Introduction: Leather NATO Watch Strap

About: I like to build neat stuff. So far that's been a lightweight hiking stove, leathercraft kits with great instructions, and even Pittsburgh's largest makerspace.

It's hard to believe that it was just April of this year that my friend Mat and I started making DIY leather kits after being inspired by this post.

Before last month, they had all been made of goatskin leather, which we liked for a lot of reasons, but after a recent roadtrip to the Horween tannery in Chicago, we decided to give their steerhide leather a try on this NATO-style watch strap. We've been really impresses by the results.

We sell kits to make this strap on our website.

Instructables has been a big source of feedback from day one, so we'll send a free kit to the first 5 people who buy one and submit an "I made it!" comment with pictures and feedback.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Included in the kit:

  • Burnishing tool
  • Gum tragacanth & applicator swabs
  • Organic beeswax
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Fil Au Chinois Lin Cable waxed linen thread
  • John James harness needles
  • Horween vegetable tanned, full grain leather
  • Stainless steel buckle and keepers
  • Spring bar replacement tool

Also needed:

  • Scissors

Step 2: Laser-burnished Edge

  • Straight off the laser, the strap has a certain burnish to it. If you like this look, you can skip to Step 8.

Step 3: Raw Edge

  • If you prefer the raw edge of most leather products, you can achieve this look by gently sanding the edges of the strap.
  • To do this, hold the sandpaper flat on your work surface and gently sand a small section of the edge at a time, working your way around the strap.
  • If this is the final look you want, you can skip to Step 8.

Step 4: Hand-burnished Edge

  • The final option is a hand-burnished edge, seen on high-end and custom leather goods.

Step 5: Holding for Burnishing

  • A clamp to hold the leather for hand burnishing is included as part of the packaging cardboard.
  • Remove it by gently breaking the two outer perforated lines on the packaging sheet, being careful not to break the scored middle line. Bend the clamp in half along the scored line and insert the strap.

Step 6: Burnishing With Gum Tragacanth

  • Use one of the cotton swabs to apply a small amount of gum tragacanth to the section of the strap in the clamp.
  • Using the thinnest channel of the burninsher, rub it back and forth over the gum until the section is smooth. Reapply and repeat as needed.
  • Continue the process around the entire strap.

Step 7: Polishing With Beeswax

  • Apply the beeswax to the strap as you the gum tragacanth and polish with the burnisher.

Step 8: Measuring Out Thread

  • Each wrap stitch pair needs 12 inches of thread.
  • Our thread card is 3 inches wide, so measure out 4 lengths (or 2 full rotations) and cut with scissors.

Step 9: Threading and Securing the Needles

  • The wrap stitch uses two needles, threaded and secured to the thread as shown in the above video.

Step 10: Securing the First Keeper

  • Slip one of the strap keepers onto the square end of the strap. The seam in the keeper should be on the suede side of the strap.
  • Fold the strap around the keeper and thread one of the needles through the first set of holes.
  • Pull the needle through so there is an equal length of thread on each side of the strap.

Step 11: Starting the Wrap Stitch

  • Loop one of the needles around the edge of the strap and insert it through the stitching hole on that side only. This thread should now be between the two layers of leather.
  • Pull the thread tight.

Step 12: Repeating With the Second Needle.

  • Repeat Step 11 with the second needle.

Step 13: Preparing for the Other Side

  • Take one of the needles and pass it through one of the stitching holes on the other side of the strap.
  • Repeat with the other needle and the other hole.
  • Both sides of the thread should now be on the outside of the strap.

Step 14: Repeating With the First Needle

  • Repeat Step 11 to wrap this side of the strap with the first thread.

Step 15: Repeating With the Second Needle

  • Repeat Step 12 to wrap this side of the strap with the second thread.

Step 16: Finishing With a Square Knot

  • Finish this pair of wrap stitches with a square knot.
  • Begin with a right-over-left overhand knot and pull it tight under the fold in the leather.
  • Finish with a left-over-right overhand knot and also pull it tight under the fold in the leather (this makes a square knot).

Step 17: Cutting and Tucking

  • Cut the two threads approximately 1/4" from the knot.
  • Tuck the ends of the thread into the fold with the spring bar tool.

Step 18: Fold and Repeat

  • Fold the strap through the middle of the oval hole for the buckle prong.
  • Repeat Steps 8-17 to make a pair of wrap stitches in the first set of holes after the oval hole for the prong.

Step 19: Securing the Remaining Keepers

  • Repeat Steps 8-17 on the remaining stitching hole pairs, inserting the keepers, between the leather layers, as shown.

Step 20: Attaching the Buckle

  • Place the eye of the buckle prong into the oval hole in the end of the strap.
  • Insert the spring bar into the side of the end, threading it through the eye of the prong.
  • Anchor the spring bar in the hole on one side of the buckle.
  • Use the fork end of the spring bar tool to compress the other end of the spring bar and insert it into the other side of the buckle.

Step 21: Attaching the Strap to Your Watch

  • If needed, remove your existing band with the spring bar replacement tool and replace the spring bars on your watch.
  • Thread the strap through the top spring bar, behind the watch, and through the strap keeper on the end of the strap.

Step 22: Tucking the Extra Length

  • Once it's sized to your wrist, the extra length of the NATO strap is traditionally tucked back under the last keeper if needed.

Step 23: Finished Product

Depending on the edge finish you choose, it should take between 30 minutes to 1 hour to finish this strap. We were super impressed with how well it turned out - particularly considering how much hand-burnished Horween leather watch straps tend to cost.

And that's it! If you have the chance to make one, please let us know what you think of the process. We're always trying to improve it.


Devin & Mat