Making Your Stitching Holes Perfect

I’ve mentioned this before, but using diamond chisels will make a huge difference in your stitching early on.

They create consistent, accurate, and evenly spaced/sized holes. When learning, this is great because it puts all the attention on your stitching, not the holes. If you’re not happy with your how your stitching looks after using a chisel, you know it has something to do with the way you’re stitching and you can focus in on that. When trying both at the same time, it’s hard to know what is at fault because there are too many variables.

And even though diamond chisels make such great stitching lines, there are still are few circumstances where it is easy to mess them up. Unfortunately, with the great accuracy chisels offer, when you make these mistakes they stick out pretty noticeably, so here are a few tips to make sure your entire stitching line looks perfect.

I'll use this piece of scrap leather, that I've already created a stitching channel on, to help explain these three problems.

The most common places you will run into a problem is when starting your stitching line, creating holes approaching a sharp corner, and creating holes when going around a curve.


How to Start your Stitching Line

Generally, knowing where to start your stitching line is pretty simple. In some projects however, you want the stitching to go over the edge to prevent two pieces of leather from coming apart at a seam. Sometimes you can start the stitch too far away from the edge or too close, creating an uniform look when compared to the rest of the stitching. To fix this problem, you need to find where to place the first hole. To do this, set the diamond chisel in the channel you’ve already created with your groover, leaving the last tooth on the chisel just over the edge. Notice where the second tooth rests in the channel, now move the first tooth to this point. You've found your starting point.

Place the first tooth over the edge to find out where to start your stitching holes. (click to enlarge)

Move the first tooth over to where the second tooth was. This is where you want to start. (click to enlarge)

How to Create Stitching Holes Approaching a Sharp Corner

You always want the the stitching hole to rest in the corner of a 90 degree turn. If you do not do this, your thread will not follow the shape of your edges. But sometimes, when approaching a corner you realize that the natural spacing of your chisel is not going to create a hole that sits in that corner. So you have to adjust the spacing while still making it look natural. To do this, punch within three or four holes of the corner and then punch a hole at the corner. Using chisels with different amount of teeth, find out how many holes is too many. Then using a chisel with only one tooth, evenly space out the number of holes that is one less than what you decided was too many (i.e. if four was too many, create three holes) between the last hole you made and the hole at the corner.

Stop creating stitching holes before you reach the corner. Then put a hole in the corner. (click to enlarge)

Determine how many holes is too many by using chisels with different amounts of teeth. In this case 3 is too many. (click to enlarge)

Place the appropriate amount of holes in the space you've left (one less than what you decided was too many). I only created 2 in this case. (click to enlarge)

How to Create Stitching Holes Around a Curve

Punch holes along your stitching line until your chisel no longer rest within the stitching groove as you approach the curve. At this point, switch to a chisel with only two teeth. Setting one tooth in the last stitching hole you made, place the stitching groove as it follows the curve of the edge. Instead of using a hammer to create a hole at this point, press down to leave only an impression. Continue this process until you’ve go all the way around the edge. Then go back and create the hole using a chisel with only one tooth, keeping the top and the bottom of the diamond shape in line with the edges of the groove.

Stop creating stitching holes before you hit the curve. (click to enlarge)

Use a chisel with two teeth to mark out the distance between holes without actually creating them. (click to enlarge)

Come back with a one tooth chisel to make the holes making sure the top and bottom of the diamond match the edges of the stitching channel. (click to enlarge)

Most of these holes have not been punched through to their entirety. The three highlighted holes have been, and the difference is noticeable. (click to enlarge)

An Extra Tip for Perfecting Your Stitching Line

Sometimes I notice that the front of my stitching looks angled, just like it should be, but the back side looks flat, like a machine stitch. And if I'm going to spend all that time hand stitching, I want people to know. One cause of this can be the way that you are using your chisel. Often times I will fail to punch my chisel far enough through the leather. If you take a look at your chisel you can see where the blade of the chisel gradually turns into the diamond shape. It is not until that diamond shape is past the other side of the leather that the hole has been properly created. If you don’t push the chisel far enough through, the holes will look more like slits and less like diamonds. You can see the difference in the picture.


Working around curves, approaching a corner well, punching your chisel all the way through the leather, and starting your stitching lines right, should all go a long way in improving the overall look of your stitching lines. As always, I’m still learning and I know there are many other tips out there for making your stitching even better. If you have your own tip and want to help everyone who is part of this community get better, I invite you to put it in the comments below. I’d really love to hear from you. 

Where I Went Wrong with Rivets

The second thing that I ever made was a purse for my wife. She had a cheap purse she’d bought from H&M. It had fallen apart after some use, but she still really liked the design and asked if I could make a new one. To be honest, I didn’t really know if I could make a new one but I figured why not try.

I was just beginning and didn’t have a lot of money, so I used the only leather I had ever bought to make it: an 8oz piece of Craftsman Oak. If you’re familiar with leather sizes, you know that is way too thick for a purse. So I tried my best to skive it down to about 5oz. Skiving is one of those things that takes a bit of skill though, so I took it slow and did the best I could. I’d say it turned out ok at best. 

I knew skiving was tricky, but I had never really tried to rivet before and it sounded easy. At this point the bag was mostly finished. I had stitched most of it  together and burnished my edges. One of the few things I had left was to rivet the straps on. So I punched my holes, placed in the rivets, and started hammering them closed using a rivet setter. And...

This is what smashed rivets look like.

This is what smashed rivets look like.

This is what I look like after smashing rivets.

This is what I look like after smashing rivets.

They were horribly mangled. So mangled in fact that you can see it from a distance. I had spent all this time trying my best to make this bag good, only to have it ruined in about two minutes. I tried to remove them, but rivets aren’t meant to be removed. And after some searching on youtube there are tutorials to removing them, but it’s much harder to get them off than on. What I’m trying to say is riveting sounds easy, but just like everything else in leather working, there is a skill to it. Ruining your wife’s birthday gift is not a good thing, so here’s some tips for a happy marriage and a well set rivet.

  1. Use an anvil. If you are using a rivet setter like the one to the right, they are also sold with anvils (for a little more). Anvils are nice for two reasons. First they provide a nice hard surface to hit the rivet on to. But when it comes to a small anvil, I think the more practical purpose is for setting double sided rivets. Some anvils come with rounded out dips in them to set the other side of the rivet in it. This way neither side of the rivet is damaged in the setting process.
  2. This brings me to my second point: Rivet on a hard surface. I thought the small anvil I was using would suffice, but I was hammering with this small anvil on a wooden desk. The anvil would jump around when I hammered and leave dents in the other side of my rivet. Once I moved to a concrete floor this stopped happening because the surface was less bouncy and the anvil stayed in place.
  3. Practice. I know this sounds obvious, but seriously rivets are inexpensive. Don’t be afraid to waste a few on a scrap piece of leather for the sake of saving a project. Do this especially if you are either trying rivets for the first time or trying a brand of rivets you have never used before. They might dent easier and require you to use less force. Or they might not fit into the rounded dips in your anvil as well as other brands and it may be more difficult for you to set them correctly.
  4. Make sure your stem isn’t too long. If the leather you are using does not completely fill the space between the two caps, you run a good chance of messing up the rivet in the setting process. Instead of the stem closing around itself, it will slip and bend diagonally making it so your rivets don’t actually close and the caps no longer line up. There’s two easy fixes for having too long of stems. You can either cut them and shorten them to the correct length. Or you can do you best to make sure to come straight down on top of the rivet with you swing the hammer. If the force of your hammer doesn’t come from directly above, the rivet will slip though, so it’s just better to have the stem at the right length.

Luckily my wife loved her purse even with the obviously flawed rivets. She’s just nice like that and still wears it around today… even though those rivets are always staring back at me. I am happy to say that none of my rivets have looked that bad since, thanks to tips like these. As always, if I missed some tips let me know in the comments.