Making your own leather belt is easy if you have the right tools. The process can be done in less than an hour once you get the hang of it and personalization opportunities are endless! We got a chance to make our own leather belt at Craftsman MAKEcation with Will Lisak, who specializes in traditional and highly detailed leatherwork.
Don’t waste the excess leather from this project! We used our excess to make a small cuff to wear.
Step 1 – Size Your Belt
Roughly measure an inch in from the edge of the leather strip and fold it over. Use your ball-peen hammer to make the fold permanent.
Take your strip of leather and put it around your hips at the widest point. Make a light mark using your awl. Measure 6 inches out and use your shears or utility knife to cut off the excess leather. This will give you give you room for the buckle and to add in extra holes if you want a looser fit later.
Alternatively, you can use an existing belt that fits well to find the length you want.
If you want a curved end tip to your belt, now’s the time. Use a sharp utility knife to cut your desired shape. Don’t push down too hard, but rather trace your shape and gradually cut through the leather so you keep a smooth line.
Step 2 – Smooth the Edges
Use an edge beveler to create more rounded, softer edges along your belt. Place the beveler at a 45 degree angle; you can rest one side against the table to steady your movement. Use long, firm movement as you guide the beveler along the length of the leather. Aim for long strips so the edge feels consistent and smooth. Repeat on all sides of the leather.
An X-Acto knife can also be used if you don’t have an edge beveler, but it will be more difficult to get consistent lines safely. Some people also sand the edges as an alternative to the beveler.
Step 3 – Create Space for the Buckle
Measure out a half inch each way from the fold you created earlier and mark both ends with your awl. Measure out an inch from each of these and make another mark. Using your hole punch, create a hole at each mark.
If you are using a rotary hole punch, it works similar to a normal paper hole punch. Traditional drive punches requires a hammer. Line up the hole punch and strongly hammer down like you would a nail until it’s fully cut through the leather.
Use your utility knife to connect the two center holes, creating a long rectangle shape.
Step 4 – Punch Out Some Holes
Find the mark you made when you measured the length, this will be your center hole when tightening your finished belt. Use your awl to mark the placement of your other holes on either side of the original mark to make the belt tighter or looser. The amount and distance between each are up to you, but traditionally there are six holes spaced one inch apart.
Use your hole punch to cut through at each mark.
Step 5 – Attach Your Buckle
Insert your belt buckle through the long rectangular hole you made earlier. The belt should wrap around the buckle’s center bar so the prong is sticking out. Make sure the prong can easily move around and rest against the frame. If not, readjust the hole by cutting it wider or longer.
Line up the other two holes and place a rivet through them. You can face the rivet either way depending on the look you want. We chose to place the backend up to show off the shine from hammering it.
If your rivet is very long, cut off the excess after placing it through the belt holes. The edge should not be flush against the metal, but should have a small peak poking out.
Use your ball-peen hammer to mash the peak down so it flattens out and creates an edge that secures it to the other metal. Work with the rivet, hammering at a diagonal in a circular motion to shape it into a mushroom shape. Finish it off with a decisive hit on the center and you’re done!
Optional – Finishing Touches
Before adding on the buckle, you can apply a stain, balm, or conditioner to the belt to get the look you want. If your leather is completely untreated, you'll want to treat it to keep it from staining from water contact. Make sure to follow the specific product’s instructions, but be prepared to get a little messy and have rags handy. You want to use smooth strokes to let the product penetrate the leather evenly throughout.
Different types of leather wax can also help keep any frays in place. This can be applied after the products listed above to finish off your new accessory.