How To Make a Leather Axe Sheath - Part 1

how to make a leather axe sheath

The other day I was in my workshop pondering life as a leatherworker. As I sat there staring ahead I noticed that my axe, purchased years ago, was delicately balanced on the wall. Its exposed blade a harbinger of impending misfortune if an earthquake were to hit.

Yes an exposed blade is an unsafe blade, and as a worker in the leather trade – it is my duty to cover it with a fine sheath. And so – in this tutorial I will explain the entire process of creating a very finely crafted leather sheath using the right materials, and building it the right way. There are many many other how-tos out there on how to build an axe sheath, but most are done a bit sloppily and, no offense, half assed!

In this tutorial, meant for the intermediate to advanced leatherworker, we will build an axe sheath very similarly to how I build custom knife sheaths. Let’s get on to it!

Jump to Parts 2 and 3:

Part 2 Part 3

axe for sheath tutorial

Here’s a shot of my axe, precariously positioned above a chair I like to sit in while resting my feet. As you may imagine, it would be quite beneficial to get this project done as soon as possible. This tutorial is divided into 3 parts, but feel free to rest at any point. I typically try to work through to a point where I glue things, then take breaks when the glue’s a dryin’.

Tools and Supplies

Templating Tools

tools for template making axe sheath

First things first – I always like to template out my design. This way I can make the mistakes on paper…not on expensive leather! You’ll need scissors – I like the Gingher serrated type, a pencil – I prefer thin lead drafting pencils for templates, eraser, ruler, and for the template material, nothing beets a manila folder. By showing you how to template…I am teaching you how to fish instead of giving you one. You can apply this technique to making most items, it’ll make more sense for sheaths though, due to construction techniques.

Cutting Tools

cutting tools used in making and axe sheath

I’ll go into detail further down as to why I use the cutting tools above, but for now – here’s a list. Gingher Serrated scissors, box cutter, 3/16 inch hole punch, water, sponge, and that green looking card up there is a business card with green stropping compound rubbed into it. You’ll want it to sharpen your razor blade (yep!). It is also used to polish up your stitching tools.

General Tools Needed

hand tools used in diy axe sheath

Here are some of the general tools I used as well. Japanese skiving knife, any skiving knife will do. Edge beveler, you can get away with a #2. V-groover, scratch awl or you can use a pencil, my maker’s stamp (get your own made!), silicon glue spreader, Fiebing’s Leathercraft cement, rotary hole puncher, weighted maul or mallet.

Stitching Tools

stitching tools in axe sheath tutorial

The tools needed for stitching are stitch marker at 6 stitches per inch, stitch groover, another stitch groover but with a marking tool inserted, two harness needles, diamond awl chisels spaced at 6 stitches per inch (I used the 1 prong and two prong), wool edge dye dauber, fiebing’s pro dye, thread of your choice, I used a 1.2mm Ritza Tiger Thread in brown. Also – on the edge there is a rubber poundo board. Not shown is a wax ball I use to add wax to the thread before stitching. It’s 2 parts beeswax to 1 part pine pitch or rosin. You double boil it to mix the two and cool into cups.

Edge Finishing Tools

edge finiahsing tools in axe sheath tutorial

Finishing the edges you will need a soft cloth (mine is a ripped t-shirt), 600 grit sandpaper, 220 grit sandpaper, a cocobolo edge burnisher for your drill press (or if you want an alternative just get a piece of canvas cloth or old jean material), 50/50 mixture of beeswax and paraffin.

Rivet and Snap Setting Tools

snap and rivet setting tools for axe sheath tutorial

Lastly to attach the retaining strap I used a rivet and snap, so you will need a rivet and some ligne 24 snaps male and female. To the right are the male snap setting dies for use in either a hand or foot press. You can also use simpler hand toold with a mallet, but save yourself the agony and invest in at least a hand press.

Though we aren’t quite there yet – the leather I will be using is 8-9 oz. saddle skirting in a deep brown color. Saddle skirting or tooling leather will work well here and this thickness gives the sheath a nice sturdy feel to it. Sheaths that come with axes typically are of thin, low quality leather or vinyl. What you’ll be making here will likely live on the axe for the entirety of its lifetime. You’ll need about 2 square feet and you can find small amounts of that online…scroll way down this post for more details.

Making the Template

axe sheath template

I start by placing the axe as pictured above, 1/4 inch away from the center fold of the folder. The reason being, this sheath will be folded over the top of the axe and 1/4 inch gives enough room for the leather to bend and compress for stitching. This also will give you some play at the opening for getting the blade into the sheath without slicing the leather.making an axe sheath template

Starting at the tip of the blade, I trace a line down the edge of the curved blade.making an axe sheath template

Stopping the line at the other tip.making an axe sheath template

From the tip I extended the line about 1/4 of an inch further. This is also done to add extra play for inserting the axe blade. I decided that at the bottom of the sheath I wanted it to cover the blade by about 1.5 inches, so I drew a line backward by about that much.making an axe sheath template

In order to draw the welt (the interior piece of leather sandwiched in between both sides of the sheath that is used to protect the stitching from being pushed against the blade), I measure out about 1/2 inch straight back and made a line.

making an axe sheath template

Now I continue to measure 1/2 inch away from the line drawn close to the blade and make tick marks every inch or two. This will be used as a guide for when I draw in the full curve of the welt.

making an axe sheath template

Continuing around the blade, I draw tick marks at the half inch point. This will make your welt 1/2 inch wide, which technically is probably wider than needed, you can get away with a 3/8 inch measurement instead if you want to make yours even nicer than mine.making an axe sheath template

Continue the tick marks to the top of the blade.

making an axe sheath template

At the fold of the folder I drew in a semi circle using a 3/16 inch hole punch shown in the photo below. This curve will help curve the top of the sheath backward when folded and stitched. You can eyeball the curve if you like too. I also continued the line next to the blade all the way to the center of the folder.making an axe sheath template

Above is the hole punch I used to make the semi-circle. It’s 3/16 inch, but you can also eyeball the curve too.

making an axe sheath template

I decided the sheath on the top should cover the blade by about 4 inches. This is somewhat arbitrary, I wanted it wider here so I can make a nice curve down to the bottom part of the sheath in the next steps.making an axe sheath template

Here I make a tick mark for the end of the top of the sheath. axe sheath tutorial template

Now I have drawn the top edge of the sheath to connect with the lower end in a nice curve. The shape you decide to draw is up to you at this point, but the above is the fairly typical axe sheath look.cutting the axe sheath template

Fold the folder in half and cut out the outer line shape of the sheath.

cutting the axe sheath template

Take the shape you just cut, folded in half, and trace it onto another part of the manila folder. Make sure the fold on your shape and the folder are aligned at the top edge as seen above.cutting the axe sheath template

This is the traced shape you will now have on the folded folder.cutting the axe sheath template

Cut out the traced shape with a sharp pair of scissors.cutting the axe sheath template

Now you have two identical sheath patterns, except the top one has a tracing of the welt pattern on it.welt template for axe sheath

Go ahead and cut out the welt pattern from the one with the welt lines on it.finished axe sheath template

You can discard the extra paper. Above is the sheath pattern and welt pattern that will be sandwiched when the sheath is folded and stitched.

Cutting the Leather

skirting leather for axe sheath tutorial

As mentioned I am using a roll of the finest saddle skirting made in the U.S. If you only need a little for your project, you can typically find scrap pieces and off-cuts from ebay. Just be aware that you don’t want anything cut from the belly area, or way out on the neck – this tends to be a very stretchy area of a hide. Make sure to ask the seller what part of the hide the piece will  be cut from. You may need about 2 square feet to account for all pieces including a long strap will will cut out in a second.thickness of leather for axe sheath

This handy measuring tool tells me what thickness my leather is. To use it, cut a nice straight edge into the leather and lightly push the leather into the tool.tracing axe sheath template onto leather

Place your template on the leather and trace it out using a pencil.pattern for axe sheath on skirting leather

Above are the traced templates. I botched the upper line on one, but since it is so close to the edge, it’ll disappear once we bevel it.cutting leather to make an axe sheath  On thicker leather like this, it’s helpful to rough cut out around the entire area where the tracing is. This allows you to wet just that leather as seen next.cutting leather to make an axe sheath

Cutting leather this thick can be an art of its own. There are many tools that can do it and many traditionalists prefer to use the round knife or head knife. That’s basically a large exposed razor sharp blade shaped as a semi-circle that you usually push through the leather to cut. It has quite the steep learning curve – part of which is learning how to properly sharpen and hone the blade. I went through that process months ago and still have not grown comfortable using such a large, exposed and slightly unwieldy blade…so I came up with another option. I wet the leather first, which softens the fibers and makes them about 3 times easier to cut through. cutting leather to make an axe sheath

Go ahead and we the leather using a damp sponge. Don’t soak it though, it’s hard communicate just how much will work for you – just experiment a little and you’ll see fairly quickly.cutting leather to make an axe sheath

Using my sharp pair of Gingher serrated blade scissors, I can now easily cut through this thick leather. The serrated blade is key. There are many leather shears, scissors etc, that are marketed to be able to cut through any thickness of leather. I have nearly tried them all, and they are all a pain in the ass. Just adding a micro-serration to the blade on this pair, makes it easy for the scissors to grip the leather while cutting. Invest in a pair and you will thank me ten times over.cutting leather to make an axe sheath

I find scissors to be fairly nimble for cutting leather, and it makes it easy to cut curves. Above is the welt and I am showing that the outer curve is purposefully not cut on the line. This is done so that when fitting it in the sheath, it will extend outward from the other edges, making it easy to sand down into place for a perfect edge.cutting leather to make an axe sheath

My basic box cutters are my second go-to tool for cutting. They will work ten times better if you hone them on a strop first. Yep – you can actually sharpen a razor to be sharper than you believe it could possibly be. That’s a whole other tutorial though and I will be making one for it. Basically, buy some green stropping compound, rub it into the back of a business card, then wipe the blade on it several times on each side. It wont seem like much, but it will glide through the leather after that. Sharper than a razor!cutting leather to make an axe sheath

Here are the cut out pieces of the sheath, next let’s get the retaining strap cut.

Cutting the Strap

cutting the axe sheath strap

The length of my finished strap ended up being about 15 inches, but it is smart at this point to cut yours extra long and trim to size when fitting it. I’d make the rough cut about 21 inches for most standard axes.cutting the axe sheath strap

Find a long enough section of leather to cut the strap from and lay your long steel ruler down. Note that I have to photograph this with one hand, so even though most processes require two hands, you may only see the one with the tool in it in this tutorial. Using a rolling razor by Olfa, I carefully cut a long straight line as close to the edge of the leather as possible to avoid waste.cutting the axe sheath strap

To make the strap uniformly parallel, I use a generic strap-cutter like this above.cutting the axe sheath strap

Pull the strap cutter through the leather. With a fresh razor in there, it should barely make any noise and cut easily.leather for making an axe sheath diy

The lens bends this photo a bit – but here are all the leather pieces cut out in rough form.

Prepping the edges

sanding edges on axe sheath

Next I take the outer sheath leather over to my belt sander and using a medium grit paper, I clean the edges up. You want your edges perpendicular – scissors may have under cut the leather at a slight angle so it’s nice to clean that up at this point. Also, any imperfect curves can be fixed now.sanding edges on axe sheath

I go around the entire sheath until i’m satisfied. Usually only taking a few minutes. Keep the leather moving or the sandpaper will singe it.

Like this post so far?

I spend most of my free time creating tutorials like this to help those like yourself get into leatherwork and woodworking, or get better at it. If you'd like to support my efforts, consider checking out my handmade leather goods shop and purchasing a gift for yourself or a loved one. It's readers like you that help keep a small U.S. business like mine going strong, so -thank you!

setting width on stitch groover to make an axe sheath

Next up – we will be preparing the sheath for stitching. On thicker leather I like to use a stitch groover to help sink the stitches below the surface of the leather – this helps protect stitching from wear and tear.

My stitch groover is set to be about 3/16 inches from the guide on the right. This puts my stitches about that far in from the edge. I would consider this a minimum for an item like this, you may choose 1/4 inches if you have less experience.

cutting the stitch groove on an ax sheath

Very carefully and slowly I run the groover around only the edge that will be sewn, and only on the front side of the sheath. No need to do the back edge as we will get to that after everything is glued together. The reason being – after glueing, the back edge may not align perfectly, so you will need to sand it down a bit. In doing so – you are reducing the edge and it would make the stitch line closer than the front. See below for where the stitch line will go.finished stitch groove on axe sheath

The stitch groove is made starting on the right hand side, 1/8 inch from the top edge, al the way around to about 1/8 inch from the center of the sheath where it will fold. That’s it!wetting the leather edge on an axe sheath

Next, very lightly dampen the edge of the entire sheath on the grain side shown above.wetting the backside of leather axe sheath  Also lightly dampen the back flesh side, but only along the opening of where the blade enters the sheath.leather creaser used to mark axe sheath

I am making a decorative line on my sheath – the simplest possible thing you can do, but it does help the look quite a bit! Above is a stitch groover, except I replaced the cutting part with a tiny marking dull blade. They usually come with the tool when you purchase. This will not cut the leather, it merely creates an indentation.marking decorative line in sheath for an axe

I adjust the edge guide to about twice the distance of the stitch grove, or about 3/8 inch. Then carefully impress the tool into the leather. It takes a bit to get used to this tool, curves can be especially challenging, so go slowly and thinkthrough your moves!

finished decorative line on axe sheath

Above is the completed decorative line around the entire sheath. You can further stamp yours, or carve it too.leather edge beveler

With the edges still slightly damp, I use the edge beveler either size 1 or 2 will workbeveling the edge of an ax sheath

On the grain side, I run the tool around the entire sheath. beveling the edge of an ax sheath

Flipping the leather over to the flesh side, I run the tool only along the opening of the sheath.

Prepping the Strap

tools for cutting the end of a strap for axe sheath tutorial

Next up, we’ll prepare the strap. To cut the end of the strap you can simply use a pair of scissors, but for more style – I am using my belt end-cutter and a weighted maul with a rubber poundo board underneath (although if you have a thick plastic cutting board I would recommend that because the end-cutter can go through the rubber with too much force).belt end cutter for axe sheath

Close tot he end I cut the tip off, careful to center it up.wetting the strap edges in preparation to bevel

To prep the edges, I lightly dampen them as before on the grain side.wetting the strap edges in preparation to bevel

Also dampen on the flesh side.

making a decorative line in a leather axe sheath

Using my decorative edge tool – I adjusted the guide back down to 3/16 inch and made a line down both sides of the strap. It’s easier to do this before beveling the edge, though sometimes I forget that fact and bang myself in the head. beveling the strap edge

Next go ahead and bevel the edges on both sides – grain and flesh. (you wont see the decorative line here because in reality I forgot and did it next!).japanese style skiver

This next step is not entirely necessary, but I did it for example anyhow. Using a Japanese style skiver, or any skiver you have, we will take some leather off the end of the strap to help it flow down into the sheath better.using a japanese style skiver on strap for axe sheath

Nothing feels quite as good as a high-quality skiving blade. It’ll cut through leather like butter. The Japanese style one is used at an angle, with the beveled side down. We will remove small amounts of leather on the flesh side only. The point is to taper the end down to half the thickness.skived strap

Above is a cross angle to show how and where the taper is.cleaning up the edge on a strap

I use my scissors to clean the frizzy edges up a bit.marking the rivet hole on strap for axe sheath

Then, we will place a rivet on the leather to approximate where we need to punch a hole through the strap. The strap will be attached to the sheath on the backside by a rivet, and on the front side by a ligne 24 snap. If you don’t have rivets or a rivet setting tool, you can also sew your strap onto the sheath. Though I am only showing the rivet method here. Push the rivet into the leather to mark its location.marked hole on leather strap

Above is the mark made by the rivet showing where to punch the hole.punching the hole on a strap

For hole punching – I use the typical revolving punch. The kind with a removable plate below makes it a bit nicer as that’s what will wear out first. I tend to replace these after several years of service. Go ahead and punch the hole at a size jsut big enough for the rivet to poke through.

I think that’s good enough for the first part of this tutorial. In the next section, we will work on the final steps to prep for gluing and stitching. Stay tuned until I finish editing the next part! Have a good day.

Jump to Parts 2 and 3:

Part 2 Part 3

Like this post so far?

I spend most of my free time creating tutorials like this to help those like yourself get into leatherwork and woodworking, or get better at it. If you'd like to support my efforts, consider checking out my handmade leather goods shop and purchasing a gift for yourself or a loved one. It's readers like you that help keep a small U.S. business like mine going strong, so -thank you!

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