Quick Tip: How to Easily Dye Edges of a Leather Belt
If you want the complete finished and professional look, then I would recommend that you dye the edges of the leather belt you are working on. I spent years dyeing the edges of my belts, then didn’t dye them for a few years, and now I am back to dyeing them. To dye or not to dye is a personal preference.
In this video I show you the easiest way to get the edges of a leather belt dyed. Without getting it all over your hands and in places you don’t want it on the belt. Belts can be difficult to dye simply because of their length and that there is less space to hold width wise.
So your belt is tooled, dyed, painted and oiled. Now all we have to do is antique it and we are ready to line and stitch it! This is the point at which many craftsmen new to leatherwork will make a few mistakes. I hope that my process helps you to clear up this step. You certainly do not have to antique your belt but I feel like the antique really helps to make the tooling stand out and gives added tone and depth.
The first thing that most people new to leatherwork miss is that the belt must be sealed with a resist before applying the antique. Whether you are using the paste antique or the gel, a barrier is needed so that the overall color and tone of the belt is not changed. The antique is not meant to change the color of the leather, its main purpose is to fill any cuts, impressions, and background texture to highlight and shadow the depth of the tooling. This is why I get the final color of the belt with oil before this step; because once the belt is sealed I can’t get oil into the leather if I want it darker.
The resist I use, or sealer, is Feibings’ Tan-Kote Finish. This finish is not a lacquer finish like NeatLac or WyoSheen, which would lift a lot of any paint work off the belt. If you are finishing a belt that doesn’t have any paint applied then these finishes are great to use. But if the belt has a lot of paint then it’s best to stay away from these finishes and use the Tan-Kote. I apply a liberal amount of Tan-Kote on the belt and work to make sure it’s even and doesn’t have streaks. Now I let this dry really well, at least an hour or so.
Once the finish is dry, the belt is ready for the antique to be applied. I use square pads cut from scrap sheepskin to apply all my finishes… keep a pile of these cut so they are ready for any finishing task. I use the Feibings Antique Paste, and the color I prefer is the Dark Brown. They make a few different colors and they are all fantastic but the dark brown is my go to color for the look I prefer on my products. You can put a dollop of paste on a small square of plywood which allows you to wipe up as little or as much paste as you need with the sheepskin square during application. You want to apply the paste liberally to the belt and work it into the tooling in circular motions to be sure and get it into all the cracks and crevices being sure to not leave any areas missed by the antique. Do this to the entire belt. It will appear to onlookers that you have gone mad and you are ruining a perfectly good belt, but stay calm and keep working it around. Here is where differences vary, some say to leave it for a few minutes before cleaning… I say once you’re sure that it’s worked in well, then take a clean pad and begin wiping the excess paste off the belt. The goal here is to attempt to get as much of the paste off the belt as possible. You want to be somewhat gentle as to not burnish the grain of the leather but you want to clean it well with clean pads until you’re satisfied that you got it all. All that should be left is what is down in bevel lines, background texture, decorative cuts, etc.
My final step is to take a magic towel (This is a towel that is used to wipe hands after oiling, antiquing, cleaning machines, wiping knives after sharpening, spilling coffee, etc.) or any soft hand towel, and gently buff the belt to further polish any residual antique and revive any lost luster from the resist coat of finish. Don’t go crazy here, as previously mentioned, we don’t want to burnish the grain of the leather but we do want it clean of excess antique.
Now turn the belt over and look at the back… see that mess? If you would have lined the belt before the finish steps, then your belt liner would look like that… I don’t care how clean you think you can be, antique takes no prisoners.
This post is an excerpt from out eBooklet “Custom Belt Design and Layout” we posted a couple of weeks ago. We will soon have more of these eBooklets available walking you through the step and processes I use in the shop in creating our custom pieces. If you are interested in purchasing this eBooklet then click the link below and download a PDF copy today!
*I apologize for the lack of photos in this post… fast and furious this morning and Freddy is cracking the whip! I will try and snag some pics during my day and post them in a followup post!
One of the biggest issues involved in making a custom belt is getting the belt blank cut to the right length. Everyone has their own way of coming up with that measurement, but this is how to measure belt size.
Getting a Proper Measurement
“How do I figure out how long to cut the belt based on the belt size the customer gives me?”
“Can I use their pant size to figure belt length?”
“Is there some kind of belt size chart?”
First, I don’t accept a pant size or a marked size off the belt they wear. This leaves too much to chance and more times than not will leave you remaking a belt. The belt they are wearing may be a 36” but they may be wearing it in the tightest hole. This would mean, depending on the hole spacing and number of holes on the belt, that they are probably closer to a 34”.
I’m sure there are some useful belt size charts that you can find on the web. The problem with these charts is like I said above, the chart doesn’t take into account what hole the person is using on the belt. I don’t feel comfortable using a chart to produce a belt for a customer. It leaves too chance and I feel more confident with an actual measurement like the one I will show you here.
For all my customers, I make them measure the belt they wear currently. This is important! Not a belt they use to wear or one their husband wore in high school, but a belt they wear now. Many a wife has been trying to surprise hubby for an anniversary and snags a belt out of his closet and brings it to me to measure and he hasn’t worn that belt in 15 years. Now, in her eyes he is still the slim waisted stud he was then, but based on the fact that his new belt I made him didn’t fit, Mr. Stud put on a bit of post marital mass. Keep your remakes to a minimum and demand a good measurement period.
How do we get a good measurement? I measure, whether me doing it or letting them do it, from the bend to the hole they wear the belt in with the buckle style they will use. Let’s define some key terms:
Bend: The point where the belt bends around the buckle hanger and snaps closed. This does not include the flap that folds behind the belt.
“The hole they wear it in”: This doesn’t matter if it’s the tightest hole, loosest hole, or a hole they added in the belt. Whatever hole they wear it in.
Buckle style: This is important because a trophy buckle will demand a shorter belt than a small ranger style buckle. It does not have to be “the” buckle so long as it is of similar style. All buckles are a little different but the style is the main thing here. Trophy buckle or ranger style.
Cutting Blank to Belt Size
Once you have stripped the belt blank off the blocked side in the width you want for the belt, you need to cut it for the customer’s size. I figure this by adding 10.5” to the measurement from their belt. So if they gave me a 34” measurement then I would cut their blank 44.5”. The 10.5” comes from 3.5” for the flap that folds back at the bend and then 7” from the center hole to the tip. If you want more tip to hang out past the buckle then you can make the tip measurement 8”… if you do this you would add 11.5” to their measurement instead of 10.5”.
I have used this technique for many years and aside from a bad measurement here and there I have had very few problems and my fit is good every time. This becomes very important when putting names in the back of belts or making tapered belts and keeping things centered and balanced.
For more information on making and designing custom belts follow the link below to purchase our new eBooklet! This booklet touches on topics from sizing to finishing a custom belt.
Driving to work this saturday morning, thinking to myself about the list of “have toos” and “if i cans” for the day, it struck me with a bit of excitement and fear. Fear, because i only have two weeks left to finish the gifts that have been ordered, and excitement because we are completing our seventh year in business. Unbelievable!
Seven years ago i was a 24 year old rookie saddle maker putting Vet school on hold to pursue an oppurtunity. My entire life up until this point had been focused on vet school and all of a sudden I had made the decision to give this oppurtunity a whirl. Thinking about it now, I should have been a bit more worried. But as with most of the things that i do, i made the decision and figured all the details would work themselves out.
I have absolutely no regrets in my decision to start DGSaddlery and have enjoyed every minute… Even the scary ones! As a group, we have been truely blessed and so grateful for the friendships that we have made. As we enter the christmas season again here in 2011 and prepare to begin our 8th year in business, we would like to thank all those customers who have supported us and who enjoy our work. Getting better every year is our main focus and we hope that this coming year will be no different. The thing that makes our products stand out is our customers’ imaginations and thanks to them, and our talented artists and craftsmen, we have had the oppurtunity to create some great products.
We hope that everyone has a wonderful christmas and we look forward to 2012 and putting your dreams in leather!