Updated: Nov 13
This is one of the most common questions I get asked through email, private messages and the live videos I do on YouTube and Instagram. So I thought it was high time to tackle the subject.
Now most folk who ask me this question will expect me to point blank say something along the lines of ‘use 0.8mm’, so they can then henceforth into wallet making nirvana. However, in truth, there's a little more to it than that.
So in order for you to get an idea why this is, let's discuss construction choice, and why that's the most important consideration when choosing your leather thickness for a wallet.
Solid vegetable tanned leather.
First and foremost, the style of wallet plays a large part in your thickness decision process. If your preferred aesthetic is a chunky vegetable tanned wallet then the design is simple. Only a few cards may be stored, and there are likely no linings or hidden pockets/dividers.
In this scenario you could get away with buying a 1mm or 0.8mm hide of veg-tan leather and making the card pockets, cash pocket and exterior all from the same thickness.
Now, you may need to use a skiving knife, bell knife skiver, or French edger to thin the sides and bases of your ‘T’ slots (a common construction style), but the overall build is kept simple and basic.
Although easier to produce, difficulty folding this style of wallet when full is a concern, as are unreasonably thick edges.
Pay attention to the number of card pockets too, solid leather pockets have a tendency to ‘stack’ high as the number of overlapped layers begin to build up. This not only makes the wallet thick (even before adding any cards), but also makes adding the last card in the bottom pocket a real pain.
Lastly, wallets of this construction have a tendency to take a ‘set’. Un-reinforced veg tan will stretch over time with pressure, warmth and moisture (i.e. in your pocket), so cards can fall out when the wallet is turned upside down. Not something openly discussed in the leathercraft community.
For all these reasons, I don’t teach this style, however they do create fantastic beginner projects to try out your basic skills in leathercraft.
Chrome tanned leather.
Next, you may want to try using chrome tanned leather. This has its pros and cons which I will get into. This leather will give you a softer, more durable and vastly more scuff resistant wallet. When the general public go out to buy a wallet, this is what they mostly end up buying.
Here you can afford to go much thinner. Parts with thicknesses varying from 0.5mm down to 0.3mm are not uncommon.
But there’s a caveat.
One does not simply create a wallet from 100% soft chrome tanned leather. Especially at these thicknesses, you would end up with something too floppy and limp, and no one gets excited about that. Not to mention, chrome-tan is stretchy when compared to vegetable tanned skins..
So, it's common to see pure chrome tanned leather wallets make use of a reinforcement material. This reinforcement is responsible for adding stiffness, stretch resistance and longevity to your wallet. It can be made from many things, both natural and synthetic. Cotton, polyester, nylon, cellulose, bonded leatherboard, just to name a few.
Various types can be used for various parts in the same wallet. You may use a thin nylon material to strengthen your card pockets, yet your wallet exterior may be hiding a layer of bonded leatherboard underneath to add structure and shape.
This makes construction altogether more complex. So extra thought and prototyping needs to go into any new design.
As this style of leather cannot be burnished (for the most part), folded or ‘turned’ edges will form the bulk of intricate parts such as card pockets. Edge paint, bindings or turned edges again can be used for larger pockets, dividers and exteriors.
Wallets with more than 3 or 4 card pockets, exceptionally thin designs with little to no stacking, internal micro gussets on pockets, intricate zips and exotic skins mean this style is inherently going to see more thickness variation than any other type.
When creating such a wallet, the emphasis is on craftsmanship and skill. Each part of the wallet is considered to be an independent project, all coming together at the end in one harmonious design.
Making these wallets can seem like playing a game of chess. You now have to start thinking several moves ahead, in case you forget edges needed finishing ahead of time before installing, and seams, at least parts of them may need to be stitched in advance.
This is no longer a simple project, but strategic construction.
So you may end up with a wallet that looks like this:
Card pocket toppers, 0.3mm folded over 0.1mm nylon reinforcement. 0.7mm total.
Divider. Two layers. 0.5mm. 1mm total.
Exterior. 0.6mm outside. 0.5mm interlining. 0.5mm lining. 1.6mm total.
Gusseted pocket. 0.6mm. Double sided. 1.2mm total
Gusset. 0.4mm. Double sided. 0.8mm total. 0.6mm after compression.
So as you can see, if someone was to ask the leather thickness for this type of wallet, the reply would be ‘which part?’.
Now, recently I created an online wallet course with a fine leathercraft theme, but without the fine leathercraft complexity. This was one of the hardest projects as a leathercraft teacher to create. Making something with a luxury theme, yet easy enough for someone with a few months of experience to complete.
Here you will find a project that only requires two leather thicknesses (using only two separate small skins), and basic reinforcement that anyone can find at a local store or online. No skiving machines needed and no specialist overseas orders to suppliers who only accept large order quantities.
This is champagne craftsmanship at lemonade prices (unless of course you go for exotic skins!)
No leather splitting needed, but you can if you have access to equipment.
No wonky rear stitches on your interior when stitched from the outside.
No bulky card pockets that stack up in thickness (thickest part is only 3.6mm!)
So check out the video below, then get started with your Video Plan today so you can become a luxury wallet maker in as little as 6 weeks! This course will reveal the secrets of how it’s done.