Many times the perfect look all comes down to the details. Stylists will tell you that even if you have the best jeans and the hottest sweater, the shoes and the belt and the purse are still totally crucial. Do-it-yourself fashionistas make their own jewelry, and can sew up a cute bag for any outfit, but did you know it’s not as daunting as you think to make your own custom leather belt?
My good friend Obie Beaver is a talented leatherworker, and he taught me the simple steps for making my own belt. Leatherworkers spend a lifetime collecting tools for carving belts, but Obie developed an amazing pattern using found objects. With just socket wrenches, nuts, and bolts, he stamped a pattern that is reminiscent of honeycomb and organic molecules. Then we dyed the belt a stunning “ox blood” color. For a fraction of the cost of purchasing one, the end result is a custom accessory that is endlessly chic and perfectly unique.
1 leather belt blank*
Hole punching tool or awl
Assorted metal socket wrenches, bolts, and nuts
Dense piece of wood to use as a hammer
Scrap of marble or granite to use as a base for hammering
*I ordered my supplies from Tandy Leather. When choosing your belt, be sure to pick a belt blank, so that the buckle will snap right in. If you order a plain leather strap, you will have to mount the buckle yourself.
Step 1: Prepare the belt blank for tooling by moistening it. Dip it in water for a moment or two, then wrap it in damp paper towels and leave it overnight. This makes the inside of the leather damp and soft, but allows the outside to dry out a bit – the perfect consistency for tooling and stamping.
Step 2: Determine your belt size. Snap the buckle into the belt blank before you measure, because the buckle will add length, and you want to get the sizing precise. The fastest way is to use a belt you like as a reference, but you can also use the tape measure. Belt size generally is your pant size, plus 2″. Take that number and then add 6-8″ for the holes and spacing at end of the belt.
Step 3: Cut the end of the belt using heavy-duty scissors. You can cut it square, pointed, or rounded. We trimmed the corners off for a unique shape.
Step 4: Use the X-Acto knife to mark the points where you will make holes in the belt. Start with a hole in the exact place where you want to wear the belt, then add additional holes on either side, spaced 1″ apart. This is so you can adjust it, or so that someone else could wear it.
Step 5: Use the punch tool to make holes in the leather at each one of your marks. Be sure the holes are large enough to accommodate the buckle. Once the holes are punched, remove the buckle from the blank for the rest of the steps.
Step 6: This is the most creative part: Decorate the belt! Set out the piece of marble, then lay the belt face up along the top. Choose a bolt, and hold it in place on top of the leather. Keep it as still and straight as possible, and then hit it evenly and forcefully with the wooden mallet. To make the best impression, strike the bolt only once, very deliberately. Cover the entire length of the belt with as many stamps as you like.
Step 7: Dye the belt. Set out paper towels to protect your work surface, and wear gloves to keep your hands clean. Wipe the dye onto the leather until you like the color saturation. Hang the belt and let it dry per the dye manufacturer’s instructions. This will take at least two hours.
After the belt is dry, buff it to remove the excess dye. Rub and agitate the leather with a clean, soft cloth, until the dye stops coming off on the cloth. The best way is to buff the belt dry, but if necessary you can rinse the belt with water to help remove the dye. If you do use water, be sure to let the belt completely dry (at least overnight) before moving on to the final steps.
Step 8: When the dye process is complete, coat the belt with neatsfoot oil. Rub the oil in with a towel until it is fully absorbed, then wipe it off. If the leather is still tough, wait one hour and then re-oil the belt until you reach the desired level of suppleness.
Step 9: Give the belt a few hours to fully absorb the oil, then seal it with a leather conditioner that contains beeswax. This final step protects the belt and gives it a nice shine. To apply the conditioner, coat the belt, wait a few minutes, then wipe the excess off. Buff the belt multiple times over the next hour until it is no longer tacky and has a perfect shine. If any dye comes off, continue buffing until it has all been removed.
Step 10: Add the buckle back to the belt, and voila!