If you’ve already looked into what leather work is and the different types of leather, the natural next question to ask yourself is “what leather tools do I need?”
Its really easy to go down the rabbit hole looking at the fanciest and high-end leather tools. You’ll find that the price tag can quickly add up doing this. There are some really nice tools out there, but if you are new to leather work, you don’t really know which tools you’ll actually use yet. It is definitely in your best interest to get some half-decent beginner leather tools to figure out which tools you actually use, if you’re actually into leather working, and to learn the techniques and practice them using just basic tools. If you get good using very basic leather tools, you’ll be able to make anything and you’ll be able to truly appreciate it once you do upgrade.
What Kind of Leather Work Do You Plan on Doing?
The question “what leather tools do I need?” is a bit more complicated than it seems since there are many different types and styles of leather work, depending on the style you’re going for and what you’re making.
Try to really nail down what you want to make and it can save you a few dollars in tools that you may not need for the type of leather work you do.
For instance, you don’t need a swivel knife and a set of leather stamps if you aren’t tooling leather.
If you haven’t already, it would be worth your time to check out my How to Start Leather Working post on my Black Flag website as well as giving my related video a watch:
Beginner Leather Tools I Recommend
I’ll do my best to give you a list of tools and what they do here, but just keep in mind that only you know exactly the type of leather craft that you want to do and you may find that you need a tool or two that isn’t on this list.
Check the links for my recommendations, but by all means, shop around for what is best for you!
Leather Tool Starter Kits
You definitely don’t have to start with a kit, but it does take a lot of guess work out of the equation. This is how I started out and I found my Amazon kit to be good enough; although, there were a few tools in my kit that I never used, or just broke. There are a bunch of different kits available on Amazon and through a few leather craft supply stores.
If you are going to go the Amazon Tool Kit route, I’d give this one a shot. It has a bit of fluff that you may not use, but the basics are all there.
If you are looking for a bit higher quality starter kit, Weaver has some really good options at different tiers:
A Sharp Knife
This is one tool that every single leather worker is going to need, regardless of the type of work you are doing.
It’s kind of funny but I’ve used all sorts of fancy leather knives, but I keep going back to my Husky Exacto knife with cheap replaceable blades. It just really works well for what I do.
A scratch awl is like the multi-tool of leather work. I use mine so much. They come in handy for all kinds of tasks from marking your design on leather, to punching a small hole, to helping pry the lid off your glue when you made a mess with it and just put the lid back on instead of cleaning it properly.
I have a few of these kicking around my shop – all of them just cheap Amazon ones. You don’t really need to spend big money on one of these.
This is pretty straightforward but often forgotten. A metal ruler with cork backing is great. Several different lengths of rulers is a good idea. A construction square is also a good thing to have for drawing right angles.
Self-Healing Cutting Mat
Another no-brainer: you need one of these to cut your leather on or you will cut up your table. I have a big one of these and a small one and get way more use out of the bigger one. I’d recommend getting the biggest one you can.
These are super handy for drawing your stitch lines. Some people also use a groover to mark their line which actually cuts a little channel into the leather where your thread ultimately sits. I’ve tried both methods but prefer the wing dividers.
This is one of those tools where you have a bunch of options and ultimately it will come down to personal preference. I recommend starting with a simple diamond chisel. These are cheap, easy to use, and do a pretty good job. If you do go this route, just make sure you get a stainless steel set. The black ones have a coating on them and are hard to pull out of leather.
You will need something to hit your various punches with. For this, you need a mallet or a maul. Whichever you choose, it needs to have a soft head so that it doesn’t damage your tools. These are typically made of polyurethane, rubber, or rawhide. Do not use a hammer.
You nneed something to do your punching on so that you don’t wreck your punches. A rubber punching mat works great but you can also just use your cutting mat and a layer or two of thick leather. You just don’t want the sharp parts of your punches to hit anything that will dull them.
You will want an edge beveler to round the edges on your leather before you burnish it. If you don’t bevel the edge, it will mushroom out when you run your burnisher over it.
Edge bevelers come in different sizes which are usually denoted by number. The higher the number, the more leather the beveler will remove. Unfortunately these sizes are not standard across brands. I generally use a Palosanto edge beveler size 2. This is perfect for me but I prefer thicker leather somewhere in the 5-7 oz range. If you are working with thinner leather, I’d probably go with size 1. Some bevelers are sized by fraction of an inch as well. Honestly, I think this is probably a better way of sizing them.
This is a tool where I do not recommend wasting your time buying the cheapest one on Amazon. I had a cheap one for a while and they are terrible. Spend a bit extra and buy a half decent one.
Sand Paper (in Multiple Grits)
The key to a really nice burnished leather edge is sanding. You will need to go through multiple grits to get the edge nice and smooth. Do not skip this step. Take your time and work your way through the different grits. I usually start at 120 and go to about 1000 or so.
Amazon is the best place to get sandpaper. They have a bunch of nice packs of different grits.
You have a lot of options when it comes to your burnisher. You can go with a cheap one on Amazon or spend a few extra dollars for something smoother. The smoother your burnisher is, the easier it will be to use. If you do buy a cheap Amazon one, spend a few minutes to sand it down to a really fine grit.
To get a nice burnish, you’ll need a good burnishing compound. You can use Tokonole, gum tragacanth, beeswax, saddle soap, or whatever else people have come up with.
Honestly, I’ve tried most methods and Tokonole is the best stuff. Don’t waste your time with the other stuff.
You can order it on Amazon or at most leather supply shops.
You’ll need needles for hand stitching. John James needles are the gold standard and pretty inexpensive. Look for harness needles.
Using a good thread makes stitching easier and makes the finished product look better. Ritza Tiger Thread is by far my favourite thread but there are other good ones out there. You just need to find the one that works for you.
You will need a glue to stick your pieces of leather together before you stitch it up. I prefer a water-based glue; however, you can use contact cement or even double sided tape as well. This is another one of those things where you need to find what works for you.
Hopefully I was able to answer what leather tools you need or at least point you in the right direction.
If you are looking for some free leather craft patterns, I have a bunch available on my website here.
Or you can check out my free templates playlist on YouTube here: