Beginning Leatherworking Class
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Lesson 3: Cutting Leather
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Introduction: Cutting Leather

Cutting is one of the most important skills in leatherwork. Getting a good clean cut-edge on your leather makes a huge difference to the look of your project, especially if you are leaving your edges raw like we are here. There are quite a few different leather cutting methods, and which one you choose mostly depends on what kind of leather you're working with, and what shape your pattern is.

Your own comfort and skill level is also a major factor here. As a leatherworker with a background in sewing, I tend to use scissors when I can because I am the most comfortable with them as a cutting tool, but you might be more comfortable using an x-acto knife. A lot of professional leatherworkers use a round knife, which can be a useful tool, but it is also a giant scary blade that is extremely intimidating!... So I won't be teaching that one yet.

In this lesson I'll show you a few different ways to cut leather, you can choose the ones that work for you, and then we'll cut out the wallet.

In this lesson I'll be using:

  • Leather with your traced wallet pattern
  • Scrap leather for testing
  • Metal ruler
  • Cutting mat
  • Awl
  • Leather shears or sharp scissors
  • X-acto knife
  • Cutting wheel

  • Cutting Leather With Scissors

    I'm going to show you my three favorite methods for cutting leather. Some work better for different situations, and some are just a matter of personal preference. Whatever you do, I suggest trying each of these tools on scrap leather first before you use them to cut out the wallet pattern.

    Scissors or Leather Shears: with thinner, more pliable leather, I think a good sharp pair of scissors can often be the best tool for cutting out patterns, especially shapes with curved lines. Since leather of the same weight can vary in stiffness and texture, there is no hard-and-fast rule for when leather becomes too thick to cut effectively with scissors. The best way to find out is to test, but in general, leather above 9 or 10 oz will be too thick.

    A few things to keep in mind when using scissors on leather:

    Try to mostly cut against a flat surface, don't cut up in the air (unless you are cutting very small details).

    Keep your scissors at a right angle to your leather and cutting surface, this helps you create a cut edge that is squared off, not beveled.

    To create clean lines, cut with long slow strokes, not short choppy ones.

    Practice first on scraps so you don't ruin your project.


    Cutting With ​X-Acto, Utility or Craft Knives

    I find these types of knives to be the most versatile (and cheap) leather cutting tool. They work great for straight lines, and pretty good on curves too, with a bit of practice.

    A few things to keep in mind:

    Cut on top of a cutting mat or other appropriate surface. Cutting surfaces need to be flat, smooth and somewhat soft so your blade doesn't get dulled or broken too easily.

    Hold your leather steady with one hand while pulling your knife smoothly along your marked pattern lines with the other.

    Try to keep your blade held at right angles to your cutting surface.

    Press down hard enough to cut all the way through in one pass to get the cleanest lines. You can always go back and cut a second time if you have to, but this sometimes creates a jagged edge.

    Move the leather around between cuts to get the best cutting angle on each line. Your arm can only effectively cut straight lines at certain angles, and it's usually easier to move the leather than to move your whole body to give your arm the best leverage.

    To cut straight lines, you can use a metal ruler as a guide for your knife. Hold the ruler down firmly with your other hand as you cut.

    Cut with a sharp blade. A sharp blade makes a HUGE difference. Change them often, they're cheap.

    Always be safe! Keep your free hand out of the path of your x-acto blade and work slowly and consciously. These knives may be small, but they are extremely sharp and can be a very dangerous tool if you aren't being careful. Keep all your fingers!

    Here's how I use both ruler-aided cutting and free-hand cutting on different parts of a pattern piece:


    Cutting With a Cutting Wheel

    Cutting wheels are basically like pizza cutters for leather. They have a sharp retractable wheel blade and come in different sizes. When used correctly, they create beautiful clean edges along straight lines, but they can be a bit tricky to master. I mostly use them for cutting straps.

    A few things to keep in mind when using a cutting wheel:

    Cut on top of a cutting mat or other appropriate surface. As with knives, cutting surfaces need to be flat, smooth and somewhat soft so your blade doesn't get dulled or broken too easily.

    Use a long metal, or very thick plastic ruler as a guide. Your ruler should be at least as long as the line you need to cut. Hold your ruler down with your free hand and run your cutting wheel directly along the edge of the ruler, pushing away from you.

    Press down firmly so you cut all the way through the leather.

    Make your cut in one long stroke if possible, starting and stopping makes jagged edges more likely.

    Always be safe! Keep your free hand out of the path of your cutting wheel blade and work slowly and consciously. Cutting wheels can be very dangerous if you aren't being careful. Keep all your fingers!


    Leather Cutting Quiz

    {
        "id": "quiz-1",
        "question": "To get the cleanest edge when cutting with scissors, you should cut:",
        "answers": [
            {
                "title": "with short choppy strokes",
                "correct": false
            },
            {
                "title": "with long slow strokes",
                "correct": true
            }
        ],
        "correctNotice": "Yup, you got it.",
        "incorrectNotice": "Nope, guess again."
    }
    
    {
        "id": "quiz-2",
        "question": "True or False: It's easier to cut leather with a dull x-acto knife.",
        "answers": [
            {
                "title": "false",
                "correct": true
            },
            {
                "title": "true",
                "correct": false
            }
        ],
        "correctNotice": "You're right! Dull cutting tools make it much harder to cut leather.  Change your blades often.",
        "incorrectNotice": "Sorry, that's not right. Try again."
    }
    
    {
        "id": "quiz-3",
        "question": "Cutting wheels are best for cutting:",
        "answers": [
            {
                "title": "long straight lines",
                "correct": true
            },
            {
                "title": "small detailed patterns",
                "correct": false
            },
     	{
                "title": "curves",
                "correct": false
            },
    	{
                "title": "pizza",
                "correct": false
            }
        ],
        "correctNotice": "You got it!",
        "incorrectNotice": "No, no, no.  Try that again.."
    }
    
    {
        "id": "quiz-4",
        "question": "When cutting with a knife or cutting wheel always cut on:",
        "answers": [
            {
                "title": "your quartz slab",
                "correct": false
            },
            {
                "title": "a cutting mat or cutting block",
                "correct": true
            },
     	{
                "title": "your grandmother's newly refinished antique table",
                "correct": false
            }
        ],
        "correctNotice": "Yes! An appropriate cutting surface is smooth, soft enough to not dull your blade, and something you don't mind damaging.",
        "incorrectNotice": "Nope, that would not be advisable. Guess again."
    }
    

    Cut Out the Wallet Pattern

    To cut out your wallet pattern, choose one of the cutting methods I've demonstrated, and cut the leather along the lines you've marked with the awl. I used an x-acto knife and a metal ruler to cut all the straight lines, then rounded the corners with scissors. Skip cutting the two internal card slot cuts for now, we'll cut those in the next lesson.

    You could also use scissors to cut the whole thing. I wouldn't recommend a cutting wheel for this project because a shape like this is too small, with too many angles, to cut with a cutting wheel without making mistakes.


    What We Learned

    So now you've practiced a few of the best techniques for cutting leather. Making clean cuts takes practice, so keep trying if you aren't getting it right away. Remember a sharp blade makes a huge difference. So keep your tools sharp or change blades often. There is a lot of good advice about tool care and sharpening (all given through beautiful hand drawings) in the book Leathercraft Tools.

    In the next lesson we'll keep constructing our wallet as we learn how to fold leather.


    How's Your Project Going?

    If you have any problems cutting out your wallet, feel free to ask questions in the discussion section below.

    {
        "id": "homework1",
        "actionMessage": "Share a photo of what you've cut out to complete this lesson!",
        "actionCompletedMessage": "Nice knife work! You've completed this lesson"    
    }
    

    CLASS PROJECT

    Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

    Nice work! You've completed the class project