Where to Buy Leather when you're just Beginning
There’s two big things you should be considering when purchasing leather when you just start out: cost and consistency.
You want to keep your cost down when you’re just starting. No matter how much natural talent you may (or may not) have, you’re going to be making a ton of mistakes as you learn… because it’s how you learn. There’s no need to be making those mistakes on expensive leather. It will also be a little while before the items your making will be high enough quality to sell, so pace yourself until then.
Consistency in the leather you use is so important. When you’re learning, especially on your own, you need to do your absolute best to eliminate as many variables as possible so you can focus on one thing: your skill. For instance, bevelers work really well on firm leathers, but not so well on soft or supple leathers. If you are new, there is no way you’re going to know that, and when your edges turn out horribly mangled, you’re going to be wondering what the heck you did wrong. Nothing, you were just using the wrong technique for that type of leather. When you’re starting work with one type of leather until you get some confidence, then branch out. There is a time that you’ll both want and need to try out the many different kinds of leathers offered, but starting out is not that time.
Based on these two considerations, here’s a list of companies I suggest purchasing your leather from. Please also note that I live in the United States and these suggestions are made assuming that you too live in the United States. Unfortunately I don’t know the market well in other places where leatherworking is popular like Canada, Japan, the UK, and Australia.
+ You can get some really nice leathers for very cheap through Maverick, so long as you’re okay with a few blemishes on the leather. And you should be okay with a few blemishes because you’ll make some blemishes of your own on the leather. It’s also more than likely that you’ll be making small projects at this point, which means you can simply cut around the blemishes if you want to.
+ Great Staff Everyone I’ve talked to at Maverick has been extremely helpful, and I imagine you’ll have a similar experience.
- Can be overwhelming. They have a pretty big selection of leather, which is great, but it can get pretty overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for and don’t understand all the language that is used to describe leather. If you decide to order from Maverick, I suggest looking for something with a firmer temper (temper is the word used to describe how pliable the leather is).
- Varying Selection. Maverick can offer low prices because they buy good leathers that didn’t make the high quality standards of some tanneries. This is great because you can get your hands on some really great leather at a reasonable price, but has it’s drawbacks when you’re new. As I mentioned, you want to be practicing on the same or similar kind of leather when you’re starting. You may buy a shoulder, then go back to buy another once you’re done with the previous one, only to find that it’s no longer available and may never be available ever again… it all depends on if the tannery they bought it from decides to run that leather again.
If you choose to buy from Maverick Leather: Something like bridle leather is good to look for. I’ve found they have reasonable prices on their double shoulders. Shoulders are also a lot less leather than a full hide, which means you’ll buying less leather and therefore not spending as much.
+ Great Staff Everyone I’ve talked to at Springfield Leather has also been extremely help and willing to explain pretty much anything.
+ Consistent Selection I’ve found the leathers that I’ve received from these guys to be very reliable. I know that they get their leathers from a number of different tanneries and then lump them together to sell, but they do split them into domestic and imported, and offer different grades, which helps maintain a consistency. Most leathers you will purchase from Springfield Leather will always be there, which means you’ll have all the leather you need to practice on.
+ Order by the Square Foot Ordering by the square foot is the. absolute. best. Why spend over $100 on a full side of leather when you could just buy a few square feet to find out if you like it first? This is great for the new leather worker who doesn’t know what projects are coming up next and isn’t making money off their projects (yet). You’ll just need to do a little prep work and make sure you know how much leather you’ll need for your project. And just make sure to pick a leather that they offer by the square foot, because they don’t cut all of their leathers.
- More Expensive Let me clarify and say that I don’t find Springfield Leather to be overpriced, however, out of all the options on this page, their leathers tend to cost the most per square foot.
- Can be overwhelming Springfield offers a lot more than just leathers, and all that they offer can be a lot to take in when you first visit. In addition, I’m some what confused with how they sort everything and cannot always find what I’m looking for on their website (even though I know they have it) Bad online experience aside, just give them a call and you’ll get what you need quick.
If you choose to buy from Springfield Leather: Order over the phone, it’s way easier. When ordering leather, make sure you know how they classify it. They have imported and domestic, then an A, B, and C grade for both of those categories. Imported just means that the leather was sourced from some where other than the US (and generally from somewhere cheaper) and domestic means they’ve sourced it from a tannery in the US. The grades are an indication of the amount of blemishes on the leather, A, being almost none, to C, being a modest amount. If you’re a new leatherworker here’s what I suggest doing. Give them a call, ask for tooling leather that they sell by the square foot, and let them know you’re looking for an imported leather (it’s cheaper and still decent quality) instead of a domestic. When they ask you the grade, tell them C (because most of your projects will be small at this point and you can cut around any blemish). Again, they’re willing to help, so any questions that come up during this process they can help you with.
+ Cheap Tandy can be the cheapest place to buy leather (please note the emphasis on can). You just have to buy at the right time. I wouldn’t ever buy leather from Tandy unless it’s on sale. The great thing is that there is always some kind of leather that is on sale. Even then, make sure to compare prices with Springfield. One time I purchased a 3oz side of leather for $35 a week after black Friday, which is insanely cheap. Sure the quality wasn't great, but it was some good practice leather. Also check out Tandy Outlet (tandleatheroutlet.com), which offers bigger discounts on leather they couldn’t sell.
+ Have Multiple Stores It’s always nice to go in and see what you’re buying before you buy it, but this is especially the case with Tandy. Unlike most places that sell leather, Tandy does not sell by the square foot. Most sides range from about 20-30 sq feet, which means you’ll be paying as much for a 20sqft hide as you would a 30sqft hide. This is great news if you can go in the store and pick out a giant hide with only a few blemishes, but if you order online you’re taking a gamble. They have stores near most big cities.
+ Website is Easy to Navigate I find that there website is generally easy to navigate and the way they’ve organized things make sense. This is great especially since they offer a number of different leather related items.
- Inconsistent Quality This is one of the bigger frustrations with Tandy. They too have a classification system, but it’s changed a lot recently… and I don’t often use Tandy. Here’s how I think it works now, but please take this with a grain of salt. They have two different grades to select from, one high and one low. The low grade is called one of three names (this is where my confusion comes in) craftsman oak, economy, and low grade. The higher grade is called oak-leaf. Again, these grades are indicators of how marked up a piece of leather will or will not be. The issue is that these leathers come from a lot of different tanneries and seem to have varying properties. I’ve had some burnish well and some not at all. Some with really great finishes and others look like the top was hit with sand paper before they gave it to me. This is a really awful thing when you’re learning. When you’re under the impression that the leather is the same, you’re going to blame yourself with one leather burnishes and the other doesn’t. That’s why it best to buy a bigger piece of leather from Tandy so you can make multiple projects with the same leather while you learn your basics.
- Meh (Generally Over Priced and Poor Quality) Tandy and I have a tenuous relationship. But there is a time and place for Tandy. It’s early on because you can find really cheap leather to practice on. That said, 90% of the other items they sell are overpriced and lower quality. If you go in to buy a cheap leather and come out with more than just that, chances are you lost what money you saved on that leather by buying other items that were overpriced. If you need anything besides leather, there are other places you can get cheaper items that are better quality.
If you choose to buy from Tandy: Either go into the store and look for sales on leather or check out Tandy Outlet and see if they have any leather you can use to learn with. Again with Tandy Outlet, it’s just what they could not sell, so there’s a good chance they may not have anything you can use. Buy a tooling leather that is low quality (craftsman oak, economy, or low grade). If a side is on sale in the right thickness, I suggest buying an entire side due to large inconsistencies between the hides that Tandy sells. You’ll be able to make lots of little projects out of an entire side and have a consistent experience. If a side is too much for you, look for a double shoulder.
Etsy is a little tricky to write a review for because there’s a lot of variables. But I do know you can often buy scraps off of other leatherworkers usually at a pretty good price. Those scraps are great for small projects. And, most of those leatherworkers always have scraps, so you can generally go back and get more of the same leather if you need to. If you decide to use Etsy make sure to look for tooling leather that is 100% top grain leather. I would also suggest using cow leather and avoiding goat leather because it’s known to stink if the quality is low. If you’ve found something you think is worth the buy on etsy, you can always send me an email and I’ll be happy to check it out for you. If you’re unsure about the quality of leather, you could always go to the Leather Classified page and see if anyone is selling scraps. Most people there will be selling quality leather and will probably end up pointing you to their Etsy shop.
These four are your best options
for buying leather when you’re just starting. Each has their upsides and downsides, but I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of these options. I know buying leather can be a really intimidating when you’re just starting (I was super overwhelmed), and I really hope that these suggestions have helped take the edge off. If you’re looking at a piece of leather and still worried about pulling the trigger, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be more than happy to hold your hand through the process… and I promise to be less creepy than this gif.