The Process

The Process

A quality Custom Western Belt starts with the highest quality leather available today.  Our leather is Grade A tooling and carving leather from the Hermann Oak Leather Company in St. Louis, Missouri who has been tanning leather since 1881.

First, a belt blank is measured and cut from a side of leather.  Then it is dampened with a sponge to soften the top portion of the belt blank.  A sponge is used so as not to dampen the backing of the leather so that the belt will hold its shape during the tooling process.  Once the proper dampness is obtained, the selected pattern is transferred to the belt blank.  The transfer is done by using a section of hardened leather which has the pattern cut into it.  The section is then inverted and laid on top of the belt blank and a mallet is used to lightly tap the pattern which leaves an image on the belt blank.  The pattern is repeated several times down the length of the belt.

A swivel knife is then used to cut the pattern into the leather.  The knife requires both pressure and guidance to carefully cut the pattern which will be tooled into the leather.  Throughout the cutting and tooling process a damp sponge is applied periodically to the leather to maintain the proper softness.  The first stamping tool applied to the cut pattern is the background tool.  This tool creates distinction in the pattern by applying a pattern to all of the background, allowing the floral pattern to emerge.  Beveler tools are then applied to all of the cut edges to create depth in the pattern.  A pear shader is then used to create additional depth in the flower petals and leaves.  Following the shader, a veiner tool is used to create veins in the leaf portion of the pattern.  A seeder creates the center of each flower and is used as an accent in the flow of the pattern.  A mulefoot stamp then creates additional accents on the stems of the flower and leafs.

The final step in the tooling process is the decorative cuts applied using the swivel knife.  The pattern is greatly enhanced by the careful application of the accent cuts.  Just as a beautiful painting is completed using thousands of brushstrokes, so is a beautiful hand tooled belt crafted by using thousands of taps of the mallet and cuts of the knife.

Once the tooling process is complete, the belt is allowed to dry which causes the pattern to harden and cure.  After drying, an edger is used to round off both the top and bottom edges of the belt.  The edges are then dampened with a sponge and a glycerin saddle soap is rubbed onto the edges and buffed with a rough fabric such as denim or canvas.  This creates a hardened and smooth edge on the belt, which allows it to slide smoothly into the belt loops.  A cleaner is then applied to prepare the leather for the dying and staining process.

Every pattern can be finished in a variety of ways.  A “single-tone” belt can be left natural or stained with an antique finish.  The antique finish is applied with a small piece of sheep’s wool, making sure a sufficient amount is used to penetrate into every cut and crevice on the belt.  The excess is removed with a clean piece of sheep’s wool.  The antique finish is then allowed to dry and then buffed with a clean piece of wool.

A “two-tone” belt has dye applied to the background only, or to both the background and border of the belt.  The dye is painstakingly applied with a small brush, using thousands of brush strokes on every belt.  Mistakes must be carefully avoided at this stage of the process since the dye is permanent and cannot be wiped off.  The dyed background provides definition and depth to the floral pattern.  Dying the background only allows the primary color of the belt to be determined by the color of antique applied, which is usually a medium to dark brown shade.  Dying both the background and border makes black a more prominent color.  (See the color samples)

A “three-tone” belt adds additional color by effectively creating a lighter tone on a portion of the belt.  Any portion of the pattern can be “lightened” by applying a clear lacquer to that portion prior to the staining process.  Typically the clear lacquer is applied to the flower and leaves (larger surfaces) or only to overlays on the flower and leaf pattern (smaller surfaces).  Not all of the patterns have overlays, but the three-tone effect can be effectively applied to all of the patterns in some way.  The lacquer is applied with a brush, being careful to apply it only to the portions which will be a lighter tone.  Once dry, the clear-lac prevents the antique finish from penetrating that portion of the pattern, thus creating a lighter third-tone effect.

Once all of the finishes have been applied, the belt is allowed to dry.  After drying, a clear lacquer finish is applied to the entire belt to seal and protect the leather.  Snaps are installed and the belt is measured again before holes are punched to the proper size.  Five holes are punched with the center hole being the measurement provided.

When properly cared for, a Custom Western Belt will last for years.  To keep the belt looking its best, moisture should be avoided.  Periodically, an additional application of a clear lacquer finish will help preserve the leather and give it a shiny finish.


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