How To Tool Leather? Step By Step Guide And Tips

tool leather

It’s commonly believed that leatherworking is comprised of two pastimes: tooling leather and collecting leather tools.

The act of engraving a design onto the leather is known as leather tooling, and it is typically carried out to give any leather product a decorative element. Vegetable tanned leather can be cased with water to enhance the tooled patterns and expand design options. 

The advice in this article will help you make the most of your collection of leatherworking equipment.

What Is Leather Tooling?

What does tooling leather mean exactly? We must first clear up a few issues before we can respond to that question. First, we must comprehend the distinction between tooling and tooling leather. Tooling is the process of engraving or embellishing designs on leather. Tooling leather on the other hand is the leather that we use to make those beautiful designs. Think of tooling leather as the canvas.  Conclusively, tooled leather is the leather that has gone through the tooling process or creative design.

Going back to the question, tooling leather can be any leather available. However, they typically use leather that has been vegetable-tanned. Why would they choose vegetable-tanned leather over other types of leather? The solution is really quite easy. Vegetable tanning creates leather that is a little softer and simpler to work with than leather tanned using other methods. The leather would typically need to be softer since you are trying to etch designs onto it. There are other leather types besides vegetable tanned leather that can be used as tooling leather. For example, you can use bridle and rawhide as substitutes. The finished product won’t be nearly as good as the leather that was vegetable-tanned, though.

Furthermore, tooling leathers are available in a variety of thicknesses. Depending on the project, the leather’s thickness may differ. A knife sheath or wallet, for instance, will require a thinner cut of leather than a belt. Similar to how different layers of leather can be glued together to create thick leather. These are frequently used for designs that call for greater thickness than the standard cut.

leather tooling

What Are Uses For Leather Tooling?

The most typical application of leather tooling is to embellish a piece of leather. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple initial stamp to personalize a leather wallet. Other times, leather tooling can create some incredible works of art that are featured on leather belts or journal covers. 

Essentially, leather tooling enables the leathercrafter to add some artistic inspiration to the canvas that is a piece of leather. The item being tooled gains a special, individual touch from it, enabling leatherworkers to differentiate themselves from the competition through the distinctiveness of their tooling techniques.

Different Types Of Leather Tooling

According to Chris Groneman’s Leather Tooling and Carving publication, leather tooling is generally thought of as the simple tracer and spoon impressions that are pressed into 3- and 4-ounce art and craft leather. Generally speaking, carving and stamping are the two main types of leather tooling.

Stamping is the process of repeatedly pressing a metal stamp into a piece of leather to create a unified, unified pattern. Although it sounds easy in theory, using this technique to produce neat pieces frequently requires a lot of practice and close attention to the details.

A swivel knife, a beveled, and a stylus are required at the very least when carving. Other tools may enter the process, but swivel knife work to carve a pattern into a piece of leather is the fundamental step in the carving style of leather tooling. 

Tools Required For Leather Tooling

Starting out in the leather tooling industry can be challenging. It can be difficult to expect to be able to replicate something that closely resembles an intricately tooled piece of leather after all.

On the other hand, Eleonore E. Bang in Leathercraft for Amateurs, the most basic tools needed to do some leather tooling are a marble slab or similarly hard surface for working, some water, a mallet or a maul, and some stamps that you can purchase at any leather tool distributor.

Swivel knives and modeling spoons are used for some of the most intricate toolings, but they are not required to start a journey into leather tooling. A marble slab, modeling spoon, bevelers, stamps, and swivel knives are a few of the most popular tools used in leather tooling.

To produce complex, imaginative designs, these tools can be used in a variety of ways, frequently in tandem. A good rule of thumb to follow when purchasing leather tooling tools is to only purchase what you will require for your subsequent projects. It can be tempting to want to have everything ready to go before beginning, but doing so will slow down your development as a leather tooler. 

Level Of Leather Tooling Skill

Although learning leather tooling is fairly simple, mastering it can take a lifetime. Beginners are encouraged to pick up stamp sets and experiment with how the stamps can be used in combination to create patterns as a starting point for their leather tooling journey. For some patterns, the leather’s surface can be covered with just one stamp. 

However, more tools and techniques will be required as the pattern’s complexity rises. Here is a video that demonstrates how to tool a flower into leather. This is a good project for a beginner with some prior experience.

Some of the methods you’ll see in this video will begin to highlight just how intricate these patterns can become. 

How To Prepare Tooling Leather For Working?

We must prepare the leather in order to apply those lovely designs and patterns. Although any leather can technically be tooled, the results are not the best. This is due to the fact that some leathers are too stiff to be cut using leather tools and stamps. Similarly, we wouldn’t want leather that is so supple, flexible, or springy that the stamp impressions are lost. We require leather that is flexible enough to cut and firm enough to stamp. This leather has been vegetable-tanned.

We must first get ready before working with vegetable-tanned leather. The process of preparation is fairly straightforward. The leather requires moisture in order to be usable. Water is the ideal method for moistening leather. This process of moistening the leather is what we call casing. The fibers of the leather will swell and soften if it is wet. To mold and work with the leather’s surface, we must complete this step.

Both the flesh side and the grain side of the leather are moistened by rubbing a wet sponge across them. We must spread the water as evenly as possible across both sides. Don’t be alarmed; once leather is moistened, it will start to take on its natural color. Additionally, leather can only be worked with once it has become moist or wet. You can always repeat the process to remoisten the leather if tooling is not yet finished while it is wet.

How To Tool Leather?

Here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to tool leather, without any suggestions for design choices. 

  1. Start with vegetable-tanned leather. A veg tan leather’s surface is malleable enough to allow tooling to leave a noticeable mark. 
  2. A mallet or maul, a stamp of some kind, and possibly a swivel knife are the absolute minimum tools you’ll need. Keep in mind to have a marble slab handy (or another surface that is just as hard) for working on.
  3. Leather’s exterior should be cased. This entails sponging or spraying water on the surface. Avoid soaking the leather; instead, use a small amount to moisten the surface. 
  4. Start tooling, which could entail anything from stamping the pattern you want to cutting out the main lines of a design with a swivel knife after tracing it out with a stylus. 
  5. Make sure your pattern’s edges are smooth. You’ll essentially burnish the piece by rubbing it after applying something like gum tragacanth or Tokonole with a canvas cloth. In addition to making the design look cleaner, this will shine up the edges.

Pros And Cons Of Leather Tooling


The main benefit of using tooling leather over other kinds of leather is that it works perfectly for carving, engraving, and tooling leather hide. Additionally, it is the best leather for embossing patterns onto the leather. Other kinds of the leather won’t give you the best results. On the other hand, edges produced by high-quality tooling leather will be sharper, clearer, and more clearly defined. Furthermore, because this kind of leather is typically vegetable-tanned, it will acquire a lovely patina over time. Additionally strong and long-lasting and capable of lasting for a long time, this kind of leather.


Vegetable tanning is a labor- and time-intensive process for making leather. Additionally, the process is costly. It also takes a lot of time and patience. Leather tooling has inconsistent results as another drawback. Its quality will vary greatly as a result of the use of hides from various animals. Simply because it comes from different animals, some might not have the same qualities as others. In addition, this kind of leather has no coating of an artificial protective substance. It is therefore susceptible to the elements.

Tips For Leather Tooling

  1. Take your time – Rushing is a surefire way to make mistakes you won’t be able to fix, whether you’re making a tooled leather belt for yourself or a tooled leather journal cover. Every step of the process should be planned out, and you should take breaks as needed. 
  2. Use veg tan leather – When working with leather, it’s occasionally acceptable to use various tannages of leather to create a variety of leather goods. However, when it comes to tooling, you should only use veg tan leather because when cased, it allows for the most profound, long-lasting impressions. 
  3. Parchment or wax paper can be useful for tracing designs onto the leather – It’s crucial to have one available when you’re getting ready to work with some designs and are at the tooling stage. If you can, try to avoid marking directly on the leather; instead, draw a pattern on some parchment or wax paper. After that, decorate the leather with a stylus. 

How Can We Get Better At Leather Tooling?

The best way to become better at leather tooling is to practice it, just like with any other skill. Start with some less expensive vegetable tan and gradually advance to swivel knives. You can start moving to more intricate designs once you feel comfortable with some basic floral patterns. 

Watching other leatherworkers work with leather is another way to improve. The quickest way to learn tips and tricks is frequently to watch other crafters create patterns and bring them to life on YouTube, which is a wealth of information. On YouTube, crafters frequently offer instructions that are worth following. Your skills will improve the more projects you complete. 

Final Thoughts

Beginning with leather tooling can be intimidating and adds a new perspective to approaching leathercrafting. But choosing a straightforward project and getting started are the most crucial steps in learning leather tooling. Purchase some inexpensive leather and a swivel knife as you gain experience stamping leather to increase your skill set. Although I haven’t started leather tooling myself, I can’t wait to start my next undertaking! 

Read More: How To Make Tool In Little Alchemy?