Which sewing machines are best for thick leather

Until the spread of the current yuck is contained and masks are no longer required, I can’t spend a lot of time in places like DMS. So, I can’t do classes and I’m stuck collecting stuff for holster making here. As such, I have a stupid question for folks who are a lot more qualified to answer than me.

I’m looking for a relatively inexpensive sewing machine that I can use for doing up to 4 layers of 8-9oz Veg Tan leather for making holsters, sheaths, and pouches. (This is my upper limits, most common is going to be 2 layers.) What I don’t know is what qualifies as “good enough” for this kind of work. Would the Rex handle this kind of workload? Or the Pfaff? (I know that the Thor and machines like that are definitely out of my price range.)

1 Like

I’d say go to ebay, look for “leather sewing machine” and buy something old and potentially terrifying. All the sewing machines I’ve ever seen that can handle thick leather look like they can eat a hand though.

I know nothing about the Rex. I don’t think the Pfaff, sturdy iron workhorse that it is, would handle 4 layers of veg-tan.

Forgive my lack of knowledge about leather weights. Is that kind of an upholstery weight? Thicker? You could probably get 2 layers of upholstery weight on the Pfaff.

Be aware that our Pfaff is Not A Modern Machine. It works on leather because it’s the old-style iron construction. Modern machines tend to have plastic gears and such – not good for leather. If you wanted a Pfaff like ours, you’d have to look through used machine sites. It’s definitely in one of those old cabinets. Maybe like a 50’s style carrying case? My mom’s Singer Golden Touch-n-sew from the 60’s was in a plastic case.

Lemme go do some google fu…

For the best bang for the buck, without breaking the bank, I’d consider this guy’s recommendation.

Other than being hand-cranked, it seems like a good value @$115 (maybe $150 once you build the base for it).


Rex RX-518, while it says all-metal construction, says max “medium weight fabric”. Maybe thin garment leathers, but not a veg-tan. Seriously? Is their “all-metal” aluminum?? Foil??

Rex 607Z – the review says it goes up to sailcloth, which is pretty heavy. Still, probably more upholstery weight.

I don’t think the Rex would have been able to do 2-3 layers, much less 4. Same for the Pfaff. Four layers of upholstery leather, probably. Sturdy veg-tan, I suspect you’d burn up the motor or screw up the timing.

Thor was purchased from Sunny Sewing, and is a knock-off of more $$ machines. But it was two grand or so.

Just asking…
Is there a reason you don’t want to hand stitch? Granted, punching the stitching holes is a PITA, but the actual stitching is kind of relaxing.

Paging @matthshooter

From the review of the 607Z:

“With the aforementioned power and speed, REX 607Z is claimed to be powerful enough to handle 4 layers of soft leather, canvas, vinyl or even upholstery fabrics. It is supposed to work well on jobs like leather bags, footwear, banners, awnings, backpack, and curtains. As it has been mentioned earlier, this machine is very straightforward with no additional features beside stitching zigzag and straight and when tested, it live to the words and works just as what it said.”

Doesn’t sound like the reviewer actually used it on leather. They’re just reporting the specs.

Actually, if you could be here early morning or late night, right now we are very much capable of near-excessive social-distancing. Although, you’d already have to be trained on the Thor…

I’d advise try doing it on our Pfaff, it’s a model 130. Ours was built in 1952 or 1953. If you use knife edge leather blades it is surprising what it will go through. It’s often referred to as the Pfaffenbeast … when you pick it up you’ll understand why. It’s a great piece of German engineering, the only plastic in it’s power train is the belt for the motor.

Pfaff sewing heavy leather
General Search General search

One advantage over typical dedicated sewing machines is it has a variety of stitch patterns. If is it usable for you needs, great machine and parts and service readily available. We got ours on eBay about 5 years ago.

1 Like

What I’m working with is about 1/8 in thick leather… which adds up quickly. I’d need to clear at least half an inch of leather… with the force to punch through.

I have one of those hand-crank machines. It’s actually not a bad machine, but it just isn’t designed to go through up to half an inch of leather. My tests with it had it struggling with two layers of leather.

Hand stitching is nice and relaxing, but takes a very long time. Specifically, I already have a couple folks who want me to make them holsters.

Unfortunately, I’m not “trained” on any of the sewing machines at DMS, though I have worked with these types of machines elsewhere. I would love to get a refresher someday in the future when we either have a vaccine or something and it’s safe again for people like me to be out and about for prolonged periods.

As to the reason I can’t come to the makerspace right now is the COVID-19 response policy which makes no provisions for “any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering” (GA-29). I have health issues that make the prolonged use of a mask at best uncomfortable and at worst potentially dangerous for me. So, to abide by state and federal guidelines, I avoid spending a lot of time inside places where I must wear a mask (and I go through a metric tonne of hand sanitizer). So, I’m setting up a tiny leather shop here at home. (And a decent woodshop… though I really have to finish my lathe stand.)


I had a similar desire such as yours. I ended up going with a Cobra Class 26. It does everything that I need. The Class 4 is a step up and if I was doing saddles I may have gone with it. I have done three layers of 9-10 oz on my 26. It will sew nearly 1/2" of leather. I do sheaths and holsters regularly.

1 Like

I’d love to get something like the Cobra Class 26 but that $2,200 price tag makes me wince pretty heavily. I know that a machine to do what I need isn’t going to be the cheapest thing in the world, I just can’t swallow that much… That’s why I was kinda hoping to get something that might be a bit more in my price range.

I guess if the answer comes down to over $1,000 no matter what, I’m just gonna have to figure out something to make hand stitching quicker, especially if I start selling my leather goods.


You can cut the patterns out on the laser (vegtan only - not chrome tanned) and predrill the stitch holes that way. Laying out six per inch holes 0.05” in diameter has worked for me. Wetting the leather before lasering reduces char on the edges.

I’ve been meaning to experiment with cutting diamonds or even just diagonal slits instead of circles, but haven’t gotten around to it.


Cutting out the leather is the best part!

it certainly comes down to how you much are sewing things. I have done a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have done had a I not had a good machine. There are other good machines out there but when you start talking the thickness of leather that you are the field narrows.

Thanks for this. I am preparing a pattern and wanted to use the laser to make all my holes. I need to try the slots as well. I have a project I want to lace and was planning on cutting it out with the laser too.

What’s the general thought on a Singer 16-188 Industrial? Is it good or bad for the kind of sewing I’m planning on doing? And, if so, is $350 (head only, no table/motor) a good price for it?

I am by no means an expert. I don’t believe that machine will sew the thickness you are wanting.