How To...Cut Your Own Lace

I know the blog has been pretty dead, and I apologize. I'm a little dead on my feet, too, but hopefully another couple of days of sleeping in and regular schedule will fix that. I'm trying to get some year end things together, so regular blogging probably won't happen soon. As a bit of a peace offering, here's a handy how-to. Consider it a belated Christmas present from me to you.

How To Cut Your Own Lace

Unfortunately, precut lace (even from hobby sources) doesn't come in miniscule, which is the size I usually need. It's always seemed silly to me to buy something that I'm going to need to cut down anyway, so I generally cut my own from the hide I have on hand for tack making. I actually use scissors most of the time because I rarely have the foresight to set up for this. If you don't have a perfectly steady hand or slightly wobbly edges bother you, this is a great method for getting nice, straight edges on your lace.

As always, click on the images to enlarge. I doodled on some of them to help out, so it's recommended if you can't read the tiny, shrunken writing.

If you want to try it yourself, you'll need...


An Exacto knife

Double sided tape (Scotch is all I could find, I have no brand loyalty)

A ruler with a metal edge

Gum Tragacanth or water

A solid surface to cut on (preferably with a grid) and

A box cutter or knife as pictured above (or whatever you're comfortable skiving with).

Anyone who has tried cutting leather with a straight edge and an Xacto knife knows that it has a tendency to wiggle. The trick is finding something to keep the leather stable while you cut. Something that's removable, won't damage the leather, and won't mess up your work space. That's where double sided tape comes in.

First things first, thin your leather. I find it easier to get an even surface by skiving a piece of leather instead of individual straps (though some leveling may be necessary later). "How to Skive" isn't covered here, but I've included a photo to hopefully give you an idea of the comparative thicknesses of my leather. The unskived leather is about 1mm thick, maybe just a hair thinner. I'll skive the ends of the finished straps down so that they lay flush when I add buckles or other hardware.

Once the leather is thinned its time to lay down the tape. I bought my cutting mat at Hobby Lobby for less than $10, and the grid has proved quite handy. If you don't have a grid, you could always draw one and tape it to your cutting board for this project. The key is to have one perfectly straight line that isn't going to move around and will extend past the edges of your leather.

Peel out a length of tape that is slightly longer than your leather; a quarter of an inch or so on either end is fine. Lay the tape down over your straight edge, like so.

Make sure that ALL of your leather will be firmly affixed to the cutting surface. Wiggly leather means crooked lines. You may need to lay one more than one piece of tape down - I needed three for this piece.

Once the tape is down, lay your leather down over it with the smooth side up and overlap your straight line so that any crooked edges will be trimmed away. There should be tape on either end, too. I've marked the line I picked as my guide line with arrows in the following photo.

My cutting board isn't marked in units small enough for me to use (those squares are 1/4 across), and whether you want to eyeball it (what I do) or mark the edges of your leather for precise measurements, you'll need a straight line at the top to measure from. I trim off the top edge of the leather (anything above that 9 line) to give me that straight edge. This is where the metal ruler comes in.

Sometimes an exacto knife will eat into the edge of a plastic or wooden ruler, giving you an imprecise cut. A metal ruler eliminates that problem.

I prefer to use an Xacto knife to cut strap goods instead of the wider blade shown in the first photo. Your mileage may vary, but it should be noted that I always (or at least when I'm not attempting to take pictures) have my left hand supporting the ruler. The extra tape on either side of the leather helps, but is not enough to keep the ruler stationary.

Once you've cut your straight edge, you can mark both edges of your leather with your preferred measurement (keeps your line straight) or eyeball it. Most of the straps I need are short enough that being a little bit off isn't a problem. If you're working anything large than Stablemate, I'd recommend measuring it out and nicking the edges as a way to mark the leather. You can see just how narrow I cut my lace in the following photo.

Most of the time you can slide the tip of your Xacto knife under one end of a strap and peel it up. Do this slowly and carefully - if you're working small and thin or hit a particularly weak spot, the leather may snap.

Sometimes you'll get the tape, too, but that's not a problem. Just peel it off of the back. In most cases, you'll notice that your formerly nice, smooth leather is now a fuzzy mess.

Run some Gum Tragacanth (available from Tandy or a variety of online hobby resources) along the back and sides to tame the fuzzies. Water will also work, but is a little less permanent and won't add the same body that Gum T will. You can see the difference a little Gum T makes below.

And there ya go! Your lace is ready to use.  It should be noted that I typically dye and seal my leather prior to cutting lace. My current project requires black lace, and I thought it would probably be easier to see what was going on if I used natural leather.

Questions? Post 'em in the comments!