Introduction: Men's Leather Bulldog Harness

This leather harness has no innate function. Maybe you have some idea about how you could use it in some other project. Maybe you think it looks cool! What is interesting, though is that the men I know who have tried it on have said, "Damn, this just feels good on my body!" The harness is meant to hold you around the chest and arms, like a large firm hand. It makes you feel held in place. You know that feeling when you go for x-rays and they put that lead blanket over you? This harness is kinda like that, all the time, without the weight and, if made correctly. with no sense of restriction or inability to breathe. I like just wearing mine under regular clothes. It is silent, discrete, and nice to have on 24/7.

You can buy a well-made harness more or less like this on the Internet for around $70 or $80 . Or you can make your own for a good deal less, but still not cheaply. Leather is expensive. Ruining good leather and having to buy more is even more expensive. Enter this project with some caution: if you make a cut by mistake, you cannot undo it— you cannot fix it with any adhesive or thread, you cannot patch it or splice it or tape it. You can discard it or you can use it for other projects, but you can't fix a bad cut in the leather once it happens.

Also, keep this in mind: the harness shown here was made for a person 5'8" tall weighing about 145 lbs. It is NOT a one size fits all garment, and is not adjustable. It could be made this way with the addition of many more snaps and/ or some buckles, but since I made this for me, none of that was necessary (or desirable). The measurements I have provided here for the straps are for a person my height and girth. You might need to adjust your own straps accordingly. You can test out possible strap lengths with fabric before trying this with actual leather.

Lastly, although this is not what I would consider a complicated leathercraft project, neither is it one for the complete novice. Leather can be difficult to predict, and the tools involved are deadly sharp. And as I said before, there is no "fixing" any mistakes as you go along. Either you succeed, or you learn by failing. Good luck!

Step 1: Supplies & Tools

In order to make this harness, I began with the following supplies:

  • A large piece of tanned black 6 oz. leather which I cut into the following 1.5" wide strips:
    • Two 17.5" strips
    • Two 15.5" strips
    • Two 10" strips
    • Note that if you begin with a pre-cut strip of leather, you will need about 86" of it (to make this size harness)
  • Four round 3/8" chrome-plated 2.5"-diameter steel rings (NOT "D" rings)
  • Two Tandy leather line-20 metal snaps, each composed of its four pieces (I purchased a packet of these)
  • Twelve double-capped nickel-plated steel rivets, also from Tandy

In terms of tools, I used the following:

  • A brand new sharp X-acto knife blade and handle. The very tip must be completely sharp and unused or the blade will not cut all the way through the leather
  • A straight piece of glass over 18" long to use as a straight edge— a wooden or metal ruler will not work because the X-acto knife will snag on it and become damaged. Glass worked remarkably well.
  • A "self healing" cutting board like this one. You cannot cut the leather on any other surface without destroying that surface or ruining your blade. Note that the board had to have a length (in this case, 18") longer than my longest strap: the sides of the straps (if you are cutting straps) must be cut in single strokes, so a shorter board will not work here.
  • A 1/8" leather hole punch
  • Tandy's matching tools for setting the snaps and the rivets: setter, anvil, etc.
  • A large rubber mallet such as this one

Step 2: Cutting the Leather Strips

I cut my own strips. You can skip this section if you are using pre-cut 1.5" wide 6 oz. leather strips.

I began with a single sheet of leather large enough for all my straps. I carefully marked the dimensions of each strap on the leather with a pencil, then held the leather under the glass straight edge on top of the cutting board and went to work cutting. It is possible to cut all six basic straps from a single piece of leather using only 11 strokes if done carefully.

I tried to minimize my number of strokes with the knife in the leather by having straps share cut edges (see diagram). This worked out for me, but if my knife had strayed from my straight edge, I would have damaged the adjoining strap. It was difficult to hold the plate of glass in position with one hand while making these long straight cuts with the other.

A few more things about cutting leather: whatever direction the blade starts going will be the one it ends up wanting to continue going. This is great, except that during a single 18" cut, there will be moments when the knife tip will try to wander a bit. It you cut too fast, then the tip will shoot right out of its intended track and into the strap itself. Also, you need to be mindful of where the knife will actually "cut" in relation to the glass edge— if you allow the blade to tip sideways, it will start to cut under the glass and your final strap will have a bevel to it! Do not let this happen. Keep the pressure firm and the blade straight by cutting with the length of the blade sunk deep within the leather, not just with the tip (see diagram of that).

If you cut too slowly, you risk giving your blade more opportunity to wander. The wandering won't be quite as destructive as it might have been if you cut more quickly, but it will happen more often, creating a disappointing and irregular edge to the strap. Your cuts need to be smooth, straight (both along the strap as well as vertically down through the leather), and they must be firm enough to go completely through the 6 oz. leather! A dull blade will require you to try to re-cut and then trim up your pieces, often making a mess of them.

Note that the ends of each piece have tabs that are slightly reduced in width. This is to allow the rings to hold all three straps through them easily. Without these cut tabs, the ends of the straps will create bulky-looking "triangles" inside each steel ring, and can then never adjust themselves to your body shape and movements. Cutting them down into tabs is a hassle, but is very important for the finished piece. Note that the placement of the cuts for the tabs is slightly different in the two short straps than in the four longer ones. If you follow my diagram exactly, you will have no problem with these.\

I don't have much advice about cutting the round parts at the corners, but the corners must be rounded or the harness will poke its wearer and will chafe. I had a brick of silver with corners the correct curvature which I used as a guide for my knife. Each strap has eight round cuts in it around the tabs, and this meant I had to make a total of 48 round cuts with my X-acto knife to finish them off, withOUT cutting accidentally into the strap anywhere!

Step 3: Attach the Straps to the Rings

This step is very easy to get wrong at some point, with very upsetting results. You must make certain as you work that all of the tabs of leather face the "inside" of the garment, because once riveted in place, they cannot be flipped over without removing the rivet, which is not meant to be a temporary means of attachment.

Also, it will be critical that you keep the differently-sized straps in the correct position on the rings relative to the others (in other words, the order of the straps on the rings matters greatly). Each side is the symmetric opposite of the other left/ right (as you would expect) but is not symmetric top/ bottom: the two longest straps go under the arms, not over the shoulders. If you put the harness together the other way, it will be quite uncomfortable to wear!

Note this: the short strap across the front attaches via two 20-series snaps (one on each side, left and right) so that the harness can be opened up and taken off. If this strap were riveted in place, I, at least, would not be able to get it on!

All the other straps get a single rivet at each end tab as they loop over the ring. There are a lot of very good YouTube videos that cover exactly how to use the Tandy rivet setter and snap setter, which must be done correctly or you will mess up the harness, maybe irreparably. Remember, the leather cannot be fixed if you damage it! Also, and it should go without saying, if you get the snaps backwards, you are very screwed. The rivets can go in either way, but not the snaps.

Briefly, to set the rivets, follow these steps:

  • Punch the hole in your leather strip as shown
  • Place your rivet through this hole and place the cap on the other side of the rivet
  • Place one side of the rivet (it does not matter which side) against the setting anvil— remember that the anvil must be placed on a solid steady surface with the "bowl" facing downward (which is completely counter intuitive, I know). It is only when the anvil is turned this way that the shock of the mallet will cause it to set properly.
  • Stack up the rivets, anvil, leather, and setter as shown in the diagram, be VERY careful that you are centered on the anvil (which will be tricky!), and then hit the setter with the rubber mallet about as hard as if you were putting as wooden peg in a hole— firmly, but not so hard as to smash anything
  • Repeat this for each rivet

Step 4: Setting the Snaps

Setting the two snaps in place is somewhat more difficult than setting the rivets. Fortunately there is already an Instructable that covers how to do this! It is available HERE. Please click on that link and follow the instructions given there for setting the snaps. One snap goes on either side of the short strap across the front of the harness. Technically you only need one snap, and the other could be another rivet, but since the snaps I used here and the rivets have differently sized heads, I used two snaps so that the harness would look uniform on the left and right sides of the strap.

For this harness, the short back strap does not get any snaps, nor do any of the other straps. Only the front one, and only two, one on each side. However, if you want to make the harness fully adjustable, then you can certainly place a series of snaps along each strap of leather. Make sure you place all of these snaps in a row right down the center, or the finished harness will look careless and messy. The urgency about having all of the snaps in a row is obviated if you are only using rivets and are only using one per strap end.

Step 5: Donning the Harness

Putting the harness on correctly can be tricky. Once you have done it correctly, you will know that THAT is the only way to wear it! The arms need to go through the space between the medium length straps and the long straps on each side, with the long straps traveling under the arm. The short straps join the harness across the back and across the front, and if you made yours like mine, then the snaps are in the front. Technically, there is no front or back to this harness— the only thing which makes the front the front is the presence of the snaps.