The Perfect Leather Washer

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Blog entry by hhhopks posted 12-28-2012 12:17 AM 11937 reads 4 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I was making replacement handles for my chisels. I tried the sockets and tang versions with good results. I got some old chisel handles that had leather washers at the other end. I was curious if I could make them too. I did the usual searches and had found great information. Since several LJ members is curious about the how they were cut, I have decided that I’ll post the process here.

How the leather washers look really desn’t matter. It is an intermediate step of the chisel handle construction. After gluing up the washer on to the blank I put it back on the lathe to turn it to shape the profile. I have tried the two methods below, It will work just fine but seems a bit too time consuming, if you have a lot of washers to cut. Also if you want the circles cut out neatly and centered, there will be issues. The methods are:

#1. Drill a hole and cut out the perimeter with scissors. The center hole is not very clean and the hand cut edges are horrible.

#2. Use a leather hole punch. The center one is easy but I didn’t have money for the large punch for the outer circle so I am back to the scissors.

The method that I come up with will speed up process and also improves the quality of the washer. I also kept a watchful eye on the budget. I believe the process is actually very simple. I use a modified large spade bit. I have purchased a large spade bit set from HF. Selected one with a larger diameter and grinded away. I am far from being any kind of expert on metal working but the task really doesn’t require that level of expertise.
After the grind, I have two cutters that stick down from the main body of the spade bit. They are spaced to the approximate inner diameter and outer diameter of the washers desired. The inner cutter is a bit longer than the outer cutter. I think there is an approximately 1/16” differences. This will ensure that the inner circle completes the cut before the outer circle gets done, otherwise the center hole may not get cut completely. I hand sharpen the cutters with a file and stones. You will have to make sure you sharpen on the leading edge per the rotation of the drill press (same as conventional bits) of the cutter blade. Since it is a quality HF blade, stroping and honing is often necessary during batch jobs.

Put the bit on your drill press and pretty much use it as though you are drill holes on wood except:
You want to use a sacrificial board underneath and a HOLD-DOWN PLATE is necessary. The bit has a tendency to grab the leather and pull on it. It is a bit too scary for me to try to hold the leather by hand and the leather gets pulled. The hold-down plate is just a piece of scrap board with a larger diameter hole to permit the bit to get through. Hand pressure should be adequate to hold the leather in place and your hands will be farther away from the bit.

Inner & outer circles are centered and are cut with speed.

Leather washers in use on hand tools.

Leather washers are glued and stacked on to the handle blank.

It all starts with a junk spade bit (HF specials).

The bit is grinded with a profile as shown. Note that the inner blade is slightly longer.

The blade is then sharpened with a file and honed.

The bit is place on a drill press. The picture illustrates how the blade cut into the leather to form the washer.

The back drop, piece of plywood is my fancy jig, the “HOLDDOWN PLATE”. The hole is where the bit suppose to go through. You have a sacrificial board underneath the leather. Right? The plate will allow you to safely hold the leather in place and prevents the bit from pulling leather (and maybe your hand) into the spinning bit.

Alternative just get some bird toy. but making your own cutter does allow you with the freedom of getting the dimensions that you want and the type of leather to be used.

Oh yea, I buy my scrap leather from hobby lobby with their weekly coupon (40-50 % off)

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

9 comments so far

View Matt Vredenburg's profile

Matt Vredenburg

193 posts in 4868 days

#1 posted 12-28-2012 12:28 AM

Nice work and I am going to have to try that myself. Thanks for sharing!

-- Matt, Arizona

View tbandikoot's profile


17 posts in 3906 days

#2 posted 12-28-2012 03:26 AM

I also tried the scissors method and the results were aweful at best. I love how you solved a tough problem with an ingenious, but simple solution. Well done and thank you, I will try it myself.

View derosa's profile


1597 posts in 4289 days

#3 posted 12-28-2012 03:36 AM

What about taking a hole saw and grinding the teeth off the edges then sharpening the whole circumference so you just have to whack it with a mallet? You could even grind the bit down to a point to create a center marker for the hole punch. Might be slower but seems a little safer.
For speed though yours seems pretty ingenious.

-- A posse ad esse

View ksSlim's profile


1304 posts in 4343 days

#4 posted 12-28-2012 04:26 AM

appropriate diameter of steel conduit, ground on the outside.
Leave top open to use dowel to remove leather circles.

Or C.S. Osborne leather punches.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View oldnovice's profile


7791 posts in 4821 days

#5 posted 12-28-2012 04:28 AM

Here is another possibilty I used to cut washers, chassis, and other stuff in my previous job(s)!

You can punch the small, inner, hole in a bunch, stake them up and punch the outer dimer.

There are a number of other punches like this available as can be seen on eBay.

-- "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -- Aldous Huxley

View TwinLeather's profile


2 posts in 4360 days

#6 posted 12-28-2012 05:34 AM

We make leather washers for the Buck Bro’s chisels

Twin Leather Company, Inc.
Web site:

We have a $45 min but we can waive that if you send us a stamped self addressed envelope for your small leather washer order ~ richmond

View hhhopks's profile


663 posts in 3831 days

#7 posted 12-28-2012 12:11 PM

I am sure there are many methods and they will all work fine. As stated in the blog the shape result is not necessary an issue as it is an intermediate step. Of course some people like everything to be neat. To me it is more of a time consideration. Cost is also a consideration, otherwise I would have a tool/die maker to make a punch with a inner and outer cutter all in one tool. A die for a press would be even better.

Once the bit is set up, you can cut out a washer in less than 20 sec and no measuring. The total investment is around $8.00 + tax (from my local HF) and there are spare bits for future/other use.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View jap's profile


1251 posts in 3508 days

#8 posted 12-28-2012 06:09 PM


-- Joel

View Brit's profile


8508 posts in 4296 days

#9 posted 12-29-2012 03:58 PM

Thanks for the clear explanation. Much appreciated.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

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