In-scale working tongue buckles are a hallmark of most high quality model horse tack. However, when it comes making holes for those buckle tongues to go into, the tackmaker confronts the problem--how to punch holes on straps as small as one sixteenth of an inch. If you go to a leather store and ask for a hole punch, this is what you will get:
While the smallest setting on this punch will work OK for wider straps like Western saddle billets, it still isn't ideal. For a long time, I simply poked holes in my straps with an awl. That worked in a sense, but the holes didn't stay open very well and made adjusting the buckles really, really frustrating. I'd heard of people fashioning hole punches out of hypodermic needles, but didn't feel that enterprising.
And then one day it came to me--Mechanical pencils!
I bought this set of mechanical pencils some five years ago and have punched untold thousands of holes with them. I found them at Office Depot and spent about $15 for the pair. It's important that the tip be metal--the cheapie plastic tips won't work. I use the bigger one (size .07) for 1/8 inch and larger straps. The smaller one (.05) is perfect for 3/32" straps and works fine on 1/16" straps too, provided you punch your hole in the exact center of the strap. There simply isn't enough width to be off to one side or the other. There are some days, even after all this time, that I just can't punch a line of holes on 1/16" lace without breaking the the strap.
Here's how you do it. Ryan has centered the pencil over the prepared strap which is placed on a plastic cutting mat (I found mine at the Leather Factory). He lifts the mallet a couple inches over the top of the pencil...
...and brings the mallet down with a sharp tap. If Ryan was a serious tack maker he would hold the pencil straight up and down rather than off at this angle. However, Ryan is far more interested in science and technology than horses and tack so he doesn't care if his holes are less than perfect!Here's a picture of the finished product--a nice, neat line of in scale holes on your leather strap.Please let me know if you found this tutorial to be helpful. If the response is positive, I will post some more Tack Tips in the future.