How to Thin Leather by Hand

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Leather is thinned out to make it more supple or to allow for less bulk at seams.
Leather is thinned out to make it more supple or to allow for less bulk at seams. (Image: John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Skiving, or thinning, a piece of leather is an important skill for any leather worker to master. Bookbinders, shoemakers and hobbyists will all need to make a leather piece more supple, flexible and soft by removing the flesh side of the hide. Although it's not a process to engage in when you are distracted or tired, skiving is generally easy enough for even a beginner to master.

Things You'll Need

  • Piece of leather
  • Stone or hard surface
  • Skiving knife or Exacto knife
  • Extra blades

Cut your leather to the dimensions needed for your project, plus one or two centimeters around the perimeter for clearance. You can do a final trim after skiving.

Lay the leather piece, skin side down, on a flat work surface. Stone works best for skiving the edges to a bevel. If you are simply thinning out the hide all over, such as for bookbinding, use a hard wooden bench.

Hold your skiving knife or exacto knife so that the blade is as close to horizontal as possible and push it away from yourself, paring the top surface of the leather off. Use the longest strokes you can, not lifting your blade, while not moving too quickly so the cuts are as uniform as possible.

Repeat the skiving motions all over the surface of your leather until you have thinned your piece down to the thickness you wish.

Bevel your edges by holding your skiving blade at the angle you need for your bevel -- for shallower bevels, hold the knife more horizontal to the surface of the leather, for a deeper bevel, hold it more perpendicular. Slide the blade along the edge while placing tension on the hide with the fingers of your non-cutting hand. Push the back of the blade with the index finger of the same hand for a smooth edge.

Tips & Warnings

  • It's best to skive on a shallower angle and make more passes over the hide to get it to the proper thinness than to rush and try to cut more off at one go. You can always go back to take off more, but you can't add it back if you take too much off.
  • Always keep cutting blades sharp. Dull blades can skip over the surface of the leather, tearing the finished side of your leather. Dull blades can also skip off the surface of the leather and into your hand.
  • Skive dry leather only, and only cut on the hide side of your leather piece.
  • Keep blades and tools out of children's reach.

References

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