Making A Leather Belt – Tutorial

Handmade Leather BeltI’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, so here goes…I’m going to show you how I make leather belts.  There are numerous methods for achieving the same goal, but this method is my own adaptation of reading endless tutorials, articles, and forum threads, as well as watching numerous videos freely available on the web.  It is not intended as final ‘one shoe fits all’ method – use it as a stepping stone to develop your own methods and see what works for you.  Ok, here we go…

Materials

First off, a note about leather belt blanks – they come in various different grades and types of leather.  The most common type of leather is Veg Tan – it is relatively cheap, easy to work and fairly soft and supple.  Veg Tan is available pre-dyed in many colours, or ‘natural’, ready for dying by the end user.

Here I am using Bridal Leather (sometimes called Saddlery, or Saddlery Butt) that has been pre-dyed.  It is approximately double the cost of Veg Tan, but is stiffer, more hard wearing, and in my opinion easier to work (due to its stiffness).  It will ‘bed in’ over time, and become softer, yet still with a feel of quality.  It is by far a superior material – but that’s just my opinion!

You will need:

1 x belt blank of you chosen leather and width (here I’m using 1.5″ Bridal)

1 x Buckle of your choosing (this one is solid brass, and a traditional style)

4 x Brass plated rivets

Method

Step One

Use a strap end cutter to round off one end of the belt blank, then skive this end of the belt to approximately half thickness by 7″ long.  There a few ways to achieve this – a handheld tool (as seen in the image), a belt sander works great (my preferred method), or a bench mounted skiving machine (costly but quick and very accurate).

Note: it is not absolutely necessary to round off this end as it will be hidden on the back of the belt once completed, however, it adds a nice touch.

Leather Belt Skiving

Step Two

Next we need to mark, and punch the holes required for the rivets and buckle.  I use a template that I have made to save time measuring and marking out etc.  Simply lay the template on the blank and dot the holes, and the center of the oval slot.  Then punch the holes (I use a rotary Punch for this), and the slot (using a 3/4″ oval slot punch).

Making A Leather Belt - Buckle End Template

Step Three

Use a Strap End Cutter to round off the end to the final length (if you don’t have a Strap End Cutter, use a round object to mark an arc and cut carefully with a craft knife).

One of the key things is determining the length of your belt blank required to fit a given waist size perfectly.  After much head scratching, and a few experiments, I have determined that for any given waist size, adding 10″ on for the overall length of the blank works perfectly (this only works if you are using a 3.5″ overlap on the buckle end).

Making A Leather Belt - Strap End Cut

Step Four

Now its time to begin working the edges.  You will need to bevel the edges with an Edge Beveler. Make sure you do all the edges, including the ends, and also the underside.  This creates a chamfer to help us round them off later.  Take you time here, and try to move along the length of the blank in one go to avoid cusps and mismatching.  Keep a constant angle, and a constant pressure.

Making A Leather Belt - Edges Bevelled

Step Five

Before burnishing the edges, wet them slightly under a luke warm tap, wipe off any excess and apply a liberal coat of Gum Tragacanth.  This stuff is amazing (in my opinion).  It seals the fibers and enables a hard shiny surface to be created.  Let this soak in for about 2-3 minutes, and then proceed to burnish your edges using a burnishing wheel in a mains powered drill, mounted in a drill stand.  Burnishing wheels are readily available to purchase from any good leathercraft store.  I have a pair that I use – a home made one for the initial burnish, then a commercially bought one for the finishing process – more on this later.

Making A Leather Belt - Burnished Edges Detail

Making A Leather Belt - Edges Burnished

Step Six

Punch the holes for the tail end.  I use a template for this, and an oval hole punch (a round one is perfectly fine, either a standalone punch, or a rotary one will work here).  As a rule of thumb, the distance from the last hole to the end of the belt should be 4in.  The holes should be 1in apart, and there should be 5 of them.  The hole that will be used by the wearer is the middle one.

Note – the image shows the edges coated – this is because I forgot to take a photo before I moved on! 

Making A Leather Belt - Tail End Detail

Step Seven

Apply a coat of Fiebings Edge Cote to the freshly burnished edges.  This coating comes in a variety of colours, but here I use black, as I think it suits the colour of the belt better.  For application, I use a small foam makeup pad on a stick.  If you take a trip into your local Boots the chemist, you should find these in the makeup section.  They are a few inches long, black, and have a foam pad on either end (one pointy end, and one flat end).

Set aside to dry for 30 minutes.

Making A Leather Belt - Edges Coated

Step Eight

Whilst the edges are drying, its time to make the keeper.  My personal choice is to use a 3/4in wide keeper.  I feel it adds a degree of ruggedness to the belt.  So, make yourself a blank that measures 3/4in x 4.25in and bevel both the long sides (NOT the ends). make a pair of holes in both ends using either a punch or a home made skewer (mine is made from a very small screwdriver).  Gum Trag, burnish, and edge cote as above.  Set aside to dry, and go get yourself a cuppa – you deserve it so far!

Making A Leather Belt - Keeper Blank

Step Nine

After you are suitable watered, you now need to sew the keeper together.  Using a leather sewing needle (with a blunt point), and some heavy duty thread, sew a ‘Box X’ to join the two ends together.  Don’t get me wrong – it sounds easy, but you’ll need to show it who’s boss, and keep pulling your thread tight.

Making A Leather Belt - Keeper Sewn

Step Ten

Now that the keeper is finished, its time to finish off the edges of the belt.  The Edge Cote should be dry, so now use your commercially bought burnishing wheel, and burnish again, using the same method as before.  Don’t worry of you see the edge coat coming off – this is normal.  This second pass simply gets rid of any blemishes and loose fibers.

Once this is done, apply a final coat of Edge Cote, and set aside to dry.

Making A Leather Belt - Final Burnishing

Step Eleven

No we have our edges all finished, keeper made, and all holes punched etc.  Its time to assemble the components and finish the belt off.  Start by inserting your buckle (ensuring that it is the correct way up, and that the pin sits in the little indent on the front bar).  Rivet the first pair of holes closest to the buckle, then insert the keeper, and rivet the last pair of holes.  The following image wasn’t taken in my kitchen – I use a marble cutting block (available from any good ‘home store’ or kitchen store) to rivet on.  I find it stops any bounce and helps the rivets to set in one blow.

Making A Leather Belt - Rivet Detail

That’s it!! You’ve completed your very first handmade leather belt!!

Making A Leather Belt - The Finished Article

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial, and as usual, please feel free to comment, or send me a message and I’ll happily help in any way I can!

If you are interested in owning a belt like the one above, then it can be yours, made to order, for only £32.50 (including p&p). Please contact me to discuss your requirements: oakhillwanderer @ gmail.com (without the spaces).

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~ by Oakhill Wanderer on December 2, 2011.

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