A Guide to the Leather Rotary Hole Punch

A Guide to the Leather Rotary Hole Punch

Leathercraft is an art that demands precision, patience, and the right set of tools. One such indispensable tool in a leatherworker's arsenal is the leather rotary hole punch. This unassuming device might be small, but its impact on your leather projects is significant. In this article, let's look into what a leather rotary hole punch is, how to use it effectively, how to care for it, and what causes punch tubes to become damaged or blunt. 

1. What is a Leather Rotary Hole Punch?

Leather rotary punch

A leather rotary hole punch is a hand tool designed for creating round holes in leather. Unlike traditional single-hole punches, the rotary punch features a rotating wheel with multiple punch tubes of different sizes. This versatility allows leatherworkers to create holes of varying diameters, making it an essential tool for projects like belts and straps. 

2. Using Your Leather Rotary Hole Punch:

Select the Right Punch Tube: Begin by choosing the appropriate punch tube for your project. Turn the wheel until the required punch tube is precisely aligned flush with the anvil plate. 

Mark the Hole Placement: Use a ruler or measuring tape to mark the desired locations for your holes on the leather. Precision at this stage ensures a polished final product.

Align and Punch: Place the selected punch tube in the desired hole location, ensuring it is aligned with your markings. Press down firmly on the handle to punch through the leather.  

3. Limitations of Rotary Punches:

Material Thickness:  Be mindful of the thickness of the leather you're working with. Standard rotary punches are not designed for thick materials.

Hole Reach: The design of the rotary punch may prevent it from reaching areas too far from the edge, limiting its effectiveness. 

Hard materials: Not all materials can be safely punched with a rotary hole punch. Avoid hard and stiff leather, plastics, metal and other rigid materials.

4. Caring for Your Leather Rotary Hole Punch:

Taking proper care of your leather rotary hole punch is crucial to maintain its effectiveness and longevity. Here's how:

mating anvil on a leather rotaty punch

Anvil Conditioning: New anvils (punch plate) benefit from pre-conditioning to achieve best punch. Start with the largest punch tube. Squeeze the tube down onto the anvil and inspect it for a full round mark imprint on the surface. Repeat this step a few times to ensure proper break in between cutting tube and anvil. Rotate the tube carousel and break in each tube size. If the anvil is not mated to the tubes properly, the punch will not cut the material well, creating frayed or torn holes.

Clean After Use: After each use, remove excess leather off-cut from inside the tubes and wipe with a soft cloth to remove any leather residue and dust. This prevents buildup, ensures a smooth operation, and helps the blades to stay sharper for longer. 

Store Properly: Store your rotary punch in a dry place away from direct sunlight. Exposure to moisture and sunlight can lead to rust and deterioration of the tool. Store separately from other tools so the tubes to not become damaged.

Inspect Tubes: Frequently examine the tubes on your leather rotary punch to assess their condition and sharpness. Some rotary punches feature disposable tubes, allowing for convenient replacement by screwing in another tube. In contrast, other rotary punches come with harder permanent tubes that cannot be detached or replaced. These fixed-tube rotary punches are often cheaper to buy initially, but they must be entirely replaced once their tubes dull or sustain damage.

5.  Punch Tube Damage:

It's crucial to recognise that punch tubes also have a limited lifespan and will require replacement as they become damaged or blunt. Maximising the longevity of your punch tubes involves exercising caution during use, and adopting proper storage practices, otherwise you might have to replace the rotary punch (or disposable punch tubes) after only a few uses! Here are some effective strategies to prevent premature damage, bending, or bluntness of your punch tubes.

Alignment: Ensure proper alignment of the punch wheel. The punch wheel should audibly click into place, and the punch tube should make precise, flush contact with the anvil when punching. Should the tube make contact with the anvil at an angle, and under force, it will quickly break.

Force: Forcing the punch tube through thick or hardened materials will cause inevitable damage. If you cannot punch a hole with reasonable force, use an alternative method, such as a single-hole punch and mallet. 

Fit: For disposable tubes, ensure the tube is screwed/attached securely in place before using. Before using, slowly depress the tube onto the anvil to check it hits the plate flush.

Movement: Avoid twisting or pulling the leather during the punching process, as this can move and damage the punch tube. 

Technique: Use the tool with the correct technique. Apply consistent, even pressure when punching to avoid unnecessary strain on the punch tubes.

Foreign objects: Inspect the leather before punching to ensure there are no foreign objects, hardware, staples, pins or other objects around the punch site. This can cause quick and serious damage to the punch tube and anvil. 

Selection: Its wise practice to have two rotary rotary punches in your workshop. Use a standard, cost-effective punch for swiftly creating holes for snaps and rivets. And a professional punch with replaceable tubes when precision is paramount, especially for visible applications such as belt holes. This will keep your professional punch tubes in tip-top shape for longer.

Storage: It's good practice to store your rotary punch separately from other tools, or in its own pouch or container, to prevent the tubes from knocking against other tools.

The leather rotary hole punch is an invaluable tool for leathercraft enthusiasts. By understanding how to use it effectively and caring for it properly, you can ensure that your projects are executed with precision and that your tool remains a faithful companion on your creative journey.

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