How to Cut Leather

Knowing how to cut leather is an essential part of leatherworking. Read on for Stonestreet Leather’s guide to cutting leather like a pro.

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How to Cut Leather

Learning how to cut leather isn’t especially challenging, yet doing it right is. Cuts should be perfect since they significantly affect the result of your leather project. The most minor slip of your ruler can mess with your burnishing process and make your stitching lines no longer as straight as they should be. Little blunders like that are intensified with each step you take to complete your leatherworking project.

While learning how to cut leather correctly can be a challenge, with a little bit of patience, both experienced leather workers and amateurs alike can master the art of cutting leather. Here, Stonestreet Leather explains everything you need to know in order to cut leather like a pro.

How to Cut Leather

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Leather Cutting Tools

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Leather Cutting Tools

Tools for leather cutting play a major role in the process of leather crafting. They not only contribute to the pleasure and ease of the process but also to the finished product’s quality. To start, determine what tools for cutting are needed.

Leather Cutting Tool

There are a few essential leather cutting tools: a utility knife, a rotary cutter, and a hobby or craft knife. 

However, there are a few other common types of tools used for leather cutting, including heavy-duty scissors, head knives, swivel knives, hole punches, skiving knives, and V-gouge knives. It also helps to have a self-healing cutting mat handy in addition to a heavy ruler. Finally, you may want to keep a first aid kit handy – just in case!

Above all, your leather cutting knife should be effectively sharp. A dull cutting knife will not cut your leather as cleanly as you would ideally like it to, leaving unsightly and uneven jagged edges. If your leather cutting knife gets dull, it’s important to sharpen it as frequently as possible for the best possible cut.

Of course, you can’t learn how to cut leather without the leather itself. For most leatherworking projects, we suggest a versatile material like economy vegetable tan leather.

Cutting Leather: Preparation

Regardless of what you are crafting with your leather, it always helps to lay out and mark your leather before you begin to cut it.

Before Trimming Leather

For example, if you are creating a wallet with multiple pieces, you will want to scope out the leather’s grain side to find a clean, smooth area without any significant imperfections. Once you’ve found this area, flip the leather over and copy the pattern on the flesh side with a pen. This will be the area that you will cut from.

However, if you’d prefer not to mark up the leather using a pen, you can instead cut the pattern out of thin cardboard or plastic and use those edges to guide you while cutting. But be aware that this approach can be challenging, since the pattern may shift during cutting.

If your pattern includes curves, planning out your cut is even more important.

Cutting Leather Preparation

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Best Way to Cut Thin Leather

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Best Way to Cut Thin Leather

It’s best to cut thin leather of a thickness of 1mm or less with a rotary cutter. Using a hobby knife can pull and crease the leather and make it harder to get a straight line since it’s so fragile and more prone to moving. A rotary cutter allows for even pressure to be applied to a larger area. As mentioned above, it’s vital to ensure that your blade is nice and sharp when learning how to cut leather. This will give you a crisp, smooth line with few mistakes.

To cut the leather, lay it down with the grain side facing up, then place your ruler on top. If you haven’t already planned your cut with a pen or a piece of material, you can use the edge of the ruler to guide your cut. For the best results, keep the rotary cutter as close to the edge of the ruler as you can get.

How to Cut Thick Leather

It’s much easier to cut thick leather than thin leather. For thicker material, all you need is a sharp hobby knife to get a clean, straight cut, in addition to a sturdy ruler.

How to Cut Leather Straight

To cut thick leather straight, lay the leather down with the grain side up. Place the ruler on top and use the edge as a guide for cutting. Slowly and gently drag the hobby knife along the cut line. Patience is important here, but it will all be worth it for a straight cut into your leather.

If the leather is especially thick, you will want to make a lot of small passes. Usually, however, thick leather will normally take between 2-4 passes to cut through completely. Make sure to keep your ruler still in the same location at all times and keep the edge of the knife against the ruler.

If you aren’t so keen on cutting leather, you can also use pre-cut blanks like economy grade vegetable tan belt blanks. While leather cutting is a rewarding venture, there’s never any shame in taking a shortcut.

How to Cut Thick Leather

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Leather Cut Tips

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Leather Cut Tips

While leather cutting is generally straightforward once you follow the basic steps outlined above, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your leather cutting project runs smoothly.

Cut Leather Tips

Here are a few important tips for learning how to cut leather:

  • Keep your blade perpendicular to the leather. If you don’t do this, your cuts will appear to be straight but you will find out that they’re not completely straight once you get to the process of burnishing. To ensure that your edges line up perfectly and to limit the amount of sanding needed while burnishing, always keep your blade perpendicular. If you have trouble doing this, try not to overextend your arm while cutting because this will cause your hand to start rolling.
  • Keep your knives sharp. Sharp knives create clean, smooth cuts, causing much fewer mistakes. Before or after each time you work with leather, whether you’re just learning how to cut leather or are a seasoned leatherworker, make it a habit to sharpen your knives.
  • If you’d like to cut smooth curves in your leather, you can use a coin or washer as a guide. Line your coin up into the corner of your leather, following along the edge with your knife.
  • Guide with your body, not your wrist. You may have a natural tendency to guide the blade with your wrist, but your wrist has a limited range of motion. Instead, keep your elbow in close to your body and pull the cutting motion with your shoulder. This will keep you on track and ensure that the blade remains straight.
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