Ledbeter36

What tools and leather for belts?

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I still consider myself a newbie but everyone loves my holsters. I never intended to sell any just make stuff for me and maybe friends. I started by copying a design of a holster I bought from a guy who happens to be on here. I liked it a lot but wanted to change the color but since it was black I was told it would be easier to make one so I did. Now I'm up to my neck in requests. Now someone is asking about a gun belt. I have always bought my gun belts because it's such a competitive market. I can't see being able to make a truely stiff single or dual layer belt cheaper than you can buy one. But I'm still getting requests so like everything I do I'm making a prototype for me first. My stuff for myself is always the crappiest looking of everything I make because I want to be sure I give someone somthing good and functional as well as nice to look at. So where do I start. Should I use double shoulders or sides or what part? And why do people use a strap cutter rather than just a knife to cut out the belt? What tools might I need that I don't already have making holsters. I guess this is the next logical evolution but if I can't provide as good or better quality than a person can buy at a decent price I don't want to do it. After all I'm not trying to turn a hobby I enjoy into another job.

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byggyns   

Strap cutters or plough gauges allow you to cut a long strip much more quickly than with a knife.

They also allow you to get a more even result without wavy edges. When cutting along a straight edge, you can still get a lot of blade wander. That translates into a lot of time sanding and evening out the edges before you have a good looking result (if it's bad enough, you can also end up with a narrower belt than you intended). 

I've not made many belts, but I can tell you that cutting an even strap with a utility knife is very difficult. It still takes some practice with a strap cutter, but the learning curve is easier. I recently got a C.S. Osborne strap cutter that I will be using instead of the wooden Tandy model. I'll see if I like that one better for control. I think the Osborne will work well on heavy veg-tan, but on thinner and softer leathers, I think the wooden one that guides the leather on top and bottom may be preferable. Time will tell, as I have a few projects requiring straps coming up soon.

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JMWendt   

You can always pick up a couple premade belt blanks to try out first, then start cutting your own.

Strap cutters are faster, sometimes straighter . . . once you know how to use one.

There aren't any special belt tools.  Same things with which you work on any leather.  Depending on what you want to do.

Double shoulders are good for belts, up to big fat guy sizes where they tend to not be long enough.  Otherwise, use sides.  Avoid the belly, tends to be stretchier.  The higher up the animal, the better the belt leather.

Belts are really nice gifts and projects because people really love them.  My father still wears, on special occasions, some of the really nice belts I tooled for him many years ago.  And the requests I get from family members for gifts are more often belts than anything else.  Plus a handtooled handmade leather belt lasts so many years longer than an off the shelf piece of junk. 

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Martyn   

For something as apparently as simple as a belt, I was shocked at the cost of some of the specialist tools specific to making them. You dont need them of course, there is always a fudge to get the job done on the cheap, but the right tool makes it so much quicker and cleaner. At the top of the line you are looking at a Dixon or Blanchard plough gauge for cutting the straps. Both are very expensive. English point sdtrap ends always look so good, but that curve is more than just an arc, it's more like 2 bisecting catenary curves. A dedicated English point strap end cutter is very nice. Guess what? They are expensive - especially when you need one for each size belt. The slot for the buckle can be made with two holes joined together using a wood chisel. But a crew punch is the right tool. They are expensive, especially as you need different sizes for different buckles. The holes along the belt can be made with a rtound punch, but an oval hole works better, it doesnt bunch and pucker the leather. Oval punches are expensive. You can easily spend $1000 on a few simple hand tools for belt making. It blew my mind.

Dixon Plough gauge...

2948_Dixon_scew_PG_L_sdie.JPG

Blanchard English point strap cutter

english-point-strap-end-punch-01-960x906

Blanchard crew punches...

il_fullxfull.740802977_qbv7.jpg

Blanchard oval hole punches...

s-l225.jpg

OK, all the Blanchard stuff is top of the line and crazy expensive ($hundreds per punch). You can get good stuff cheaper, but the Blanchard stuff is spot on with the shapes and curves and if you only ever make one size of belt, then you only need one size of each punch.

Edited by Martyn

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JMWendt   

All nice tools and great to have, but not essential to making belts.  You can cut your own ends (use a pattern) and get great results.  You can use a cheapo strap cutter and get great results.  You can use standard cheapo Hong Kong punches and get great results.  You can also use expensive tools and get crappy results.

I'd save my money and do things old-school.  Focus on tooling and details like edges and stamping.  Makes a better product in the end.  Just my two cents.

 

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Martyn   
15 minutes ago, JMWendt said:

All nice tools and great to have, but not essential to making belts.  You can cut your own ends (use a pattern) and get great results.  You can use a cheapo strap cutter and get great results.  You can use standard cheapo Hong Kong punches and get great results.  You can also use expensive tools and get crappy results.

I'd save my money and do things old-school.  Focus on tooling and details like edges and stamping.  Makes a better product in the end.  Just my two cents.

 

Personal preference plays a part here too. Personally, I don't like carved or tooled belts and would never buy or wear one. But I would and have paid a premium for a simple, but perfectly made belt. For me, the quality comes from the manufacture and the tooling is decoration. I've got a set of round punches from China and agree, they are fine, but round punches are easy to make, they are just sharpened tubes. The problem with the cheap Chinese stuff is when you start looking at punches with complex and subtle curves. They never get them right. There so called English point punches are usually just a V or a simple bisecting arc. Their crew punches are usually oblong and their oval punches are usually just squashed tubular punches. They all work and get the job done, but the question is, is that satisfactory? It kills me that there is such a massive gulf in price between the cheap (but not quite right) Chinese tools and the subtly different (perfect) but insanely expensive tools from the likes of Blanchard and Dixons.

Edited by Martyn

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JMWendt   
34 minutes ago, Martyn said:

Personal preference plays a part here too. Personally, I don't like carved or tooled belts and would never buy or wear one. But I would and have paid a premium for a simple, but perfectly made belt. For me, the quality comes from the manufacture and the tooling is decoration. I've got a set of round punches from China and agree, they are fine, but round punches are easy to make, they are just sharpened tubes. The problem with the cheap Chinese stuff is when you start looking at punches with complex and subtle curves. They never get them right. There so called English point punches are usually just a V or a simple bisecting arc. Their crew punches are usually oblong and their oval punches are usually just squashed tubular punches. They all work and get the job done, but the question is, is that satisfactory? It kills me that there is such a massive gulf in price between the cheap (but not quite right) Chinese tools and the subtly different (perfect) but insanely expensive tools from the likes of Blanchard and Dixons.

Very true.  The Chinese right now are just coming into their own with metallurgy in many ways.  We're seeing an influx of cheap reasonable punches and hand tools.  We're also seeing some real garbage.  I personally don't mind spending seven dollars for a set of 12 punches that may or may not work . . . then when they do work and work well enough for a couple years, it's great.  If they don't, well, recycle or retool if you can.

I myself prefer an nicely done hand tooled belt.  They are piece of art.  I make my own for just that reason . . . a unique wearable piece of art can't be beat.  But I also wear my shirt over my belt to hide my massive gut plus all the extra body hair, so it's just for me, not for dressing up.  Plus I like tooling . . . more than any other aspect of working with leather, I like tooling the most.  

If you want to pick up some decent tools for relatively cheap, you can sometimes find vintage or used Blanchard, Dixon, etc. on ebay.  Sometimes.  It takes a lifetime to collect a shop's worth of tools.  Sometime's it's somebody else's lifetime and you get it on ebay.

My advice, if you want to do belts, start doing belts.  When you realize you need something, get what you need or make due.  In other words, do it, figure it out, and make it work for you.  Another reason I like working with leather . . . self education, a constant learning process.  Good stuff.  

 

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Martyn   
7 minutes ago, JMWendt said:

If you want to pick up some decent tools for relatively cheap, you can sometimes find vintage or used Blanchard, Dixon, etc. on ebay.  Sometimes.  It takes a lifetime to collect a shop's worth of tools.  Sometime's it's somebody else's lifetime and you get it on ebay.

 

Absolutely. I have a set of 10x Chinese round punches from 1mm to 10mm as mentioned, and they are excellent. I dont think I will ever find a reason to change them. I also got super lucky a while back and managed to pick up a Dixons plough gauge as part of a box of leatherwork tools in an estate sale - £50 for the box. I also dropped on an unbranded 1" Dixons crew punch in unused condition a couple of weeks ago for £35. I'm on the lookout for an English point strap cutter and a few oval punches, but I think it'll be a few years before I find em at the price I'm willing to pay. :D

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Talaman   

Martyn, I imagine looking for this is is half the fun!

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paulw   

Have a look at leathercrafttools.com, I got a 25,30,35, and 40mm English point strap end punches by Koshin elle for about £50 including shipping, about half the price of goods japan, here's the rub, don't buy them all at once get one at a time, and you wont pay customs duty that's in the UK don't know about the USA, took just over a week to get them.  If you buy all at once customs duty is about £35

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Just starting out I would say buy one of the cheapie wood strap cutters...they actually work great for the money.  Like this http://www.weaverleathersupply.com/catalog/item-detail/5690/001/193

Or you can buy a pre punched belt blank and then you just cut it to size (you can use a utility or other knife for the point if you dont have a punch) and punch the holes.  Here is a 12/13oz english bridle that makes a nice single ply heavy belt.  If you want to tool it you would have to buy a natural veg and then dye it however.  

http://www.weaverleathersupply.com/catalog/item-detail/46739/001/158

 

 

Edited by Weaver Leather Supply

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OLDNSLOW   

I was pleasantly surprised with an order I placed with SLC the other day,  a little history, one of the main items that I have been making is lined belts with either Kydex or stainless strap between two layers of leather skirting.  when I have had the leather in house I would cut it out of what I had on hand a side or double shoulder, I price mine in line with what some of the retailers that advertise in NRA mags or some other organization that promotes concealed carry.  when I did not have it in stock I was buying from some Amish that are not far from me, however recently I was in need and they didn't have what I was in need of so I bought 2 75 inch straps from SLC for just about the same price I was paying, as for tools when I started to do this I was using wood punches and cheap hole punches from harbor freight. I was slowly building my tools up to what I have now to be able to use top quality tools and top quality leather and the customers are willing to pay what I ask for the finished product.  look around at what others have done and you can find that there are alternatives to accomplish the end results.  I don't recall who it is here on the board that was getting steal pipe cutting it to 2 halves and sharpen the half to make a punch just as an idea!  

Edited by OLDNSLOW
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Ok, so belts and most strap goods usually have a few processes that are all the same. First things first, I'd spend some time watching other leathercrafters make them and you will get an idea of what tools and skills you lack... my own channel on youtube (wedgetail leather) has one up about making dog collars that has a lot of info relevant to belts too, but some videos by ian atkinson (Leodis leather) and others have videos that specifically focus on belts.

Process wise, it depends if I am making lots of small items or one big item from a strap whether I will do bevelling and burnishing before or after trimming the ends... because it is faster and easier to burnish one long strap than many smaller ones (i.e. dog collars).

For a belt though, my process is:

1. Cut the strap  (or buy one), and if this is the first from your leather you'll need to cut a straight edge first.

2. Measure length from buckle to centre hole, and then mark out your belt holes, tongue length, and turnback length to find the cut points (taking measurements from a currently used belt is a good idea, but if the belt is thinner then allowing just a bit more)... you might need to experiment a bit to learn how much turnback you will need for your buckle and keepers.

3. Cut ends and end punch

4. Bevel edges, both sides

5. Punch holes in belt tip, and oblong hole for buckle

6. Dye edges and holes

7. Burnish edges and holes

8. Skive turnback to half thickness

9. Fit buckle

10. Fit keeper(s)

11. Apply makers mark.

12. Take pictures for the forum ;)

.... as you can see, most of the special know how is in step 2... the rest is just regular stuff.

 

Tool wise, i usually use:

A strap cutter (if not buying pre-cut straps)

A knife (i use either round knife or scalpel)

A skiver of some sort,

An edge beveller,

A dye mop / dauber,

Burnishing stuff (canvas, sandpaper, wood slicker, tallow fat, beeswax)

hole punches (usually need one for any rivets and one for the tongue end for the buckle pin), 

Rivet setters OR stitching chisels depending if securing the buckle and keeper with rivets or stitching.

Optional tools would be:

An oblong or crew punch, but you can just punch two holes and join them with a knife to make an oblong hole for buckles.

Strap end punch, or you can just copy the tip of another belt you like and cut it with a knife like you would any rounded corner/curve.

Bench mounted skiver, just speeds things up and makes a more consistent thickness.

.... that's about it... really you don't need many special tools.

 

Now for leather... when I make a jeans belt for men, I tend to use 8-9oz bridle leather.

For a gun belt you are going to want something much thicker. At least 12oz I'd say... that's a thick bit of leather! So unless you have need of a side of leather that thickness, I'd look into buying a strap. It's not the cheapest way to get straps, but it is good to see if making belts is something you want to do before spending up big.

Hope that helps!

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