So, you want to make leather armor, huh?
This is a work in progress with most content still to come. It is meant to be a fun way to visualize a journey from starting with no leather craft tools at all – all the way up to equipping a production environment. This will also tie into business related articles that will come in the future. Please let me know if you have other suggestions to add to this list. If you use the affiliate links below you can help support current and future content like this.
What best describes your current relationship with leather-working and armor crafting? Click the link to jump to the related section.
- I’m broke – Don’t hurt me!
- Beginner – I’m looking for the simple ‘bear necessities’ and most affordable versions of tools!
- Intermediate – I’ve got a couple of tools and skills under my belt, what else is out there?
- Advanced – I’ve got the basics down, now I want to take my crafting to the next level!
- Master – I do this stuff for a living, know my way around my tools, but always looking for the next time saver!
- Production– This ain’t my first rodeo, I’ve been in business a while, I’ve got a team, steady customers, and ready to scale up!
- Big Leagues – I’m on a first name basis with my suppliers, I don’t need your stupid list! (well… you’re getting it anyway!)
- Shop Bling – I am the embodiment of ‘extra’ and need some extra sparkle on my tools.
I’m Broke – Don’t Hurt Me!
So you’re broke as a joke but interested in starting some way, some how, right? Alright, cool, I like the cut of your jib, kiddo. Do you really want to know?
The only item on this list is going to be vegetable tanned leather, but your budget is negative zero right? You’re not making this easy on me… Alright so how do you get leather if you’re broke? The easiest way is to not be broke and just go buy something on sale.
You tried that? Alright… Next plan. Operation beg and borrow. If you’re starting this craft it can be really helpful to find out who in your area is crafting leather. Check your local flea markets, search google, and try to reach out to people who are already crafting and see if there’s something you can do to help them in exchange for getting some scrap leather so you can start experimenting.
What about cutting? Just go to your next door neighbors garage sell, look for the grey box knife covered in paint and rust, you know the one, and ask them how much. They will give you $1 to take it away. Easy.
So how do you decorate the leather with no budget? Did you try throwing rocks at it? I mean, if you look at it in a certain light that’s a proper distressing effect worth big bucks! What else? Lines are good, lets think of some way to add line impressions. First find a design online and print it or draw something on the leather, we’re about to do some tooling. Go grab a flat tipped screwdriver (shut up, yes you do have a flat tipped screwdriver, go get it) blunt the corners a little bit with some sand paper and play with striking the screwdriver along the lines. Just tap one bit of line at a time and try to control your consistency.
Ok, back up, we need something to strike with, go grab a hammer from that DIY kit you bought for that thing you never did. If you don’t even have that, you can reach out to a human being on planet Earth, all such creatures have a common hammer and many would be willing to take pity upon a hammerless wretch and loan them one of the 17 they have in their garage. If that’s not even an option go get a damn stick about wrist thickness and smack your tools with that.
Lets skip dye… you can’t afford 2$ for dye yet. I mean, I guess you could break into a day care center and steal some magic markers or something though… Never mind, lets skip the finish too, we can be fancy when we’re rolling in riches.
What about assembly? Assembly on your first project? I knew I liked you. Thread is about as cheap as it gets. And rivets really aren’t expensive, we’re talking about pennies to make a small project.
You’re well on your way now! The end result is going to be so awful, but the great news is that it should sell for thousands as abstract art! Congratulations!
The point of this bizarre hypothetical exchange is to emphasize if you’re serious about trying the craft it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Beginner – Basic necessities and most affordable versions of tools:
I’ll try to lay out some options for you to consider at the early stages. Some items will not be dirt cheap, but will offer such a good value to the crafting experience they will be added to this first tier. Just remember that there are always alternative ways of doing things if you can’t afford the ‘proper’ tool for the job.
Alright lets go through a quick outline of some of the key, and affordable, things you should consider to get started.
Obviously to make leather armor first you need leather. But I’m going to be covering that separately in a future piece of content.
First leather specific tool you need is something to cut the leather. Most people will start out with any sort of box knife or utility knife with replaceable blades. Then you don’t have to worry about being an expert with sharpening your tools. This is not the absolute cheapest option (just go to any big box mart and you’ll find a utility knife for just a few bucks) but it does come with an OLFA blade which is my personal favorite and it definitely doesn’t break the bank.
Most armor parts I will be designing for beginners to intermediates will be constructed with rivets, so the next suggestion I have is something to punch holes into the leather. Harbour Freight has some cheap punch sets but it really doesn’t get much better for the price than something like this:
Basic Punch Set
You’ll also need something to strike your tools. If you don’t want to spend any money here at all you can use a normal hammer for a while but eventually you’ll want some sort of poly or rawhaide mallet or maul to protect your tools and be more efficient.
You might be able to get by with using scrap leather at first but this is a good early investment to make
Poly Cutting Board
And for most leatherworking tasks you will want a sturdy surface. The cheapest way is to find something like a sink cutaway from a granite kitchen install, people will often give those away for free. They won’t last forever but they’ll serve your getting started needs just fine. When you’re ready to graduate from that I suggest:
Quartz Tooling Slab
As previously mentioned this page is a work in progress. Much more to come!
Intermediate – I’ve got a couple of tools now, what else is out there?
You’ve got the basics, so now you can start looking at tools that will come in handy or provide a better working experience as well as increasing your capabilities as a leather worker.
Machinist(ish) Block – A good early investment you might consider instead of a 12×12 tooling slab is a machinist style block like this which is thicker and wider. It’s a bit more expensive but if you have the space for it and can set it up (its very heavy) this is a very excellent value and will automatically improve your tooling game with its extra density and reduced bounce. But if you don’t have the space and need a more portable solution just stick with the smaller block.
Revolving Hand Punch – This is an item that comes in handy as it’s often quicker to just grab one of these and click out a couple holes. There are many times where you need to punch a hole deeper than the throat will allow so you still need the other hole punches first.
More Coming Soon!
Advanced – I’ve got the basics, I want to take things to the next level!
By this point you’ve got everything you actually -need- to be effective with your craft… but what about efficient? And how durable? Thats where ponying up for something a little nicer can pay dividends.
Case in point, here is a new favorite of mine:
Heritage Compound Action Revolving Punch – this beauty is a hand saver. If you punch a lot of holes, thank me later. It makes it so much easier. And if you spend a little time to polish the tube heads a bit, you’re off to the races.
Master – I know my way around my tools, but ready for the next time saver!
So you’ve got a good handle on all of your leather tools. What about some tools meant for other professions that fit remarkably well with what we’re doing?
Here’s one of my favorite time saving tools. It’s a set of forming stakes meant for metalworking but it comes in handy all the time for shaping leather and setting rivets on pieces with complex and unwieldy shapes.
I’ve negotiated a coupon code with the manufacturer for you so you can save $ on your purchase if you too decide this is a must have item
More Coming Soon!
Production- I’ve got a team, steady customers, and ready to scale up!
Big Leagues – Let’s look at the peak potential of this business.
Shop Bling – I am the embodiment of ‘extra’ and need some extra sparkle on my tools.