17 Aug 2016

Don't waste your money on expensive pricking irons.

My go to pricking iron the last 4 years has been this one from goods japan:

It is actually a stitching chisel but I have never used it as such. I just tap it lightly and make the holes with an awl just like you would with a pricking iron.

The specs on the iron says that it will make holes 4 mm apart resulting in 6,35 spi. I then bought one with 6 teeth and found out that my old iron was wrongly spaced. It actually had around 4,2 mm
resulting in 6 spi.

A few years ago I bought these irons (in the 3.38mm version) but never really liked them. It was difficult to get a straight line of holes as the pointy awl did not always hit the center of the slit that the iron makes. Also the slits were very hard to see.
                                             3.85mm Leather Craft Pricking Iron

After I had the chance to try a blanchard pricking iron I realised that the ebay irons could be altered so that they were similar to blanchard. They just need to have the teeth sanded down to make a wider mark.

I tried it with the 2 teeth iron and it seemed to work alright. Instead of making the teeth flat in the end it made sense to make them a bit more pointy.

To know how much need to be sanded down I marked it with a marker and scribed a line. The line is not that easy to see

I used a dremel for most of the grinding. I started with this cutting disc and cut as close to the line as I could.

I then used a grinding wheel right up to the line. I had the the iron clamped down on the table:

It was possible to get the teeth to almost the same length:

To even out the teeth I used sandpaper on a flat surface:

The point of the teeth are pretty wide now:

I would like the teeth to be a bit more sharp so I sanded them on the edge of the table:

So they now looked like this:

To get the teeth more pointy I used a sanding drum:

And ended up with this:

As you might have noticed the side of the teeth are rather rough. I did spend some time trying to figure out how to be able to sand them without spending too much time. I came to the conclusion that I needed som kind of slack belt sander to be able to get the sandpaper in between the teeth. As I do not have any kind of belt sander I was hoping that there might be some kind of slim sanding disc for the dremel I could use. Before searching online I look through the small box of accessories for the dremel and on the bottom I found the perfect tool for the job. A small sanding disc!

With this disc it took almost no time to sand between the teeth:

The finish is not perfect and not all the way down the teeth but I dont think that it will effect the performance.

So now for the moment of truth. Does it work? I think so. As you can see the marks are pretty consistent. Also the width, length and hole shape they make are good.

 Top: ebay iron. Bottom: Goodsjapan

I found some pictures of marks made by blanchard, amy roke and cmdachong and they are rather similar.

Top amy roke bottom blanchard

cmdachong (M) vs blanchard(VB)

The stitching also looks good here with lin cable 432 in white:            

I have always had a hard time figuring out if a pricking actually does something to the stitch or if it is simply a way of spacing the holes. I therefore tried to mark holes with a wing divider:

The stitching to the right is from the ebay iron and to the left holes marked with the wing divider

You see a clear difference. Using the wing divider the marks are not pressed very far into the leather and therefore the edge of each hole almost looks to lay on top of the thread. You could live with the result from the wing divider but using it for any more that a few holes just takes to long and also is not very precise.

The real questions is if some of the high end pricking irons preform better than the modified ebay iron. The marks that they make should be a bit more precise but I dont know how much you will be able to tell. I doubt that it will be 10-20 times better which is what you will pay for the extra precision.

The overall build quality and material choice of the high end iron are without a doubt much higher and will stand heavy duty use. The cheap ones from ebay will most certainly not. If you are a full time leather worker then the price could be justified. If you are a hobby leather worker you should consider spending your money on tools that will actually make a difference.


  1. Interesting post. With the increase in other tool makers from the states/ Far East, European makers (read Vergez Blanchard) need to up their game. For top dollar you better make sure that the product is consistent and finished well. Look what happened to J Dixon and all the other British makers. For all that, I am still not aware of other makers making pricking irons in 10, 12 spi other than VB.

  2. Yes it has been very interesting to follow the development of pricking irons the last few years. You are right regarding the high spi. for the moment VB seem to be the only one that has them.

  3. If you go second hand I believe J Dixon at least had irons up to 14 spi although these are quite rare. The chances of getting second hand straight tines at high spi's must be equally rare.

  4. Great post really intresting how you can manipulate a bog standard tools to perform similar with really expensive tools .

    1. Thanks. Yes it worked out really well. I think a lot of people over glorify the pricking iron thinking they need the most expensive one to get perfect sttiches. As long a the iron leaves a consistent mark then it comes down to your skills

  5. The job of pricking iron is to give slanted marks, in my opinion. Why don't you make the awl with the same size/width of pricking iron teeth. Then, use that awl to pierce thru the hold once pre-punched by the cheap irons. The iron gives nicely uniformed marks and the awl makes the holes. This should give the same effect of using expensive iron (ability to punch thru at one times due to its hardness/precision). How do you think?

  6. I am also using inexpensived pricking irons from eBay. It marks the hold very well. I always punched it half way and finished it by using the awl to pierce it thru. The reason of doing that is because the cheap iron is not strong enough. I am afraid to break it. Once stitching being done, the appearance of thread (front) is perfect. It lied neatly with zig-zag pattern. Same as what you are showing. But when you turn it over and look it the back side, stitching becomes a straight line. The stitching pattern between the front and back is not the same. I googled it and found many people having the same problem. Some say that it results from using cheap tooling. Since I have no expensive ones, I cannot prove this. Have you found the same problem or you do not realize of this. If this case is true, we can add another remarks on using cheap irons. Maybe you could look into this if you have time. Thanks a lot for your good posting.

  7. Ohhhh.. you have already answered this in this post https://andersenleather.blogspot.com/2015/10/sewing-leather-using-saddle-stitch.html
    My problem should be using thin leather, not the tool. Thanks a lot for your effort. I should have read this many months ago. Thanks indeed.