Projects & Improvements

Leather-Working 101: The Best Tools and Sources for Real and Faux Leather

published Apr 22, 2017
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If you’ve never made anything out of leather before, it can be difficult to know how to get started and where to shop for supplies. Looking at the prices, it’s no wonder sticker shock can turn many would-be leather workers away from the craft. But if you know where to shop and what is necessary to buy versus what belongs on your wish list, leather DIYs don’t have to be outrageously expensive and the sturdy projects will last for years—making them well-worth the initial investment.

Best Sources for Leather:

  • Tandy Leather: This online store has a great selection of 8 1/2-by-11-inch leather sheets, full shoulders, leather conditioners and even hardware. This is a go-to source for real (not faux) leather.
  • Dharma Trading Co.: If you’re on the lookout for leather blanks for coasters, bookmarks or bracelets, or if you’re searching for leather paints and dyes, Dharma Trading is a must-visit.
  • Leather Impact: For high-quality leather and suede trim and cord.
  • This online fabric superstore can be overwhelming to search through, but it has a huge selection of fake leather. If you’re working on a large project, I’d recommend ordering a swatch for a couple bucks first to make sure the fabric is exactly what you’re expecting. It can be very hard to determine how realistic artificial leather looks via a computer screen.

Best Sources for Hardware, Buckles and More:

Tandy Leather: In addition to leather sheets, this source also stocks belt buckles, bag clasps and everything else you’ll need to finish off your project.

Joann: If you live near a Joann crafts supply store, this should be your first stop for leather punches and sewing awls. They also offer a decent selection of artificial leathers in different finishes. A vast assortment of buckles, clasps and sturdy thread for hand-sewing leather.

The Tools Worth Investing In:

When you dive into your first leather-working project, it can be difficult to determine which tools are worth investing in and which are reserved for the pros. When you’re first starting out, you can limit costs by buying only the tools you’ll need for the specific project you’re making, or you can follow these recommendations for the basic tools even beginners are guaranteed to reach for again and again.

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A sharp utility knife is essential when cutting leather–and is also much safer than using a dull one. If you’re committed to the craft, consider splurging on a rotary cutter (up next). Stanley Utility Knife, $10. (Image credit: Amazon)

Pick Your First Project:

When you’re ready to get started, browse our selection of leather DIYs arranged by level of difficulty, or start with one of these 5 simple ideas.