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.
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.