What Is A Head Knife? Here’s All You Need To Know!

The head knife or round knife symbolizes the craft of leatherwork and it’s one of the leatherwork’s most versatile tools. In this article, I did some research on this iconic tool and here’s all I found.

So, what is a head knife/round knife? The head or round knife is a curved or round-shaped blade on a wooden handle and it’s a general purpose knife widely used for cutting thick leather, basic shapes, straight and curved cuts, etc. It’s a very useful leatherwork tool and can serve many purposes you’d never imagine.

With the head/round knifes odd-looking nature far from what you would expect a knife to look like, it can be hard to figure out what purposes it could serve.

Keep reading to find out more basic and creative ways you can use this knife and will probably help you have save some money especially when you’re just starting out and don’t want to buy a bunch of tools.

Details on The Head Knife

The head knife/round knife are designed to make cutting heavy or thick leather a lot easier for the user. As overwhelming as they may appear, it’s really easy to use.

However, you will need a bit of practice to get used to how to handle it and soon you will be able to make simple maneuver cuts to more complicated cuts in one slither like a boss! 😀

The head knife or round knife no matter the brand you would come across would look same or similar. The design and build of a round knife can be broken down into three sections as that’s all there is.

There’s the blade and as mentioned earlier in this article, has a curved or oval-like shape with two sharp pointy edges on either side of the blade where the curve ends.

The pointy edges are very sharp and these sharp pointy edges makes it possible to make complex cuts using a round knife.

The blade of the head knife could come in a variety of metals such as stainless steel or carbon steel and it’s solely dependent on the metal choice of the manufacturer. Upon purchase, all you will have to do is to give it a quick sharpening and polish and you’re good to go.

Mostly, what I have found is that after a while of usage with leather, the blade begins to dull due to the grease transfer from the leather. What I’ve found to be extremely helpful is to polish or buff the blade frequently like say 2-3 times a week and sharpening it once a week to say the least.

Another part of the head knife or round knife that you will also find is that they have a wooden handle that nicely and comfortably sits in the palm of the user.

These handles will be some type of polished hard wood that are super durable and ergonomically designed to enable you use it painlessly for prolonged periods of time without causing fatigue to you’re hand.

The head knife or round knife can also be used in both hands. So you’re not going to have a hard time if you’re ambidextrous or use either hand.

With the head knife, how you hold it is really important and it’s a make or break. You can get a horrible cut and might have to go get some stitches from the emergency ward if this tool is held wrong.

How you hold it is very similar to how you’d hold a table tennis bat in the backhand position. Here, you put the entire handle of the head knife between your palm and held firmly with all but the index finger. And where the index finger goes is on the flat surface of the blade to prevent the blade from spinning freely or wobbling when you cut.

In the middle section of the head knife is a ferrule that holds the blade to the handle. The ferrule also vary in material and could me metal, brass, plastic, rubber, etc. I personally prefer metal or brass ferrules as it’s obviously more durable.

While there are fairly large and small head knives, generally the head knife or round knife would weight somewhere between 3 ounces to 4 ounces with the blade measuring between 4-1/2 from one pointy edge to another point and 2-3/8 from center of cutting edge. These are all averages and again, will obviously depend on the manufacturer.

What is a Head Knife Used For?

This tool is versatile and has many uses. In this section of the post, I share with you some practical ways in which you can able to properly use this tool to work efficiently in collaboration with other simple tools.

Now, What is a Head Knife/Round Knife Used For? The head knife or round knife can be used to;

  • Cut Round Corners of leather
  • Make Straight Cuts thick leather
  • Cut Long Gradual Curves from leather
  • Skiving the Edges of Leather
  • Making Quick Short Cuts and Long Cuts on Thick Leather and any weight of leather

1. Cut Round Corners

The head knife or the round knife can be used to turn a perfectly sharp 90 degree angle leather edge into a very round edge corner within a matter of seconds.

You can attain this kind of cut with the head knife by rocking it back and forth over the sharp edge of the leather forming out the round corner in the process.

You can also place a coin over the sharp edge as a guide as you rock the head knife along to get a perfectly rounded edge.

This can be used to round the corners of flaps, straps, etc of bags, belts, wallets, purses, etc.

2. Making Straight Cuts

The head knife or round knife is one of the best leatherwork cutting tools for making straight cuts on leather including thick leathers.

To make a straight cut, you sit as much of the heel or pointed edge on the end of the round knife into the leather you want to cut and push or rock it forward to cut. By doing this, it keeps the blade sturdy and straight as you push without using a metal ruler.

3. Cut Long Gradual Curves

If you need to make a long winding cut on a leather and you want a tool that can give you a lot of control and is very easy to use, the round knife or head knife is your tool.

The curve on the head knife make this very easy and smooth. It will, however, take a bit of practice to be able to do this since you won’t be using any form of guide for this type of cuts.

You will as well start by sitting the very tip or heel of the knife into the leather and then pushing it forward as you slither, cutting the leather. It’s cuts are really clean than the pull cut method using a box cutter or an Ex acto knife.

4. Skiving

Skiving is reducing the thickness of leather either at the edges of the leather or portions of the leather surface mostly on the flesh side. The round knife or head knife can be used to thin down the edges of leather such as the inside pockets, seams, folds, etc. but can be challenging if you’re a beginner. But with constant practice, you should be able to nail a perfect skive with a head knife like a pro.

Eventually, you will have to the appropriate tool especially for skiving since skiving is a major leatherwork skill you will have to master and you’re better of using the appropriate skiving tools.

You can check out an article I wrote earlier about the best skiving knives for leather. In this article, you will find different kinds of leather skiving knives that will suit your skiving and budget needs.

5. Making Roll or Rock Cut

The roll cut is essential for making quick short cuts or long strip cuts on very thick leather. With short quick cuts, you simply position the heel of the head knife on your cutting board with the leather placed close to the positioned heel and them rocking the head knife forward along the part of the leather you want trimmed off and snap it’s done.

On the other hand, if you have a long thick leather to cut, you first of all sit the heel of the knife 2 or 3 inches into the leather and then rock the blade back and forth from the tip where the heel is sat towards the middle section of the blade while pulling the strip of leather towards you. This will make a clean cut and is better than the push method you will usually use.

My head knife or round knife of choice that will be able to fulfill all the above function and more is the Tandy Leather Al Stohlman Brand Round Leathercraft Knife. If you’re interested, you can check out it’s latest price over here on Amazon since the prices are always being changed.

There are some other equally high quality round or head knives for leather. You can check out this article where I did a thorough review of the best round knives for leather.

How to Use and Care For a Head Knife/Round Knife

Watch a Video on how to use and care for a head knife / Round Knife on leather


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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