Clintonville Leather is somewhat of a new discovery for me, as I had come across Bill’s work on reddit only just a few months ago. Bill’s crafts drew my attention immediately, as there was a heavy Americana flavour which was rugged and authentic, a spirit which is pursued by many leather craftsman both American and Japanese, but seldom achieved. I was surprised that I had not come across Clintonville Leather earlier, but I later found out that Bill had began leather crafting about 6 years ago, around the time this blog had gone into hiatus.
In conversation, I was particularly impressed by Bill’s philosophy when it comes to making leather goods – authentic materials, crafted to his best ability, designed to last for decades, respecting both value to the customer and sustainability in his work. Bill’s harness leather work belt really brings these themes to the fore, and so today I shall take you on a tour of this very unique belt.
The leather from which the belt strap was made is a special one indeed: Hermann Oak’s ‘Old World’ harness leather, in russet colour, which I measured at a tremendous thickness of 17.5 oz.
This is one of the most expensive and difficult to produce leathers in North America, and on top of that Bill utilises special order thicknesses that are beyond what is usually advertised (12 oz+). The side of leather has been skivved using a special machine to achieve better consistency in thickness – could you imagine certain portions of the leather could be up to 10mm thick?
This Hermann Oak harness leather is vegetable tanned, and undergoes drum stuffing with oils & beef tallow. The resulting leather that you see here is not only incredibly thick, but also immensely dense and surprisingly supple. The high oil & tallow content contributes to the incredible durability and toughness of this harness leather.
The handfeel is more textured compared with the average skirting leather, and the surface appearance is more variegated (marbled) compared with similar harness leather offerings from Triple C or Thoroughbred (belts made from which have been featured on this blog some years ago). The grain structure is relatively flat at this time, which is to be expected given the drum stuffing and waxy finish – I suspect the grain will open up with time and wear. The backside of the leather is very nicely finished.
In past posts on this blog – based on experiences with harness leathers from Triple C and Thoroughbred (courtesy of Scott Willis) – I have advocated for denimheads to choose harness leather over natural skirting leather for their belts, based on concerns regarding durability and ease of care. This Old World harness from Hermann Oak offers the same advantages being hard-wearing and dummy-proof, not to mention the aesthetics of the leather grain is a better match with indigo denim and the fact that harness leather looks great from the get go and will produce good evolution results most of the time, whereas there are many – in my opinion – ugly looking natural skirting belts out there.
Styling, Hardware, Details & Construct
There is no doubt this Clintonville Leather belt is an Americana work belt – just look at it! Out of all the reproduction belts made by various Japanese leather workshops I’ve seen over the years, nothing comes close to the genuine ruggedness projected by this heavy duty belt – what we have here is an heirloom quality belt made with all-American materials.
Indeed, this belt looks and feels unique because it is an oddity even among its American peers. In the past few years, artisanal belts that are hand-made in North America are increasingly looking like the belts made popular by the Japanese workwear leather revival: more refined, more streamlined, and yet losing a sense of old-world cool and heavy-duty feel for which American leather crafts had been known.
That’s not the case with our belt here though. As an example, take a look at the custom hardware featured here that has been hand-forged by Bill out of 99% pure copper.
On the buckle, everything from the roller to the prong is hand-forged, solid copper. Marks from the forging process are clearly visible, and should produce interesting patina results down the track.
The keeper is a real beauty, and precisely made too. Given that the copper hardware is hand-forged rather than cast produced, maintaining shape and dimensional correctness is a real challenge for Bill. The fact that all the components fit together and work well as one is a testament to Bill’s careful work. The finishing on the metal is top notch – very smooth and does not damage the leather at all.
Solid copper, punch-thru style rivets are used here – these are also made in the USA, of course. My philosophy towards belt purchasing has always been that the buckle fold needs to be secured either with hand-stitching or solid rivets; I’m not a fan at all of Chicago screws or hollow rivets, and I’m glad Bill feels the same way. The rivets are well placed, and Bill has neatly flattened the back of the rivets too!
For a personal touch, Bill has stamped in the American flag just beneath the keeper, and also at the back of the buckle fold we have the Clintonville brand stamp and what looks like my initials 🙂
The strap is neatly cut, the consistency of which is remarkable given the monstrous thickness of this Old World harness leather. Bill utilises a specially modified strap cutting tool to achieve this – the average box cutter is not enough to do this job. The prong hole is neat and secure, with neither the buckle or the prong shaking loose when the belt is worn.
The belt tip is precisely finished, a continuation of the very precise edge work throughout the strap. Even though the belt appears rugged, the consistency and careful attention to detail are deceptively deep.
Looking more closely, you’ll see that Bill has created a gorgeous rounded edge through top & bottom beveling and one of the best burnishes I’ve ever seen on a belt. The process utilized here is painstaking, at first requiring progressively finer sanding down of the leather, followed by multiple rounds of burnishing that is done with wood, beeswax and hands. The result here stands up to scrutiny even under macro photography.
This polished edge work can be further found in the oval shaped prong holes! It goes without saying that a lot of time and elbow grease was involved, even in the smallest details of this belt. The shape and the size of the holes, for example, work seamlessly with the extra thick, hand-forged prong.
I’ve sampled and tested many vegetable tanned belts over the years – I look over at my belt rack as I type this, and there are at least twenty, with a few more in storage – and even when it comes to harness belts I’ve already tried at least 3 different harness leathers. Even so, this Clintonville Leather harness belt manages to stand out in my collection, with an unique vibe that is quite exciting for me.
Perhaps it is the combination of the extremely thick Old World harness leather and the rugged, hand-forged hardware? Maybe it is the juxtaposition of the overall heavy-duty aesthetics of the belt with the very finely crafted details? Or it could be that the forged copper roller buckle is just so bad-ass? There are a few different reasons why this belt stands out, even among custom artisan-made belts.
This belt is very much suited to the denim hobby: the thickness and ruggedness of the harness leather is a great match with heavy weight Japanese denims, not to mention the copper hardware and the russet colour of the strap complement the various shades and tones of indigo very nicely. The harness leather will evolve with wear and elemental exposure too, though the initial colour change will not be as dramatic as that of natural skirting leathers.
In the past few years, I’ve noticed that belts have become one of the main money-makers for many craftsman, and for the growth of their brands or simply to pay the bills, often belts are made in batches – a more streamlined process, to ensure the crafting is efficient and economical. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and the resulting belts would still be considered hand-crafted (and probably much better compared to what you might find at the mall.)
That’s not what we’re looking at here though. Bill has devoted time and effort into this belt, to the degree that you might consider this belt is made in the most authentic and considered way. Consider that the edges of the belt are progressively sanded down before successive burnishes, or that top & bottom beveling is used to created a truly rounded edge – there are no short-cuts here.
At approximately USD $150 I would consider this belt to be very good value, given the premium materials and the insane amount of actual man power and time involved in its creation. Keep in mind too, that apart from raising the cattle, tanning the leather and manufacturing the rivet, everything that about this belt has been created by Bill.
Cheaper and more utilitarian belts are available at Clintonville Leather of course, and modifications can be made to your belt that would increase or decrease the price and change the overall appearance of the belt, but I have to say Bill’s no-compromise heirloom belts are a must try.
All in all, this belt is one of the most unique and well made work belts I’ve seen. This belt should outlive many pairs of jeans, and with a bit of care might last longer than you or I.
Even if Americana or work-wear leathers is not generally your style, looking over Bill’s work will give you a little more idea with regards to expectations of value & craft the next time you seek out custom leather goods.
For denimheads and fans of mil pro or work-wear, I’d very much recommend getting your own version of a harness belt made by Bill. Check out the Clintonville Leather webshop!