By Sam Powers
This week’s Clothing Press takes a different shape. Instead of diving into clothing particulars, I will be guiding you through the process of building your own belt.
It’s a fairly easy DIY project that can be completed within one afternoon, and I recommend thinking of this project as a way to connect with your clothing first-hand. Building your own belt offers a direct experience crafting an essential part of your own wardrobe. Through the process, you’ll gain a taste of craftsmanship, not to mention the added benefit of a custom-fit belt.
- Belt blank
- Belt buckle
- Leather dye and finish
- Soft cloth
- Hole punching method
- Belt Keeper if using a a heel bar buckle
There are many places to buy these materials. Personally, I purchased my belt blank and dye from StecksStore. I have previously used Tandy Leather, but StecksStore offers materials for a lesser cost. I suggest doing your own search to find what works best for you.
This project also calls for some improvisation, especially when making the belthole. While a specific tool exists just for this task, I assume, unless you’re my dad, you do not own this tool. I made do with an awl and x-acto, but I could see a nail doing the trick, as well.
Choosing your belt blank
You want one with snaps attached, so you can attach your belt buckle. I purchased a 1.5 inch blank, which actually falls 1/16 of an inch short of that measurement.
This is the case for all belt blanks because the measurement refers to the buckle size, not the blank size. Personally, 1.5 inches is as large as I’m comfortable going. This size gets close to filling my belt loops — take this into consideration when choosing the size of your belt blank.
Choosing your belt buckle
You’ll see there are two main kinds of belt buckles to choose from: center bar buckles and heel bar buckles. The belt passes in and out of center bar buckles, whereas with heel bar buckles, the belt only passes through.
If you choose a heel bar buckle, you’ll want to purchase a belt keeper, as well. I chose a center bar buckle. It’s casual and reminiscent of western belt buckles without being too over-the-top. A benefit of building your own belt is the ability to switch belt buckles very easily, so don’t stress too much over picking your buckle.
Building your belt
- Start with your belt blank. Wrap it around your waist and, using your blade, trim off the excess. This is only to get rid of excess. You will go back to trim it to exact measurements and shape the belt tip.
- Look at the roughout side — the underside — of your belt. You’ll probably see some areas that are hairier than others. Trim those up using your blade. Don’t worry about cleaning it all up. As you wear your belt, the roughout side will smooth. This step expedites that process.
- Now measure the exact length for your belt. An easy way to do this is by comparing your belt blank to an already owned belt. You can also wrap the blank around you to get a sense of where to trim your belt. I recommend allowing your belt to extend 2.5 inches past the first belt loop. Mark this place with a pencil.
- Using your blade, cut straight across the measured mark. Cutting leather is difficult. Using
moderate pressure, pass the blade multiple times across the leather. Don’t try to cut it in one pass.
- To create the curved end to your belt, use a circular stencil (bottle tops work well) and a pencil to mark where to cut. Use your ruler to make sure your curved mark is centered.
- Slowly cut along the curve with your blade. Be careful at this point, and take your time. Cutting a precise curved line is difficult. Slowly use light pressure to cut deeper into the leather with each pass.
- Measure where to poke the hole. Snap the belt buckle on the blank, and pass it through your belt loops. Pull the belt tight and see where the prong wants to pass through. Mark this point. Use a ruler to make sure it is centered.
- Test your hole-punching method on trimmed scrap leather. This gives you practice and lets you know if your method will actually work.
- Puncture a hole in your belt blank where marked in step seven. My method was to first puncture a hole using an awl. I expanded the hole by twisting the tip of my blade around the circumference. I also found sticking the tip of my pencil in the hole helped to expand it.
- Try on your belt, you’re almost there!
- It is time to dye your belt. There is also the option of forgoing the dye for a natural look. In this case, I recommend applying only a finish for protection. You’ll want to follow the instructions of the dye you use. I applied two coats using a old T-shirt and a Q-tip for the inside and around the hole. You don’t need to worry about dyeing the roughout side.
- Apply leather finish to your belt after the dye has dried.
- Lightly polish with a soft cloth.
- Congratulations, you’ve built your own belt! Put it on, and check yourself out in the mirror.