Cloth and Hide · Leathercraft · Watches

Strappin’ novice

So I began my leathercrafting with making some watch straps which is probably not the best thing to start off with. Watch straps have extremely low tolerances and tight gaps and are small fiddly things that you see up close. The tiniest bit of not straight stitching is immediately evident. And the tiniest bit of not straight cutting results in a buckle not fitting or not fitting between the lugs. Anyway it’s too late now, so if I can make straps I should be able to make anything?

First up, the tools. I started off with some basic tools from Birdsall Leather: pricking irons, grooving tool, needles, waxed linen thread, hole punches, and a skiving blade. I had other basics like a rubber mallet and metal ruler at home. Some cheapo wood and chopping boards finished off my beginners kit.

I had some kangaroo leather scraps which I bought from Birdsall leather so my first strap was a double layered strap which was stitched along the length. This is actually the hardest kind of strap to make so I had jumped right into the deep end. I started off by making a template out of some breakfast cereal box cardboard.

This proved to be rather difficult to trace or cut around and then I remembered that I had a ruler cutter guillotine type thing which could cut very straight so I cut some 20mm strips using that (since this is the lug width on the Speedmaster). I wasn’t very confident with my freehand cutting so I traced around a coin for the end. It was rather difficult starting out trying to apply enough pressure and cutting in a consistent manner.

I grooved along the edge so the stitching could sit in the channel. I then had to skive the ends (thin out the leather) for the loops for the springbars. I didn’t have any leather cement so I thought I could forgo it since I was stitching along the length of the strap anyway. This actually made it a lot harder because then the two layers can move around. Normally you stick the two layers together then use the pricking irons to punch through both layers at the same time. I used the irons (I had a 4 and a 1) to punch the holes with a bit of adjusting in between. It’s important to stay straight and I was a bit wonky at times. Then I saddle stitched the two layers together with a double loop over the ends where the springbars are. I think I went a bit too close to the ends for this type of design as the stitching didn’t clear the lugs when fitted.

Another part that is hard to get right is the keeper loop length. I also made the first keeper too far from the buckle. Really it should be as close as possible. All in all, not too bad but a bit rough. Defo looks amateurish.

The second strap, I made with some black chromexcel offcut I bought from eBay. Chromexcel is a combination chrome and vegetable tanned leather which has properties of both (made in the famous Horween tannery in Chicago). The piece I got was quite thick so I made a two piece single layer strap with double loop stitching on the ends for the springbars and buckle. This requires less stitching but the ends had to be skived. Still the leather was really thick and the strap ended up very thick, especially at the buckle where two layers sit on top of each other. Still, a pretty nice looking strap. I think I will reattempt this one with split chromexcel (which I learnt to do with strap number 3).

Strap 3 was a nato style one with the same chromexcel. I went with a single pass through (unlike a real G10) much like the Bas & Loke straps I own. The hardest part here was splitting the leather so it was thinner. I tried razor blades, a skiving knife, Stanley knives, craft knives but it’s just too hard to get a consistent thickness. So I made a DIY splitter using a razor blade attached to a bit of wood cut at 45 degrees, which I clamped using a bench clamp next to another bit of wood with a gap in between. With a bit of fiddling it worked a treat and I had my split leather. After that it was a matter of making the keeper, punching and stitching. The thread is a bit clunky (I need to buy some thinner stuff if I’m going to keep making straps) and the keeper still ain’t perfect but I think this one is a pretty good effort!

By strap 3, I was also confident enough with cutting to mark it out then freehand cut the strap ends. I also had to learn to cut the leather piece out with a ruler since the strap was too long for the guillotine thing.

Check back for more leather adventures later…

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