used in mass produced belts. The non-plated solid brass buckles are safe for people with nickel allergies. (However, people with nickel allergies who want to order one of our belts should still let us know. We will use solid brass rivets to secure the buckle, rather than plated steel rivets.)

Make sure your belt is designed to maximize usable space. On our belts the zippered section runs the full length of the belt between the buckle and holes. Some belt maufacturers only add a short 10-12 inch zippered section in the center of the belt.

The pocket should be easy to access and easy to get things in and out. When we make our money belts, our last step is stretching the zippered section with a bone folder to make the leather more malleable.

Where To Buy A Money Belt?

You can find different styles of men’s and women’s leather money belts on our website, all of which are custom made by Leathersmith Designs artisans. You can opt to have personalized designs imprinted in your belt, or choose a plain style for a more inconspicuous look. For color we offer standard black, brown, and natural oil options; or you can choose a vibrant blue, green, purple, burgundy, or red for traveling in fashion.

The money belts we make here are from strong, high quality full grain cowhide and can endure long, difficult travel. Likely, if you are embarking on long and difficult travel, you will want a daily belt. A quality money belt is a good travel belt option and a good concealment option in one!

Watch our process for handmaking our leather money belts in this video.


Women’s Leather Wallet Design Process

Posted on: June 20th, 2019 by Quentin Burns

An Inside Look At How We Designed New Women’s Leather Wallets

This post covers my process for designing a new product: a women’s leather wallet. I discuss how I went from initial concept to finished item, and how I corrected issues I ran into along the way.

I haven’t written a step by step guide for making this exact wallet. Rather, This blog is meant as an inside look into what goes on during the design process, and as an aid to anyone working on designing their own leather wallet. That said, all my steps are broadly covered in the “Revised Prototype” section in the second half of the post, and I explain how I arrived at my measurements.

Inspiration for the Women’s Leather Wallet

I use these clutch-style wallets myself, so I began the design process by thinking about wallets I’ve had over the years. What features did I like and dislike about them, what did I find necessary and unnecessary? I also measured and examined the construction of the wallet I currently use.

Reducing bulk was going to be a major consideration for this project. I wanted the wallet to be as compact as possible, so it would easily fit most bags. The 2 1/2 oz goatskin I wanted to use for the interior was thicker than the vinyl and fabric interiors of my own wallet, and I knew that small amount of extra thickness would add up fast if too many leather layers were used. The outside of the wallet would be made from 3 – 4 oz premium tooling leather, which would make for a sturdy and durable product, but I would not want to use this for the interior because the wallet would become too bulky.

With that in mind, I decided to keep things simple. I designed the wallet as a rectangle, folded in half and secured with a clasp. All interior elements would attach to this rectangle, such that it would lay flat when opened. I wouldn’t use zippers or pouches or a median section. I also knew I wanted the card pockets to be horizontal, since cards stacked in a vertical column would overlap each other more, creating more thickness.

The Question of Pocket Size

I wanted to use the same pocket-stacking method we use in our men’s wallets. The two upper pockets that you can see in the man’s wallet below are not rectangular pieces of leather. Instead we cut them in a T shape, with two tabs at the upper corners. We sew the bottoms of the pockets to a backing piece, and later sew the side tabs to the body of the wallet. This keeps the bottom and sides of the wallet from being five layers thick.

I did not want my pockets to be the same size as those on the men’s wallet. Those pockets are 4 1/8” wide, and I ideally wanted my wallet to be narrower than 8”. To find the smallest reasonable pocket size I could use, I made a test pocket. From this I knew that a 3 5/8” distance between seams would make a snug but usable pocket.

Pocket test for women's leather wallet.

I made a test card pocket to check sizing.

The First Prototype

The picture below shows my first ideas for the layout and dimensions of the women’s leather wallet. All these measurements changed quite a bit by the end.

After coming up with this plan, I realized we had cutters that might work well for the wallet exterior, and for two of the interior money pockets. By “cutters,” I mean the metal item you can see in the photo below. These are essentially heavy-duty cookie cutters which are custom made for us, which we use on a hydraulic press to cut out pieces for some of our products. When designing new products, we try to come up with new uses for existing cutters. Hand cutting pieces takes much longer, which means that fully hand-cut products are priced higher.

ladies leather wallet planning.

My initial ideas for the ladies leather wallet. Lower left is a cutter we use for our men’s wallet.

The set of cutters I found had been designed for a checkbook cover. The length was slightly less than I’d wanted, and would result in the card pockets being a hair’s breadth narrower than my test pocket. Still, I decided to see how the wallet would turn out using those dimensions. I shortened the tab height from 5/8” to 1/2″ on the card pockets, to make them more compact. I also set the second money pocket on the top flap 1/2” down from the one behind it, to match.

The wallet would look unfinished with a strip of bare tooling leather between the pockets, but I didn’t want to line the whole interior with goatskin because that would make the wallet significantly thicker. Instead I glued a strip of lining down the center, with wings extending underneath the pockets so that no tooling leather is visible.

Womens leather wallet prototype.

My first wallet, with ideas for improvement.

This was the end result. I was happy with the look and feel of the wallet, and with the size of the long money pockets. Unfortunately, the card pockets were too small. Once five of them were filled, getting a card in the sixth pocket was a struggle. Putting two cards in each pocket was nearly impossible. It also seemed that the bottom pocket should be taller, to enclose more of the card.

I made two other edits as well. Firstly I decided to line the inside of the closure tab, so the wallet would have no unfinished tooling leather visible. Secondly I decided to glue the central lining piece down completely, rather than leaving the wings inside the pockets loose. I had originally left them loose with the idea that money could be tucked under them, but I felt the lining was not secure enough that way.

Making The Revised Prototype

I hand cut new wallet pieces using my revised dimensions. Every time I adjusted a piece I recorded the measurements, so I would know what I’d done when it came time to make my final pattern.

Goatskin and cowhide wallet pieces in women's wallet.

The cut pieces for my final women’s wallet.

Finally, I assembled the wallet. I applied contact cement where needed to the interior pieces. While waiting for the glue to dry, I applied leather dye and neatsfoot oil to the exterior pieces and set them aside. Then I hammered my glued pieces together, and assembled the pockets.

Women's leather wallet in progress.

Dyeing and gluing the leather wallet pieces.

When the neatsfoot oil had fully soaked in and the exterior pieces were dry, I polished them with acrylic resolene and dyed the edges with edge-kote acrylic dye. Then I glued the tab top and the tab lining together, and trimmed the excess lining. I sewed around the edge of the tab only on the end where I wasn’t going to sew it to the wallet body. When doing this I made sure my seams would line up and look like one seam on the finished product.

I set the top line 2o small jacket snap, and worked out where to attach the tab and the bottom snap. Then I sewed on the tab, glued the interior pieces to the exterior, and sewed around the wallet’s edge to permanently fix everything together.

Comparing first and second interior womens leather wallet card design.

Card wallet pocket interiors of the two different designs.

Closed women's leather wallet, prototype and final.

First prototype vs. final women’s leather wallet.

Here you can see how the first version compares to the second. The card slots are now much easier to use. Each can fit two cards comfortably, but even with one card in each slot the cards are held securely and not in danger of sliding out. The added lining in the tab creates a more unified look.

Making a Pattern 

Now that I had my finished wallet, I could make a pattern to use for future wallets. This was easy to do since I had kept records of my measurements.

The pattern has small holes indicating where to sew the tab and where to place the snaps. This way I can simply make a mark on the leather, rather than having to measure for correct placement every time.

Women's leather wallet pattern pieces.

My final pattern for the women’s leather wallet.

The Finished Women’s Leather Wallet

This project took about three weeks to complete, from initial planning to the wallet’s appearance on our online shop. I worked on it when I had time between making custom orders. Once I’d finished my part, the wallets I’d made went over to our photo studio with Jamie. He took glamour shots of them and then worked on adding the product to our website.

Check out our ladies leather wallets at our online store!

Imprinted women's leather wallet handmade at our leather shop.

The first of our personalized women’s leather wallet to leave our shop – this one traveled to Florida!


Leather Guitar Straps Guide

Posted on: May 21st, 2019 by Quentin Burns

This article is an overview of everything to do with our leather guitar straps, which are handcrafted by the artisans at Leathersmith Designs. It will show you what goes into designing one of our custom guitar straps, and it will compare different techniques we use for different styles of straps. Read on if you’re curious about how our handmade guitar straps are created, or for guidance on which style of strap would be ideal for your needs.

Watch artisans handcraft different styles of leather guitar straps.

1: Real Leather Guitar Straps

Every guitar strap starts life as a high quality piece of 5-6 oz vegetable tanned leather. The “5-6 oz” measurement refers to the thickness of our full grain leather; these hides are about 3/32 inches thick. “Vegetable tanned” describes the tanning process, which uses tree bark. This process creates leather that can be stamped and molded when wet.

We often incorporate other leathers in the strap, such as chrome tanned garment leather. We use this soft leather as a lining or inlay option.

Leather guitar strap blanks and cutters for the hydraulic press.

Standard size undyed full grain leather guitar strap pieces and cutters.

We cut our standard size guitar strap pieces using cutters on a hydraulic press. You can see our hydraulic press in action in the video below. Extra long straps and wide bass straps are cut out by hand, using a strap cutter handtool and a sharp utility knife.

We hand cut custom leather guitar straps longer and wider to customer specifications.

2: Design Elements Of Leather Guitar Straps

Once our pieces have been cut they are ready to be hand tooled. This section will cover some different techniques we use to personalize and embellish our straps.

“Classic” Stamped Straps

Blue and gold stamped personalized guitar strap.

A classic series stamped personalized guitar strap.

The embossed classic series are our most popular guitar straps. To create this look the strap needs to be wet, which allows the stamping tool to mold the leather as it’s hammered down.

The key to this technique is precision. We line up the stamping tool exactly in place, and bring the hammer straight downwards to create an even impression. Then we line up the tool again, and repeat a few hundred times to create a beautiful border design around the strap.

After stamping the border designs, we lay out the text. On most of our guitar straps we use one style of lettering: the classic, western-inspired font you can see in the picture above. We also have an old english font set, which is unique but not as easy to read as the classic style.

A hand stamp being used on a leather guitar strap.

Hand stamping an “x” pattern onto a leather guitar strap.

Etched Leather Guitar Straps

Etched designs have a hand-drawn artistic look, as opposed to the uniformity and crisp corners of the stamped designs. To create these we trace an image onto the guitar strap in pencil, wet the leather, and press down the lines of the design with an etching hand tool. The key to etching is to keep a steady hand and apply even pressure. This blog post on making custom candle holders includes a tutorial for etching, if you want to learn more.

We hand paint the etched lettering or layout with an acrylic leather paint. We have several font options for this lettering style.

Three unique leather guitar straps with etched and painted artwork.

Etched and painted designs on three unique leather guitar straps.

“Script” Straps

Monogrammed guitar strap with textured embossed initials.

A script series monogrammed guitar strap with textured embossing surrounding initials.

This is a different type of stamped strap. We trace on a design, as with the etched straps, and then we use small, textured stamping tools to tamp down the area around the design. It takes hundreds of hits to emboss the background using this method, which is very time consuming. This technique makes the lettering or image appear raised.

For a subtle look, we will dye the whole design one color. For more contrast, we can leave the lettering undyed. We do this by painting on the dye with a fine artist brush around the exterior of the raised image.

Three tooled leather guitar straps with a chiseled look.

Our script style designs on our tooled leather guitar straps have a chiseled look.

Inlay and Overlay Straps

Inlayed straps have pieces of the main body of the guitar strap cut out, revealing a different leather underneath. We might use a textured leather for these inlays, such as ostrich imprint or stingray, or a soft garment leather, or leather with a metallic finish.

An inlay series handmade guitar strap decorated with textured leather.

A setting suns handmade guitar strap with textured leather inlay.

Overlay straps have extra pieces sewn on top, creating a 3D effect.

Overlay series Christian guitar strap with a blue cross overlay.

A Christian guitar strap with a blue leather cross overlay piece and decorative metal concho.

For both the inlay and overlay styles, the first step involves tracing a pattern onto the leather and then cutting out the necessary pieces with a sharp utility knife. The cut edges are sanded and adjusted until the cut-out is completely smooth.

3: Dyeing, Oiling, Polishing

Once a strap has been tooled it is ready to be dyed. For some straps, we use wooden blocks lined with sheepskin to apply the dye. This method floods any stamped or etched impressions, making the whole strap a uniform color.

For straps where the stamped impressions are to remain undyed for a natural contrasting color, we apply the dye with a cotton cloth and use q-tips to fill in the edges.

Classic hand tooled leather guitar strap, dyed black with undyed designs.

Dye is applied carefully, so as not to flood the undyed stamped design in the guitar strap.

Black vogue hand tooled leather guitar strap showing dyed in design.

On vogue style hand tooled leather guitar straps, the design is dyed in using sheepskin.

After the leather strap is dyed, it will be coated with a leather conditioner – usually neatsfoot oil. Then we hang it up and leave it to dry overnight. The next day we may need to even out the color with more leather dye or conditioner. Once the color is uniform, we polish the guitar strap with acrylic resolene. The edges are rounded with a beveler leathercraft tool and dyed with edge-kote.

4: Finishing Touches

Many of our stamped and etched designs have an option for the lettering to be hand painted. We apply several coats of acrylic leather paint using a ball point stylus tool. The first coat establishes an even line width, and subsequent coats build up the color until it is completely opaque.

After painting, decorative conchos are fitted with leather washers and attached to the strap.

Close up of gold old english letters imprinted on a personalized guitar strap.

Gold painted lettering and decorative concho on an old english series personalized guitar strap.

Inlay pieces for inlay guitar straps have their edges thinned, so there won’t be a bump under the strap lining later. Then we glue and sew them in place.

An inlay guitar strap sewn with a metallic leather finish.

A dancing flame guitar strap with a metallic leather inlay. The inlay pieces require very careful sewing.

5: Padding and Lining Leather Guitar Straps

We have a few different lining options, each with a different look and feel. Inlay guitar straps need to have a full garment leather lining, to cover the back of the inlay. Otherwise, lining choice is up to preference. In all cases we adhere the lining with contact cement and then sew it to the strap.

Foam Padding and Garment Leather

A brown vintage guitar strap padded with foam and with soft blue leather lining.

A vintage guitar strap padded with foam and lined with soft blue garment leather.

Our foam padded straps are the best option for anyone who will be playing onstage for long periods of time with a heavy electric guitar. These straps are sturdy and substantial. The foam is light and doesn’t add much extra weight, but it can withstand a lot. When Jamie designed these padded guitar straps, he tested different foam types by flattening them in a press overnight. Once removed from the press the next day, the foam padding we now use sprang back to its original thickness perfectly, while other types of poorer quality foam remained flattened.

You can watch a video below showing how we add foam padding and garment leather lining to our guitar straps.

This video shows Jamie making foam padded guitar straps.

Garment Leather Lining

A double stitch wide bass guitar strap lined with garment leather.

A wide bass guitar strap double stitched with a soft garment leather lining.

If you want a strap with a more finished, polished look, but don’t want the added bulk of foam padding, then this is a good lining option. The garment leather is soft, smooth, and pliant. It adds some extra thickness, creating a slightly firmer strap, but the strap will still be very flexible.

Sheepskin

A sheepskin padded guitar strap for shoulder comfort in black leather with white lettering.

A sheepskin padded guitar strap for soft shoulder comfort with a double stitched border.

This lining option gives a nice soft cushion for your shoulder, as well as being a major, visible design element. The same strap with or without this type of shoulder pad will look very different! In the video below you can watch how we attach sheepskin padding to our straps.

This video shows Quentin adding soft sheepskin padding to leather guitar straps.

Unlined Natural Leather

Leaving your strap unlined is a good option for straps with a classic rustic look.  The underside of our vegetable tanned leather is treated with a clear leather finish, giving it a smooth surface. The underside will be a natural, undyed leather color.

Brown personalized guitar strap with white stitching and an unlined natural leather back.

An unlined, sewn double border personalized guitar strap. The stitching is for design effect only on this unlined strap. The underside of the unlined leather is a natural color.

6: Our Guitar Straps Around the World

We love when customers send in photos of our guitar straps in action. Here are a few of my favorites:

Vogue guitar strap worn by Javier Sans.

Javier Sans performs in Spain with a vogue custom guitar strap.

 

Etched guitar strap worn by Katie Rocks.

Katie Rocks performs with an etched guitar strap.

 

Christian guitar strap worn by Mark Rankin.

Mark Rankin performs wearing a hand tooled guitar strap.

 

Two brown christian guitar straps shown on performers.

Troubadour performed wearing a pair of Christian guitar straps. Photograph by Greg Mooney.

 

Three guitar straps posed with guitars.

A few guitar straps with their guitars.

Check out our many styles of electric guitar straps and acoustic guitar straps. If you’ve ordered one of our guitar straps, we’d love to have a photo to share on social media!


Leather Hole Punch For Belts & Leatherwork

Posted on: January 28th, 2019 by Quentin Burns

Which Type of Leather Hole Punch?

This post covers the best methods for making holes for belts and other leatherwork projects, using several different types of leather hole punch tools. It will teach you how to use the drive punch, rotary hole punch, oblong hole punch, and four hole punch. The post will also help you choose which leather handtool or leather punch set is the best fit for your leather crafting needs. At the end of the post is a video where you can watch how to make a hole in leather with each different type of leather hole punch.

Round Hole Drive Punch

The drive punch is the most basic, strongest, and most universal type of leather hole punch. They come in a range of sizes. We use our small 3/32 inch leather punch to make holes for small rivets and small jacket snaps, our 1/8 inch drive punch tool to make holes for medium and large rivets, and our 5/32 inch hole punch for large jacket snaps. These sizes can be used for some buckle holes as well, but often the larger hole punch sizes are better for buckles with thicker pins. For this, you will need to choose a punch based on the circumference of your buckle tongue. To make holes for grommets and eyelets, you will need to choose a punch size based on the interior circumference of the eyelet or grommet.

crafttool round drive punch for leather

Round drive punches are available in many hole diameters.

You can also find adjustable leather punch sets. These consist of a body that can be fitted with different sizes of removable hole tube tips. Our mini punch set includes six smaller tips, and the maxi punch set has six larger tips. These are a good option if you aren’t sure what size you’ll need, or if you need to punch multiple sizes of holes. They are a good economical choice if you won’t be punching a lot of holes, since you won’t have to spend money on many different individual drive punch tools. The disadvantage of this type of punch is that swapping out the ends takes up time.

Mini leather hole punch kit with a variety of hole sizes.

Mini punch set with interchangeable tips and wrench.

How To Use A Drive Punch

To use a drive punch, first start with a sturdy surface that won’t bounce when you’re punching holes. We use a solid tree stump. On top of the stump we lay a piece of scrap leather, so that the sharp point on the drive tool won’t get dull from punching directly onto wood. This also prevents the punch from chewing up the wood and ruining your cutting surface. If you don’t have scrap leather available, you can use a poly cutting board.

Use a pencil or scratch awl to mark the leather where you need the hole punched. On darker colored leather it is easier to see a point mark by the awl than a pencil mark. Then set the piece on your cutting surface and line up your punch. The hole punch should be completely perpendicular to the leather. Hold it securely in this position, and hammer straight downwards. Depending on the thickness of the leather, the punch should cut through cleanly with one or two solid blows.

Using a drive punch tool to make holes in leather on top of a tree stump with a scrap leather underlay.

We punch holes on top of a tree stump, with a scrap leather pad to protect the drive punch tool.

The hammer shown in this photo is a large poly head mallet; a heavy rawhide mallet is also a good option. Both materials will absorb bounce, and the softer surface will protect your tools over time and extend their life.

A traditional carpenter’s hammer can be used as well.  The disadvantage of a metal hammer is that over time it will start to mushroom the end of your hole punch tools, since you are banging metal against metal.

Making Buckle Slots With An Oblong Leather Punch

crafttool oblong punch for belt buckle tongues

Oblong hole punch, used for the pin hole on belt buckles.

Use the same process to punch an oblong shaped hole for a belt buckle. It may take a bit more hammering than the smaller drive punch. You can tilt the leather oblong punch slightly, if needed, to focus the force of the hammer onto a stubborn spot.

If you can’t afford an oblong hole punch when first starting leather craft, you can get around that problem with your round hole punches. Punch two round holes an inch apart, then use a utility knife to make two parallel cuts to join the round holes together.  You could also use a wood chisel to make the straight cuts. However once you have the money and use an oblong punch, you will never go back to the work-around method.

For most of our belts and dog collars we use a 1 inch oblong punch. We use larger punches for items with large or bulky buckles, and smaller punches for small items with slender buckles. If you can’t afford a number of different sizes of oblong hole punch, you can use the one you already own to make a longer hole. Punch one hole and then overlap the punch on the existing hole, extending it past the existing hole to the desired slot length. Give it a blow with the hammer so the two slots make one longer oblong slot. You can see a poly cutting board being used below to protect the bench and the tool’s edge.

An oblong hole punch creates a belt hole with a poly cutting board used as the base.

Use an oblong hole punch tool to punch a hole for a belt buckle. Shown with poly cutting board.

Punching Round Holes With A Rotary Punch

deluxe rotary punch to add a hole in belt is convenient.

Revolving hole punch is convenient for doing the odd quick hole.

The advantage of the rotary hole punch is convenience. It comes with six different sizes of hole punches, which you switch between by rotating the wheel. We used to take this hand tool to craft shows to add a hole to a belt when someone would request it.

The disadvantage is that if you have many holes to punch, using the rotary punch pliers becomes tiring on the hand. It also will only reach about an inch in from the edge of your leather, so you can’t use it to punch a hole in the center of a large piece.  Also, the thicker the leather and the larger the tube size, the harder it becomes to squeeze the revolving punch through.  In these cases, sometimes you have to twist the punch some as you squeeze to get through the thicker leather. This leather tool is good for doing the odd hole, but too tiring and hard for punching lots of holes.

With this type of punch we again use a scrap piece of leather underneath the piece we want to punch, to keep the blades sharp. Otherwise you are crunching the sharp cutting tube into the hard metal anvil. Doing so will dull the tube quicker and wear out the metal anvil. Sandwich your good piece of leather and your scrap piece between the tube and the punching surface, and squeeze the handles together.

Punching Round Holes for Lacing

Four hole leather punch for leather craft.

A four hole punch used for lacing.

Beyond the basic drive and rotary punches, you can find specialty leather punches for different applications. One of the more handy leather work tools is this four hole punch, which is used to make small holes for lacing leather. On this punch each hole is 3/32 inch diameter, spaced 1/4 inch apart. The advantage of the four-in-one punch is that it will save time and keep your holes evenly spaced.  Use this four hole punch for the straight parts of your leather lacing project.  For going around curves, use the single hole punch mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Use this hole puncher the same way as an individual drive punch. As with the oblong punch, you may need to tilt the punch to focus the force of the hammer on a particular hole.

The Video

Here you can watch Jamie demonstrating these leather craft tools. He shows how to punch a hole in a leather belt and other leatherwork projects in his custom leather shop.

Video demonstrating how to make holes in leather.




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