Introduction: How to Make a Leather Bolo Tie

As a material, leather seems to have infinite applications. In this step-by-step instructable, I will walk through the process of creating a bolo tie with a handmade leather slide and screw-back concho. But first, enjoy this quote from the sitcom Parks and Recreation:

Leslie Knope: "Is that a new bolo tie?"

Ken Hotate: "Yes. My son sells them on Etsy. He is a huge...disappointment."

Step 1: Outlining the Leather Slide

Begin with some 5-6 oz. vegetable tanned leather. Size the wing divider tool to the desired width. This will give you the length of the radius of the circle you will outline. For the bolos I make, I set the wing divider just shy of being 1-inch wide (approximately 7/8 of an inch or maybe 15/16 of an inch). Then use the wing divider tool (looks like a compass) to created the circular outline where you will cut out the pieces for the leather slide. Do this by setting one point of the wing divider firmly on the leather, while pivoting the tool so the other point creates the circle (again, much like a compass you might use in geometry class or for drawing).

Step 2: Cut the Pieces for the Slide

Next, cut out the pieces for the leather slide with the utility knife.

Step 3: Create the Stitching Groove

Then gouge the stitching groove using the adjustable stitching groover.

Step 4: Punch Hole in Front Piece of Leather Slide

Choose which piece will be the front piece of the leather slide. Then punch a hole directly in the center of the leather piece. I use the largest punch in my punch set (I believe it is the 5/16" punch).

Step 5: (Optional) Tool Border Design in Front Piece of Leather Slide

I like to tool a border just inside the stitching groove to make the piece look more interesting. To do that, you will dampen the leather, and stamp a border using your preferred border stamp and a leather maul or mallet. I used a stamp similar to the one in the link below:

Step 6: Punch Stitching Holes in Front Piece of Leather Slide

Use a stitching chisel to punch the holes into the stitching groove. I use a two-prong stitching chisel.

Step 7: Punch Holes in Back Piece of Leather Slide

Next, punch the holes in the back piece of the leather slide. These are the holes through which the leather bolo cord will slide. Set the top holes slightly wider than the lower holes, and you'll see why in the next step. You do not want the holes too close to the stitching groove. It is difficult to measure where exactly to make these holes, so I recommend that you reference the images included in this step, and take your best shot at it.

Step 8: Cut a Slot in the Back Piece From the Lower Holes

I mentioned that the lower holes should be set slightly closer together than the top holes on the back piece. This is because you will be making cuts to connect the two lower holes, making a slot. Since the top holes are wider than the ends of the newly created slot, this allows the bolo cord to sort of taper through the slide, helping the slide stay in place where you slide it, and allowing the bolo cord to lay the way a bolo cord should lay.

Step 9: Glue Pieces Together and Punch Holes Through Back

I forgot to take a picture for this step. Basically, you will use a leather adhesive to glue the pieces together, then punch through the holes you made in the front piece, punching through the back piece. Now you have stitching holes on both pieces that will line up.

IMPORTANT NOTE: DO NOT USE A LEATHER ADHESIVE THAT IS PERMANENT. Use one of the weaker adhesives that will hold the leather firmly in place once it has dried, but that you can still pull apart.

Step 10: Stain the Front and Back Pieces of the Leather Slide

Stain the slide pieces. I used the Eco-Flo Medium Brown Gel Antique. I think the Briar Brown or Tan colors would have made the border tooling more apparent, but oh well.

Step 11: Use a Top Finish

After the stain has dried, apply a clear top finish with a paper towel, rag, or sponge.

Step 12: Install the Concho

Remove the back screw from the concho and push the concho stem through the center hole in the front piece of the leather slide. Next, carefully place a drop of Loctite in the stem of the concho and tightly thread the screw piece. The Loctite should create a lasting bond that will prevent the piece from unscrewing in the future.

Step 13: Stitch the Slide Pieces Together

Stitch the slide pieces together. I used a brown waxed nylon thread, cut approximately 21 inches long. Thread a needle on each end of the thread. Stitch using the saddle stitch method.

Step 14: Bevel the Edges

Once the front and back of the slide piece is stitched together, use an edge beveler to round off the edges.

Step 15: Sand the Edges

Sand the edges. I used a 220 grain paper.

Step 16: Burnish the Edges

Next, use a wood slicker for burnishing the edges. Dampen the edges with a wet paper towel, then use that slicker until the edges are smooth and shiny.

Step 17: Use Edge Paint or Edge Dressing

Apply an edge paint or edges dressing for a nice, finished look.

Step 18: Thread the Bolo Cord

Next, you will thread the bolo cord through the holes and slot in the back. I usually dampen the back piece again with the top coat, and then work a small screw driver in and out of the holes to stretch the leather and loosen that back piece so that I can more easily feed the bolo cord through the holes.

Step 19: Hot Glue Bolo Cord Tips to Ends of Bolo Cord

Lastly, you will hot glue the bolo cord tips to the ends of the bolo cord. I have used super glue in the past, and while I have not experienced problems, I do feel like hot glue might be the more trusty glue for this application. Be sure to peel off any dried globs or wispy strings of hot glue that may spill out from the edge of the tips.

Step 20: Enjoy Your New Leather Bolo Tie

You're done. Enjoy.

Tandy Leather Contest 2016

Third Prize in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016