Bookbinding 101: Hole Punching Tools

 Hollow Punch

Hollow Punch

Hollow Punch

For making largish holes in leather and book board you can use a hollow punch, which has a sharpened, tube-shaped hole on one end, and a flat head on the other end. Ours has replaceable tips for different size holes, but some hollow punches come in sets with a different punch for a different size hole.

To make a hole, place something soft but dense underneath, such as a scrap of book board, or an old phone book or catalog. This will act as a pad to protect your work surface, so make sure it's thick enough to allow the punch to go into without going all the way through it. Avoid punching holes anywhere that if the punch does go all the way through both your material and your pad, it won't leave a hole where you don't want one (kitchen table, etc).

Next, place the hollow end of the punch on your material where you want a hole, hold the punch vertical, and hit the flat head with a hammer. Hit it hard. Repeat as needed. It can be a chore, but, as it requires wielding a hammer, it can also be satisfying.


This is our current hole punching tool of choice, which speeds things up considerably, doesn't wake the neighbors, and makes the chore of punching a lot of holes less of a chore. However, just like getting a dishwasher after washing by hand, it doesn't take long before the ease of doing dishes, or punching holes, becomes a chore again. Cure: use the hollow punch and hammer to punch a lot of holes, then the Crop-A-Dile becomes a dream to use again.

The Crop-A-Dile comes in three flavors, designated by a I, II, or III, only two of which are for hole punching. (The Crop-A-Dile III, or Main Squeeze, is not for hole punching, but for die cutting, embossing, attaching corners and setting squeeze tabs. What's a squeeze tab?)

The Crop-A-Dile I (original) and Crop-A-Dile II (or Big Bite) both punch holes of two sizes, 1/8", and  3/16". They also set snaps and eyelets, which is handy. The main advantage of the Big Bite is it has a 6" reach, while the original can only punch 1" from the edge of your material.

There is one style of book, a quasi-longstitch, for which we use the Crop-A-Dile I to punch holes in signatures (a group of pages). But, for most styles of books we use an awl for punching holes in the signatures/pages. However, a Crop-A-Dile could be used to punch holes in pages of other book styles too. Just depends on what you like.

With our Crop-A-Dile I and Crop-A-Dile II we have punched tens of thousands of holes with each of them, in book board, paper, and leather. And they're still going strong.

Japanese screw punch

Another tool is the Japanese screw punch. Some bookbinders really love it. It looks much like a hollow punch, but instead of hitting it hard, you push down, and as you push, it twists on a screw, increasing its punching power.

Leather hole punch

One final hole making tool is a leather hole punch. We have one of these but rarely use it because it's much more difficult to use than a crop-a-dile but it does give more options for hole sizes so we keep it on hand for the rare time we might want a different size hole.