How to Make a $90 Belt for Only $23

Make a full grain leather belt in less than 30 minutes.

Like the style in the photo? Check out my Biking at the Beach Getup.

Belts have always been like ties to me: A tie can cost as much or more than an entire shirt, but appears to require very little work to produce. A simple leather belt, is, quite literally, just a strip of leather with a metal buckle. I own carefully decorated wingtip shoes that cost less than some belts.

Unfortunately a lot of cheaper belts are made from inferior leather. It used to be that if I flipped a belt over and it said “genuine leather” I always thought, “Nice! Real leather!” That’s true, but it’s not a very good grade of leather.

How a product defines its leather is important to understanding the quality of the piece. You’ve heard of bonded leather, top grain leather, genuine leather, and if like me always thought it was good because it meant that it was real leather.  Well, there is a hierarchy, and you can actually tell how good of a leather grade was used in the production of whatever you’re buying.

Many bags and belts are made from “genuine leather,” which sounds nice and legit, but is actually the third grade of leather from the best. It’s the grade that remains after the two better grades above it are split off. Genuine leather is often painted to appear nicer than it is, and won’t be able to take the years of wear and tear of a nicer grade.

What you want to look for is full grain leather. It’s the best grade you can buy, and the reason an Old Navy belt can cost $17 and a designer belt costs $150.

Fortunately for us, making our own full grain leather belt is super easy, and super cheap. Even if you’ve never worked with leather, fear not! It requires no artisan skill.

I came across this Reddit guide awhile ago and was inspired to make my own natural color leather belt. I’ve always loved Tanner Goods natural belt with black buckle but would never be able to justify spending $88 on a belt. That’s not to say Tanner doesn’t make amazing stuff, I’m just not the kind of guy that spends a cheap meal shy of a hundred bucks on one belt.

All of the items you’ll need should be available locally at a leather goods store or hobby store. If not, you can order them online from Tandy Leather. That’s where I got all of my gear. You can use coupon code 1kRet-CR-11 to get $10 off your order, which should be just enough to get you free shipping.  You should also check to see if you have a Tandy in your area, I discovered I have one within 20 minutes of my place and have been there a bunch of times since.

What You’ll Need

  • Belt Blank, $12.99. This is the actual full grain leather belt strip. It will come with snaps to hold the buckle on, so all we’ll need to do is trim the end to size, fit it for a hole, and preserve the leather.  I chose the 1.5 inch belt, which is pretty standard for men’s belts, but they also have thinner and thicker options.
  • Belt Keep, $1. The little leather loop that holds the excess belt length when fastened. Make sure to get it in the same width as the belt blank.
  • Buckle, $1.79. Options are endless, and you can find buckles elsewhere online, or use one you already have. I chose the roller buckle because it’s closest to the Tanner belt.
  • Leather Balm with Atom Wax in Neutral, $6.99. The leather that you’re buying is untreated. If you get it wet, it will stain it forever. You’ll need to protect the leather once you’re finished assembling the belt. If you want a colored belt instead of the natural color, you can replace this with water based leather dye.

Do not get the leather wet before you preserve it! It will stain the leather.

Attach the buckle.

Insert the buckle, bend the leather over, and secure the snaps.

Size the hole

Put the belt on and determine where the belt hole needs to go. Mark it with a Sharpie.

Punch the hole

You can use a leather punch to create the belt hole, or if you don’t have one, you can carefully use a power drill.

Determine the end of the belt

Put the belt back on, and decide how long you’d like the belt to be when fastened.  Mark it with the Sharpie.

Trim and shape the end

The end of your belt can be any shape you want, round, multi-faceted, straight, or whatever else you can come up with. I used a Gatorade bottle cap as a template. Cut around your template with an Xacto knife.

Preserve the belt

Use a soft cloth such as an old t-shirt to apply the leather balm to the belt. Apply liberally, but doing it evenly is important to getting a consistent color. The balm will darken the leather slightly. Make sure to get the sides as well. If you decided to stain the leather, this is when you would do so.

There you have it, a full grain belt. Since I’m emulating the style of the Tanner belt, I spray painted the roller buckle black. Do several light coats, and let it dry completely before wearing it. You don’t want any of the paint coming off on your leather.

Update

As some of you guessed, the black spray paint does chip off through use. I still use mine and haven’t needed to repaint it yet, but I was able to find a black buckle for less than $10.

Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page.

  • Hammond

    As i was scrolling down and saw you started spray painting the metal I thought “Man, that won’t work. What are you doing?”

    But seeing the final product, that looks awesome. I still don’t see how the paint will stay on though.

  • Andrew

    A pretty good introduction to leather. One bit of advice, though, when making belts. You’re going to want to burnish (pressing the loose fibers on the edge together and bonding them with an adhesive) the edges to prevent wear or else the belt’s life is going to be severely reduced.

    All you need is some gum tragacanth (I’m almost positive I misspelled that) (also note: some people use paraffin, beeswax, or a mix of both, instead) and a slicker. Basically, you apply the tragacanth (or your substitute) along the edge and then rapidly run the slicker back and forth over the edge, warming up the adhesive and working it into the fibers as you press them down. Very easy to do (though it will give your arm a workout) and it’ll add years to your belt’s life. Just remember, like all sealants, dyes, etc., always test it on a bit of scrap or in an inconspicuous place, as it will darken the leather when burnished, but may be more than you are expecting.

  • TJ

    This is really cool. I will definitely be trying this.

  • http://www.younghomeownersguide.com Tony D

    Wow…Nice article! I never even thought about making my own belt. Not only does it use top quality leather, but it’s something I can say I made myself. I’ll definitely be trying. Is there any advantage to using a leather punch or should I just stick with my drill?

  • Andy

    I was looking at the website and it looked like the 3/4″ wide belt is $12.99, the 1.5″ belt blank is $19.99. I suppose you could save money by signing up for their club prices, but this still puts the belt in at $30, which is still a great deal.

  • Steve

    some bees wax on the edges of this is what works.

  • MATT

    I didn’t see how you put on the belt keep. It looks like it might go on somehow with the snaps. Could you address this or am I missing something?

  • http://Www.primerMagazine.com Andrew

    Matt, the belt keep slides on and sits between the two snaps. Sorry for the oversight.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Tony, A leather punch will give you a more consistent hole, but if you’re only making one belt, I wouldn’t spend the extra money for the punch. Practice on the very end (that you’ll cut off later) to get a feel for how the drill and leather interact.

  • CJ

    This is an awesome idea, I never would’ve thought to try this. Question though, what product would be best if I wanted a darker shade of brown for the belt color?

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew
  • Dan

    Will the leather darken over time, after it gets treated?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

      Dan, Yes, it will develop a natural patina over time

  • CS

    I pulled my grandpa’s leatherworking stuff out of storage last week for this exact purpose. Sometimes I’m convinced you people are following me.

  • Soleful Strut

    Excellent post, thank you.

  • David Taylor

    Great post. Its funny I just went to Tandy Leather here in El Paso looking to make a belt. Thank you for the post.

  • Travis

    The shipping is the only thing holding me back. It is $12.99 shipped with the promo code, and all the items listed here added. Total is $35.19? What is the minimum for shipping?

  • Doug

    Looks like the Tandy Leather website store has gone kaput, the belt blank and belt keep links don’t work any longer. This article is already within the top 10 results of google for belt blank.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

      Hey Doug, I just checked and the links are still working for me, is it giving you an error?

  • Doug

    The links are working again, must have just been a temporary issue. Thanks for checking, love the article.

  • Doug

    Just checked again and they work again with no issues. Great article, definitely going to be doing this one weekend soon.

  • TJ

    What is the thinnest you can get the belt blanks? I was wondering if this could be used to create a watch strap.

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  • Nathan

    How sturdy/heavy is the belt? Enough to hold up a pistol and holster?

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    TJ,

    Not sure, these are intended for belts, so they’d all be too thick. Tandy probably has a watch kit though.

    Nathan,

    Definitely. These are better than most belts people buy at The Gap or Target. Very sturdy.

  • Tom

    I don’t understand…the title says you can do this for $23 but you can’t. Did you have an “Elite Club” membership?

    It looks great and glad the comments added part about beeswax on edges. How is the paint on the buckle holding up so far?

  • Alex

    Would Leather Honey work in place of the balm you mention here?

  • Joe

    I got mine for $19 buying online with promo code and then picking up in store, so his price is definitely doable.

  • Tom

    Joe, did you already have the $7 leather balm? I mean, it’s a case of being off by $10 or so, not a big deal, but anyone that can add can quickly see this isn’t doable for $23. It’s a great idea, and I’m going to spend the 35 or so dollars to do it, but c’mon, the title is off, right?

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Tom, Unfortunately it looks like this published around the same time Tandy did a price increase on the belt blank.

  • Tom

    Ah, bummer. Still a great idea though, I want to give it a try. How is the painted buckle holding up after some wear? I’d think it may chip or flake…any issues so far?

  • Joe

    Tom: $7 balm + $1 keep + $2 buckle + $19 belt blank = $29 – $10 from code = $19. Then pick up in a store near you.

  • Joe

    Mine was even cheaper as I got the light mocha brown all-in-one dye and finish which was on clearance for $4. It turned out much more uneven than this one but with some wear it will look just dandy. How dark do you think you could get the belt with the leather balm Andrew?

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Joe,

    I think you could only get a dark golden color with the balm. It’s meant to maintain the natural color. Glad it worked out for you!

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  • Geran Brown

    I wonder if it would be possible to stain these a darker brown and black to use for formal/dress attire as well as casual attire.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

      Geran, Absolutely. Just pick up some stain from Tandy instead of the atom wax.

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  • James

    Will using Sno Seal have the same effect as the Leather Balm, in that it will protect and waterproof the belt? I already have Sno Seal at home and would like to avoid purchasing the Leather Balm if it does the same thing. Thanks!

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  • Tom

    How has the painted buckle stood the test of time the last 4 months? Did it wear off or stick to the metal ok? I want to make this as a present for my father but don’t want him to get paint everywhere…followup?
    Thanks!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Hey Tom,

      The paint has started to chip at this point, but it’s got a neat effect. If you’re making one for your dad and want a black buckle, I’d recommend just buying one, they’re pretty cheap here: http://thebeltman.net/buckles.htm

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  • Vic

    You can actually get a genuine Tanner goods belt buckle for 8 dollars!

  • RegentNox

    I ordered the belt blank, but it sure doesnt look like full grain leather to me.

  • keybladehero

    Here is my attempt. The dye wasn’t really uniform but I’m quite happy with the result. Can’t wait for my current raw denim to fade and my belt to develop patina together.

  • observer1959

    Here’s a couple of tips. I like the wooden burnisher tool that looks like a long top and has grooves for many thicknesses of leather. Use a wool dauber to coat the edge of the leather with dye. After it dries take a damp sponge (water) and slightly wet the edge and then burnish it. It doesn’t take much pressure, it’s more about the speed back and forth. The edge will turn into a shiny slick surface fairly quickly. It cool to watch it happen and you should be able to finish an entire belts edges within a half hour.

    Second about the paint. This is a little trick I picked up in auto restoration. Use high temperature engine spray paint and let the part dry. Then bake it in the oven at the recommended temp per instructions for about a half hour. Turn off the heat and let it cool down with the oven door closed.
    You can hang the buckle from the oven rack using wire so it hangs in the middle of the oven. This give it a baked enamel coating like on appliances or powder coating.

  • observer1959

    I just made this belt for a friend and converted his sheaf to hang again this belt at a 45 degree.

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  • globalteckz

    Liked it, Making would be little complicated but hope the end results would be the best for making a pure leather belt – For leather belts you can visit http://www.shop72.com they offer great products for men and women