Handcrafting Leather Belts in the San Francisco Bay Area

Posted by Craig Wesley on

A staple of the Anne Wesley line-up is our Handmade Vegetable Tanned Leather Belts, which are always made-to-order for our customers in our workshop in Alameda, California. Despite having a traditional and straightforward design, the process is extremely laborious with all our leather belts being crafted over a period of two days and at least three hours of hands-on work. So while "genuine leather" belts, which are arguably not even leather, can be found at off-price retailers for $25, I would argue that a $100 full-grain vegetable tanned leather belt from Anne Wesley is a far better value.

Here's a look into the process of how a handcrafted, made-to-order, leather belt is made in our studio in the San Francisco Bay Area.

1. Choosing The Right Leather

As one would guess, the starting point of handcrafting a leather belt is choosing leather. We primarily use Wickett & Craig "English" Bridle Vegetable Tanned Leather, as well as Wickett & Craig Tooling Leather for our natural color belts. We love Wickett & Craig leather because they have been vegetable tanning leather in the USA since 1867 and have a great heritage of saddlery leather. From a price perspective, Wickett & Craig produces some of the most expensive leathers in the world, even compared to those found in France and Italy.

2. Cutting a Strap From The Hide

Cutting a Strap of Leather From Wickett & Craig "English" Bridle Leather

Depending on what belt buckle the customer chooses, a 1", 1 1/4", or 1 1/2" leather strap is cut from the hide. Surprisingly, even cutting a simple strap requires technique, practice, and patience. Move too quickly and the 1 1/2" strap turns into a 1 1/4" strap in a blink of an eye.

3. Shaping The Belt Buckle-End

Using an extremely sharp knife and a variety of die punches, the strap starts looking more like an actual belt.

Cutting Leather Belt End

When customers ask for monogramming, we prefer to place it on the backside of the belt.

Hand Stamped Monogram on Personalized Leather Belt

Punching Round Holes For Snaps in Leather Belt

Punching Belt Buckle Opening on Leather Belt

4. Getting The Measurement Right

Another benefit of a made-to-order belt is getting exactly the measurement you want, whether it's 36" or 36 1/8", we'll try our best to get it as exact as we can.

Measuring Center Hole For Leather Belt

5. Shaping The End of The Belt

We hand punch buckle holes, with the center holes being your belt measurement.

Punching Belt Buckle Holes In Leather Belt

We use an English Point belt end to match with the "English" Bridle Leather.

English Point Strap End for Leather Belt

6. Bevel The Edges For a Smoother Finish

While a square edge has a certain modern look, we use a fine bevel on the edges to make a rounded shape. This makes it more comfortable when handling the belt by hand.

Bevel Edge of Leather Belt

7. A Steady Hand to Dye The Edges Black

While it's common to leave the edges natural, we prefer to dye the edges black for a more refined look. Using eco-friendly black water stain and an edge roller pen, the edge of the leather belt is painted with great patience. One slip-up and the leather belt is permanently marked and most likely cannot be recovered. This process alone takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete.

Dyeing Leather Edges Black

7. Edge Burnishing...The Most Laborious Part of Leatherworking

After letting the black dye dry for 24 hours, the edges are then burnished. After wetting the edges with a special solution, it's rubbed with a wood slicker using a back and forth motion. This process alone takes about 1 hour to complete and one of the most laborious part of leatherworking. While we have an electric burnisher, we still prefer to do it by hand as it produces a more controlled result.

Burnishing Leather Edge

8. Setting The Snaps to Hold The Belt Buckle

Using a hand press and special dies, snaps are set to hold the belt buckle in place.

Setting Snaps for Leather Belt

Finished Made-to-Order, Handmade Leather Belt

Finished Anne Wesley Belt with Personalization

Handmade Leather Belt Made in USA

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