Beginner Leatherworking Tools For Every Budget
I really love tools, specifically handtools used in traditional leatherworking.
Holding something in my hands that has such a history and purpose, something that generations before me have used over and over again, and yet even in our changing times, the tool still remains useful and practical - that just feels right, ya know?
Holding something like that is like holding a piece of history.
You’ve probably already noticed that there are many different types of leather tools out there ranging in quality and price. It can be overwhelming to figure out which tools are essential, right? Which are the best? Which ones are the best for my budget?
Maybe you've already experienced this frustration.
I'm going to share with you some of the tools that are my favorites that I reach for on a daily basis.
You don't need these exact tools to get started and succeed in leatherwork, but do try and work with the best tools that you can afford with your budget.
While quality tools certainly will help you get there, in the beginning all you need for success is a basic set of tools, knowledge, patience and a lot of practice. Hopefully, I can help you with the first two and you can handle the last two.
If you're just getting started or are trying to figure out how to get started and within a budget, keep reading.
I'm going to go over the beginner tool list as well and approximate costs for those tools at the end of the post.
My Favorite Leatherworking Tools: $311-$489
Below are arguably some of the best leatherworking tools available. Most of the manufacturers of these tools have an interesting and lengthy history, all of them have been in business for over 175 years. Can you imagine??
1. Vergez Blanchard Pricking Irons
Pricking irons, used to mark your stitches prior to saddle stitching, are a key element in creating the classic and beautiful slanted stitch which is one of the telltale signs of luxury leather goods.
Vergez Blanchard has been manufacturing their signature hand tools since 1823. They are known for their high quality tools as a result of traditional hand forging methods that they use in the manufacturing process.
They're at the top of their game when it comes to luxury leather tools, with Louis Vuitton and Hermès among their customer base.
Cost: $50-$200 depending on the size.
I use the #12, #2 and #1 sizes.
2. C.S Osborne Wing dividers
Wing dividers are used to create a stitch mark guideline along the edge of your project. Once you've created this line by running the wingdividers down the edge of your project, you're ready for creating your line of stitch marks with the pricking irons.
C.S Osborne & Co. is an American family owned company located in Harrison, NJ and has been operating since 1826. The 8th generation is running the business today, which still adheres to the strictest guidelines for quality tools and craftsmanship.
Cost: $45-$60 depending on the size.
3. John James Needles
Here is another European company with origins dating back to the 1840s that has a reputation for being one of the best in their field.
John James Needles is the British manufacturer of the straightest and best round tipped saddler's needles specifically designed for leather hand sewing.
I've never bled from one of these needles.
Another fun fact - the company is based in Redditch, Worcheshire, an area that is known as the Needle Capital of the World! Thats going on the places-to-visit list!
Cost: $10 for 25 needles
4. Vergez Blanchard Diamond Point Awl
Another tool that is needed to achieve that beautiful classic slanted stitch, recognizable on all luxury hand-stitched leather goods, is the diamond point awl.
The 4 sided diamond point easily pierces the leather, allowing your needles and thread to follow as they pass by each other and land on opposite sides of your work, forming a saddle stitch.
5. Vergez Blanchard Stitching Clam
The last tool, and the third from Vergez Blanchard on this list (can you tell i'm a fan??), is the stitching clam.
The stitching clam is a simple tool that holds your work in place, while you sew. Used by placing the leather piece that you're sewing between the jaws and with one leg swung over top of the clam, the pressure from your leg keeps the jaws tight on the work.
Made by hand by some very skilled woodworkers, it is a beautiful tool in it's own right.
Now lets talk about some more affordable beginner tools.
I hear the following statement a lot - "Leatherwork is an expensive hobby and I just don't have the budget for it".
Believe me, I get it!
I was totally there, about 4 years ago. I actually acquired my kit of higher end tools slowly over time because they were so expensive for me at the time. Only after I knew for sure that my leatherworking obsession was here to stay, did I start my collection.
When you're first getting started in traditional leatherwork, you need to ask yourself 4 things.
1. What tools do I need?
2. What materials do I need?
3. How do I design and construct what it is that I want to make?
4. How do I finish my project so it looks super pro?
4 Basic Beginner Tools That Might Be Better for the Budget
What tools you need largely depends on what you're going to make, but at the most basic level you're going to need a tool to cut leather with, a tool to mark your stitches and holes with and tools to help you successfully hand-stitch and construct your piece. Lets take a detailed look at these most basic tools.
1. Sharp knife
You might even have one of these at home already. I use Xacto and Olfa knives because the blades are easy and cheap to replace.
Cost: $0 - $4
Saddlers needles are what you want. These are strong needles with a rounded tip. You can purchase these directly from the site or ebay and Amazon and they're fairly inexpensive.
3. Stitching pony
This is a vice-like tool that holds your work for you while you stitch, similar to the clam only usually used on a table top or bench. It's very handy, but if you're on a super tight budget i've seen people get crafty with a vice grip or binder clips
4. Stitching chisels
To create a straight and perfectly even row of stitch marks, pricking irons or stitching chisels are needed.
Insider tip: One benefit of purchasing the chisels over the irons, is that the chisels pierce the leather all the way through. In this case, an awl is no longer necessary to pierce the leather during stitching. However, many veteran leatherworkers say that the stitches that the chisels create are flatter, not as slanted and thus not as aesthetically pleasing as the stitches created by using pricking irons.
The costs for leatherworking tools has a huge range. From high-end hand-forged European tools down to decent options for those that are on a shoe-string budget, there is something for everyone. So don't let the cost stop you from exploring traditional leatherwork.
I'd love to hear your comments and questions that you still might have after reading this post.
What are your favorite leather working tools? Do you have one single favorite tool that you just can't live without?