The TIE Pilot belt is the same belt as used by all Imperial officers. There are a few different ways to make the belt. The most common method uses the 2″ wide belt blank and the rectangular buckle blank found at Tandy Leather. This is how I went about making my belt. If you don’t have a Tandy near where you live, these items can be ordered off their website.
Items Needed –
– Tandy # 44518-00 Natural Cowhide Belt Blank 2″
– Tandy # 11688-00 Rectangle Buckle Blank 2″
– Tandy # 3003-00 Mini Punch Set
– Tandy # 3445-00 Wool Daubers
– Tandy # 2100-01 Fiebings Dye 4 oz USMC Black
– Tandy # 2270-01 Fiebings Resolene 4 oz
** OR **
– Tandy # 22001-00 Spray Super Shene Leather Finish
A few items that need to be mentioned… If you are hand selecting your leather belt blank, look through all of the ones they have in stock and pick one with no, or the least amount of, defects in the leather. I discovered that a lot of the blanks had a flaw or a “line” in the leather. These flaws will still show up after dying.
The buckle blank is not intended to be a finished buckle, and is made to have a tooled leather cover fitted over it. Because of this, the buckle blank will have pits or marks in the aluminum at the points were the tang and the part where the belt connects to the buckle are welded onto the aluminum plate. More than likely there will also be some grind marks where the excess weld was removed. Look at the picture on the left to get a good idea of what a typical buckle blank will look like. The good news is, if you pick through all of the stock they have on hand, you can find a blank that has only few flaws or marks on the top side of the buckle.
This was my first project working with leather, and I made a lot of newbie mistakes or had problems due to my lack of experience. Hopefully you will be able to pick up some tips that will allow you to not make the same mistakes I did.
The belt blank will be long, unless you have a 44″ waist. The first thing I did was to wrap the blank around my waist with the buckle temporarily attached, and marked a cut point that allowed for 6″ of overlap. Next I marked where the buckle tang hole should be. Using an X-Acto knife and a straight edge, I then trimmed off the excess belt length. To locate where the hole needed to be punched for the buckle tang, I used a pencil and edge square and lightly drew a line across the width of the belt based upon my marked buckle tang location. I followed this by marking the center of the line to locate where to punch the tang hole. Since I wanted a little adjustment in the belt, I added two more holes locations, with a hole positioned on both sides of the target center hole. I spaced the holes out at 7/8″ from the center hole, based upon the hole centers in the belt I normally wear. With all three holes located, I used the leather punch and a hammer to punch the desired holes into the leather.
In general, to finish the leather portion of the belt you will need to dye the belt using black dye. When the dye is dry, you need to apply a sealant to the dyed leather to give it a glossy sheen and to make the leather water resistant. Lastly, you need to use some black shoe polish and polish / buff the finished surface to your desired finish.
My first attempt at the leather portion of the belt ended up looking like crap, but I learned a few things before I made Version 2.0. First, don’t die the backside of the leather blank. Besides looking patchy, the dye comes off onto your clothes. When dying the belt, more is NOT better. Put your dye on, and then resist the urge to go back and do it again. Additional coats of dye will create a spotty or rough finish. Since the dye is alcohol based, if you use too much dye the alcohol in the dye will dry out the natural oils in the leather and screw up your finish. When applying the dye, use long strokes and avoid letting the dye pool up in areas or excessively overlapping your strokes. I would also recommend misting the leather with water before you dye to help with the dye absorption.
You might want to consider not using the acrylic Resolene for your sealant. I found out that it is very unforgiving… especially for a newbie. I had an impossible time trying to put on the coats without overlapping my strokes and creating tacky build-up areas. The Resolene just wanted to bead up everywhere. When I tried to smooth it out… it pulled up the finish down to the base leather in the overlapped areas and left it looking terrible. For Version 2.0 of the leather belt, I ended up using the Spray Super Shene leather finish [Tandy #22001-00]… and this stuff worked great! Easy to apply [big plus!], high gloss finish, and idiot proof. I sprayed the finish in two passes, let dry for 15 minutes, quick buffing… then repeated for two more additional coats. It was impressive, most impressive…
Lastly, I highly recommend using a lint free cloth for buffing.
Having learned all of these tips on my first attempt at the leather belt portion, allowed me to do a much better job on Version 2.0.
Moving onto the buckle… Since the Tandy buckle blanks are meant to be covered with tooled leather, they didn’t put any effort into the finish. The belt blank I got was horribly scarred from grind marks.
To improve the appearance, I decided to go with a “brushed” aluminum look to remove the grind marks, hide any remaining scoring, and to give the buckle a satin appearance. I took a file and, working in a single direction going with the length of the buckle, I filed the metal down to smooth out the major divots from the factory grinding. Next, I went over the rest of the buckle with the file just to get the heavy scratching in place to achieve a “brushed” appearance, filing in the same direction. With the main texture in place, I started sanding the face of the buckle… 60 grit, then 120 grit, and finally 150 grit. When you sand, you need to make sure that you sand only in the direction that you used with the file. I did try using some 600 grit sandpaper at the end, but this started polishing the aluminum and all of the flaws in the metal started showing up again [a polished face does not hide imperfections very well]. So, I ended up going over the buckle face again with the 150 grit sandpaper.
After this was done, I used 5 minute epoxy to glue the greeblie in place. However, I stupidly used a bit too much glue… and when I pushed the greeblie down, epoxy oozed out on one side. Frick! Then I had to go back and sand down the oozed epoxy, trying to get the glue off and not screw up the direction of my brushed finish. Ultimately, this was very hard to do, and I was not able to get the brushed texture to look seamless from the original texture to the reworked areas. Lesson learned… use half the amount of glue you *think* will be needed.
Overall, it came out pretty good. If I hadn’t screwed up with the epoxy glue, it would have looked a whole lot better. I will probably put together another buckle, Version 2.0, to correct my mishap with the glue. Another tip for the buckle… I found that over time, the finish of the aluminum will dull and begin to look slightly discolored. To put a great looking shine back on the buckle and to remove any oxidation, use Maas polishing creme. This stuff is amazing, and works real well with minimal buffing.
If you don’t want to have a brushed aluminum look for your buckle or your buckle blank has too many grind/weld marks to conceal, I have heard that other pilots have had great luck with using aluminum flashing that can be found at any hardware store. They take a rectangle of aluminum flashing that is a bit larger than the buckle blank, and glue it to the face of the blank using an epoxy glue or JB Weld. To make sure that the flashing gets pressed down evenly onto the buckle blank, they set the buckle under a chair leg and over a piece of carpeting, and let the glue cure for 24 hours under constant pressure. After curing, you would need to trim off the excess flashing so that it is flush with the outside edges of the buckle blank. Since the aluminum flashing has a dull sheen, you would then need to buff and polish the flashing face until it achieves the desired sheen or luster.
Now it was time for the final assembly. I attached the buckle to the leather belt. Since the belt must overlap such that the excess belt is on the inside, I needed a way to keep it from shifting around and being visible from the front. I ended up using some industrial Velcro to secure this overlap. I put a 1″ x 2″ strip of Velcro on the top [finished] surface of the portion that will be underneath, and matched up a same sized piece on the backside of the belt that faces out.
Whether the belt is for a TIE Pilot or an Imperial Officer, there is a silver button on the belt that is located a couple of inches away from the buckle. There is a snap on the Tandy belt blank, used for attaching the buckle, that is in the same desired location. However, the snap is too small to be used for the silver button. I went to Wal-Mart and found some shiny silver [chrome looking] screw head covers made by Bell [in the automotive section], which was pretty close to the size that I desired for the silver button. I took some sandpaper and roughed up the surface of the belt snap, and then glued the silver screw head cover directly onto the snap. This solution looks really good. But, I have found that every so often the cover / button does fall off. So far, I’ve just re-glued the cover / button back on whenever this happens. I will eventually find a better and more secure way to fasten the cover / button onto the snap.