For many people, leathercraft is a fascinating hobby that never gets tiresome. If you’re one of those people, you know you’re going to need to punch some holes in leather. Using a drill to make holes in leather just stretches the leather and leaves holes that will shrink once the drill bit is removed. It also leaves ragged edges on the holes. Instead, you need a professional leather hole punch.
There are two types of leather hole punches: drive punches and rotary punches. A drive punch is a steel rod with a sharp-edged cutting hole on one end. You place the cutting end on a piece of leather and hit the other end with a hammer or mallet, and it cuts a hole in the leather. A rotary punch has a wheel with six different round punch sizes on it. You insert a piece of leather and squeeze the pliers to punch a hole.
Determine which type of leather hole punch is right for you.
Leathercraft is popular in America, not only for fun but also for profit. It is in the top ten of the most profitable hobbies.
Rotary leather punches are quick, easy, and convenient. Everything you need is there in one place. Rotate the wheel to the right size, insert the piece of leather you’re punching a hole in (such as a belt), and squeeze the handle. Poof! Instant hole.
Obviously, you have to measure where the hole will go and make sure you’ve got the correct spacing and so on, but you get the idea.
The flip side of the equation is what to do when you’re punching holes in the middle of a large piece of leather. A rotary punch can only punch holes two to three inches away from the side of the leather. It won’t reach any farther toward the middle of the piece.
If you’re making belts or punching small holes along the edges for beading or other purposes, a rotary punch will probably be your tool of choice due to its convenience.
Leather or metal
Are you punching holes only in leather, or do you also need to punch holes in metal? Some leather punches are strong enough to handle both, but others aren’t. Decide ahead of time what you’re going to be working on to avoid the hassle of having to return a product that doesn’t fit your needs.
The rotary wheel on leather punches only turns in one direction. If you try to turn it the other direction and apply too much force, you could break it.
Although the basic design of leather hole punches doesn’t change much from one manufacturer to another, there are different features that will increase the worth of your tool.
Punch plate size and quantity
The size of the punch plate under the leather dictates how well it supports it. A small punch plate will let the leather droop and bend directly under the punch instead of laying flat. You need the leather to lay flat so you can get the hole in the right place. The larger the punch plate, the flatter the leather will lay and the better hole placement you’ll get.
Depending on the weight of the leather you’re working with, the punch plates will be under a lot of strain. Having extras on hand in case one breaks means you don’t have to stop and run down to the craft store to get a replacement.
Leather hole punches are made from steel; they have to be in order to punch holes in leather. The grips aren’t steel, and neither are the punch plates. The punch plates are plastic disks with a metal backstop directly under the punch, usually brass. There isn’t going to be a lot of variation here.
A basic leather punch relies on leverage to push the cutting edge of the punch through a piece of leather. Higher-end punches have a double-lever action that multiplies the force you exert with your bare hands, making it easier to punch holes, especially in thicker pieces of leather.
Punching holes in leather can create a lot of strain on your hands when you squeeze the handles. Having cushioned grips on the handles helps relieve that strain. In less-expensive models, the cushioned grips on the handles are usually made from sprayed-on rubber. Some use rubber sleeves. Pricier tools use PVC to create a thick, pliable cushion for your hands.
There isn’t a lot of variation in this category, although there is some. The steel tools themselves are either powder-coated black or the color of plain steel. The cushioned grips on the handles are where most of the color comes from. Red, orange, and various shades of blue are the main colors for the grips.
Cleaning and measuring
The individual punches are essentially hollow tubes with sharp edges to cut down through the leather. The dot that gets cut out is pressed up inside the steel tube. Better kits often include a grinding rod, a long sharp rod with roughing along its upper length to extract the leather dots from the tubes and clean away any leather residue.
Did you know?
Rotary leather hole punches can be used to make holes for shoelaces in moccasins or boots. They can also be used for decorative beadwork.
Leather hole punch prices
The prices for leather hole punches are mainly determined by how many add-ons and extras come with the punch. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, a higher price means more parts — often a kit instead of just a tool.
The low price range is anything under $10. For that, you get the rotary tool and nothing else. These are usually replacements for a lost or broken tool.
The middle price range is from $10 to $20. This is where you’ll find leather hole punch kits with multiple plates, cleaning rods, rulers, and screwdrivers. Some kits in this range even include rivets.
The high price range is anything over $20. These will have cushioned PVC grips and extra plates. This is also where you’ll find heavy-duty punches for punching holes in metal.
Always make your measurements and measuring marks on the underside of the leather piece you’re working on. Cleaning pencil marks (or ink) off a piece of leather can be done, but often it’s done at the expense of leaving an obvious scrub area behind that is a different shade than the surrounding material.
If you’re not sure what size hole you need to punch, start by punching a small hole. Test it; if it is too small, try the next size up. Position the larger punch over the smaller hole, cut out a ring of material, and test it again. It’s easy to increase the size of the hole, but it’s impossible to shrink it. Once you find the right size, you can use that punch to make the rest of the holes.
Use an awl, a sharp metal rod, to make a small pinprick on the leather to indicate where the center of each hole on the leather will be. Always do this on the underside of the leather.
Don’t oil the punch tool before using it. Instead, oil it with light machine oil on the hinges of the punch after each use. Then, wipe it clean.
Punching out holes on a belt shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes with a leather hole punch.
Q. Can rotary leather punches be used to decorate a piece of leather?
A. Yes. Leather beadwork often utilizes small 2mm holes for fastening beads to a leather jacket or along the edge of a belt. If you want to add more decoration to your leather pieces, you can also get a leather stamping kit.
Q. Can a rotary leather punch be used to make oblong holes in a piece of leather?
A. Technically, the answer is yes, but you need an incredibly steady hand and a keen eye to keep everything in line.
Q. How long will a rotary punch last?
A. Depending on the quality, it can last for 20 to 30 years. Even inexpensive leather hole punches tend to last for several years.