Pricking irons (also called stitching irons) are not often used in the US so why would we add them to our store? They’re a bit on the pricier side and hardly anybody has heard of them! But those who do know about them have experienced how they produce beautiful rows of consistently spaced stitches. Pricking irons, especially Blanchard ones last a really long time if properly cared for and also save wear on your sewing awl making them a must-have if you do a lot of hand sewing.
Many leather workers use stitching wheels which are great for curves but my problem with wheels has always been marking long straight lines of stitches. For those who are new to pricking iron we thought we’d do a short tutorial on their basic use. By following these steps you’ll be able to use them efficiently and easily but also lengthen the lifespan of your tool.
When using a pricking iron there are a couple of additional tools that you should have; they’re all relatively easy to get a hold of and you likely already have them.
Granite Plate or Other Solid Surface
The first thing you’ll need is a hard surface. You can use quartz or granite slabs available at most leather stores but pictured here is what I used- a granite plate. You can get these in woodworking stores like Woodcraft or on Amazon (full disclosure: we get a tiny referral when you use this link).
These plates are will give you a solid surface to work off. These plates are normally used for flattening sharpening stones so you might also want one for just that purpose.
Whatever surface you use, you’ll also want to make sure that it’s on a sturdy part of your work table- over a table leg. The reason being is that when you hit the pricking iron (or any tool for that matter), you want all the force to drive into the table and down into the floor. Wood and plastic surfaces have a bit of give to them and if you’re over the middle your table, you’ll get a slight recoil (think trampoline) when you hit it which will equal less force. This might not seem like much but try it out in the different sections and see.
Protective Surface for your tools
You’ll also want to have some kind of material in between the granite and your work piece. You absolutely do NOT want to be pounding directly onto the stone because your pricking iron will pierce through the work piece and bottom out on the stone. You’ll chip your stone and you’ll dull the tool.
Other tools that you’ll need are:
- A compass with two metal points (as opposed to one side with a pencil/pen).
- A ruler.
- A maul. Do NOT use a metal hammer.
I don’t recommend a rubber or rawhide mallet because they are too light. A maul is better because its weight allows you to swing less hard. Swinging lighter lets you have more control. In the case of a two or a one iron, you only need to barely tap the iron to push through.
Now that you have your set up, we’re ready to get to work. First thing you want to do is open your compass up to the distance that you want to mark your stitches.
With the compass, put one tip along the edge and the other on the leather and mark the line where you want your stitches.
Line up your pricking iron on the middle of that line. Unless you’re doing a box stitch, you should always be perpendicular to the surface.
Hit the top the iron with your maul with enough force to just break through the other side. Try this out on a scrap piece first and flip over the leather. You should be able to see the holes just pushing through the backside. If you find that you’re punching all the way through really far, ease up on the force. You should have had a protective piece between your workpiece but if you’re hitting the iron too hard, you risk the chance of punching through that too and blunting your tools.
Move the stitching iron down the line; you want to put the top tooth in the last hole that you made. This will help you can maintain a straight line and stitch spacing. Repeat this all the way down to end of your mark.
That’s it! There are additional things that we might post on including going around curves and marking stitches more efficiently but from this tutorial you have enough of the basics to start using pricking irons.
I am a beginning leatherworker. I have made 6 belts and 2 card cases. Each item is usually better than the last. I make mistakes and forget some of the steps though. But, I forgive myself and start another project. I read all of of your emails and look forward to getting them. I’m learning a lot. I’m also watching Ian Atkinson videos. Thank you so much.
Check out youtube videos for Armitage Leather, some great stitching videos
I’m really interesting the leather hand made to
And I made some wallets and and I make some mistake as you do, I fear because I want to make some money but the market in my country is just sleeping
I hope to be somebody in this process
And good luck
The best way to improve is just to keep practicing, Gado! Let us know if you need any help along the way.
I do not have a pricking iron yet. I have been using 6 & 2 diamond chisels. I intend to purchase one when I have improved on my stitching,especially holding the needle and the awl in one hand. Baby steps.
It seems like you can work closer to the edge using the pricking iron. I’m afraid to get that close with the diamond chisels.
Yes that’s correct; you can get pretty close. I usually go about 1/8″ from the edge.
Actually… there’s no problem getting 1/8” or even 1/16” to the edge with a chiesel even with a basic Tandy chiesel. If you’re afraid of ripping the side of the leather, just don’t punch through and use a stitching awl with a smaller blade.
You would need to use a stitching awl with pricking irons anyway.
Thanks for your input, Danny!
Nice tutorial. Better than videos I have seen. I recently purchased one of these and found this very insightful. Thank you.
Darlene A. Greenawalt
Thank you for making the time and talent available.
What about the other piece of leather you are stitching together? Can you go through both layers of leather? Or do you use an awl on that layer?
Awl for the second layer.
Are there different sizes of pricking irons? I ordered some online and the teeth seem too close together. What is a typical size for sewing medium soft deer tanned leather? Also, if you can recommend a corresponding thread and needles size I feel I have been scouring the internet and so far have found no clear information on how to choose needle and thread size.
Yes there are different pricking iron sizes:
Corresponding thread and needles sizes: https://www.fineleatherworking.com/leather-sewing-harness-needles
which tpi size do you suggest for making wallets. I can’t tell whether the 9tpi or 7 is better.
My biggest issue is getting the pricking iron back out of the leather. Any tips?
Hi Alex. Thanks for reading our article! Feel free to send us an email and we’d be happy to help you troubleshoot that.
Apply bee’s wax to the tines, it will aid in both directions… in/out.
I make antique heavy duty (8-9 oz) leather motorcycle saddlebags and currently use a star wheel for spacing and then a small hole punch for piecing holes. Will a pricking punch work and will it hold up?
Hi Dave! Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. Feel free to send us an email and we can chat about the details.