Working in leather calls for special skills and techniques. It is well for the novice to practice these techniques on scrap leather before attempting a finished article. Since much of the value in leatherwork comes from planning for the article, creating the pattern and the design for decorating, and utilizing the various techniques, it is assumed here that the camper will have a hand in these steps. Ready-to-assemble kits are available from craft supply houses, but these are not included here.

Techniques in leatherwork include cutting leather, punching holes, lacing and stitching, decorating, making folds, corners, and gussets, and attaching fastenings such as buttons and snaps. These techniques form the basis for the steps in the projects which are presented later in the chapter.

Cutting Leather

Equipment needed: a hardwood cutting board-use the top side for cutting with knife, the underside for punching with drive punch; sharp knife and/or shears, such as kitchen shears; metal ruler or metal-edged ruler; pencil.


1. Make patterns of objects from thin cardboard (old file folders are good).

2. Lay leather on cutting board, smooth side down, rough side up. Place patterns on leather, and mark with pencil (Fig. V-l). Place patterns carefully, to make best use of leather without waste.

3. Use a metal ruler to guide straight edges; cut along edge of pattern with sharp knife, holding almost perpendicular (Fig. V-2).

4. Cut slowly, drawing knife toward you; go over cutting if necessary, but do not pull apart; be sure to cut completely through leather. Hold ruler and leather at side, to avoid cutting yourself if knife slips.

When cutting from whole skins, use back sections for choicest large pieces, as these are freer from blemishes, scars, and scratches. Use outside pieces for small sections, such as belt loops, gussets, fringe.

Cut suede or thin leather with sharp shears.

Cutting A Thong Or Lacing

Most lacing is purchased ready-cut, but it may be cut from a circle or disc of leather to match the leather used in the article. Lacings are thin and narrow, and are difficult for the novice to cut. Thongs are thicker and wide; they are made of heavier leather (generally rawhide) and so are more easily cut.


1. Make a disc of leather (Fig. V-3); length of thong will depend on width of thong as it is cut. The Boy Scout pamphlet on Leatherwork gives these lengths:

From a 4" disc, 16.7 ft. of 1/16" thong; 8.3 ft. of 1/8" thong.

From a 3" disc, 9.4 ft. of 1/16" thong; 4.7 ft. of thong.

2. Mark off the disc in right angles (Fig. V-3 at A and B).

3. Make a cutting board by fastening a side piece to any board (Fig. V-4).

4. Stick the point of a sharp knife into the board at a distance from the side piece to give the desired width, blade away from you. This distance determines the width of the thong.

5. Place leather disc at knife edge, close to side piece. Start with tapered cut from A to B, reaching desired width at B. Pull cut thong toward you, with even tension, cutting disc in a spiral to center.

Punching Holes

Holes are punched in leather prior to lacing or stitching, to ensure even spacing, to reduce strain on the lacing and the leather, and for ease in pulling thread or lacing through the leather. Holes are pierced with an awl or punched with a leather punch.

Equipment needed: leather punch, with spacer, or drive punch and mallet; awl; cutting board; ruler and pencil and divider.

Steps In Using An Awl

Awls are used to make small holes for stitching.

1. Place leather, right side up, on underside of cutting board.

2. Mark light line about to 1/4" from edge with ruler.

3. Mark dots for holes, spacing evenly about to 1/4" apart.

4. Push awl through, from right side to back, on dots; make holes the desired size by controlling the distance the awl is pushed through the leather (Fig. V-5).

Punches are used to make larger holes, for use with lacing or thong. There are drive punches and spring punches.

Some spring punches have several different punches, in a rotary device, and some have a device on the side that simplifies spacing.

Steps In Using Punch Without Spacer

1. Mark light line about to 1/4" from edge, and mark dots for holes as for awl, above, or use divider (Fig. V-7).

2. Place punch on spot, and squeeze firmly.

Steps in using Punch with Spacer 1. Mark hight line about 1/8" to 1/4" from edge, to guide punch.

Steps In Using Punch Without Spacer

2. Make first punch.

3. Adjust spacer to desired distance between holes; hook spacer in first hole, and punch second hole on line; continue to end, working from left to right (Fig. V-6).

Steps In Using Drive Punch

Drive punches are cheaper than spring punches; they make a variety of sizes and shapes of round holes and slits; some of them make multiple impressions. They are used to make holes far from an edge.

1. Mark line with dots with awl, as above; place leather on underside of cutting board.

2. Place punch upright over a dot; strike sharply on end with a metal hammer (Fig. V-8). Continue to end.

For folds and seams, be sure holes in both sides of seams or folds match (Figs. V-9 a and b); mark carefully before punching. An awl may be used to mark through one set of holes for the second set. Strings tied in first and last holes keep the leather pieces from slipping while being punched (Fig. V-10). Skive all edges before punching (see below).

For corners, make a single hole at corner (Fig. V-11) and space adjacent holes from this corner hole. Round corner of leather.

For gussets or side pieces: A gusset is an inserted piece of leather, used to make a side piece, either straight or tapered. Steps

1. Make pattern for gusset, with pattern for main piece. Cut both pieces.

2. Punch holes in main piece, then mark and punch holes to correspond in gusset piece, as far as beginning of curved bottom (Fig. V-12).

3. Put gusset in place, and tie to main piece at top and at last holes before curve (Fig. V-13).

4. Locate middle hole (M) in main piece; push awl through it, marking place for M on gusset; punch holes in gusset; tie M's together.

5. Locate other holes on gusset in similar manner; punch; ease leather into place to make accurate fit (Fig. V-14). 6. Lace with any desired stitch.

Making Folds. Steps

1. Have leather piece cut to size.

2. Dampen on both sides.

3. Measure and mark places for fold.

4. Lay ruler or straightedge firmly in place where fold is to be made (Fig. V-15); fold leather over ruler; press down with heel of hand along length of fold.

5. Remove ruler; pound fold with rawhide mallet (Fig. V-16).

Making Folds


This is a process of thinning edges of leather when two or more thicknesses join, preventing a bulky edge or seam. A skiving knife is used (Fig. V-17) to shave off small pieces of leather along the edge of the underside of leather, making a long bevel. Avoid taking off big pieces, or cutting too deeply. All edges to be joined should be skived for about 1/2" from edge.

Lacings are skived when two pieces are joined; the top of one piece and the underside of the other are skived for about 1", making the joint about the thickness of the rest of the lacing.


One method of joining pieces of leather together is by lacing or thonging with a leather strip, called a lacing or thong. Single edges are trimmed with similar lacing stitches.

Seams are made, or edges trimmed, by threading a narrow strip of leather through a series of small holes, spaced evenly, near the edge of the article. The size of the holes, the distance between them, and the distance from the edge of leather varies with the size of the object, and the size of the lacing; 1/8" to 1/4" will be the usual distance, the same distance being used between holes, and from holes to edge (see Figs. V-5-14);

Lacing is generally a narrow strip of goatskin; it may be a wider strip, about 1/2", called Florentine. Thongs are heavier strips, generally of rawhide; thongs are used with heavy leather. Lacing is usually bought ready-cut, though it may be cut of the leather from which the article is made. Thongs may be purchased ready to use, or may be cut from discs (see Fig. V-4). Rawhide shoelaces, available in hardware stores, are often used in camp articles.

Equipment needed: punch; ruler and pencil; awl; lacing.


1. Punch holes as needed.

2. Point threading end of lacing, and stiffen with household cement.

3. To start a piece of lacing, insert end between layers of leather, and down through bottom part of first hole. Fasten end with rubber cement between layers, and hold until cement "sets." Bring lacing up over edges, and down in top of next hole, according to desired stitch (Fig. V-18). Stitches are described in following section.

4. Work from left to right, threading from top to bottom.

5. Turn lacing as it is pulled through, so that the smooth side is always in place on the top of work. Pull stitches evenly as lacing progresses.

6. Run finished edge between fingers as a small part of lacing is completed, to get stitches lined up evenly. Pull lacing through holes with same tension, pulling firmly, but not tightly, into place (Fig. V-19).

7. When turning a corner, lace twice in corner hole (Fig. V-20).


8. End lacing in similar manner to starting, tucking last inch between layers, and fastening with rubber cement.

9. To start or end lacing on single piece of leather (without layers), run lacing under first few and last few stitches on underside, fastening with rubber cement (Fig. V-21).

10. To join pieces of lacing, skive top of one piece of lacing and underside of the other for 1/2", so together they are about the thickness of the lacing. Spread ends with rubber cement, and hold in place until dry. Place this joint where it is flat, and where it will not receive much wear.

Some Common Types Of Lacing Stitches

Overcast or whip stitch (Fig. V-22) : measure lacing 21/2 times distance to be laced. Insert through bottom hole, from between layers. Bring lacing up in front, down into first hole through both thicknesses, up over edge to second hole, into second hole, then to third, etc., to end. Finish by going into last hole twice, and end as above.

Running stitch (Fig. V-23) : measure lacing 13/4 times distance to be laced. Bring lacing up through first hole, down into second, up into first again, down into second, up into third, down into fourth, etc. Finish by going back on last stitch, fastening as above.

Buttonhole stitch (Fig. V-24) : measure lacing 5 times distance to be laced. Start as in overcasting; after pulling lacing through second hole, pass end over loop and down. Pull to left. Put lacing through third hole, loop and pull to right. Continue to end, and finish in overcasting.

Cross stitch (Fig. V-25) : measure lacing 5 to 6 times distance to be laced. Overcast from one end to the other; turn and come back in same holes, crossing on edge of leather. Start in middle of lacing, using both ends to lace, as in lacing a shoe. Be sure to lace so that the top stitch goes in the same direction each time.

Butt stitch (Fig. V-26) : measure 5 to 6 times distance to be laced. Start at top of seam, holding edges to meet, not overlap. Lace like a shoe, with horizontal stitches on outside of seam.