Tool Cabinet Handles




A while ago, Adrienne and I bought this great big tool cabinet from Harbor Freight. It’s been super useful. The one problem is, the only space we have for it is in the living room. It clashes with our otherwise old-timey decor. How to make this beast play well with others? Replace the ugly square silver handles with handmade leather drawer pulls.

I started off with a design on paper. The middle part will either fold over or get sewn in the round.


I traced the pattern onto some stiff plastic, to make a cutting template. IMG_5221 IMG_5222

Here’s the completed template, cut out with scissors.IMG_5223

I’m going to test the template out with some scrap leather, a similar weight to what we’re using on the final product. IMG_5224

Initial cutting. Garment leather is always a bit trickier to cut than untreated boot leather.  IMG_5225

Sewing leather isn’t like sewing fabric. You need to make all your holes in advance. To start with, you use a divider to score a line where the stitch will run.IMG_5227

Next, use the divider to mark out where the holes will go, This ensures an even stitch. Some people also use a marking wheel (like a little spur on a stick) for this purpose. IMG_5228

Once the stitch holes are marked, you punch them out with an awl. Unless you’re a hardcore saddler, then you only punch each hole just before you sew it. I’m not a hardcore saddler. IMG_5229

We decided that a round handle would be better than folding the leather over. Waxed thread and a curved needle are just the ticket for this job. IMG_5230

To give the handle some body, I’m improvising dowels from take-out chopsticks.  IMG_5231

Marking the length on the stick.


I punched holes at either end for the drawer screws. IMG_5233

Here’s the prototype handle in-situ. I grabbed some bolts to test it out.IMG_5234

Functionally, the handle works just fine.


Testing it out, we both agreed that it sticks out a bit too much, and the middle part can probably be a tad shorter. IMG_5236

Back to the drawing board for prototype #2. IMG_5237

The second template worked out much better. Now it’s on to mass production! We had a pile of leather swatches from a furniture store, including this very nice “Reno Brown”.

It ended up being easier to cut the fleur-de-lys shapes on the end with scissors, as opposed to a hobby blade. If you were mass-producing these, you’d have a clicker die made that would just punch them out in one shot. You could probably do these on a laser cutter, too. IMG_5246

Edges marked, just a bit closer to the edge than on the prototype. IMG_5247

All marked out for punching!IMG_5248

The holes are punched, and it’s time to stitch. IMG_5249

It’s a bit time-consuming, but once you get started, you really get into the swing of it. I did most of these while binge watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with Adrienne.IMG_5255

Big reveal time. Here’s the cabinet with the old handles…IMG_5286

And here it is with the new ones! Looks way better.IMG_5289

I got some brass cap nuts from the hardware store, that fit on the screws that held in the original handles. I wish I could have cut the ends cleaner…but there’s only so much you can do with leather if you don’t have at least commercial-grade tools and machinery. Still, the handles feel good, work well and look sexy. I’m calling this one a win.IMG_5293


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