I do this thing where I'll put on an outfit and think "Huh, _____ would be really cool here," thus beginning another relentless hunt. Sometimes I'm left spending hours on craigslist looking for vintage motorcycles in the tristate area, other times I find myself watching elderly gentlemen on youtube teaching leather working. I was dying to get my hands on a not-so-simple-that-it's-boring but not-so-busy-that-it's-obnoxious black leather double wrap bracelet, but my searches were fruitless. Seriously, let me know if you can do better - I think I checked everywhere.
So, I figured I would just make my own. I’ve messed with leather before, my most recent wallet project has held up for years. How hard can a bracelet be? I tried using a knife and ruler to get those thin strands just right, but even with a fresh razor, straight edge, smooth and even pressure, and every other internet technique I could find… The strands always came out crooked. If anyone is looking to replicate my results here, or accomplish something similar, read on for a primer on leather working.
For your convenience, all of the links in this article will take you straight to a relevant product on Amazon. If you haven't tried Amazon Prime yet, I'm disappointed in you.
This guide will be directed towards those of you who are new to leather working. There are significantly more experienced people out there documenting much better work, but their aesthetic vision wasn’t born in the bowels of elite internet fashion. Their bracelets are probably ugly.
Using a fabric measuring tape or a piece of string and a ruler, measure a comfortably-loose distance around your wrist. For double wrap bracelets, double the measured length and add 4 inches. For a single wrap, add 4 inches to your wrist circumference—you’ll need the excess later. Remember this length, it's time to go shopping!
I personally like to get large pieces of natural leather in combination with whatever dye colors I desire—that way I can get multiple colored leathers out of a single piece. Besides, that natural finish is beautiful from start to end—sun and general wear make it turn a nice medium brown in time. There's a beautiful brown cow hide available, it's thinner than the leather I used but I've done similar projects with thinner leather and gotten great results. If you don't see yourself getting into leather working outside of this project, consider buying a leather strap—you'll need a piece at least 1 inch wide for this project. I would buy enough to make a few bracelets, mistakes are common.
You can't really go wrong with other leather sources, so feel free to check out Tandy Leather or a thrift shop for old duffle bags or chairs. Just make sure the leather you purchase is the right weight. Leather weight is measured in ounces, where 1-2 oz leather is very thin like upholstery leather, 2-3 oz is best for wallets or watch straps, 2-6 oz is great for bracelets. Beyond 6 oz, you're probably looking at holsters, dog leashes, and belts.
The first step is to cut our light to medium weight (2.5-6 oz) leather to size—slice out a long rectangle no less than 1 inch wide with a ruler and cutting device of your choosing. I really prefer to use rotary cutters because they cut with downward pressure whereas a utility knife or an X-acto knife apply lateral pressure—but this makes more of a difference with lighter weight leathers. You can likely get away with any sharp knife for this project, just leave those rusty-ass pocket knives out of the workshop guys.
Take the rectangle you just cut out and wrap it around your wrist at a comfortable tightness. You should have about 2 inches of overlap. No worries if it's too short, go back and try again! It's worth adding that I usually buy a lot more leather than I think I’ll need for a project. It’s kind of stressful working on the last slice—this whole process should be enjoyable and working till the bitter end of your materials is a recipe for profanity. If you started with a double wrap in mind but cut it too short, try moving forward with a single wrap. <cliche>Practice makes perfect.</cliche>
This next step is where my first attempts frequently fell short. Achieving perfectly uniform laces is nearly impossible without the proper toolset. This lace cutter is the MVP of this project. I set up four of the included blades 1/4 inch apart on the cutting jig.
I pushed the blades straight into the bottom face of the leather about 3 inches from one end and dragged the strap clean through until there was 3 inches of uncut strap on the other side. I botched my first attempt here. But I quickly learned, if I maintained even pressure and a constant pulling angle, the leather glides through like... like questionably firm butter. You can use a pair of pliers if you have a hard time gripping the leather—the imprints left behind can cut be cut off later.
I purchased a screw-post button because I didn’t want to purchase the tool needed to attach button snaps. In addition, a screw post is not permanent, which means you can punch multiple holes for the screw post and wear the bracelet at different tensions.
Grab your button stamp kit and something heavy on a stick. If you don't want to buy a tool to punch a single hole in your bracelet (I don't blame you, but more on that later), grab the regular hole stamp that matches the girth sorry of the button-post. Punch the this hole 1/4-3/4 inches away from the lacing detail. Feel free to make variations here, depending on personal preference and how much solid leather you have left on each end.
Go ahead and wrap it around your wrist at a comfortable tightness, and make a note of where the base of the button needs to be in order to connect with the hole we just punched. Punch a screw-post sized hole right there. If you want, you can punch screw post holes at ~1/3 inch intervals in either direction. If you’re looking at these tools as we go, I strongly recommend against using rotary punches, they just don’t last very long.
Now, lop off the excess with a V stamp, curved stamp, or a big coin and one of those knives from earlier. Leave 1/8-1/4 inch of an edge around the hardware holes. Pat yourself on the back—theres nothing left to mess up!
Grab a sponge, paper towel, or a fresh wool dauber if you’re feeling luxurious. Rub the dye onto all of the exposed leather. I usually do two coats and a quick touch up. I’ve heard you can pour a bit in a small tupperware container and try to set the bracelet flat on both faces, just have a paper towel ready when you take it out. I’ve also heard this technique causes a little dye transfer down the road, so perhaps avoid this method if you wear a lot of white.
These are all optional finishing touches that even I skipped, but for the sake of information, I’ll share some ways to take this project to the next level. You can use fine sandpaper to remove the burrs on the edges. Then, if you’re dead set on going above and beyond, smooth out the harsh corners on the edges with an edge beveler. Dab a little gum tragacanth onto the exposed edges. Rub it in with a damp wood slicker and some elbow grease. I recommend watching some youtube tutorials on “leather edge burnishing" and practicing on scrap leather a few times.
The only tool required to precisely replicate my results is the strap cutter. There’s just no other way to cut perfectly parallel, 1/4 inch strands in leather by hand. You can skip the finishing tools and leave all the edges unfinished like I did—it looks a little messy over time but I think the rapid-aging edges look great for this project. If you’re really feeling frugal, you might even be able to find a good square of leather at a thrift shop on a cheap piece of furniture you can grab, scrap, and dye to your liking.
It pained me to buy a button stamp because they are not nearly as versatile as a normal hole punch kit. However, I tried for a very long time to work without this specialized tool. I came to the conclusion that a sharp knife and hole punch simply cannot replicate the perfect results of a stamp. One whack makes a perfect button hole every time.
That old adage about good tools being important is definitely true, but even more important here is having the right tool. I hope this little write-up serves to inspire a few readers to try a project like this. I also hope this read has helped you decide which tools you do and do not need to try this yourself.