Leathercraft Safety For the Arts

Leathercraft or leatherworking activities include the use of techniques and processes such as ornamenting, sewing, cutting, carving, staining, stamping, punching, gluing, and burning leather. Leather dyes and preservatives used for tanning may be very acidic or contain heavy metals. Cuts, punctures, bruises, burns, and scrapes to the fingers and hands are common injuries sustained during leathercraft activities.


  • Potential cuts from leather shears, awls, knives, and other cutting tools, as well as punctures from leather needles may occur.
  • Fingers, appendages, and hair may be caught in pinch-points on machines.
  • Eye injury may occur from flying pieces due to stamping or punching leather.
  • Heavy or sharp tools (e.g. mallets, mauls, utility knives) may be dropped on your feet if your workspace is cluttered, if you accidentally strike your hand, etc.
  • Toxic vapors from rubber and contact cements are poisonous to inhale and ingest due to the composition of hazardous solvents (acetone, heptane, isopropyl alcohol, p-dichlorobenzene, trichloroethane).
  • Tannery chemicals may contain arsenic or chrome compounds, and have been linked to increased rates of bladder cancer and leukemia among tannery employees.


  • Know the materials you plan to work with.  Always review the SDSs for all chemicals (i.e. stains and dyes)  used in a process so that you are fully aware of the hazards and how to mitigate those hazards, and use the least toxic and least hazardous materials possible. 
  • Avoid tanning and dyeing your own leather. Buy pre-processed leather for leatherworking.
  • Obtain a hot works permit prior to using an electric burner. These can be obtained by calling 413-545-2682 during regular business hours. Before working with an electric burner, visually inspect the burner and power cord for damage.
  • When not in use, always place a heated electric burner in its tool rest. Disconnect the electric burner from the power source when the burning task is completed.
  • Prior to use, visually inspect all sharp and pounding tools for excessive wear or damage. Check leather knives, cutters, and shear blades for dullness, and do not use dull tools.
  • Follow cut and puncture safety protocol. Please consult the cut and puncture prevention SOP (https://ehs.umass.edu/cut-and-puncture-prevention) and the Cut Safety Video (https://vimeo.com/583032765) for more information. Cut resistant gloves are recommended for sharp tools. Please consult the glove selection guide: https://ehs.umass.edu/glove-selection
  • When using a mallet or maul, strike the head of the tool accurately and firmly to achieve the desired pattern effect, cut, or punch hole. Do not overstrike the tool.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes (steel-toed shoes are encouraged if heavy objects that could fall on your feet are present), safety glasses, and a heavy fabric or leather apron.
  • Never use bent or broken needles (or other tools) to sew leather.
  • Rubber and contact cements produce toxic vapors and should only be used either in well ventilated areas or while using a respirator with organic vapor cartridges. If you think you may need respirator protection, please contact EH&S (respirators@umass.edu) for an assessment of your process and assistance with selection and fit-testing of appropriate respiratory protection. 
  • Use gloves when applying leather stains. Put a small amount of stain on a cloth or other applicator and recap the stain container before applying the stain to the leather.