It’s an item most of us wear every day, and it’s also one worth considering making yourself. In this leather belt tutorial I take you through my entire process, step by step, with very detailed photos and explanations. With only a few simple tools and a cutting of leather, you can make your own leather belt in no time at all…well maybe an hour or two with some practice. Let’s jump on into it:
First you are going to want to figure out the belt size needed. The easiest way to do this is to take a belt you already own, put it on, cinch it to your favorite belt hole, and measure all the way around. In this tutorial, I am going to start from the
ground skin up. To do this – you must measure around the hips where your belt would actually sit, with the measuring tape against the skin. Record that measurement and save it for later on.
In my belt making toolset I use the following from left to right: Rolling razor, straight edge ruler (the longer the better), skiver, strap hole punch (1 inch long), edge beveler (size 3), strap cutter, hole puncher, belt tip cutter (or scissors), and on top the tape measure. As for materials – any long piece of 8-9 oz vegetable tanned leather will do (this is the type you can dye and really work with). Oh – and you will want to pick out your belt buckle (wideness will determine belt wideness), and your method of securing the belt buckle and belt loop. You can use line 20 snaps as I have done for a removable belt buckle, or rivet everything in place for a permanent fixture.
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Now we need to create a straight edge on the leather to rest the strap cutter against. Lay your leather out flat, mark a long straight line on one side, about 45 inches for waists that measure 32 inches. Add an inch for each inch bigger of waist size. Cut down that straight line with your razor.
At each end of your cut, make a perpendicular cut – this will allow the strap cutter to enter and exit the leather.
On your strap cutter – first set the thickness knob so that the 8-9 oz leather will fit through it. Then set the width to your liking. On my belts I make them all 1 1/4 inch wide, this fits the particular belt buckle that I include with them.
Press the straight edge side of the leather against the strap cutter and slowly feed the leather into the cutter. Always make sure the side of the leather is pressed against the cutter as this will make for a nice parallel cut. Once the leather comes out the other end of the cutter, grab it with your free hand and help pull it, while also pulling the cutter towards you. Take this step nice and slow. Every time I have tried to speed things up – I ended up with a long piece of cut leather that varied in width and was unusable. When you screw up a belt – that’s quite a bit of unusable leather!
Laid out are my hardware options. On the left I have line 20 snaps for a removable buckle, in the center are rivets if you prefer permanence, and an antiqued classic metal buckle.
Now that the length of leather has been cut out, it’s time to mark the placement of holes on the tail end. For this step it is easiest to use an existing belt for reference, or just refer to the photo above for general placement. The longer hole is where the fold occurs and where the buckle rod sticks out.
I used 5/64 for the snap holes.
Go ahead and punch out the holes, and shape the tail end.
In order for the tail end to fold over itself and snap together to hold the buckle and loop – I have skived off about half of the thickness starting just above the top hole.
I skive dry. Go slow, and make shallow cuts. Another option is to use a belt sander to grind off the thickness – this is a great way to get an even skive, but you run the risk of getting the leather ‘fuzzies’ that will need to be sliced off with a razor.
Fold the skived leather end over itself with the buckle in place. Now we can measure the actual length of the belt. Start at the tip of the buckle …
… and measure 3 inches beyond the skin measurement you took previously. In this case – I measured the skin at 31.5 inches, so I would then make a mark at 34.5 inches. This is the spot where the center hole will go on the belt.
For these belt holes I used 9/64 .
Punch that hole.
Make two more holes on either end of the center hole at one inch apart. This allows for some breathing room at thanksgiving, and some tightening up during your new year’s resolution workout.
About 4 inches beyond the last hole, make a mark. This will be the tip of the belt.
I use a special punch to cut out the tip of the belt so that it is uniform every time. However – this step can easily be done with a razor or leather scissors.
Every time I make a belt I pretty much always forget to cut out the belt loop. It’s like a mini belt within the belt, meant to hold the tip close to your body. To make it – I adjust my strap cutter to 1/2 an inch….
…grab your scrap leather you just cut from the belt tip, and feed it into the cutter.
The belt loop needs to be skived so that it can easily bend around the belt and hold it securely. Skive it to half its thickness.
To figure out the correct length for the belt loop insert it like the picture above.
Then make a mark at a point that allows the loop to overlap by 1/2 an inch.
I like to rivet my belt loops together for lasting durability, you can hand-stitch it, but I would avoid that method as they seem to fall apart with heavy use.
Now that the belt is cut out – it’s time to bevel the edges to give it a more refined look gentler feel. First – lightly dampen the entire length.
Then glide your beveler along all top edges at a 45 degree angle.
At this point I punch my maker’s mark into the leather. Above you can see my jury rigged stamp.
Wanting to be discreet – I place my logo on the back of the tail end, no shameless advertising here.
On to the dyeing stage. I recommend using all natural vegetable based dyes. The environment will love you, so will your skin. I get to work without using gloves, because everything I apply is hand made and non-toxic.
Rub on a nice coat of dye, in my case I use a hand made mixture of walnut husks and water.
To speed up the drying process I use a heat gun. The fact is – you need the leather to be very dry before applying your oil, or the oil will absorb in some places but not in others, causing a blotchy look.
I use extra virgin olive oil to help bring life back to the leather. Leather needs oil after being worked as it tends to dry out and become stiff.
Apply a nice even coat across the belt. 8-9 oz leather can handle a few coats, but never try to add a ton all at once, as the leather will soak it up and create a dark splotch that will feel greasy. Go slow and use thin coats. On the back side I tend not to add any oil, simply because the leather absorbs it at a much higher rate back there. This makes it hard to apply evenly and not get that splotchy look. Stick with the top for now.
Extra virgin olive oil darkens the leather, keep this in mind when you are considering the color you want to end up with.
Next, I immediately apply a nice coat of walnut oil and beeswax. This helps preserve the leather, make it slightly water resistant, and adds a bit more flexibility to the belt. I apply this to both sides of the leather.
The beeswax tends to get caught in the holes, just poke back through them with a file or stick.
To get the edges looking nice, they need to be slicked down and burnished. To help with this process I add all natural gum tragacanth – a sap taken from Middle Eastern legumes and used in baking as a thickening agent.
Apply a thin coat along the edges of the belt.
Another aid I acquired for edge slicking and burnishing is my handy cocobolo wood burnisher. It’s basically a a piece of wood shaped with different groove sizes that can be attached into your drill press.
When turned on, the burnisher spins at a high rate of speed – you then apply the edges of your belt to is and it slicks and burnishes the edges. This tool is not necessary to get the job done however, the other option is to grab a piece of canvas and start rubbing the edge down briskly until you feel it heat up. Let’s be honest though – that’s a whole hell of a lot of work for a belt, so if you can afford a tool like this, it will be worth its weight in gold.
Above you can see the edge of the belt with a slight glisten from being slicked. If you want a high quality product with a nice handmade touch – then beveling and slicking your work is the way to go.
It’s time to put the snaps on. I like to keep things simple – so silver generally goes with everything. Above is an assortment of line 20 snaps, a good size for this project.
To set your snaps in place, you can use a snap setting kit from Tandy Leather, it is an affordable way to set snap every so often, but it is also slightly hard to not screw it up every once in a while. And when you eventually screw up your 100th snap and have to figure out how to wrench it off your leather…you end up buying a handy little press like the one above. This little guy has interchangeable pieces for setting snaps, rivets, grommets, and punching holes. And it does it perfectly every time. If you do choose to rivet the belt together then make sure you put the buckle and belt loop in place first!
Ahhh, there ain’t nothing like good shiny silver on a beautiful brown belt.
P.S. don’t forget your belt loop. I riveted it together with micro double sided rivets.
And there you have it, a classic leather belt.
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