"The best investment is in the tools of one's own trade."
Here is a list of my most used tools, organized by importance. If you're just beginning leatherwork, focus on the tools near the top of the list. If you've been working with leather for some time, maybe check out the nuggets near the bottom.
You'll also find my reasoning for why I decided to buy that specific tool, and any notes I have after using it for some time.
My Knives of Choice: OLFA 5019 9mm Utility Knife and OLFA 45mm Rotary Cutter
I know I might get in trouble with the traditional leatherworkers out there, but I've never used a round knife/head knife. They're expensive and require constant sharpening/stropping to keep them in top condition.
This Olfa utility knife is great because it uses replaceable blades, and whenever it gets dull I can just break off the end and a fresh sharp bit is ready to go to town! I like the black blades, which seem to be sharper than the regular ones.
The Olfa Rotary Cutter is amazing for long cuts, and also has replaceable blades. The Aurora Arts blades I use are sooo much cheaper than buying from your local craft store, which often charges up to $5 per blade!
My Strap Cutter of Choice: Tandy Leather Craftool Strap Cutter
If you're still cutting straps the old fashioned way, do yourself a favor and get a strap cutter. Making that change alone will speed up your leatherwork by leaps and bounds!Tandy Leather Craftool Strap Cutter (Amazon)
My Hole Punch Set of Choice: Tandy Mini Leather Punch Set
This Tandy Mini Leather Punch Set has all the most used hole punch sizes you need to start out. It's inexpensive and it gets the job done, and its swappable design takes up less space than individual punches. You can also buy more sizes from Tandy!
My Scratch Awl of Choice:: C.S. Osborne Scratch Awl
One of a leatherworker's most-used tools is one of the simplest. A scratch awl is used to mark lines and holes on the surface of leather, and sometimes to punch through like an awl. I love this C.S. Osborne Scratch Awl. C.S. Osborne has been one of the most respected brands in leatherwork for nearly 200 years! And they're located in New Jersey- my home state :)
Rulers of various sizes
One of the most useful things to have is a number of different straight edge options.
I use my Westcott 6 inch ruler most. It's great for marking and cutting small pieces. The 18 inch is great for making long straight cuts. Lastly, I use my 48 inch straight edge for making a straight edge along whole sides of leather. I also have a few clear rulers, for when it's beneficial to see underleath what you're measuring/marking.
My Pricking Irons of Choice: KS Blade Punch
When it comes to punching holes for your stitching, there is none better than KS Blade Punch. They've become the go-to for many, many leatherworkers for good reason. They're incredibly sharp and extremely well made. At around $150 for a set of 2 tooth and 7 tooth irons, they're not cheap. But they're probably the kind of thing that I'll only buy once and use for a lifetime.
I have an 8 tooth and a 2 tooth at 3.85mm spacing. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
To go with those punches: Punch Pad
This serves two purposes: It'll save your tools from getting dulled quickly, and it also gives your punches the ability to go completely through your leather. It has a self healing surface that will take thousands of punches before needing to be replaced.
Punch Pad (District Leather Supply)
My Hammer of Choice: Nylon Maul
Call me crazy but I still can't quite wrap my head around paying $60+ for a Barry King Maul, as beautiful and wonderful as I'm sure it is. If you have the cash, definitely go for that. I hear the 24oz is perfect.
For years I used the Graintex DB1456 2.0 Lb Dead Blow Mallet and it worked great. My only gripe was the longer than necessary handle, and the fact that the head isn't solid. There's what I believe to be some loose ball bearings inside.
For the past month or so I've been using this $15 Wooden Handle Nylon Hammer and I'm really impressed. It isn't as heavy as the more expensive mauls out there (it's a little under 1lb) but for my use it's been great! If you're not punching through multiple layers of heavy vegtan I think you'll be surprised as how well this thing does.
In all honesty though, pretty much anything heavy will work. The only thing you definitely should avoid is a metal hammer of any sort. That'll ruin your tools and make you sad.
My Thread of Choice: Ritza Tiger Waxed Polyester (.6mm and 1mm)
This is in my experience the best thread I've used. For watch bands I'll use the 1mm size, and for wallets I use .6mm. It comes in a variety of colors and is relatively inexpensive. It's a braided polyester, which means it's extremely strong and will not fray as easily as some other threads. It also melts nicely with a lighter or thread zapper to finish off a stitching line.
Ritza Tiger Thread (Amazon search)
Ritza Tiger Thread (Etsy search)
My Edge Beveler of Choice: Barry King Size 00 Edger
One thing I did splurge on and don't regret one bit is a quality edge beveler from Barry King Tools. The Barry King Grooved Edger in size 00 is an absolutely gorgeous tool. If you keep it stropped it is capable of trimming off only the tiniest sliver of leather. As someone who works with a lot of thin, soft leathers I can't recommend this tool enough. Other bevelers I've used tore and mangled the leather terribly, to the point where I avoided beveling entirely. Once I used this tool it changed my craft forever.
Barry King Grooved Edger in size 00 (Rocky Mountain Leather Supply)
My Burnishing Secret Weapon: Tokonole
Seriously, this stuff is magical. Once you sand your edge put a dab of this on and rub vigorously. It'll make your edges shine like glass!
Tokonole (District Leather Supply)
Snip those threads: Thread Zapper
I alluded to this earlier when talking about Tiger Thread. This thing is awesome. It heats up and cuts/cauterizes your thread in one step. I use it every. time.
BeadSmith Cordless Thread Zapper II on Amazon
The MIGHTY WONDER
I saved the mother lode for last. This is by far the biggest and most expensive tool I own. The Weaver Leather Mighty Wonder is a 4 ton hydraulic "clicker" press. It's used along with custom-made steel rule dies to cut out shapes in leather..sort of like a giant cookie cutter.
This tool alone can double, triple, or sometimes quadruple your output. The downside of course is the price, which is around $1400 plus the cost of dies. What you save in time though can easily pay for the cost of the machine and dies, depending on your business.
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