The Simple Secret to Tap-Off Design

Tap your way to stunning design with this quick and simple method of stamping leather. Tap-off designs combine the ease of carve aids with all the details you’ve added to a pattern to make it unique. The best part about this method is that excellent design is a stone’s throw away and could be as cheap as free-99! 

So, grab your scrap and give this method a try after getting some advice from our resident master craftsman, Denny Lowe. 

Why Use a Tap-Off? 

Tap-off patterns are reusable patterns that you make yourself. They give you the option to consistently reproduce work that is unique to your style, taste and specifications. They’re also a quick way to get started on an elaborate tooling project or to just…make an impression. Unlike craft aids, the tap off pattern will press the design into the leather instead of just the outlines. 


The supply list for this is pretty simple. Of course, you’ll need to use whatever tools your project calls for when it comes to adding all of the detail, so we’ll keep this list simple and only include things you need to make your pattern and press it into other leather. 

Spray Bottle of Water 
Hammer or mallet 
Carving Knife 
Punch/Rotary Punch (optional
Design or Pattern – this can come from your imagination or an actual pattern

Making a Pattern

Check out this throwback video of Denny and Kevin talking through making and using a tap off pattern. Keep reading for a text breakdown of the video! 

Making a tap-off pattern is as easy as carving! You can use a pattern or craft aid to guide the design of your tap-off, or you can do it freehand. You can also use another tap-off pattern or unorthodox materials that will make an impression in your leather! 

Denny recommends using a firm piece of 8-9 oz leather and dampen it well. The exact amount takes some practice, but keep in mind that you’re going to be making deep cuts and the wetter the leather, the easier it is to sink your tools into. Of course that doesn’t mean you should soak it, so add water gradually as you work. 

Use your pattern, craft aid or tap-off to make an impression and use your swivel knife to carve out your design. You’ll want to carve pretty deep into the leather. 

Pro-tip: when using a swivel knife, watch where you’re getting ready to cut – not where you already have. 

Cut your pattern out of the leather piece. If you want to clean up some inside curves, leave some space around the edges. Denny left 1/4″ around the edges. You can use a rotary punch or just a regular punch to perfect the curves. This will help make your imperfect knife work a little closer to being perfect. Place the punch just inside the curve you’re looking to refine and go for it. The size you’ll need depends on the pattern – or just skip this step altogether. 

Use a utility knife or a lacing chisel like Denny to remove the extra leather around the edge. Be sure to use a hard surface underneath like a poly board or rubber on top of granite or marble. 

Once you’re done, use a clear coat of some kind to waterproof it and keep it firm. It will stop the leather from expanding and wearing down. This is ideal for using scrap. 

Denny Tip: While nothing is perfect, take your time and get them as nice as you can since you’ll be reusing them. 

You can also make detailed tap off patterns, but keep in mind that your tapped pattern will be a mirrored image. 

Using Your New Pattern

This is the easiest part of the process! Just wet your leather and hold your pattern down. Then use a hammer of just about any kind on a hard surface and tap away! 

Thanks for reading folks! If you have any additional questions be sure to use the Inbox button at the top of this page or use the form on our website to get an email from Kevin, Denny or one of the other fine professionals from SLC. Until next time!