Projects

Handmade Leather Belts

After I invited my fellow bachelor party bros along for what was sure to be a memorable weekend, I realized that the amount of effort that would be involved in planning a whole weekend of activities must have been massive. Me, being the gift giving type, decided that I wanted to make all of the bachelor party attendees something, and I knew that whatever I was planning on making, needed to be epic.

The good thing about the internet, is that you can learn pretty much anything, about anything, in this case, that anything, was leather working. After scouring a multitude of various forums, I felt like I had a basic (but thorough) grasp on working with leather, so I decided on making belts for everyone. Since overkill is my middle name, I made 11 full grain leather belts, customized with a self-designed 3D printed logo in steel, with individualized stitching in the recipients favorite color!


-Part I-

Step 1) Buy the actual leather. Thanks to the internet, this was as easy as calling Wickett & Craig and placing an order for one side of their 10-12 oz medium brown utility grade leather. I received the side which was 25.80 square feet, approximately 100″ x 42″ (but in the shape of half a cow), and only cost me $246.64!

Step 2) Square up one of the edges so that the belts I end up making are actually straight.

Step 3) Cut the leather into belt-width strips (1.5″ wide is what I went with to give the belts a substantial feel and also to increase the longevity). Using a strap cutter made this an almost breeze (here).
Step 3 NOTE: if you use this strap cutter, do yourself a favor and throw out the blades that come with it and purchase a box of single edge razor blades as they are much sharper and will last a lot longer than the blades that come with the cutter.

Step 4) Arrange the freshly cut leather straps in a row with the remaining leather forming a vague outline of the United States of America and take a picture.

-Part II-

Step 5) Prepare the freshly cut 1.5″ wide leather straps to be used for belts.

Step 5.1) Bevel the both front and back sides of the edges using an edge beveler (here).

Step 5.2) Burnish both edges of the strap.

Step 5.2.1) There are [probably] more opinions on the correct way to burnish an edge than there are belt loops in the world but I chose to wet the edges first, then rubbed Greenland Wax (from Fjällräven, here) along the edges, then used my dremel with an “African Blackwood Edge Burnisher Slicker” attachment (here) to impregnate the wax into the leather using friction.
Step 5.2.1 NOTE: I may have created too much friction and burned the edges but you live and you learn.

Step 5.3) Measure, mark, and cut the hole needed for the belt buckle, I used an antique brass 1/2″ heel bar buckle (here).
Step 5.3 NOTE: using a leather slot punch would have made this a LOT easier!

Step 5.3) Ready the belts for the stitching using a Japanese skiving knife (here), stitching groover (here), and a pricking iron (here).

Step 5.4) Stamp my custom-designed, 3D-printed, stainless-steel stamp, on the backside of the belt to remind the wearer to ask themselves a simple question in times of uncertainty. I designed the stamp using this website, and after some trial and error, I had an .stl file (which can be downloaded from here) that I uploaded to this website where I was able to get my 0.8″ x 0.8″ x 0.8″ cylinder-shaped stamp printed and shipped for less than $37! The stamp was stainless steel, specifically, the Bronzed-silver color with a polished finish.

Step 5.4.1) Wet the piece of leather where the stamp will be used with a spray bottle.

Step 5.4.2) Carefully line up the stamp to the leather with a clutch style bar clamp (here) and tighten the clamp screw handle as tightly as you can ensuring that the stamp/leather doesn’t spin.

Step 5.5) Individually customize each belt with the future owner’s first name in 1/8″ (3 mm) letters (here) with a mallet (here).

 

-Part III-

Step 6) Make a belt keeper for every belt.

Step 6.1) Cut an extra beveled/burnished strap down the middle.

Step 6.2) Measure the length.

Step 6.3) Cut the leather.

Step 6.4) Skive the edges at a 45 degree angle (so when the ends overlap, the combined thickness is that of a normal piece of leather, instead of twice as thick).

Step 6.5) Use the pricking iron to punch 3 holes into each end.

Step 6.6) Sew the ends together to form a loop.

Step 6.7) Burnish the newly cut edge.

Step 6.8) Cut the thread.

Step 6.9) Use a lighter to melt the ends of the thread and finish up the belt keeper.

Step 7) Design the stitching pattern you want to use and sew the belts.

Step 7.1) I mocked up the various ideas I had in mind in Adobe Illustrator with regards to how I was going to add some additional flair to my stitching and decided on an X towards each edge of the belt.

Step 7.2) Ask the person who you are making the belt for, 11 people in my case, what their favorite color is in order to purchase the correct colored thread.

Step 7.3) Cut 15.5″ of the above colored thread, for these belts I used 0.8mm and 1.0mm Ritza 25 Polyester “Tiger” Thread, which according to the internet, is an easy to use waxed thread that slides easily in/out of the holes (can confirm that it was a pleasure to work with) and can be found in various places on the internet (Etsy, Rocky Mountain Leather Supply, Amazon, etc.).

Step 7.4) Create a makeshift stitching pony using a dining table and a clamp to secure the un-sewn belt to a solid surface.

Step 7.5) Sew the belts to your hearts/fingers content, I used a saddle stitch for these belts as it seemed to be the strongest way to sew according to the internet and I used John James Saddlers Harness Needles (which can be found in various places on the internet (Etsy, Rocky Mountain Leather Supply, Amazon, etc.) and a stitching awl (something like this).

Step 7.6) When I finished with each “line” of stitching across the belt, I backstitched 2 stitches, cut off the excess thread, used a lighter to melt the ends, then I finished by tucking the thread end back into the last stitch to hide the evidence.

 

-Part IV-

Step 8) Finish the (other) end of the belt. After doing numerous google image searches for leather belts to see the different ways that they ended, I decided to come up with something a little unique to make tucking the end of the belt into the belt keeper/pant belt loops marginally easier by cutting the end of the belt at a ~45 degree angle, this also had the added benefit of making the belts even more unique.

Step 8.1) Combining my eyeballs with my wife’s eyeballs, I decided on how steep of an angle I wanted to cut out of the end of the belt and marked it using a utility knife

Step 8.2) Using my Japanese skiving knife, I cut off the extra triangle of material.

Step 8.3) Burnish the new end of the belt using water, wax, and a hand held wood burnisher (here).

Step 8.4) Get the waist measurements of the person who you are making the belt for (I had to ask each person’s significant other to sneakily check the pants size of each person as to not raise any suspicion).

Step 8.5) To make the center hole of the belt, you need to add 2″ to their pants size, and in my case, since the belt buckle was 2″ long, I had to add 4″ from the end of the buckle. For example, for someone who wears size 33 pants, I marked the center hole 37″ from the end of the buckle (33 + 2 + 2 = 37).

Step 8.6) Make the remaining belt buckle holes. On most belts, there are 5 holes, each spaced 1″ apart, but since I wanted to make the belt as perfectly well thought out as possible, I punched a total of 7 holes spaced 0.75″ apart to give the belt wearer more leeway for any weight fluctuations/holiday dinners.


And that’s how you make a cow-load of belts for your bachelor party attendees!

Thinking back on the insane amount of time spent on this project, including the countless cuts and general hand/body pain caused by making so many belts by hand from scratch, if I had to do it all over again, would I? Hell yes! This was one of the more rewarding projects I have done in a medium that is less than forgiving for imperfections (of which there are a million) but it was for people that I cared about and for a product that I was proud to call my own.

The only downside is that I spent so much time making belts for my friends I didn’t have enough time to make one for myself (but thankfully I made one 5 months later of which I am incredibly happy with), and now I also have about a quarter of a cow of leather left…anyone want a belt?