It’s an item that most of us use every day, and it’s worth considering making your own too.
In this leather belt tutorial, I take you through my entire process, step by step, with photos and very detailed explanations. With just a few simple tools and a leather cutter, you can make your own leather belt in no time … well, maybe an hour or two with some practice. Let’s move on to it:
First, you will want to find out the size of the belt needed. The easiest way to do this is to take a belt that you already own, put it on, cinch it in the hole of your favorite belt, and measure it all up. In this tutorial, I am going to start from scratch. To do this, you need to measure around your hips where your belt would actually be located, with the tape measure against your skin. Record that measurement and save it for later.
In my belt making toolkit, I use the following from left to right: razor blade, straight edge ruler (longer the better), screwdriver, belt punch (1 inch long), edge beveler (size 3 ), belt cutter, hole punch, belt tip cutter (or scissors), and above the tape measure.
As far as materials go, any 8-9 oz long piece of vegetable tanned leather will do (this is the kind you can dye and really work with). Oh, and you’ll want to choose your belt buckle (width will determine belt width) and your method of securing the belt buckle and loop.
You can use 20 line snaps like I’ve done for a removable belt buckle, or rivet everything in place for a permanent accessory.
Now we need to create a straight edge on the leather to support the belt cutter. Spread the leather flat, mark a long straight line on one side, about 45 inches for waists that measure 32 inches. Add one inch for every larger inch of waist size. Cut that straight line with your razor.
At each end of your cut, make a perpendicular cut; this will allow the strap cutter to go in and out of the leather.
On your strap cutter, first adjust the thickness knob so that the 8-9 oz leather will fit through it. Then set the width to your liking. On my belts I make them all 1 1/4 inch wide, this fits the particular belt buckle that I include with them.
Press the straight side of the leather against the belt cutter and slowly feed the leather into the cutter. Always make sure the side of the leather is pressed against the cutter as this will make a good parallel cut.
Once the leather comes out of the other end of the cutter, grab it with your free hand and help it pull, while pulling the cutter towards you. Take this nice, slow step. Every time I tried to speed things up, I ended up with a long piece of cut leather that varied in width and was unusable. When you ruin a belt, that’s some unusable leather!
Featured are my hardware options. On the left I have a line of 20 clasps for a removable buckle, in the center there are rivets if you prefer permanence and a classic antique metal buckle.
Now that the length of the leather has been cut, it is time to mark the location of the holes at the end of the tail.
For this step, it’s easiest to use an existing belt for reference, or just refer to the photo above for a general location. The longest hole is where the crease occurs and where the buckle bar sticks out.
I used 5/64 for the quick holes.
Go ahead and drill the holes, and shape the end of the tail.
In order for the tail end to fold in on itself and come together to hold the buckle and loop, I have removed about half of the thickness starting just above the top hole.
I ski dry. Go slow and make shallow cuts. Another option is to use a belt sander to grind the thickness – this is a great way to get an even cut, but you risk getting the leather “hairs” that will need to be cut with a razor blade.
Fold the scraped leather end over itself with the buckle in place. Now we can measure the actual length of the belt. Start at the tip of the buckle …
… And measure 3 inches past your previous skin measurement. In this case, I measured the skin at 31.5 inches, so I would then make a mark at 34.5 inches. This is where the center belt hole will go.
For these belt holes I used 9/64.
Make that hole.
Drill two more holes at each end of the center hole about an inch apart.
This allows for some breathing room during Thanksgiving and some tension during New Years Resolution training.
About 4 inches past the last hole, make a mark. This will be the tip of the belt.
I use a special punch to cut the tip of the belt so that it is always even. However, this step can easily be done with a razor or leather scissors.
Every time I make a belt, I almost always forget to cut the belt loop. It is like a mini belt within the belt, intended to hold the tip close to your body. To do this, I set my belt cutter to 1/2 inch …
… Grab the scrap you just cut from the end of the belt and place it in the cutter.
The belt loop should be cut so that it can be easily folded around the belt and fastened securely. Chill it to half its thickness.
To determine the correct length for the belt loop, insert it as in the image above.
Then make a mark at a point that allows the loop to overlap 1/2 inch.
I like to rivet my belt loops for long lasting durability, you can hand sew it, but I would avoid that method as they seem to fall apart with heavy use.
Now that the belt is cut, it’s time to bevel the edges for a more refined look. First, lightly moisten the entire length.
Then slide your edger along all the top edges at a 45 degree angle.
At this point, I hit my maker’s mark on the leather. Above you can see my sworn rigged stamp.
Wanting to be discreet – I put my logo on the back of the tail, no cheeky advertising here.
At the stage of dyeing. I recommend using all natural plant-based colorants. The environment will love you, just like your skin. I get to work without wearing gloves, because everything I apply is handmade and non-toxic.
Rub in a good coat of dye, in my case I use a handmade mixture of walnut shells and water.
To speed up the drying process, I use a heat gun. The fact is, you need the leather to be very dry before applying the oil, or the oil will absorb in some places but not others, causing a stained appearance.
I use extra virgin olive oil to help bring leather back to life. Leather needs oil after being worked as it tends to dry out and stiffen.
Apply a nice even layer on the belt. 8-9 oz leather can handle a few layers, but never try to add a ton at once as the leather will absorb it and create a dark stain that will feel greasy. Go slow and wear thin layers. On the back, I tend not to add oil, simply because the leather absorbs it at a much higher rate there. This makes it difficult to apply evenly and not get that smudged look. Stick with the top for now.
Extra virgin olive oil darkens the leather, keep this in mind when considering the color you want to finish with.
Then I immediately apply a good coat of walnut oil and beeswax. This helps preserve the leather, make it slightly waterproof, and adds a bit more flexibility to the belt. I apply this to both sides of the leather.
Beeswax tends to catch in holes, just poke through them with a file or stick.
For the edges to look good, they need to be buffed and polished. To help with this process, I add all natural gum tragacanth, a sap taken from legumes from the Middle East and used in cooking as a thickening agent.
Apply a thin coat along the edges of the belt.
Another tool I bought for polishing and edge buffing is my handy cocobolo wood polisher. It is basically a shaped piece of wood with different slot sizes that can be attached to your drill.
When turned on, the polisher spins at a high speed: then it applies the edges of your belt and glides and polishes the edges. However, this tool is not needed to get the job done, the other option is to grab a canvas and start rubbing the edge hard until you feel it get hot. Let’s be honest though – that’s a lot of work for a belt, so if you can afford a tool like this, it will be worth its weight in gold.
Above you can see the edge of the belt with a slight shine from being slippery. If you want a high quality product with a nice craftsmanship touch, beveling and sliding your work is the way to go.
Time to put the clasps on. I like to keep things simple, so silver generally goes with everything. Above is a variety of snapshots from line 20, a good size for this project.
To get your clasps in place you can use a clasp adjustment kit from Tandy Leather, it is an affordable way to adjust the clasp from time to time, but it is also a bit difficult not to screw it in every now and then. And when you finally screw up your 100th brooch and have to figure out how to rip the leather off … you end up buying a handy little press like the one above. This little one has interchangeable parts for attaching snaps, rivets, grommets, and piercings. And it does it perfectly every time. If you choose to rivet the belt, be sure to attach the buckle and belt loop first!
Ahhh, there’s nothing like good shiny silver on a beautiful brown belt.
PS don’t forget your belt loop. I nailed it together
with double-sided micro rivets.
And there you have it, a classic leather belt.
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