Though they are sometimes hidden under shirts and sweaters, belts are an important part of everyday attire for most people. You might not think it but a belt can say a lot about a person's style, even more so when you add in your own personal flair!
This project uses store bought untreated leather belt straps along with buckle blanks and shows you some methods on how to get creative and make your own custom belts. Making your own is easy! All of the supplies you need can easily be found at craft stores, leather supplies wholesaler or the internet.
This project covers how to make resin-embedded belt buckle inserts and how to treat and finish a leather belt.
Enough talk, let's make some belts!
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Step 1: Tools + Materials
Step 2: Embellishments & Cut-outs
The first thing to do is determine how large your buckle inset area is, the buckles I used had inset dimensions of 67mm x 48mm [2-5/8" x 1-7/8"]. Always make sure whatever you put into your buckle is slightly larger than your dimensions, that way you can trim it down to the exact shape.
For these belts I decided to try 2 different types of buckles: embellishments embedded in the resin, and custom colour printouts.
Since fall produces some great colours, I thought it would be fun to make a collage from small press-dried leaves. Locate leaves of your choice, I suggest gathering and pressing more than you need so you have extra. Press leaves between the pages of a heavy book for a few days, this will dry the leaves and flatten them preparing them to be added to your buckle inset.
A small pressed leaf was used as the center of my Canadian flag design, the side borders were made by cutting similar coloured leaves to the right shape. The leaves were then laid onto thick white cardstock, ready for casting resin.
For the other buckles I decided to make custom colour images. These belts were destined to be gifts, so I used images that would be meaningful to the recipients. In this case: John Wayne and the metal band Slayer (not for the same person). I found a few classic John Wayne images online, and decided to settle on the iconic black and white movie still from True Grit. The Slayer image is also a classic and your Slayer buckle may turn out better if you're listening to Reign In Blood, just sayin'.
The images were imported to a photo editing program and resized to be slightly larger than the measured inset of the buckle. Then the images were printed on white printer paper. Each icon was cut out using the leather blank as a guide, this ensured that each image cut out is exactly the right size to fit into the inset.
Step 3: Resin
Always follow the instructions on your casting resin.
Warning: Most casting resins come in a 2-part solution, the resin and a hardener. When mixed, the two produce a chemical reaction and begin solidifying (curing). This process takes about 24 hours to set fully, but you can see a drastic change in viscosity within the first 30 minutes. During the curing the resin is exothemic, meaning it produces heat, this isn't much of a concern with the volume used in this project but caution should be used when casting anything over 25mm (1") thick. The the resin can heat up considerably and cause fractures in the resin while drying. For larger/deeper casts it's advised to pour in stages to avoid any issues with overheating your resin.
The type of resin used here is commonly available EasyCast casting epoxy. The bottles were heated in warm water for a few minutes, then the resin and the hardener were measured out in separate exact quantities, then combined and mixed thouroughly for 2 minutes. After, the mixture needed to be transferred into a new clean container and mixed again with a new stir stick for another 2 minutes.
Using the stir stick a small amount of epoxy was applied to the bare face of the buckle blank, giving the colour print image something to adhere to before embedding with resin. When image or embellishments have been placed on buckle blank gently pour mixed casting resin over entire buckle insert. Since this buckle was slightly curved, and I anticipated the resin might gather at the edges and overflow, the resin was only filled about halfway up the insert.
You can gently poke through the resin to adjust the image or embellishments, but after about 40 minutes the resin begins to get set and any poking/touching of the resin will mar the smooth finish. You've been warned.
Lie buckles is a flat position, leave buckles to cure overnight at room temperature.
Step 4: Oil Leather
Raw, untreated leather feels dry and very rough to the touch. It needs to be treated and protected to ensure a long and pliable life. Leather is typically treated with neatsfoot oil, an industrious oil made from rendered bovine legs and hooves. When applied, this oil will keep the leather soft, pliable and give it longevity.
First gently brush each raw belt to remove any foreign material. Then, using a cloth spread the oil over the entire belt on all sides and leave in the sun for a few hours. Repeat the process with a second coat.
Your belt is now treated and is ready to be used, use any extra oil for yearly applications and keep your belt strong and flexible.
Step 5: Finish Belt
Most raw belts will need to be finished in some fashion. This may involve adding clasps, buttons, tapering the edge or boring belt notches. If you have an old belt you can use that as a notch and taper template.
My belt came with buttons to secure the buckle, so I just had to cut a taper in the end and drill the belt notches.
If you don't have an old belt to use as a reference then trace your taper onto a sheet of paper to get a symmetrical shape you are satisfied with, then cut out that shape and trace onto end of belt. Use a
Drill notch holes by using an old belt as a template, or spacing your notches roughly 12mm (0.5").
You can choose to leave your belts plain, or you can emboss the leather. I used the tip of Phillips-head screwdriver hammered into the leather to make some neat imprints, then I embossed a shell casing into one of the belts for my gun-enthusiast friend.
All that's left is to attach the buckles to the belts and you're ready to show off your new custom belt.
If you find that your embellishments have poked through the resin as it was curing. You can easily pour a new layer of resin over the existing resin after it has dried and cover any exposed embellishments, just repeat all the steps with a fresh batch of mixed resin.
Lookin' good there, cowboy!
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7 Mile Makery made it!