The Starting Strength Channel

Videos & Podcasts


Making the Starting Strength Lifting Belt with Blake Wilson | Starting Strength Radio #23

Mark Rippetoe | September 27, 2019

https://youtu.be/_WAzcda4AP4 transcript powered by Sonix—the best video to text transcription service

https://youtu.be/_WAzcda4AP4 was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best way to convert your video to text in 2019.

Mark Wulfe:
From The Aasgaard Company studios in beautiful Wichita Falls, Texas... From the finest mind in the modern fitness industry... The one true voice in the strength and conditioning profession... The most important podcast on the internet... Ladies and gentlemen! Starting Strength Radio.

Mark Rippetoe:
Welcome back to Starting Strength Radio. We're glad you're here with us this week. We have a guest in the studio today, Blake Wilson from Dominion Strength, the guys who make Starting Strength belts. And we're going to have a long, detailed, boring, horrible discussion with him about belt manufacture and leather and everything that you want to know.

Mark Rippetoe:
And as usual, we start with Comments from the Haters!

Mark Rippetoe:
This week, we have a particularly lovely crop of comments from the haters. This... most of this, I think, is from the Stan Efferding video that ran a while back. And we got...

Mark Rippetoe:
Let's see Erick Miranda says, "I'm not an expert, but after analyzing this video and all the contents, I cannot say anything because as I said in the beginning, I'm not an expert."

Mark Rippetoe:
Thanks. This is the most sensible comment that I have ever read in YouTube comments anywhere, anytime, about anything. So really, he's not a hater, is he? Okay.

Mark Rippetoe:
Here's one. Nick Baker says, "Both of them have lobster hands. For some reason they have the inability to move their four index fingers separately." You hear that? Four index fingers separately. "And are only able to make a pincer like movement with their thumbs. Rip wins on the lobster look-alike scale, though, since he his hands and forearms look like they came out of a Soviet nuclear power plant, but his upper body is like a 98-yearold overweight grandma."

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh God. Here, Nick. [Uses one finger separately to pretend to pick his nose] Okay.

Mark Rippetoe:
Angel of Cake says, "I don't think Mark has lifted for 20 years. He looks like he has the nice soft hands of an office worker who moisturizes" no, "who moistures a lot."

Mark Rippetoe:
Now I have ne-... That's the first time I have ever heard that I had soft hands. Angel, sweetheart, I can caress you and show you that they're not soft.

Mark Rippetoe:
Come see me. Okay.

Mark Rippetoe:
And Audioventura says... Now this is a good one, all right. I love this. "I only have the outmost respect for both Stan and Rip, but why in the hell would order this whatever it is it's not food mash stuff. If you have problems with calories, just make a sauce hollandaise with your steak. That ought to do it. Don't know if this is an American thing, but as a half French half German, I would never even think about ordering, let alone eating something like this. It's..it's utterly cultureless tf this word exists."

Mark Rippetoe:
[Laughter] Oh shit. The bottom three percent. Comments from the Haters!

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, Blake, thank you for coming from where in the hell ever it is that you live in Florida.

Blake Wilson:
Edgewater, Florida. Right there where Dorian just tried to come through and wipe us out.

Mark Rippetoe:
Did you watch that or what?

Blake Wilson:
Well, we had several different plans depending on what was going to happen. It looked like we might get hit directly by a Cat 4 Cat 5 hurricane.

Mark Rippetoe:
It could have happened.

Blake Wilson:
We had plans to leave Florida. We had plans to possibly hole up at the shop, which is a few miles off the coast. We ended up the day that it actually that it would have made landfall had it done so, we went west over to... Now I'm going to forget the name. What's the name of that? Lakeland.

Mark Rippetoe:
Lakeland. I've heard of Lakeland, Florida.

Blake Wilson:
Just over on west coast. So that's what we ended up doing. But we got lucky and we we dodged a bullet on that.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh, you did. Is the shop reinforced for hurricanes?

Blake Wilson:
I don't know that it's reinforced. It's all built to withstand.

Mark Rippetoe:
Why don't you reinforce it, Blake, you bonehead. I mean, it's Florida. There's hurricanes.

Blake Wilson:
Well, I'm a renter.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh, I see. It's not yours.

Blake Wilson:
I was totally rated to one hundred and forty miles an hour. So all we did, we got three roll up doors there.

Mark Rippetoe:
That sounds like bullshit.

Blake Wilson:
Two of them are east-facing so we barricaded those. Because that would be the worst case scenario I thought, would be to have a door blow in and then have days and days of rain.

Mark Rippetoe:
All that industry screwed up.

Blake Wilson:
That all got pushed into the middle of the shop and top... tarps over everything.

Mark Rippetoe:
Up off the floor.

Blake Wilson:
Everything up off the floor. So we we prepared is as good as we thought we could. And then...

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, good.

Blake Wilson:
Getting lucky.

Mark Rippetoe:
We're all Happy that you didn't get blown around and flooded and wet and everything.

Mark Rippetoe:
So, Blake, tell us about how long you've been in the weightlifting belt business and how you got into it.

Blake Wilson:
Well, I got to say, this is pretty much all your fault.

Mark Rippetoe:
I'm sorry.

Blake Wilson:
I didn't know anything about weight lifting belts until I heard a podcast with you on it. At the time I was doing CrossFit and I realized I did not have the same motor that some of those people do to do metcons and stuff like that. But people that could whip me pretty handily at that, I could be stronger than them when we'd do the weight training portion of their...

Mark Rippetoe:
Once every six weeks when they squat.

Blake Wilson:
Right.

Mark Rippetoe:
You were using stellar at that.

Blake Wilson:
I don't know that I was stellar, but I realized maybe there'd be some room to specialize in that as opposed to getting into metcons and everything. So. But continuing to do CrossFit then is not really ideal because I just wanted to lift weights. I don't care about all the extra cardio and everything.

Blake Wilson:
So I started poking around and actually found you randomly I think on a Mike Matthews podcast. I you had him on a couple times.

Mark Rippetoe:
We just had Mike on recently here on on our on our actual podcast. I've done several audio only Skype podcasts with Mike. In fact I'm going to do another one next month. And he and I have gotten to be buddies. And you probably heard the one about back injuries. Oh know that was kind of recent. Couldn't have been that.

Blake Wilson:
No, it was it was probably three, three-ish years ago.

Mark Rippetoe:
Might have been. Might have been the first one we did.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. But it was the first time I'd heard of Starting Strength and heard of Mark Rippetoe. And I was like, all right, well, this guy's at least funny as hell to listen to. Let me see what else he talks about.

Blake Wilson:
And so I went down the rabbit hole of the Starting Strength podcast. At the time you had done.... We were actually living, Katie and I, and Katie is over there for moral support. Say "hey" Katie. We were live in Decatur and there was a Starting Strength affiliate gym there that we found out about through your podcast.

Mark Rippetoe:
Decatur, Georgia.

Blake Wilson:
Decatur, Georgia. And I'd go in there getting some, you know, proper coaching, going through a an LP. We pretty quickly realized, you know, we need a belt, you know, after several weeks into this. And so we started asking around, you know, who makes good belts? Where do you buy these things? Of course, there's a bunch on Amazon, but you kind of assume that they're...

Mark Rippetoe:
That's all junk.

Blake Wilson:
Those are overseas pieces of junk. So the names we would get, we would look at these companies and say, well, you know, if you're going to get a nice belt, it's going to be made to order. It's going to take you six weeks, eight weeks, something like that to get it.

Blake Wilson:
Why isn't there just an option where you can buy a good belt now? Maybe there's limited options, you know, one color or something like that. And, you know, my background is in mechanical engineering. I was working for an engineering company at the time and I would source a lot of different products just in my everyday jobs, I thought, well, heck, maybe, maybe I could come up with something that could be sourced, you know, maybe it could be made cheaply enough that we could sell them. You know, at the very least, maybe we can get one made for ourselves.

Blake Wilson:
And the gears started turning. There's a lot of steps from here to there that was, I guess, right about three years ago now. That all of that started. And we started getting samples in and everything. And one thing led to another. And now we're making the belts ourselves down at our own shop in Edgewater, Florida.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Well, I think, you know, you've probably talked to our buddy Dean Best. Dean makes a damn good belt. He and I have talked about this quite a bit and he's just backed up. He's... if you want a suede belt, I always recommend Dean. He does a great job, has a fabulous product. I know that you talked to Dean several times and you guys are on good terms and everything.

Mark Rippetoe:
And what you're doing is a completely different thing. Dean, it takes a while to get product out of him. He's a small... he's a small shop and does things his own way and makes a real high quality product. But there's a market for something that's got a little faster turnaround time than that. And you guys have stepped up and filled this hole in the market quite handily.

Mark Rippetoe:
And the finished product is laid here on the table. This is the two ply Starting Strength belt. This thing retails for $175. And how long does it take you to get this order filled?

Blake Wilson:
We'll ship all of our orders out within a week. Ship them within a week. And in the U.S., you'll get it in two to three days. Priority mail doesn't take any time. So from the time you place the order, you know you're looking at less than...

Mark Rippetoe:
Should be no longer than 10 days.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah 10 days. You'll have it in your hands. And a lot of these you know, now that we know what sells the best, we'll keep a lot of those in stock. So there's plenty of people that order a belt, it'll go out the next day. Or even the same day.

Mark Rippetoe:
If it's not if it's not an oddball.

Mark Rippetoe:
But the Starting Strength belt they're just two versions of it. The one you see on the on the table here is the two-ply belt. And we're talking more about this in detail in a minute. And we're going to talk about leather and how these are made and what they're made of and how leather is sourced and all this stuff.

Mark Rippetoe:
But this is the single-ply version of the Starting Strength Belt. This is a lot cheaper. This is a lot lower price point. This is what, 85?

Blake Wilson:
We got it for 90.

Mark Rippetoe:
90. And again, this is a this is a top quality product. If you'll look at the rivets, they're nice big fat rivets that do not come loose. Anytime you see a belt with little bitty teeny ballpoint pen size rivets...

Blake Wilson:
These are industrial rivets. They have tension and a shear rating that will never be tested on one of these belts.

Mark Rippetoe:
And the little ones pull out. They always pull out. You will not use one of those belts for any length of time and the thing not destroy itself.

Mark Rippetoe:
So these are some of the some of the features of the Starting Strength belt. This is a two-ply and once it breaks in, it's very, very comfortable. It's tight, provides a lot of hoop tension.

Mark Rippetoe:
Those of you that have read my article about the belt and the deadlift to understand how the belt works. If you haven't read it, you'll save yourself some time to stop the podcast right now. Just push the little button in the middle. Go read the article and then come back. And we'll wait on you.

Mark Rippetoe:
Welcome back. Now these things you're going to do what a belt is supposed to do. And they do it nicely. They do it with class. They do it... They're beautiful pieces of workmanship. And let's talk about what goes into these two things. All right.

Mark Rippetoe:
Let's talk about the easy one first. What is this single-ply belt made out of?

Blake Wilson:
This is made out of a type of top grain leather called sole leather. And it's cut from the the bend, which is a section of the hide that runs along the backbone of the animal.

Blake Wilson:
I guess first maybe the best thing to do would be backup and talk about...

Mark Rippetoe:
Talk about the grades of leather. And this is a top grain.

Blake Wilson:
This is a top grain. So you can think of the cowhide as basically three separate layers. So that the outermost layer is called the full grain. And that's got all of the imperfections.

Mark Rippetoe:
So you've got a cross section of hide may be this thick.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, maybe an inch thick. Maybe a little more, a little less.

Mark Rippetoe:
Really an inch thick. The hide on the back of a steer, especially on the back of a bull, is very, very thick. It's that way for protection from the elements, from fights, from ornery creatures jumping on his back in the middle of Africa, that sort of thing.

Mark Rippetoe:
And people are surprised at how thick leather is, how thick the section of the hide is. It comes off an animal and it is very, very thick. And it's thickest along the spine at the shoulders. That's where it's thickest.

Mark Rippetoe:
In fact, if you'll remember back from your history lessons, the Indians used to make rawhide, buffalo rawhide, shields. Remember this? Little target size shields out of the shoulder hide of a buffalo. And when... those things were... they would cut those things to shape from that piece of hide and they would dry them and they'd shrink and contract. And you had a piece of material that was an inch and a half thick. It would turn a bullet if you were clever enough to get it in the way.

Blake Wilson:
That's that's the trick.

Mark Rippetoe:
Putting it between you and the bullet. Yeah. So people aren't familiar with how thick that hide is.

Mark Rippetoe:
But so the... What the first layer is called?

Blake Wilson:
That's the full grain.

Mark Rippetoe:
The full grain.

Blake Wilson:
Yes. So the tannery's gonna get the hide in and they're going to first split that full grain layer off. And they're going to take a look at it. If it's a really high grade -- so there's not a lot of imperfections, defects, it's just got a nice natural grain. Or they can tell that it will have a nice natural grain after the tanning process. It'll go on and just become something usually called like aniline leather or something like that. It's gonna be like the highest end couches, handbags, stuff like that are made from that full grain leather.

Mark Rippetoe:
And this is where they want to show the texture of the...

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. They they want that actual...

Mark Rippetoe:
The pores and the obvious surface features that are the piece and this is called full grain.

Blake Wilson:
Full grain.

Mark Rippetoe:
So if you see a full grain cowhide this is the top layer of the skin.

Blake Wilson:
Right. And the times where they just take it and put, you know, a transparent dye or something like that. It's very rare. I've read that only a few percent of guys, like maybe about three percent of all hides can be done in that manner just because there's so many imperfections that you'll have in a hide.

Mark Rippetoe:
And what are imperfections? Scratches from...

Blake Wilson:
Yes.

Mark Rippetoe:
Sides and holes.

Blake Wilson:
Scratches, warts, scars, branding marks. Right. Even even just...

Mark Rippetoe:
Unpleasantries.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. Even just damage that happened to it after it was taken off the animal just in transport and everything. So that's that's the top grain leather now. Something about the top grain leather and the next layer. I'm sorry.

Blake Wilson:
The full grain and the top grain, which is the next layer down is they have the same I guess you'd call it a fiber structure. So so both of these layers have fibres that are very densely packed, very tightly woven together, and they make a very durable product as a result. So it's something that's not going to wear out and break over time. It's going to wear in and just develop character and things like that.

Blake Wilson:
There's one more layer down that after the full grain is split off, after the top grain is split off, you have something that's just called split leather. And this is down the hide far enough so those fibers are no longer as densely packed. They're both further apart and less intertwined. So you've got something that is very flexible, but is not going to have near the durability that a top grain product is gonna have.

Blake Wilson:
So they take the split leather and they make suede out of it. Garment upholstery type stuff.

Mark Rippetoe:
So it's inherently more flexible.

Blake Wilson:
Inherently more flexible. But for a weightlifting belt, not really the the material you'd want to use.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Because it's also in addition being flexible this way. It's also stretchy. When we wear a belt, we wear it for the specific purpose of not yielding to pressure.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, right. But the only thing I haven't done is, you know, send a sample off to a lab and have them do like an inch drawn pull test of a cross-section of this versus a cross-section of the split to see what that tensile strain would be for a given load. Just from holding pieces in your hands and moving them, it's got to be an order of magnitude at least, because this stuff it is not noticeable [top grain belts on table], but a split you can stretch.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So to recap, we have full grain. When you want the visual effect of the of the pores and the surface features of a natural hide. Then you have the top grain which is the same structural density as the full grain, but with a smooth, even finish like this because it is a it's a cut.

Blake Wilson:
There's been a layer split off of that.

Mark Rippetoe:
Layer taking off. And then you have the split which is the flimsy stuff that we're not interested in for belts.

Blake Wilson:
Right. Which is not to say people don't use it on belts. And a lot of those cheap belts that you'd find on Amazon or coming from overseas, they make them out of that split leather because it's cheap. You know, it's very inexpensive. And it'd probably work for a month or something.

Mark Rippetoe:
It might or until you got up to 135, you know. And I wonder if perhaps split leather was the reason that people started making belts in two and three ply. I don't know. It just occurs to me that maybe that was their answer for having to use cheap materials to make a belt out of.

Blake Wilson:
There are definitely belts that do that. One of our belts we have is... has this same piece of leather on the inside and then suede on both sides. It's the standard double suede belt. And we don't put any edge paint on it or anything. We like to see that nice leather edge and stuff.

Blake Wilson:
Other manufacturers will take a piece of split leather, substitute it in for the top grain. Put this weight on it. Edge paint it. And then they'll go in and dye the holes and inside the buckle area brown so that you wouldn't know. Or unless you cut into it, you wouldn't know that you didn't actually have what you thought you had.

Mark Rippetoe:
How 'bout that. Very clever of them, huh?

Blake Wilson:
Well, we outsmarted them.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, good.

Mark Rippetoe:
What now, you mentioned sole leather. So we we go from terminology that that involves the description of the source of the leather from the from the hide to end purpose of the leather. So sole leather is what?

Blake Wilson:
Shoe sole leather. So this was originally developed to be durable enough to be worn on the bottom of your foot. You walk around on it all day on whatever and it's going to hold up.

Mark Rippetoe:
And it's top grain usually, right?

Blake Wilson:
It's top grain. All shoe sole leather is going to be top grain. You can't make it out of a split.

Blake Wilson:
And what makes it sole leather then is the tanning process that happens after we split this into the three layers and and do any other, you know, pre-processes to it.

Blake Wilson:
Sole bend in particular goes through a process after...

Mark Rippetoe:
Sole bend? Is that another? Is it is synonymous with...

Blake Wilson:
It ends up being used interchangeably because typically the cut of the hide that the solar is made from is the bend. So people...

Mark Rippetoe:
Where's the bend?

Blake Wilson:
The bend runs down the back of the animal.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah, right. You mentioned that.

Blake Wilson:
Right along the spine.

Mark Rippetoe:
Up high, down the flank to the posterior then. That's called the bend.

Blake Wilson:
Yes. And that that term just ends up being used interchangeably. When you hear shoe sole leather, sole bend. People will say that. You can make sole leather out of a shoulder. It's just people tend not to do it for whatever reason.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's probably too thick.

Blake Wilson:
It could be.

Mark Rippetoe:
Could be too thick. And I guess if it's it's got to have some... Sole leather must have some degree of flexibility or you couldn't walk in the thing.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. And that's another part of the tanning process where they make this in different tempers. They make firm, they make semi-flexible, they make flexible.

Blake Wilson:
So so for for this guy, just part of the process that makes it shoe sole leather is the compression that they do to it after it's stained. So where the the fibers were already extremely densely packed, they're now even more so.

Mark Rippetoe:
How do they do that?

Blake Wilson:
So they'll run it through some rollers that compress the material.

Mark Rippetoe:
So it's actually mashed.

Blake Wilson:
It's mashed.

Mark Rippetoe:
Flatter.

Blake Wilson:
And they'll pack, they'll pack oils...

Mark Rippetoe:
And it stays mashed. You can make it denser with the pressure.

Blake Wilson:
That's that's one of the properties of you know, leather that is vegetable tanned, which sole bend is, is that it will take a set. So if you stamp it or something like that it will be permanent. Or if you just compress the whole thing as far as you can compress it will hold that set.

Mark Rippetoe:
So temper refers to the flexibility of the finished leather?

Blake Wilson:
Correct. Yes.

Mark Rippetoe:
And it comes in three or four different grades?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. You were firm, semi-flexible and flexible are the ones I've seen. Depending on...

Mark Rippetoe:
What is this? [motioning with the single-ply belt]

Blake Wilson:
This is semi flexible.

Mark Rippetoe:
Semi-flexible. Why don't you use flexible?

Blake Wilson:
I think it would be too flexible. the one thing about especially this belt, the single ply. There's nothing to protect this piece of leather from breaking down at all. So I think going with something that is going to have a more dense fiber structure from the beginning would be better for this belt than to go... because.

Mark Rippetoe:
In terms of lifespan.

Blake Wilson:
Yes, because yes, it is more flexible, but that's also going to give rise to other properties. It's not just more flexible, but the same strength and tension. It's gonna be weaker in tension as well.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah, I guess you give up one for the other.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, right. Yeah. There's no there's no free lunch there. So after trying and the semi flexible has just turned out to be... seems to be the best one for what we're doing.

Mark Rippetoe:
Sole leather is an example of of a type of of a term for the end use of the product. What are some other examples of that?

Blake Wilson:
Is...as far as the tanning processes?

Mark Rippetoe:
No as far as the... this is for soles.

Blake Wilson:
It's for shoe soles.

Mark Rippetoe:
So you have luggage leather. Would you have...vamp leather for the top part of the shoe.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. You could. You can make whatever type of leather you want. There's a lot of them are named for different parts of like... saddlery that they'd be used for. So you have skirting leather. You've got harness leather. You've got like you were saying there's upholstery layer leather. There's suede.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. Tooling leather. Tooling leather really just refers to any type of vegetable tanned leather that can be...

Mark Rippetoe:
Can be embossed.

Blake Wilson:
Can be embossed or carved.

Mark Rippetoe:
This is and you'd mentioned earlier vegetable tanned. How many different tanning processes are commonly employed and what are the terms for those?

Blake Wilson:
There's two major ones. The vegetable tanning is the oldest. It probably came about the first time humans killed an animal and then started trying to figure out what to do with the skin. They probably came across it by accident. The fact that you could soak this in tree bark, tannins and...and some other salts and have it be cured into something that doesn't become rawhide. It stays flexible, but it also doesn't rot. So vegetable tanning now just refers to this.

Mark Rippetoe:
Rawhide. Let's explain.

Blake Wilson:
Rawhide would just be if you took the hide off the animal and let it dry, just let all the moisture dry out of it.

Mark Rippetoe:
You took it off, scraped it, scraped all the hair off and scraped all the flesh off of it. And it looks it looks like it's flinty. It looks like parchment. Semi transparent. It's translucent. And if it's not too thick. And it is absolutely rigid. Doesn't give at all.

Mark Rippetoe:
And you've heard the term...you people have heard the term "rawhide." Rawhide is not leather. Rawhide is not leather. Rawhide can't be used for leather. And it's not... I guess probably one of the commercial purposes for rawhide would be for lacing other things right? Do they still lace things with rawhide or what?

Blake Wilson:
They make dog bones out of it.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh yeah. Well, food items. Yeah. Those aren't nearly as good for your dog as just raw bones. You guys are giving your dogs pieces of rawhide. You'll notice they soften up and get kind of snot-like after the dog messes with them for 5 or 10 minutes. That's not a dog bone. OK, raw bones.

Blake Wilson:
So, yeah. So vegetable tanning currently refers to a tanning process that uses, you know, plant plant matter for the tannin. You know, bark tannins was the most common. Now I think they they've incorporated some other stuff because it's not practical to use bark tanning for everything.

Mark Rippetoe:
I'm sure they've got commercially... synthetically produced tannins and other things. I have used the old alum tanning method for curing hides myself back when I used to mess around with stuff like that. I tanned stuff myself with the old alum which was aluminum sulfate and and sodium chloride solution.

Mark Rippetoe:
You take warm water and put as much salt in it - table salt in it - and just stir it up and dissolve as much of it into the solution as you can. And then you put alum in it. And you...these are ground products and you that'll also go into solution and as much solution as it will hold in the warm water, you stir into it. And then when it cools off, some out of it, you know, will crystallize out, precipitate out onto the bottom of the vessel.

Mark Rippetoe:
But then you take a a fleshed hide with the fur on it and put it in there and leave it for two weeks. Make sure it stays submerged in the thing. Pull it out after two weeks. It's tanned. It's tanned leather.

Blake Wilson:
Will the hair follicles just scrape off?

Mark Rippetoe:
No, the hair is... it sets the hair. So if you want to make a pelt. If you want to preserve a pelt. And that's how they... Some version of that is how they'll do a fur. Right. But that's how I've done it. It's easy to do. It's easy to make a homemade version of this of this tanning brine. And it works like that.

Mark Rippetoe:
I would imagine that that commercial furs are prepared with a similar - probably a lot more efficient way to do it than that. I'm sure they have faster ways to do it, but that's probably not the equivalent of a vegetable tanned product. I don't know how the two would compare. I think the whole purpose of the whole process, though, is to cross link the proteins in the skin so that they're permanently stuck together. It's not oxidation. I don't guess, but it's a...

Blake Wilson:
And also to remove the moisture and replace it with something else. These will get packed in with oils and waxes and sole leather actually gets some clay added into it.

Mark Rippetoe:
Really? What does that do?

Blake Wilson:
It helps it to just be more firm, more durable.

Mark Rippetoe:
So it resists scuff, that sort of thing.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. Something you're gonna be walking around on rocks or whatever surface you might walk on. It helps.

Mark Rippetoe:
Yeah, leather wears out eventually. That is the problem with. I used to wear leather-soled boots all the time, but you get tired of having to resole them all the time, so the neoprene is what I go with now.

Mark Rippetoe:
So what is it... What's the other process that's predominant in the leather making industry?

Blake Wilson:
Yes, so the two big commercial ones are the veg tan and chrome tanning. So instead of using organic matter to do the tanning, they use chromium salts. And it's it's actually the most common method of tanning now. I've read that over 80 percent of all leather that's tanned, it uses chrome tanning at this point.

Mark Rippetoe:
So chromium salts, well, that probably similar to my alum and table salt method. It probably does about the same thing.

Blake Wilson:
The difference with them is they would go through a lining process before that to remove all the hair and everything before tanning. It wouldn't be for making pelts or anything.

Blake Wilson:
So yeah, those are the big to the veg tan and the chrome tanning. The reason I think that chrome tanning has has caught on the way it has is because it's so much quicker.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh really? How long does it take the two processes in comparison?

Blake Wilson:
So the vegetable tanning, this is gonna go into a tanning liquor in a just in a large vat for six weeks, sometimes, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. And they have to be checked the whole time. They got to pull it out, make sure that the tanning liquor is, you know, evenly contacting all of the skins and everything. And the chrome tanning, they put this in a drum. They spin it and it only takes two to three days. So it's it's it's a much faster process.

Mark Rippetoe:
So it stays in the drum spinning for two to three days.

Blake Wilson:
Yes.

Mark Rippetoe:
In motion.

Blake Wilson:
Yes.

Mark Rippetoe:
That's interesting. So that ensures uniform exposure to the to the tanning product. But two to three days. Yeah. That's why. That's why vodka is cheaper than bourbon. Time is money.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. I was thinking about some of the different tanning processes in terms of how similar it is or how analogous it is almost to making whiskey. Whiskey, you start, you know, with the same raw material every time. There's barley malt and then through your own secret recipe, you can come up with something that is wildly different in the end and also depending on how it's aged and all those different things.

Blake Wilson:
So it seems to be very similar with tanning leather. I've tried to read everything I could find about it. The only thing you could do more would be to just go start visit visiting tanneries and seeing their process just.

Mark Rippetoe:
If they would even let you in.

Blake Wilson:
If they would let you, because there's probably a lot of there's probably so much tribal knowledge that they have and, you know.

Mark Rippetoe:
People have been making leather for a hell of a long time. Been making leather as long as they've been making weapons, you know. So it's one of the oldest manufacturing industries in the human experience.

Mark Rippetoe:
What is... all right so oil tanned. I'm familiar with that term. Where does that fit into this?

Blake Wilson:
Oil tans? I'm not sure that that wouldn't just be a veg tan product that then goes through a milling process afterwards. So what they'll do after they have tanned the leather so it's been cured. They'll put it in a mill, which is another large drum. They'll throw in oil and waxes and and different things like that. And then they'll roll it for, you know, several hours, up to several days, depending on what temper and hand feel they're trying to accomplish with the leather. And I believe that's what what oil tanning would be.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So it's really not formally a different tanning process.

Blake Wilson:
No, I don't believe so.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's a finishing process.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, like that older belt that I've got that I handed you. That was sold at the time as a product called harness leather. What is what is that?

Blake Wilson:
Harness leather they actually take beef tallow and they pack it in by hand. And then apparently the the hide gets so waxy and so full of fat that it won't even feed through the industrial machines they have that are supposed to squeeze excess back out. So I've watched videos of some poor guy with a hand tool going over hides by hand to squeeze out the excess beef tallow.

Mark Rippetoe:
And that is a obviously a preservation process, right?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
So if you're going to use a piece of leather in real horrible conditions like on the back of a horse where it's wet and sweaty and salt and scuff and all this other stuff.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, it's a natural product - beef tallow - so it's not going to harm, you know, the skin of the animal that's wearing it. It also makes it somewhat waterproof. So you don't have to just ride in the sunshine.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So all of the pretty much all of the material that you deal with is is vegetable tan. And the one ply belt that you see right here is just one thickness. And how... do you order it this thick or do you skive it down to this thickness while you're preparing it?

Blake Wilson:
We order it in that thickness.

Mark Rippetoe:
And this is what? Six or seven millimeters.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, it's about that. They they weigh it out in ounces. That's just the old way of measuring the thickness of leather. So they'd call that 15, 17 ounce. It could be anywhere from 15 to 17 ounces and...

Mark Rippetoe:
Per 15, 17, ounces per length or per square inch, square foot?

Blake Wilson:
It'd be the whole hide. So the hide after it had gone through its tanning process is they'll run it through a splitter or a leveller. It'll take the entire hide down to a single thickness and an ounce is just a sixty fourth of an inch. So it's between 15 and 17 sixty fourths of an inch - which yeah it's easier to think in millimeters at that point.

Mark Rippetoe:
It really is.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. Six or seven millimeters.

Mark Rippetoe:
So it's an archaic way of measuring.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. There's another one called irons that...

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh I've heard that referred to when we're talking about harness leather. Seven iron. Like if you're buying, if you're buying stirrup leathers for your English saddle that will come in iron. And I guess that's also a term for the thickness.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. And I I'd have to look up the conversion because it doesn't ever come up with what we're doing, but yeah it would map straight to a certain thickness. One iron would equal whatever.

Mark Rippetoe:
So this is just. So you buy this. This comes in off the truck this thick. Ready to use. And then you'll cut it. And in the case. This one ply. It's a fairly simple manufacturing process. You're gonna have to skive down the buckle bend. Right there. And how much do you take off that? That looks like that's down to about 4.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, that's exactly right.

Mark Rippetoe:
You take about half of the thickness, a little less than half the thickness off it so that it'll bend around the buckle. Cut the slot.

Mark Rippetoe:
And I'm talking about this thickness right here [pointing to place on the belt]. Then they cut the slot for the for the pin of the buckle and then assemble it with these good rivets. Right. And this is called the keeper. This is the belt keeper. Is that what you'll call it too?

Blake Wilson:
Keeper or loop.

Mark Rippetoe:
This is the traditionally called the keeper. This thing right here and it's just looks like a not quite exactly the same. No, it's the same thickness as the is the rest of the belt. I'm beating my microphone up here. And then you rivet these things together.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, tell us about these good rivets, because these are high quality rivets that and I've already talked about the little skinny ones that come apart really easily. These things are lifetime installations, right?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, I've used I've seen, in fact, that I've used them myself and I've got several belts that are assembled with called Chicago Screws, which are a... Have you got one with the Chicago screw? Those are the old rivets there.

Mark Rippetoe:
Chicago screws kinda look like this [turns belt to show the rivets] but they're actually a threaded device with a flat surface area on one side and then a usually a flathead screw on the other side in it. It threads into a female side and it just sucks the leather together like that. And it's a nice method of assembly. Why do you not use Chicago screws in favor of this type of rivet and what's this called?

Blake Wilson:
Well, a screw can come undone for one thing. So you've added a liability there and really you'd never have to take this area apart.

Blake Wilson:
You know, if you if you needed to change the buckle or something like that, for some reason, these can be drilled out. But that's that's the only way that would come apart. I just don't see any reason to have screws there and you don't have to worry about your belt coming apart on you.

Mark Rippetoe:
And honestly, I've seen Chicago screws on dress belts more frequently because you might want to change the buckle on a dress belt.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, makes sense. Okay.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. T

Blake Wilson:
hese are called two piece mate rivets. So one piece mate rivets...

Mark Rippetoe:
Make rivets m-a-t-e?

Blake Wilson:
M-a-t-e. There's a there's a there's a male and a female side. The male side functions the same way that a normal pop rivet does. So it's got a mandrell with a shank going through it. When you pull that shank out, the mandrell collapses down, expands outward. And in a pop rivet, if you just had two pieces of metal that you were trying to rivet together, when that piece that you're pulling through expands out, it pulls those two pieces of metal together and then they can never come apart.

Blake Wilson:
And that doesn't really work for leather because, you know, metal is not gonna deform when that tries to pull through, whereas leather can. So these you just put a cap on top of that pop rivet. So when you pull it, it expands into the cap. And now you've got two pieces that are permanently joined together. And then that's the two piece mate rivet. And it's made for industrial applications. Like we could look up, you know, shear and a tensile rating, you know, for these guys...

Mark Rippetoe:
Are they aluminum?

Blake Wilson:
They're aluminum. Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So they don't they don't corrode.

Blake Wilson:
They don't corrode.

Mark Rippetoe:
Don't make a pretty green patina around the rivet like rivets and burrs do. But you know, these things are they are they're a damned secure fastening method. And then for the single ply we're basically done with it.

Blake Wilson:
Now there's this is just one of the thing I'd point out in that area. It's not...

Mark Rippetoe:
I've got a question in a second, about both of these. It's been on my mind for quite some time. Watch your microphone.

Blake Wilson:
So like in this area right here [pointing to the buckle end of the belt], it's important to punch these holes such that when you feed the keeper through and put this together, you don't end up with a giant bulge. That you don't end up with a giant bulge..

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh, I see what you're doing...

Blake Wilson:
...on the bottom side.

Mark Rippetoe:
So this side is going to be longer than that dimension between those two punches.

Blake Wilson:
Exactly.

Mark Rippetoe:
Is longer than this one.

Blake Wilson:
Right. And you do that because this is what's gonna be digging into your stomach. You want the least amount of extra material right there as possible.

Blake Wilson:
That was one of the example belts that I was gonna show you. This is one of the samples we got. [Holds up sample belt with bulge near bucklle]

Mark Rippetoe:
You can clearly see the problem.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, right. They obviously for even thinking about this at all. So that was that's just one of the little details that we tried to think about and incorporate that into the design of these belts.

Mark Rippetoe:
So I guess that dimension is going to vary with the thickness of the leather?

Blake Wilson:
It does a...

Mark Rippetoe:
Little bit. You've got a formula down for this now. I guess you do.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. And we've got one single die made that punches out all eight holes plus this slot all at the same time.

Mark Rippetoe:
And then you skive that down and it assembles in that shape.

Blake Wilson:
Correct. Right. Yeah. And you know, theoretically it probably ought to vary a little bit with the thickness of the leather, but it doesn't vary enough that it t's worth having a whole new set of dies made.

Mark Rippetoe:
This die was used for this [single ply belt] and that [double ply belt].

Blake Wilson:
Right.

Mark Rippetoe:
Okay. All right that's interesting.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now, here's the question that I've got. I've messed around with leather for years and years. How do you get these damn things so nice and straight? How do you get the cut straight? How do you make these edges perfectly uniform? How does this thing end up looking like an absolute ruler? How do you how do you do that?

Blake Wilson:
That's the secret.

Mark Rippetoe:
We're asking.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, we... right now we actually have our supplier strap cut these for us. So we'll order however many hides and they'll run it through, you know, this giant machine with rotating cutting wheels on it. And we've actually got one in our shop and we have used it. But right now, it's actually more economical in terms of time to have them go ahead and cut it for us.

Mark Rippetoe:
Do they cut it to length or do you just get a hide length?

Blake Wilson:
Yes, it comes out and it'll have jagged edges on on each end and they'll just be whatever length the hide was. And they do pretty good, though. They'll start out and cut a straight edge down one edge and they'll have a guide that they feed it through. And then we've got a fixture at our shop. If we get them in and there's any more than a half inch of bend in one we'll case it. So we'll soak it in water and we'll hammer it down into this fixture that is exactly three inches wide, leave it overnight and let it dry. Once it comes out of that. It's more or less perfectly straight.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right.

Blake Wilson:
So we can straighten this out if they don't start out that way.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So basically these come in pre-cut as blanks. I would imagine what they do is they cut these under pressure and then and then the straight edge, you know, makes a nice straight cut so that it doesn't deviate according to the pressure of the blade going through the leather ff it's not. They probably have to hold down, right? Under a lot of pressure to do that, right?

Blake Wilson:
Well, it actually...

Mark Rippetoe:
Is that how it works?

Blake Wilson:
The cutter will cut multiple straps at a time so that...

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh, you've seen it. You've seen it done.

Blake Wilson:
We've got one in our shop.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh that will do the same multi layer...oh really?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. We can cut. I think it's eight three inch straps at one time. And so at that point you've shown you're almost the whole width of the hide, if you're strap cutting that many at once. So you don't really have a problem with the work trying to turn on you based on that because you've got so many cutters going into it once.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. And they're stabilizing the one adjacent to the...

Blake Wilson:
Right. And those cutters are just bearing down on a plastic roller that's underneath that. So there's not really anything to do other than just feed it in through as straight as you possibly can.

Mark Rippetoe:
Have you ever bought a side of a whole side of a top grain.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. We've bought...

Mark Rippetoe:
That's how it comes in. Is that uniform in thickness when you get it?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. More or less. It's supposed to be within that 15-17 ounce, you know, whatever that is. A couple 64th of an inch.

Mark Rippetoe:
Thing may be this big. [opens arms wide] ou know, nine feet long. Right. That sort of thing.

Blake Wilson:
And you know, not to say we don't ever get stuff in that's obviously too thin or too thick or something like that. We can split it down if it's too thick. If it's too thin, make a deadlift jack out of it. Something like that.

Mark Rippetoe:
So well, that's that's the cutting process that I was concerned with.

Mark Rippetoe:
Now...

Blake Wilson:
Yeah you asked about the edges too.

Mark Rippetoe:
We all right... Let's talk about the edges first. These look like they've been sanded. Is that correct? Is it a sanding process or is it a...

Blake Wilson:
These have been on the double ply. When you glue these two layers together, it's impossible to get them to line up exactly perfect. So we'll just come back with a drum sander and go down go down both edges.

Mark Rippetoe:
It still remains perfectly straight. How did you do that?

Blake Wilson:
Well, usually it's off just in one direction. A lot of times what will happen is maybe one strap is just ever so slightly thicker than the other one. So when you're gluing it together, you want to make sure that you align that one side perfectly. Leave all your mismatch on the other side.

Mark Rippetoe:
So you only have to do one side corrected for...

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. You've only got to correct the unevenness on one side and then you may have a little bit of a rough edge where you got a little glue squeeze out or something like that. Plus you want it to look the same so you just go and sand the other side too.

Blake Wilson:
And then they're tools called edge bevelers, just little hand tools that we run down the edge to round it over so you don't have a sharp edge.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. I've seen those.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
Looks like a little curvy thing with the blade on it.

Mark Rippetoe:
How do you sew? This the the stitching on these things is absolutely beautiful and uniform. How is...what kind of machine do you use for that?

Blake Wilson:
We've got a couple of union lock stitch machines. So a normal sewing machine is just going to have a single needle. It just punches up and down and a presser foot feeds the work. To sew this material in this thickness, we use something called a needle and awl sewing machine.

Blake Wilson:
So instead of a needle coming down and punching into the work, there's an awl there and it's only job is to come down, punch the hole.

Mark Rippetoe:
An awl is a tool that looks like an ice pick, like a short ice pick. It's thicker than needle.

Blake Wilson:
It is. It's always a gauge thicker.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right and it doesn't have a hole for the thread. It just punches a hole.

Blake Wilson:
Right. And then on our machine, the needle is then fed up through the bottom, through the hole that the awl just punched. And you've got a mechanism that'll actually loop the string, the thread, around the needle. The needle doesn't have a hole through. It just got a barb. So you're hooking it through there and then the needle descends back down.

Blake Wilson:
And the two machines we've got, it's hard to tell exactly how old your particular machine is. The patent for them was in the early nineteen hundreds. That was when this machine was designed. And we think ours are probably from the 1920s, the original castings.

Mark Rippetoe:
Where did you get them?

Blake Wilson:
A company called Campbell Randall. They're in they're in Texas.

Mark Rippetoe:
This thread is is what? It's very stout.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, it's a it's a synthetic it's a polyester thread.

Mark Rippetoe:
Would this be the same kind of thread that shoes aree assembled with?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, it would be. Most likely. Most thread today is polyester. Cotton thread will just fray over time.

Mark Rippetoe:
Probably rots too.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, the polyester just holds up a lot better and it sews better, especially in these really heavy duty machines. If you tried to run just any thread through them, you're just gonna keep breaking thread. And so.

Mark Rippetoe:
And what glue is used?

Blake Wilson:
We use a contact cement. So you'll take a contact cement...

Mark Rippetoe:
Contact cement's wonderful stuff isn't it?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, it's weird stuff if you haven't used it before because...

Mark Rippetoe:
I use it all the time and it's been around for a hundred years I guess. And hell, I remember my dad using it, you know, 50 years ago. He didn't really know how, but he... Contact cement's interesting stuff. It really is.

Mark Rippetoe:
You paint both sides of the leather with it and let it dry.

Blake Wilson:
Let it dry completely.

Mark Rippetoe:
Dry completely. And which can take at least 20 minutes. But if you let this stuff sit overnight, it's it's fine.

Mark Rippetoe:
And then once it's thoroughly dry, you put the two sides together and they're...

Blake Wilson:
That's it.

Mark Rippetoe:
...And they're not coming apart. Yeah, it's a permanent assembly and contacts and it is really amazing stuff.

Mark Rippetoe:
So those of you who's running shoes are continually coming apart. What you do is... just like the sole comes off usually at the toe. Pull it apart. Go ahead and break it apart a little bit more. Take some contacts cement. They sell it in small bottles and they'll be a little swab inside the bottle that you can paint both sides of it on there with. Paint it, pry the thing open with a little toothpick or a match or something like that so that it will dry not in contact.

Mark Rippetoe:
And leave it apart 20 minutes. Take the match out, put the thing back together and it's fixed. It won't come apart. You can repair it. Don't just throw your shoes away because they start to separate because they're easy to fix with contact cement.

Mark Rippetoe:
And you guys, you're using just plain old contact cement, right?

Blake Wilson:
Yep. Yep. It's it's kind of nasty stuff. It's the our least favorite day in the shop because you've got to put on a mask and everything, the amount we're using.

Mark Rippetoe:
I think the solvent is MEK isn't it? High volatile acetone or...

Blake Wilson:
And we have to thin it down to get it to spread, so we've got even more that solvent in the air due to the thinner we're using.

Mark Rippetoe:
Have you got exhaust fan just to try to keep the building from exploding?

Blake Wilson:
We've got fans and everything that we set up. We probably should have a little bit more in the way of like a vent hood or something like that long term, but it's working for right now, the lower volumes that we're doing. Keep that mask on.

Mark Rippetoe:
And how do you punch the holes?

Blake Wilson:
That's a separate die.

Blake Wilson:
So for a three inch belts, we've got the die that does the buckle end and we've got the die that does the billet end. So there's a die that sits on here. It's the longest die that our press will accept, but it cuts out this end shape and all eleven holes at the same time.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. So this is an eleven hole belt. So when when you order the build from Dominion you're gonna be ordering your waist size to the middle hole.

Mark Rippetoe:
All right. So when you order a 38, that's 38 [points to the middle hole on the belt]. This thing right here is 38 and if then you lose weight gain weightm, you're fine. It allows you quite a bit of flexibility in terms of the the sizing of the belt.

Mark Rippetoe:
And that hole looks like about a seven sixteenth... What is that thing it's a nice big fat one.

Blake Wilson:
It's a five sixteenths, but it's kind of it's got a little bit of taper to it so it's going to look bigger on this side than it actually is on the on the backside when you feed the prong through.

Mark Rippetoe:
I have... I had a cheap belt several years ago, and I think it was a combination of the leather not being quite the consistency it should have been. It might have meant a split. Might have been made out of a split or two layers of split or something like that. And too thin a buckle pin. And it cut. It actually cut all the way through. What do you think the problem was?

Blake Wilson:
Stress is force divided by area. So the bearing stress on one of these holes as that pin gets smaller and smaller is gonna go up and up till eventually you've got a knife edge basically trying to pull through there.

Mark Rippetoe:
You've got a cheese wire don't you?

Mark Rippetoe:
So if you you guys have calculated the size of the hole, the curve that size makes, and the size of the buckle pin and these don't tear?

Blake Wilson:
They don't. We've never had anyone. You know, that they might ovalize slightly again...

Mark Rippetoe:
Well you can deal with that as long as it's not cutting through the punch.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. And that's just due to the fact that the hole is punched vertically, the prong is trying to go through at an angle. So it's going to deform slightly on the top and bottom. But it should stabilize.

Mark Rippetoe:
Have you ever thought about angling the holes toward the buckle pin?

Blake Wilson:
I talked to talk to you about that the first time I met you.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Yeah, I do remember that. What did you decide about that?

Blake Wilson:
Well, we're still trying to figure out logistically how you would do that in volume...

Mark Rippetoe:
We'll you'd have to... So when you when you take this die as the stamp, a straight vertical stamp.. So. Yeah, that would be kind of right on. You'd almost have to come in and create each hole with a separate process.

Blake Wilson:
You would you'd probably need a stamp that was guided by linear guides on an angle so that when you put it in the press it actually slid down and in came back up. It would be a it would be an engineering feat to design and build something like that.

Mark Rippetoe:
And nobody does that.

Blake Wilson:
Not that I know of. You can punch ...can punch holes by hand. You can set this on a wedge and get your punch just right and you can tap them through. But you can't really do that consistently enough.

Mark Rippetoe:
No, not if you're doing each one by hand. It would be all over the belt.

Mark Rippetoe:
And last... How do you how do you do the Starting Strength logo on the tongue down here?

Blake Wilson:
We've got a brass embossing stamp that we had made from the artwork file that you guys gave us. And we've got just an ink pad, you know, similar to what you'd use a rubber stamp with. So we'll put the die that's the color we need on the pad. Get just enough of it on there so you can put the stamp in it. We've got a fixture that holds this belt just so and guides the stamp so that it's consistent every time. And then we'll put it in a press and just lightly hit it. So it just very slightly embosses that into it.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, it's a nice clean stamp. It's in the leather. It's embossed in the leather and the ink is not running around. It's a real nice looking clean job.

Blake Wilson:
It's a very high stress thing to do, though, because usually the belts completed at that point and the only thing left to do is screw up the stamp. So. But Katie does a good job on that.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, now, here's another really important question. One of the hallmarks of a cheap belt is a cheap buckle, a cheap roller buckle with a split roller. Those damn things are a maintenance problem. I have several... a bunch of belt in my gym.

Mark Rippetoe:
You guys that have been in the gym understand that I've got lots and lots of belt in the gym. And we we have them in there for everybody to use. And we've had some of them in there for 20, 25 years.

Mark Rippetoe:
And one of the things that always happens to a cheap split roller is it will start to flare out right at the end of the at the end of the roller. It'll flare out around the around the right at the edge, usually bend the buckle. And it will start to come apart right at the split and will make a nice little pointy thing for you to slice your thumb open on.

Blake Wilson:
Not to mention scratch your belt.

Mark Rippetoe:
And scratch your belt up and you know. In your gym bag, you know, poke holes in your shirts and stuff like that. So these things are a solid roller. Where do you get these?

Blake Wilson:
Those come from the same people that supply our leather. It's a company called Weaver Leather in Ohio. They're a leather distributor. They're not a tannery, but they they bring in leather and they sell us everything we need as far as that goes.

Mark Rippetoe:
And where do they get these things? It's interesting that they know they need a solid roller. It is... It's a three inch solid roller buckle. Hard to find. They probably...

Blake Wilson:
It was in the beginning.

Mark Rippetoe:
I bet.

Blake Wilson:
They have a supplier that makes them for them. It's an overseas supplier that makes them for them. They made a four inch roller and it took a lot of convincing to get them to carry a three inch version. In the beginning, we just had to make these massive orders because they would do it all at one time. They had a five month lead time coming from overseas, so you'd have to order a year's supply of buckles just about at a time.

Blake Wilson:
We finally convinced them that people are coming around to the three inch belt and that they're going to have lots of lots and lots of business selling these things. So they're finally coming around and they're going to stock them as a stock item. And we don't have to have pallets of buckles sitting in the shop.

Mark Rippetoe:
Another thing about the buckle that is important is the slot cut in the bend here. There is nothing more annoying than than a company that cuts that slot too wide so that the pin wiggles too much back and forth and makes it hard for you to find the hole when you're trying to tighten your belt right before you go under the bar. Nothing is more irritating than that. And the width of that slot is is important in terms of your being able to use the belt quickly and efficiently. So how do you determine how wide the slots are going to be? I guess at this point your die... was there are a lot of trial and error on that?

Blake Wilson:
There was. Cutting them out with an Exacto knife and then just made a bunch of samples. Measuring exactly what you did and putting the thing together, because the other thing you can do is get it slightly too tight. And that's really bad too, because then you can bind that up completely by it just a little bit too tight. So it's a it's a fine line between having it be, you know, unusable either because too loose or too tight. Right. Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
No, these are just exactly right. The.. I've never had one that was too tight, but I can assume it just wouldn't...[motions with hand] it has to flop quickly. Right. And if it was too tight, it would probably quickly wear out to the point where it would.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh here's a sample...

Blake Wilson:
Through the middle it's not so bad, ut at the extents it's.

Mark Rippetoe:
You know what? You know why this one's too tight? They didn't cut the slot long enough.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. It rotates around its hit and just the edge of the slot.

Mark Rippetoe:
It rams into the edge of the slot right there.

Blake Wilson:
And this is what you can expect if you just go on Amazon and order the random 30 dollar belt.

Mark Rippetoe:
This is a piece of Chinese junk. Apparently...

Blake Wilson:
At least that one is at least that one is made out of the top grain leather...

Mark Rippetoe:
See the underside of the of the keeper? So exactly what Blake was talking about earlier. Look what they did at the top. It works fine at the top. But the side that lays against you. It's just this is upside down basically.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. And this is the one that was made out of the split leather where I had to cut into it to find that out because they painted the edges and then...

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh they did.

Blake Wilson:
You probably can't see it on the camera, but inside the buckle area, they they painted it brown. Or they dyed at brown somehow. So they would... you would think you were getting a top grain leather, but really you weren't. And you wouldn't know any better unless you cut into it or you just tore through it eventually.

Mark Rippetoe:
How about that. That's two plys isn't it?

Blake Wilson:
It's yes, I think it's two plys of split leather.

Mark Rippetoe:
It looks. Yeah. Just exactly. You can't see that on the camera. But it's two plys of split letter.

Blake Wilson:
And then, you know...

Mark Rippetoe:
You can stick your thumbnail right down in there and pry it open. That is two plys of split.

Blake Wilson:
And then you can see... I've done videos before where I'd take a screwdriver and just pop these rivets off that they have on here. These are decorative rivets. That's not something that belongs on a weightlifting belt.

Blake Wilson:
And then one of the the last ones that I saw was this guy. It's important that that keeper be sized correctly or you end up with this situation where you buckle the belt and then you can't get physically ... It won't physically go in the keeper so...

Mark Rippetoe:
Well and the keeper can't be too close to the bend for the buckle either. It's gotta be far enough back down the bend to where it actually functions.

Blake Wilson:
It's gonna be far enough back from here and it's gotta be tall enough. So it's not...

Mark Rippetoe:
Got enough slop in the thing to allow you to put it on quickly.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Oh but look at this. This one is made of genuine leather.

Blake Wilson:
That's code for split leather.

Mark Rippetoe:
But it's genuine leather. See the picture of our friend the cow? Yes, genuine leather.

Blake Wilson:
So, you're dealing with a lot of companies out there that are not obviously not even trying their belt on to make sure that it works.

Mark Rippetoe:
They're not lifters.

Blake Wilson:
No.

Mark Rippetoe:
They've never used the product. They don't care. They made an order of 10000 from a factory in rural China.

Blake Wilson:
Or Pakistan.

Mark Rippetoe:
Or Pakistan or India or Oklahoma. You know, where, you know, primitive conditions.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, I should say, too. It's not that it it can't be done, because that's after all, what I did in the beginning was having one source. But, man, you've really got to stay on top of them because they'll send you a couple of samples that are perfectly fine. You've got some in your gym.

Mark Rippetoe:
And then one thousand belts get here and they're all wrong. And what the hell are you going to do?

Blake Wilson:
Well, and that's that's exactly what happened to us.

Mark Rippetoe:
I'm sure.

Blake Wilson:
Year two into this. We got a thousand belts in right before Christmas time. It was a it was right at what? Thanksgiving?Yeah. And every single one of them had rust on the buckles when we got it in. So we spent...

Mark Rippetoe:
Rust on the buckles?

Blake Wilson:
Every one of them.

Mark Rippetoe:
What were the buckles made of?

Blake Wilson:
It was a plated steel, but it was obviously an inferior plating process. And they came over, you know, they slow boated them over. And after sitting in all that humid, salty air and not being sealed up correctly, we had a thousand belts at Christmas time that we couldn't sell the first one.

Mark Rippetoe:
Oh, God almighty.

Blake Wilson:
And so...

Mark Rippetoe:
What did you do with them?

Blake Wilson:
Well, we got them sending us buckles. We also found some people that were willing to sell us some of their buckles that they had in stock. And we drilled out all the rivets, took every single belt apart and put new hardware on.

Mark Rippetoe:
That really sounds like a lot of fun.

Blake Wilson:
It sucked. It really sucked.

Mark Rippetoe:
And you...and you don't make any money on the whole deal now. When you do that much stuff to fix it up so they're actually available for sale.

Blake Wilson:
And even then, you know, they had other problems with them, too. As we're taking them apart, you're seeing all the other shortcuts that are being taken, you know, as you dig into it. So even with replacing the hardware, we might find something else about the belt that wasn't something we could fix at that point. So that was sort of the last straw with those guys.

Blake Wilson:
It just sourcing that kind of thing overseas unless you're willing to go over there and manage it on the ground. It looked to me like it was unmanageable.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, this is one of the reasons why we print all of our books in the United States up in Michigan. If we and the guys we use are great. They have never, never sent us a shipment of books with an upside down signature. Nothing has ever been wrong with these guys. It's DRC in Michigan, Data Reproduction Corporation in Michigan. Just to brag on them. They do a great job.

Mark Rippetoe:
But we could save a whole bunch of money on our unit cost by having all this done in China.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah, in theory.

Mark Rippetoe:
In theory. In practice, I'd rather spend the extra dollar. Because if we had to set a load of books back, there'd be a giant nightmare if they would even take them back. And if we we got a, you know, order in 10000 books, any time we'd place an order like that, we are at the end of the previous inventory and we need them now. And they came in and they're defective. If I've got to send them back, I'd much rather send them back to Michigan than to communist China. So we've always stayed domestic.

Mark Rippetoe:
So you guys are doing all of this stuff. Is is made the United States, right?

Blake Wilson:
Yep. Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
Except for the buckle.

Blake Wilson:
Except for the buckle. And, you know, probably the rivets, too. I mean, just about anything you buy today that's made out of metal is right. That metal is gonna be sourced overseas. And, you know, it's one of the things you try to do the best you can. How far down the rabbit hole do you go with the Made in America thing? Your hand tools, some of those are not gonna be made in America. Any power tools you have. So you do the best you can.

Mark Rippetoe:
Well, and you do what's necessary for the quality of the product. If you can find a quality roller buckle that's made in China then why worry too much about it? But if you know it's a part that you can't get the quality in that you want you better go ahead and source it where you know the thing is going to not cost you a bunch of time and money to replace it if it comes in and fails.

Blake Wilson:
Right. And it's not the you know, U.S. manufacturers never screw up. It's not that we've never screwed up. But people know where we live.

Mark Rippetoe:
Right. Right.

Blake Wilson:
You know, there's some there's somebody you can strangle.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's easier to come beat you up than it would be to go to communist China and beat the guy.

Blake Wilson:
At the end of the day, they're over there. You're over here. If they say buzz off. Yeah. What are you going to do?

Mark Rippetoe:
The Pacific Ocean makes it stick, you know?

Blake Wilson:
Yeah.

Mark Rippetoe:
So what we end up with, though, is as far as I'm concerned, this is this is the best built in the industry. If you are looking for a natural leather belt, you know, I'm not going to poor mouth my buddy Dean Best. Dean makes a great product, you know, and I know he makes it a great product. But we had these things made like this for a very particular reason.

Mark Rippetoe:
I don't like a suede belt nearly as well as I like a plain leather belt. I don't like the way it feels. I don't like the way it ages. Suede is not as durable long term as this belt.

Mark Rippetoe:
You'll buy this belt, and if you don't gain weight or lose weight out of it, you will use this the rest of your life. It is a lifetime investment.

Mark Rippetoe:
I'm sorry about the no repeat business, but maybe the guy will tell his brother in law about it and he'll buy one from you too. Because you buy this belt one time, it lasts the rest of your life.

Blake Wilson:
Or like you said, people tend to either blow up or shrink. So maybe they'll need another one.

Mark Rippetoe:
It's what people do. You know, people will in fact, if you buy the thing correctly and size for the middle hole, this is... you're quite likely to just buy one belt. And I know one hundred and seventy five dollars for this quality product sounds like a hell of a lot of money.

Mark Rippetoe:
You don't want a quality belt, don't buy one. Go on Amazon and get a cheap piece of junk. Be my guest. But if you're serious about your training this Starting Strength belt. Or this Starting Strength belt is what you want.

Mark Rippetoe:
I think you ought to have one of each. And I'll tell you the reason for that. When I when I bench press. When I press, I like the way the single ply feels better and I can't really even tell you why I like it that way. But it just it feels better to me on when I'm doing it. Especially when I'm doing a bench press.

Mark Rippetoe:
No. I can get this real tight. OK. This thing tightens quickly. And when you're laying down on a bench, you're gonna be one hole tighter than your squat or your deadlift adjustment. This thing goes on quickly and easily and I can lay back against this thing and tighten it way down. And it's and I can't get I can get this one tighter and I get this one.

Mark Rippetoe:
So me being wealthy and powerful. I've got one of each. And I use them all. Use both of em all the time. And I'd advise you to do the same thing. This is one hundred and seventy five dollars. This is ninety nine ninety dollars. Orders are filled quickly and efficiently. And these things for this type of belt. This is the best built in the world.

Mark Rippetoe:
And Blake intends to keep it that way. If you've got any feedback about your belt for him, contact him at Dominion Strength dot com.

Blake Wilson:
Yeah. Dominion Strength dot com. Email us. Email us. Team at Dominion Strength dot com. Instagram at DominionSTG and Dominion Strength Training on Facebook. Get in touch with us any way.

Mark Rippetoe:
You can get in touch with him off of our web site Starting Strength dot com. You look under the equipment tab and the link to their web site is there.

Mark Rippetoe:
Thanks for coming to visit. Enjoyed it.

Blake Wilson:
Thanks for having me.

Mark Rippetoe:
And it's been enlightening, educational. Hope you guys enjoyed the talk about leather. And we appreciate you being here for Starting Strength Radio. We'll see you next time.

Quickly and accurately convert video to text with Sonix.

Sonix uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence to convert your be/_WAzcda4AP4 files to text.

Thousands of documentary filmmakers and journalists use Sonix to convert be/_WAzcda4AP4 file to srt or vtt to make their media content more accessible to the viewing public.

Sonix is the best online video transcription software in 2019—it's fast, easy, and affordable.

If you are looking for a great way to convert your be/_WAzcda4AP4 to text, try Sonix today.

Mark Rippetoe and Blake Wilson, owner of Dominion Strength, discuss belt manufacturing, leather, and the Starting Strength Belt.

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 00:47 Comments from the Haters!
  • 04:36 Guest intro - hurricanes, getting into the business
  • 11:09 Starting Strength belts
  • 13:42 What goes into the belts?
  • 14:22 -- Leather (hide): full grain, top grain, split
  • 21:40 -- Leather (use & processing): sole leather; tempers
  • 26:34 -- Leather (tanning): vegetable, chrome
  • 36:35 Thickness of the single-ply belt
  • 39:36 Rivets, buckle, keeper
  • 44:41 Getting it straight
  • 48:14 The edges
  • 49:26 Sewing & the machines
  • 51:33 Gluing with contact cement
  • 54:25 Holes & sizing the belt
  • 56:34 Angling toward the pin
  • 57:39 Putting the SS logo on
  • 58:43 Buckles
  • 01:02:43 Example junk belts
  • 01:10:38 Why this design

Episode Resources

Discuss in Forums

Subscribe: YouTube   Audio feeds: RSS | iTunes | Google Podcasts




Starting Strength Weekly Report

Highlights from the StartingStrength Community. Browse archives.