Making a tooled belt
Making a tooled belt

A couple weeks ago I put together a belt and took some photos of the progress at different points. I’ve been meaning to do this with many other projects but often I’ll get carried away with finishing it or have a deadline to meet meaning I focus only on getting it done (and often with those I never even get photos of the final product).

In any case I’d like to put some words to explain the photos in sequence so that others who are interested may have some ideas of what is involved in hand-making leathery things!


So it all starts out with a blank belt. Similar to a blank canvas. Usually I’ll just get strips of leather and skive the end, punch a slot for the buckle and add the snaps on the end, but there was a sale on ones that were already prepared. Great! I’m so cheap!

This belt is 1 1/2″ wide. The other typical size is 1 1/4″ but that gives less room for a pretty design. These blanks can also go up to about 40″ waists, with other blanks for larger sizes as needed. So below you can see I’ve picked a design, and found all the tools (which is an endeavor on its own as the size of each tool in relation to the others is very important – there are 6 used in this one), marked the centre and marked the spacing for the repeating areas, and done a simple border. Since the buckle I picked out has a tip with it, which is smaller than my belt end punch, I had to shave it down to fit and didn’t have to worry about how to end the design as much. On the back, I sanded the suede side down so it was much more fine and cleaned up the edges by sanding and beveling them.


Here is the end result of tooling, the process involves casing the leather so that it is wet, and pounding an impression of each tool in with a mallet/maul. In the future I am likely to try some different things to case the leather so it is more uniformly wet for the time spent tooling – I would like the impressions to be deeper personally. At the end of it all once it was dry it got a nice coat of neatsfoot oil to prepare it for dying.


In dying there seem to be endless techniques and ways of getting things done. I started with the bottom, which you cannot see here. With the bottom out of the way things are less messy and I don’t have to worry about messing up the finish on the top side. For the top, I recently made some dye blocks out of a 2×4 (into 2×2 and then sanded and finished with linseed), and covered them with just your standard variety cotton rag – but adorned with some fancy upholstery tacks! In using them you get the rag saturated, wipe the excess with a paper towel, and then rub down the surface. It picks up only the top surface leaving any of the low areas free from dye. I used two colours for more of an antique feel here.


After blocking, I brought back some of the petals with blue and red – unfortunately the red seems to have blended more than I suspected. But the blue worked great. Both were with thin layers of acrylic painted on with a fine brush. It’s possible for acrylic to crack and flake off but in details like this I’ve not found any issue yet. I finished with carnauba creme followed by a few very thin coats of arcylic finish, burnished the edges, and buffed in as much of a polish as I wanted and added the hardware.


Lastly, I sized the belt punched holes and added grommets. I also made myself a fancy cheapo snoot to take some photos of the final belt with:


So all told, between all the breaks and side projects I spent about 5 hours over the course of a week on this. Quite a fun time for me!


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