The purpose of this “how to” is to explain some of the steps and problems encountered in making an alligator belt or other exotic belt that requires the combination of two or more pieces. Actual construction of fashion quality belts requires more detail, steps and some precision leather equipment. Hopefully, after reading this, you will appreciate the detail and time involved in this handcrafted workmanship and understand why these products are expensive.
Alligator belts are made from two parts. The lining is ordinarily made from top grain or latigo cowhide. The alligator strip or cover, has very little tensile strength or body and is bonded to the lining. By combining these two materials, we create a product that has the beauty and durability of alligator and the texture and tensile strength of high quality leather
First, determine the belt width and size. Remember to add at least 11 inches to your belt size to accommodate the tip and buckle and one-quarter of an inch to the width to allow for the belt radius and alignment clearances and trimming. If you are lucky, you may be able to make a single lengthwise cut from the tail. Most genuine alligator belts are made from a series of cuts across the belly. Since these cuts are not long enough to make a belt, they are matched for color and scale pattern and spliced together. The opposite end of the first or tip piece is sliced or skived through at an angle from the flesh side through the finished side. The next piece to be joined is cut at an angle starting from the finished side and going through the flesh side from the opposite direction. The angles should match in order for the top of the tip side to be glued and placed on top of the bottom of the next joint. This process is repeated until the cover is long enough to match the lining length. Apply contact glue on both surfaces of the fresh cuts and put them together when the glue is ready. Tap with a hammer to secure the bond. The entire cover should be split or thinned to uniform thickness to facilitate forming the cover to the lining. Select a cover for the keeper at this time.
Cut your lining strip approximately 12 inches longer and one quarter of an inch wider than the finished belt length. Linings should be of high quality leather and never spliced together. The stiffest part should be placed at the tip end. Cut the shape of the tip but do not punch holes. If you want a rounded profile fashion belt, skive off the desired amount and shape completely around the belt. Be sure to cut from the flesh side of the leather as the finished product should have the hair side exposed. If the finished belt will be over 8 oz., 1 oz equals approximately 1/64th of an inch, the last 6 inches of the buckle end should be thinned down to approximately 6 oz at this time. This reduces bulk at the buckle end and the finished belt will be more comfortable to wear. Skive a 6 oz. piece of leather for the keeper.
Apply contact glue to the flesh side of the cover and lining and both parts of keeper and allow both sides of each to dry.
Gently lay, do not stretch, alligator cover on lining and do not allow any exposed part of the lining to show. Compress or tap cover to insure a good bond. Do the same with the keeper.
Trim sides of belt and keeper to desired width. Cut tip to desired shape. Starting 5 or 6 inches from tip, punch 5 evenly spaced holes, approximately 1 inch apart, in center of belt.
Measure from center hole to portion of belt that will bend around buckle. The center of the belt slot cut will be cut here. Slip the buckle on the belt, wrap the strap around the buckle and measure the distance of overlap required to accommodate the keeper and snaps. Cut the belt to length at this point. Place tip over buckle end and wrap keeper around both pieces. Cut keeper to length.
Remove the buckle and smooth all of the belt and keeper edges at this time. Remove excess glue and buff both sides of the components. Paint all raw edges. Smooth paint. Paint and apply finish sealer to all edges. Sew around edges if you wish. On belts that will use snaps to attach the buckles, punch holes for the snaps and buckle pin slot. Install snaps. Sew or staple keeper together. Install keeper and buckle on belt and snap shut. If buckle is to stitched on place buckle and keeper on end with slot and sew belt crosswise to attach components. Apply polish to both sides of belt and you are finished.