How I Began Leatherworking
I will tell you a little about my own journey in leatherworking, and how I got my start. I have always been good with my hands, I was a plumber in a different life, and just after we ended up in a near post apocalyptic world, and we were all locked away and not allowed to do anything, I was getting cabin fever being stuck at home all the time.
I had hobbies like working out and reading, playing with the kids etc, but I felt a great need to make something tangible. Sure we can all make money online with blogs, sales, courses, and this may be an option down the line, but I just wanted to make something with my own two hands.
So I did all the same searches you probably did, ¨what to make at home¨, ¨what can I make on a budget¨, ¨easy crafts to start¨ and a whole list of search terms but nothing was standing out, until I came across a podcast episode on one of the side hustle podcasts, and they were interviewing Ryan from Popov Leather.
After I heard His story, how he had started from just making one wallet from scraps and eventually running a leather business turning over a million dollars a year, I was hooked. I spent the next month watching every single video I could find on youtube about starting a leather business, how to make wallets, how to cut leather, how to stitch leather, where to sell your leather goods. I mean I watched hundreds of hours and continue to do so.
Now after about 4 weeks of devouring all the info I could find on becoming a leather worker, I decided I actually wanted to do this, and began searching for the minimum amount of tools needed to start leatherworking so I could just make something basic, or find out if I was even capable or would like it.
Something I will say that is really important, is if you dont feel some type of passion toward something, and you are only choosing it for the money, move on to the next idea because if your new hobby does become a business in the future, it will also be your full time job, and you don't want to end up where you started feeling stuck in something you do not want to do.
My goal is to help anyone out there that wants to become a leatherworker avoid some of the mistakes I made, and also give some tips that can help you get ahead. As much as possible, I will tell you everything that I did at the start, where I found my resources like free templates, and how to choose the right leather for a project. It can get pretty overwhelming once you really get into the craft because the information is pretty dispersed, so I hope to put a good amount of information in this post that will be of value to you.
If I could find all the information I know now in one place instead of having to spend countless hours compiling the information, it would have helped me a great deal, so I hope I can help anyone out there wanting to become a leatherworker, and wish you all the luck on your journey.
What are the basics you need to start leatherworking
If you follow any social accounts of leatherworkers (and if you don´t you should), you will see a lot of the same tools being used, and if you are just starting, you really don't need that many to get you going. Sure, there are some more specialised tools that you may want to purchase down the road, like punches to cut angled corners so you won't have to do it with a blade, or different sized hole punches and when the time comes you can invest in these, but let me tell you the only tools and materials I used when I started leatherworking.
You don't really think about all the different types of leather when you are buying a wallet, but when you sit down to make a wallet of your own, you need to decide on the type of leather and the thickness you will use. Too thin, and the end product can feel flimsy, too thick and the end product can be too bulky for its intended use.
Buying leather can be a challenge if you don't understand how leather is sold. You can buy an entire hide of leather, a side, a shoulder, premeasured squares and each piece has its own qualities.The shoulder is thicker, the belly is more supple, and over time you will develop an understanding of how to choose the best leather for your project. But if you are just starting, you just want some leather scraps and a little creativity.
Something else to get familiar with from the start is understanding the thickness of leather. The thickness of leather is measured in ounces, and I could never remember this at the start, and always had to refer to a leather Oz to mm chart, so I have included one of those for you all as well. Depending on what your leather project is going to be, you will need to choose a suitable thickness of leather.
Then you need something to cut the leather with, and it has to be sharp, like really sharp, the kind of sharp that makes you clench up a little when you see how easily it cuts through something. If a blade is not sharp enough, you will end up putting more and more pressure on a blade you are pulling towards you most of the time, and one slip is all it takes to earn a painful reminder to keep a sharp blade and be cautious when cutting leather. I have the scars to prove it!
When you are cutting leather, you need to use a ruler to mark it and keep the cuts straight with the blade, so a metal ruler and a scratching awl to mark the lines on your leather also go in the toolbox.
Now you have the leather and you can cut it, almost all leather projects include some glueing and a lot of stitching. You will need some glue, and something to punch the holes for the stitching, if you are not going to be using a machine. And the last thing you need will be a template, something simple that doesn't require anything complex.
How To Get Free Leather Templates
You can find a lot of free leather templates on places like instructables.com, make supply leather, weaver leather supply also have a couple free ones I think along with tutorials to make the products. A place where I have found many free leather templates is on you tube. If you can be smart about how you do your searches, there are hundreds of free leather wallet templates, free leather bag templates, and this is all you have to search for.
To get free templates for leatherwork on youtube, type queries in to the search bar like ¨Leather PDF¨, ¨Wallet Template PDF¨, ¨Free Leather Template¨, and you will get pages of videos of leathercrafters making wallets and bags, and hats and all manner of things, giving you the free templates, and showing you step by step how to make it, An invaluable resource.
Most of the instructional videos will include 'Free Pdf' in the title, and if you go to the description section of the video you will have a link to download the free leather pattern. If you do choose to make anuthing with these patterns, it's nice to drop them a message and let them know you appreciate their permission,
Another bonus trick I use that opened me up to a whole new market of free leather templates was searching for them in different languages. Leatherwork is popular in places like russia, korea, china, turkey and many other countries, I speak three languages so this does help, but if you search for the word ¨Leather¨ in any language, and add pdf to it in the google or you tube search bar, you will find free leather templates from all over the world.
You will have enough free leather templates for wallet and bags, leather templates for earrings, to make keyrings, glasses cases, I mean I have found and made my own customisations to hundreds of free templates for countless projects. And all this is provided by other artisans that just want to help eachother out. There are a lot of leather workers out there, but it's a small enough community that you want everyone else to do well.
Where Can I Buy Leather Templates
If you still can’t find anything you like among the free templates, there is a website thats a great source for a very wide range of leather patterns called Leathercraftpattern.com.
Here you will find leather bag patterns, leather steering wheel patterns, acrylic patterns for leather and the list goes on. They also sell a lot more materials for the leatherworking community so make you have a look around the site.
So the must haves you need when starting leatherwork are leather, a blade, a metal ruler, a scratching awl, a leather stitching punch oh and some needles and thread. I´ll go into more detail on each one of these to give you a better idea of which leather tools you should buy, and some other optional ones.
What Tools Do I Need To Start Leatherworking
When I first started, I bought a complete kit of leatherworking tools, and overtime figured out which tools I needed and which ones I did not really use. Then as I got better at leather craft and knew what type of products I would make, I would buy better versions of the tools I would use often.
Here is a complete kit to get you started, and these are the minimum amount of tools you will need to start leatherworking. The kit I bought was much bigger and had so many things I have not used to this day, so I went through them all to find the cheapest and most comprehensive beginners set of leather working tools.
There are a few different leather starter kits you can opt for, and the kit you choose will depend on what type of products you will be making, but the basic leatherworking kit should include a few must-have tools that you would want when starting your journey as a leatherworker. I will go over a few other starter kits for leather workers in a different post.
So let us go into a little more detail about each of the above leatherworking tools and materials mentioned. When you are buying your first tools, you don’t need to go and buy the most expensive ones, or buy the best leather, you just need to get some tools that are good enough that allow you to get the basics done. You will need a bit of practice before you go and start spending more money on things, so here we go.
What leather should I buy for my first project?
When you're looking for leather to use on your first project, it will all depend on what you are going to make, and you may not even know what you want to make yet, this is where leather scraps come in handy. A quick google search will let you know shops in your area where you can buy leather, and if you are lucky they will be local enough for you to pay them a visit.
Most places that sell leather usually also make leather products, so they will have a box somewhere with small squares and off cuts they sell. But if you ask nicely, they also have a lot of small pieces they throw away to the scrap pile, and rather than ending up in a dump somewhere, they would much prefer to help you out and give them to you.
Scrap leather doesn’t mean it is unusable, it's just they are much smaller pieces of leather and can be of different textures and colours, but this can be very useful for a beginner leatherworker. You can make a simple card wallet with just two small squares, a keyring, a leather bracelet and many other small projects to get you the practice.
With the pieces of scrap leather that were too small to make anything real with, I would just punch holes in pieces of leather and practise different types of stitching, or test different types of blades to see which one cut better and what felt more comfortable for me.
You are not just limited to buying leather scraps from a shop, because most online shops that sell leather will also have a scraps section. I live in Spain myself, and buy a lot of my leather directly from shops, but I bought all of my leather online at the start.
A few examples:
So a short overview of the type of leather you should buy when starting leatherworking, but once you have got the handle of the basics, we can then take a look at how to choose the right leather for your project.
How to cut Leather - The best tools to cut leather
I will go over the general things you should keep in mind when cutting leather, and I will go into more detail on each specific type of blade to cut leather in a separate post. The most important thing to know when cutting leather is to be cautious, everything else comes after.
So when it comes to choosing the best tool to cut leather, I have found that it can be quite subjective. For cutting straight lines in leather, you just need a sharp blade right, but not so simple I found out. At the beginning, I would use a scalpel or an exacto knife to cut leather as I assumed this would be the sharpest and I stuck with this for some time. But the blade is flexible, the handle thin and all around it was pretty uncomfortable for me.
I tried various types of scalpels and types of cutters, and at one point I was really in to using a rotary cutter to cut leather, but I had a bit of a mishap and cut my hand quite badly with one of those, so I kind of shy away from that a little, but if I am cutting a larger piece of leather, i still opt for the rotary cutter. After a lot of trial and error, I found the best tool to cut leather for me was a good quality box cutter, or stanley blade for the people from England, that is what I have always known them as.
You can get these cutters with rubber grips, different shapes and sizes, and the blades are cheap and don't flex when you are cutting through the leather. The blades are cheap and available everywhere to buy as opposed to a special scalpel or rotary blade that can get pretty costly.
I started with just a regular stanley box cutter, and have bought a few different types over time to test them out, but any of these Stanley Box Cutters you see here will be a great choice when deciding on the best way to cut your leather.
The best ruler to use cutting leather
Another mistake I made when I started leatherworking was not getting the correct ruler. A good ruler is really important when cutting leather as the measurements have to be precise down to a mm, and the material of the ruler matters a great deal also. I had a plastic ruler at the start, I just grabbed a ruler I had at home, but you find out pretty soon that when you are cutting the leather the blade will rub up on the ruler and end up taking a chunk out of the ruler, and plastic slips on leather when you apply pressure, and I ruined a few pieces of leather slipping up with the blade like that.
To help you avoid having to figure this out, you need a metal ruler with a cork backing, and different sizes too. It's easier to manoeuvre a small ruler when you are cutting smaller pieces of leather and it's quicker. Then you will also need right angle metal rulers. Sometimes you just want to cut a square or a rectangle piece of leather, and instead of having to print out a template for this, you can just use a right angle ruler to cut a perfect shape.
Scratch Awl For Marking Leather
Once you have your leather, you have found your template you are going to use, knife and ruler in hand, you now need to mark the leather before cutting it. For this you will need a scratch awl. If you are asking ¨what is a scratch awl¨, it's a tool that is predominantly used in woodworking as a point maker. It's basically a sharp steel spike with a sharpened tip.
Choosing the correct awl to mark leather will also end up being something that feels best for you. You can use pretty much any awl to mark leather, you just develop a preference over time. I have pretty big hands, and you would think I would like a bigger awl, but I prefer a smaller scratch awl to mark leather because I feel like I have more control over the point.
If the handle is small and the spike long, you don't have as much control over the point and it can slip when you apply pressure when marking the leather. If it is too small, then you wont get a good grip and you again will not have full control. Something in the middle to start with is just perfect. This is a perfect little scratch awl to mark leather, is very cheap and does exactly what you need. Then later on when you are making some money from your leatherworking, you can buy a fancier scratch awl.
The Best Glue To Use For Leather
Figuring out the best ways to glue leather to leather, or leather to other materials proved to be quite a challenge for me in the beginning. Most of us starting out as a leatherworker will be doing so on a budget, and I tried to save money by using cheaper glues that would not work as well, or stain my leather. Or I would have the correct glue, but be using it incorrectly, so I struggled for a while to get a consistently good bond on my leather projects.
Why is it important to glue your leather well?
When you are preparing your leather for sewing, you will be using glue. Although you are sewing the pieces together, we want to have the closest and strongest bond between the leather pieces. Some projects will also include multiple layers, and you will need to glue the pieces together before punching your holes for sewing, or even if you will be using a machine to sew the leather, the pieces need to be aligned and not moving once the needle hits the leather.
To briefly state, there are two main types of leather used in leatherworking. There are water based types of leather glue like Aleene’s and Fiebling’s leather glue. Then you have contact cement which creates a stronger bond between the pieces. To find out more about glueing leather, please check my in depth post on A Comprehensive Guide To Using Glue With Leather where I explain in great detail everything you need to know about the types of glue leather workers use.
Sewing Needle And Thread For Leather
And to finally tie it all together, you will need something to sew the leather together. You will find out pretty soon that leatherworkers do not use run of the mill thread to sew their wallets or bags. Leather is a very strong product, and you need something equally strong to hold it together, so the preferred type of thread is a waxed thread.
Waxed thread is stronger than regular cotton thread and will withstand a lot more load. I know of people that buy their own thick cotton thread then run it through wax, but I prefer to just buy thread already waxed. The thickness varies greatly, and to simplify this as much as I can, the thickness of your thread will depend on how thick you are punching your holes.
If your stitching punch is punching holes 0.4 mm in size, and you buy a 0.6mm thread, the swing will all look clumped together and not give you that nice flowing look of even stitches you like to see. So you want a thread slightly smaller than the hole you will be punching.
Something else you may not think of at the beginning is the type of needle you want to use for sewing leather by hand. I do all my leather sewing by hand and continue to do so, and at the start I made a mistake that I never corrected for such a long time.
I used a sharp needle to sew leather !
This may seem like a trivial thing, but I was using a thick needle for fabric sewing for about 6 months, and what you find when you are sewing leather is that a sharp needle will get caught almost every single time you stick in in a hole, or it will just go through a thin piece of leather and damage your project if you are not careful. I just thought this was a leather workers issue, and I just had to deal with it.
One day I went to a shop here in Madrid, it’s a very well known shop that's been there for over a hundred years and sells a lot of things for home crafts. I had lost one of my needles, and I asked if I could get a new one, and I was asked what I would be using it for. I said leather, and a moment later the man came back with a variety of needles, thinner, thicker, shorter, smaller, but they all had one thing in common that made me realise my mistake immediately.Leather sewing needles have a blunt point!
I understood the purpose of this immediately. A dull point will not get stuck in leather every two seconds, will not pierce through leather by accident, and having a blunt point actually helps the needle guide itself through the leather when you are pushing through multiple layers with the worry of a sharp point getting stuck. So believe me when I tell you that if it wasn’t obvious to you, this is a great tip to know front he start when you are starting leatherworking.
Get yourself a leather sewing kit, and this will come with the right needles, a few colours that will be suitable for most projects, finger protectors and a nice case to keep it all in one place. After a while, the more things you accumulate, the easier it gets to lose the ambler things.
Leather Stitching Punches
This is another very important one in the leather workers tool box. If you are going to be sewing your leather by hand, then you will need something to make the holes before stitching the leather. For the first year I used the punches that came in my starter kit, and as long as you keep them sharp and are not making multi layered projects, this will be fine.
For a lot of leather working tools, you don't need the best and most expensive, but when it comes to punching stitching holes into leather, the quality makes a huge difference. After a year of using the set I got in the kit, I purchased a more expensive set of stitching punches, and did this make a difference.
A beginner set of stitching punches are all you need to get started, don’t let me scare you off here, but still within the cheaper price range, if you have a little money to spare, I would advise something like this set of stitching punches to get you started.
If you do decide to turn your leather hobby into a business, and you are making more and more complex projects, then you can invest in a better set of stitching punches.
So we have covered most of the basics you want to know when deciding to start leatherworking. But I want to talk a little about what happens when you decide to turn your new hobby into a business.
Starting A Leather Business
A time may come when you decide to start selling the leather goods you make, and you will need to make quite a few decisions at this point. “How do you start a leather business”, ”where to sell leather goods”, “what leather goods make profit”, “what should I call my leather brand” and so on. I will give you a brief overview of these points so when the time comes you will have a bit of info to help you make the decision.
Leather working is already a niche topic itself, but within there are further niches, and unless you are going to try and serve the whole market then you will need to narrow your focus. Are you going to be making small leather goods like wallets and bracelets? Will you be making big backpacks and duffle bags? You might even decide to exclusively sell leather earrings, but it would best serve you to choose a direction to go in.
A great example is Diesel Punk, a well known leather worker in the industry known for his punk oriented designs, masks, hats and has really cornered that market. If you want some punk design leather templates, just do a quick google search for Diesel Punk and you will see all the youtube videos and the website where you can buy the products and the templates.
Where to sell my leather products?
You’ve made all these wallets, but now you need to sell them, so where are the best places to sell your leather goods? The most popular opinion and the easiest is probably going to be selling on Etsy. Etsy is a place where artisans can make their wares and sell them on the platform for a fee. You just set up an account, add your payment method, and you are ready to start adding products, it’s really intuitive.
Etsy does all of your marketing and the website is already out there getting traffic, but the competition is pretty high. Something else is that unless the buyer shares the information with you, you don't get their details, so you cannot build a good email marketing system using your sales info.
The fees can also be pretty high, but all that said, to get you started so you begin to get a feel Etsy is probably still one of the best places to start, and whilst on the platform, you get a better idea of what is selling and popular to help you decide on the next thing you want to make and sell.
Selling Leather Products At Markets
If you are mostly making small leather goods, you can fit quite a lot into a suitcase, and I used to chug around town with my suitcase and a foldable table and go from market to market trying to get some feedback on my work.
I would sell things for really cheap, but I just wanted to get my product out there and see what people thought about it. A lot of artisan markets just require you to pay a fee for the day and you can sell your stuff at their market. They will hire somewhere like a schoolyard or a small field, and you don't need to get any extra permissions and licences.
Some markets that are run by the local government may require you to get a licence and public liability insurance, but when you apply to sell at a market they will let you know.
Selling Leather Products Directly To Shops
If you are willing to put yourself out there, you can walk into local shops and ask if they want to sell your products. I have found shops in my area that sell gifts, or a clothing shop, and I would just walk in and explain who I was, show them a few things I made that I would bring along with me and ask if they would be interested in selling my goods at no cost to them.
I would leave a few to anyone that accepted, and would let them pay me if they sold anything, and I still do the same to this day. I always have a backpack with a few things I have made in it just in case the opportunity presents itself.
Selling Leather Products Online
There are many well known online retailers, and you can directly message these online shops and ask if they would like to include your products in their catalogue. It can be pretty difficult as there are many people wanting to do the same, but you can be creative about it.
I will search for fashion review blogs, then go through them to see which ones are promoting a lot of leather goods, then find their social media profiles and send messages this way. You are more likely to get a response this way, and I have managed to get a few of my products reviewed in some online publications.
You then have the option of starting your own website to sell your leather goods, and you can go the pre built way and create a shopify account, and this is a great option if you do not want to deal too much with the manual customising of a website, the shopify is the way to go.
They have a large number of great themes, and you can find a lot of tutorials online that will help you build your own shopify site from start to finish. Or you can decide to create a wordpress site where you have a lot more control over the design, and similarly, you can find online tutorials that will help you do this.
Naming Your Leather Business
This probably should have been the first thing in the list of starting a leather business as this will be your public facing name, what everyone will need to remember about you, or so I thought. You can spend endless hours trying to figure out the perfect name, and as long as you don’t go too left field, this may not be as crucial as you think.
You can do some research, and you will find that the sounds certain words make can make a difference to how people perceive your brand, or the colour can tap into certain types of emotions, animal symbols do something else, but you don’t need to get so deep into it.
What I have found in the long run is that the quality of your product will speak for itself once you have managed to get it into the hands of the consumer, ao make sure you are doing all of your basics well and paying attention to detail. Then you need to be able to take really good pictures of your leather.
So just choose a name that means something to you, something easy to remember, then you need to do the research to see if the domain name exists, if you can create social media profiles with the same name, and that there are not other brands in the same space with a similar name and you will be off to a flying start.
Taking Pictures Of Your Leather Products
If you are not going to have a brick and mortar store, then people cannot touch your product before they buy it, so the visuals of your product are going to be the most important thing when promoting your leather business. You want to be able to put as much detail into a photograph as possible.
You have to convey the texture, the size, the quality, and all the while make sure the light is not too bright, not too dim, you don't have too much glare ! This drove me up the wall because I just couldn’t get a decent image. Some of you may be good at taking pictures, but I am not one of those people. So I did what we all do and dived into youtube.
I watched a lot of videos explaining how best to take pictures of leather, general product photography and I also checked out how to take product images with your phone. The camera on your phone is a pretty powerful tool and if you can learn to use it to its potential, it can do quite well for you when you are just starting out and running a leather business on a tight budget.
What I found out in the end, and I am still learning, is if you have a lot of natural light where you are taking your pictures, you can get pretty nice pictures once you learn all the correct settings to choose on the camera you are using, but the consistency is not always the same because the weather changes, so will the light.
The best way to take pictures of leather for me has been to purchase a mobile photography studio. This has proven to be the best way to take photos of small leather products for me. It is a fold away box that you can put up in a few seconds, it is completely sealed so no outside light will disturb the image, and you always get a consistent result and your images will always look uniform. You may need to get a bigger or smaller one depending on what you will be making and photographing, but it will be a great investment that will serve you for years to come.
So Is this everything you need to know to start leatherworking? I may have missed out some really nuance things like wet moulding leather, making custom leather projects, all the types of waxed threads you can buy, but I will do my best to address more specific topics on other posts, but overall I think you have everything you need here to get you started on your journey in becoming a leatherworker.
I am also continually learning myself and would love to hear your opinions on anything I have said, If you feel like I missed something out or have a more specific question please do contact me and I would be happy to have a chat. Or if you are a more experienced leather worker than myself, or have found a mistake in something I said, or have a better way to do something, I would also love to hear from you.