Please note – this is an old, outdated tutorial meant for the absolute beginner. If you would like to learn how a standard leather sheath with retaining strap is built please see the new knife sheath tutorial here.
In the final moments of 2014 I managed to pull together the last tutorial for the year. One I had promised a few emails back and one that I had been wanting to do for quite some time (I purchased the knife back in July after all!) Now that the holiday season has started to wind down, I can finally take a breath or two of the outside air. So crisp and pure, such a memory of several months ago when I last inhaled the fresh outdoors. Well, let’s get down to business shall we…
This here is the knife. As mentioned, I had bought it several months ago from a man in Northern CA who hand forges his knives from scratch. Then he makes custom handles out of wood or collected antlers. It was a design and an idea I couldn’t pass up on, and I love supporting other makers out there. If you get a chance take a look at his selection of knives at Jay Bear Knives, he’s one talented dude.
The tools of the trade needed for this job are shown above. From left to right: hand-stitching thread, scissors, a mallet, diamond shaped awl puncher (pro-series with interchangeable heads), cutting wheel, stitching groover, edge beveler (the smallest size you have), your knife…it can be any size, some leather (I am using full-grain vegetable-tanned), a stitching horse.
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Now, I had been thinking about this tutorial for several months – and when it came down to it and I had some free time… I decided to just wing it! It’s really the best (most fun) way to design and make things. Basically I decided to throw the knife down on the leather and start drawing the shape around it. I figured I deal with any problems as they come up…which they always do. So be sure to read ahead before proceeding on your own as there is one big problem coming up fairly quickly!
After sketching out the first side, I flipped the knife over to continue the shape on the other side, keeping in mind that the sheath will be folded in half and sewn up the side. Most of it is symmetrical, but I wanted to also add a belt loop for easy attachment on the waist.
Here you can see the extra length drawn for the belt loop, it should be about 1/2 inch longer than the width of your belt so that there is room for the stitching. Keep in mind that this tutorial will work for a knife of any size, you just have to eyeball things and adjust for your own knife. On mine I wanted the entire blade to be protected as well as about an inch of the handle so that it would sit snugly in the sheath.
I cut out the larger curves and straight lines with the cutting wheel…
Then I moved on to my pair of Chinese scissors to cut tighter curves and round corners.
Here’s the basic shape I got.
I then folded it in half and took a look at my symmetrical drawing skills. They apparently were a bit off – so I held it down while folded and cut the excess off.
After looking at my shape for a minute or two and testing it out with the knife holding it on my belt I realized pretty quickly I had made a big mistake. This goes with the territory of doing things on the fly! The shape I had automatically cut out was meant for a left handed person. There was a fifty fifty chance of that I guess, but doesn’t it always seem to work out for the worst?
Knowing that I should probably correct this mistake early on, I decided to take advantage of this setback by choosing a new piece of scrap leather that I liked with extra scarring. Above is a piece I would not normally use on my wallets because it is a bit too marred…but I must admit – I do love this kind of texture and it’s perfect for my sheath.To get the same pattern but in reverse for a right handed cowboy, I flipped the pattern over and traced it out. Once cut, I lightly misted the edges to prepare the leather for cutting the stitching groove and beveling the edge.
Here is the stitching groove in action. Its job is to create a line parallel to the edge to give me reference for punching the stitching holes. It also helps sink the thread to protect it from wear. After cutting the groove, I bevel the edges to take care of that hard looking edge when you use the cutting wheel. I stamped it with the next number in line and branded with my logo, why not!
Then I took a break and caugth myself deep in thought about knife sheaths.
I skipped photographing a step – my dyeing process. That is another tutorial for another day. It can be quite complex. You don’t actually need to dye vegetable-tanned leather as it will age quite beautifully on its own, creating a deep rich patina over time. In the step above I am applying a light coat of oil. There are many types you can use, as well as pre-fabricated oil/wax mixtures. I make my own all natural mix…the same stuff I send out in a free tin to all of my customers. It’s great stuff and I can work with it, without using gloves!After the oiling and waxing the sheath pattern is really starting to look like something. On to the pounding block. I have clamped the sheath together to help me align it when I punch through with the awl. I carefully line up the awl in the groove and knock it with the mallet. All the way around the sheath, re-attaching the clamps on the other side to help keep things straight. I then open up the sheath and fold the belt loop part into place. Punching two sets of four holes for a little extra durability. Here is the sheath in the stitching horse. The first step is to stitch up the belt loop before stitching up the sides…or you can guess what kind of trouble you’d be in. I am not going to go into detail here about how to make the stitch, but I do recommend that you check out this other tutorial half way through, as I have some great closeups with explanations on how to hand-stitch. The same applies to this sheath. Here’s the other tutorial: How to make a Leather Wallet I chose to double-stitch the top part of the belt loop for a bit more strength since it is a stress point. Now you can stitch up the side. Make sure to back-stitch 3 or so holes to help the thread stay in place.
Now that the sheath is ready to test out…I noticed another big problem. The knife slides in nicely. So nicely that it goes straight down into the thread area. This is real bad. Within days that thread will be sliced by the knife.Where there is a problem, there is a solution waiting to be had. I took another scrap piece of leather. And cut it into the shape of the bottom of the sheath. I then proceeded to wedge it in there to the bottom. A perfect solution? No. But it makes the sheath functional, and time will tell if some other solution needs to be found. If you want to fully avoid this problem, you will need to cut out a thick strip of leather the same shape as the side of the sheath with stitching. Then you will need to stitch that in between the side so that if the knife pulls down to the bottom or side…it will just hit a thick piece of leather and not the stitching. Another problem arose quickly thereafter…don’t you love the world of hand-made? The knife felt a bit too loose in the sheath since I had designed it just a tad too big. I needed to tighten it a bit with a few more stitches. Punching the holes with the awl. I stitched that sucker up. Again – this is all on the fly and more about just winging things. This here ain’t a perfect solution either as it is possible for the knife to slowly wear these stitches down each time it is drawn. I decided to take that chance as it isn’t the end of the world if it does happen…since these last two stitches are separate from the structural stitches on the side. If they get cut I cn easily re-stitch later on. While the sheath is still moist I press the edges against the burnisher. It is a drill-press mounted one and does quick work on smoothing and polishing the edge.
Now what is a knife sheath tutorial without some beauty shots? I must say – I do love that scarring that I chose, it makes a great accent. If you loved this tutorial – please let me know by writing a comment in the section below. Feel free to ask questions there as I am likely to respond so all can benefit. Happy New Year to all and thank you again for supporting my work and livelihood!