When a good leather tool belt starts to fall apart, don't throw it away. With basic leatherworking tools you can easily fix holes and tears and get more productive years out of it.
Repair ripped tool belt pockets with a leather-stitching awl. For new seams, avoid breaking the needle by pushing the awl straight through the leather layers instead of rocking it back and forth. For repairing seams, push the awl straight through the old seam holes.
Create lock stitches on the underside of your seam by sending the original leader thread (made by the first stitch) through each loop of subsequent stitches. Sewing with a needle and thread requires you to work from each side of a seam. Lock stitching allows the awl to operate from the topside of a seam, like a sewing machine, so the needle doesn't have to maneuver inside tight pockets.
Reinforce pocket seams with a hand rivet tool after you've sewn them. Select either a 1/8-in. drill bit or 16d nail and make a hole for the rivet adjacent to the pocket seam. Open the handles of the rivet tool, load a 1/8-in. medium rivet, push the tip of the rivet through all the layers of leather deep into the hole and squeeze the tool handles several times until you hear a snap. The tip will mushroom out to pinch the rivet around the leather. Remove the snapped-off rivet shank from the tool.
When I bought my tool belt, Reagan was in his second term, “Magnum P.I.” was king and I had a 34-in. waist. Time marches on, and my comfortable old tool belt now has nails leaking from the rips in the main pouch and my utility knife poking out of its compartment. Sound familiar? It's time to invest about an hour and a few bucks in materials to fix it.
The sewing machines at shoe repair shops could fix the seam on the edge of your main nail bag, but they can't get to those seams farther in from the edge. Handstitched repairs are expensive, so buy the leather-stitching awl shown here and do all the repairs yourself (Photo 1). This tool is easy to learn to use and its sturdy needles and heavy waxed thread are also perfect for repairing boots, canvas convertible tops and heavy vinyl tarps.
The building blocks for sewing with a stitching awl are the “lock stitches” visible on the underside of the seam (Photo 2). Lock stitches work best when an underside is either in a tight pocket or in the middle of a broad area of material where you can't easily maneuver a regular sewing needle through the seam.
Once you learn how to use the awl, you can sew about 12 to 15 seam inches per hour. When stitching “interior” pocket seams over the main nail bag, avoid sewing the main bag closed by putting your hand inside to separate it from where the awl is stitching the pocket seam above.
Once you've repaired the pocket stitches, reinforce the seams using a hand rivet tool (Photo 3). For large pockets, install several rivets spaced 1/2 to 1 in. apart.
Piercing the layers of leather requires steady force on the awl; keep the hand that's inside the pouch clear of the needle as it suddenly plunges through the seam.