Sometimes, you need to cut a leather belt end or a strap end but don’t have an end punch. Or you might have a few end punches but none that will fit the strap width you need. Today’s leatherworking technique post is about how to cut the end of your strap by hand. This is a great technique to learn because you can use it to cut other parts like bag corners, handles, and hardware attachment pieces.
I like to make my shapes because it further customizes our straps and makes our styles and designs more unique and stand out. I can also make a strap of any width and quickly cut the end to fit that width. Even if you don’t need to create custom strap ends, the exercises below will help you to make relative measurements. Have you ever wanted to cut a 1” strap but ended up cutting a 1.0625” width? Using relative measurements will help you make strap ends proportional to the ones you actually cut rather than the ones you should have cut.
When to Use a Punch
Consider getting a punch if you regularly make straps of the same width. Lots of people use punches, and they are an easy-to-use tool to get the job done quickly. The difficulty with punches is that they are often asymmetrical, and their shapes are fixed. You can also get dies meant for clicker presses. They usually come in a set of several sizes and are compact. Our studio has a press, so this is our go-to solution when we do many straps of the same width. You’re out of luck with punches and dies if you want a slightly oval instead of a round end or anything but the manufacturers’ shapes.
Cutting a belt end by hand is a great way to customize your strap, match an odd-width strap, or because you don’t have a punch of that width and shape. If you’re using extraordinary leather, like English Bridle, then making nice belt ends pairs beautifully with the material. There are several common end shapes that I’ll cover below.
Cut Custom Leather Belt Ends
*a compass with a pencil end is handy for the template portion. If you have heavy card stock, you can substitute a leather compass. It’s harder to see your marks on the paper, but it will do in a pinch.
Make a Belt End Template
If you plan to cut more than one of these ends, make a template to trace the outlines quickly. It is also easier to cut a shape on paper or cardstock. You can build a collection and have the exact size you need ready for the next project.
You can jumpstart your collection of end shapes by using our free collection of strap end shapes. When printing out the file, use 100lb paper. It’s thick enough to last a long time. If you print this at home, use regular paper and then glue it to thicker cardstock.
Free Leather Belt End Template
Get a PDF template of standard belt end shapes and widths
Leather Belt End Shapes
I ordered this tutorial so that each step builds on the next. Even if you plan on only using one shape, I recommend trying to make them all, at least on paper. Remember, having samples of each end is good to have, especially when showing them to potential customers.
Square End With Round Corners
This is the most straightforward end shape for a strap. Start by just drawing the strap width to scale. Next, make a few circles at the radiuses of the round corners you want. By making a few examples, you’re training your eyes to spot the right corner for you. The above illustration shows how varying the radius by just 1/16″ (0.0652″) significantly changes the feel of the corner. My default corner radius is the thickness of the strap. So, if you have 5mm (0.1875″ or 3/16″) thick leather, start with a 5mm radius corner. If you are happy with the shape, measure the radius and note the distance.
We’re now going to find the points to draw the rounded corners. Set your compass to your desired radius. Next, place your ruler on the long side of the strap drawing. Trace your compass along the straight edge. Repeat this along the short side. The intersection of the two lines you traced is the anchor point for your compass. Place one arm there and trace your corner. You’ll have a perfectly centered round corner. If you are happy with that, repeat this on the other side; otherwise, trace more corners until you find the right match.
I find it easier to draw the strap width and add the corners instead of cutting the width and adding the corners after. Cut the straight edges with a knife and corners with scissors, or use the chop method I describe below for leather.
Once you have your template, trace it onto the leather with a scratch awl. Use a pencil or silver pen if your leather will not keep a scratch mark.
Cut the corners
You can use leather shears to round the corners if the leather is thin enough. Most of the time, a strap will be much thicker than a pair of shears can handle. Here are two methods to cut the round corners:
Miter and Sand
For small radiuses, start by cutting simple miters at the corners. The end of the blade should meet where the round shape is closest to the original corner.
If needed, take two more cuts on either side of the miter and then sand the remainder. For a clean surface, sand the corner perpendicular to the leather so you can define a clear edge around the corner. Sand the remainder in parallel to the edge. Do not take a lot of passes, ten at most, or you will muddy the shape.
Chopping the Corner
Chopping the corner, in principle, is the same method as mitering and sanding. The difference is that you make several tiny cuts instead of three. You’ll need a knife you can chop with like you’re dicing an onion. An upright knife is an excellent choice for this work.
Start with the knife’s edge parallel to one edge. You can chop towards yourself or away from yourself. I prefer to cut away from myself because I have better visibility. Like you would dice an onion or a bunch of herbs, do small chopping cuts around the corner’s radius. Focus on making consistent cuts perpendicular to the edge. Start from one edge and chop until you are parallel to the other edge. For the other corner, I will flip the strap over. When you chop on a curve like this, you tend to make a slightly different curve cutting to the right vs. the left. By flipping the strap over, you create the same cutting direction rather than the opposite.
Making a round end is similar to a square end with rounded corners; the techniques are nearly identical. Draw a template that is the width of your strap. Set your compass to the width of the strap and mark a point half the width of the strap from the end and from each side. Set your compass point on that mark and draw a half circle.
If the above method is not accurate enough for you, you can use a relative measurement method. Using relative measurements is a more precise way of working. If your strap is actually 1.15,” but you set your measurement to 1,” your end will not be proportional.
To start with relative measurements, draw a line equal to the width of your strap. You can trace the width using the strap itself. Next, set your compass to at least half the width of the strap. Slightly wider is fine; you’ll see why in a moment. From one end of the strap width line, trace an arc. Do the same on the other end. Where these arcs meet is a perfect bisection of the width line. Draw a line through the intersection. That bisecting line is exactly half of your strap width. Set your compass to that width.
With your compass set to half the strap width, you can find the center of the strap similar to the above bisecting exercise. Simply trace circles at the corners and long edges of the strap. The intersecting line is the precise middle of the strap. With the middle located you can set the origin point for the strap end.
If you want to make an oval instead of a round end, you can draw an approximate oval with just a compass. Since your strap end is small, this should be accurate enough for your purposes. If you want a more precise oval or a way of making a larger one, use this method, which uses a string and nail. Replace the string with thread and the nail with a needle or thumbtack if you don’t have string and nails.
Cut the template, place it over your strap, and use a scratch awl to trace the shape.
Cut the round or oval end like you would any other curved line. If you used a scratch awl to trace the end, make a few more light passes until the groove is deeper. Switch to a knife with a tapered point and cut in that groove. Use light passes again until you cut all the way through. Focus on keeping the cuts perpendicular and staying in the groove.
You can also use the chopping technique I described earlier. I like this way because it is faster than the cutting on the line, but you do need to follow up with sanding to smooth out the shape.
To make a tapered end, first decide the length and end width of the taper. I recommend starting on paper here too, because you can experiment with different taper sizes. Mark two points for the final width on the end of the strap. Mark two points for the taper length on the strap edges. Connect these points to form your taper.
To use relative measurements, first determine the length of the taper. The length can equal the strap width,1.5 times, or double. Use the earlier method to find half the strap length and add it to a full length to get 1.5, or simply double the full width to get double. Mark the taper length on the long edges.
Next, decide the taper end width. This can be half, a quarter, or any width that suits you. You can find thirds relative to the strap width using this method (not for the faint of heart). I set my taper one-third narrower. On a 1.25″ (1 1/4″) strap, this is conveniently 0.875″ (7/8″). Center this line on the strap end using one of the earlier methods.
To round the taper end corners, use the earlier method for tracing rounded corners. You can cut your strap end template with the corners, length, and end widths set. Cutting a taper on the leather is three simple straight cuts and two round corner cuts.
English Point End
If you’ve done the above exercises, this last strap-end variation will be a breeze to do. An English point curves towards the center of the strap. It’s a beautiful design choice, and you have many variations to play with. The easiest one to make is proportional to the strap width.
Mark two points parallel to each other on the longs edges, the strap’s width is more than enough. Set your compass to the width of the strap. Draw a circle from the edge point. Repeat the same on the other point. The inside arcs from each edge to the center make the end shape. You now have a perfectly proportioned English point. The circle is twice the diameter of the strap width (2:1)
You can elongate the point using the above method using larger circles. The example below uses a circle three times the diameter of the strap (3:1)
You can also shorten the point using smaller circles. The below example uses a circle 3/4 the diameter of the strap width (3:4).
Once you’ve created the shape you want, it’s time to cut the end shape. Use the chopping method like before or follow the curve and cut it as you would any other leather curved edge.
Make Your Own Strap End Shapes
You can make a wide variety of styles and designs using the above four shapes. You can also make alternative ends. They can be anything from a simple slanted end to something more elaborate. Just the exercises of drawing different ends will help improve your design skills and cutting techniques. I hope you can incorporate these practices into your own and make finer leather goods.