A sheath is important to ensure safety and protection of a knife you carry every day. Making a homemade sheath is not as difficult, once you’ve got a set of required tools, materials and a bit of passion. Learn how to craft your personalized knife sheath in several simple steps.
Basically, even a budding knifemaker can make a knife sheath on his own. Making a simple sheath can take some time and effort, but is not difficult even for a beginner. All you need is some leather, a few tools, and a few lessons. Instead of buying a sheath from a vendor, you can design and create your knife sheath by yourself and see how handcrafting imparts personalization to the pattern, materials, and usability of your sheath.
However, making an upscale sheath for custom knives, lavishly inwrought and adorned, requires much practice and expertise.
For a sheath project, you’ll need quality leather, like tooling leather. And you’ll need various cutting, marking and punching tools. The leatherworking tools include:
Leather thickness is measured as weight in ounces (the weight refers to how thick the leather is). The thickness of the leather will affect how the sheath performs and wears over time: thicker (heavier) leathers are more durable. For knife sheaths, 6 to 8 ounce leather is used, which is about 3/32” to 1/8” thick. A 6-7 ounce leather will do for smaller knives (up to 4 inches in blade length), but 8 ounce leather is recommended for belt loops for better durability. 8 to 9 ounce leather is best for all parts of larger knives.
Cow hide is a good choice for a knife sheath. Vegetable tanned leather is even better, as it will not inflict corrosion to a blade. For a product that is going to last, you’d better choose full-grain or top-grain cow leather. The strongest part of the hide is the top level with a very tight grain pattern that is called “full-grain” leather. It is very durable and resists moisture very well. The second strongest part is called “top-grain” leather.
There are two basic types of knife sheaths: the fold-over (or pouch-style) sheath and the two-seam sheath. The fold-over sheath uses one piece of leather that is folded over itself and sewn along the sides. The two-seam sheath has two pieces of leather laid on top of each other and stitched across the sides.
Choose a design, basing the pattern on your knife’s size. Trace the knife on a sheet of graph paper or cardboard, making allowances for folding. Add a welt with the shape fitting the sheath side. Add a piece for the belt strap. Then cut out the paper template with a knife and transfer the template design onto leather. Fix your pattern onto the leather with tape, use a pencil to trace the design onto the leather, and then cut out the pattern with a thin utility knife. Trim the welt.
After cutting out the sheath parts, the leather needs to be dyed. At this stage, wear disposable rubber gloves. Before dying the leather, it’s good to damp it from the back which makes the leather flexible. Dip the applicator into the dye and apply an even coat of dye on the leather’s front. Carefully spread the stain until the color looks even. Re-saturate the applicator as necessary and cover the entire surface with dye. As the dye dries up, polish the surface with a dry rag to remove any excess dye or residue.
Lay the sheath on a flat workspace, align the welt along the sides of the sheath and trace the welt’s inner line with a pencil. Apply a thin, even layer of leather cement to each side of the sheath and each side of the welt. Then put the pieces together and allow the cement to cure.
Mark the stitch line across the edge – it should run down the center of the welt to ensure that the welt remains in place. Use a groover or a wing divider to create a stitching line. Then pierce holes inside the stitching line with an awl (or a 2-teeth chisel) and a mallet. Applying a damp cloth over the stitch line will wet the leather, thus easing the process.
Cut your thread very long. You might use a sewing palm to help you push the needles through the holes. Start stitching the main seam: use two needles and thread each end of the waxed thread through each of the needles. Then make a saddle stitch along the edges of the sheath. In the end, make a back stitch, three or four holes long, trim and melt the threads.
Trim off excess leather from the sides with a skiver. Sand the edges – either by hand or with a belt sander. The surface must be smooth enough, without any frayed edges. Then apply layers of dye (protective coating). As the dye dries, remove any excess dye, apply beeswax and burnish the edges with a wooden stick (burnisher).
Finally, you should buff the leather and treat it with oil. Polishing and waterproofing your sheath with oil will increase its service life, as oil seals the leather and protects it from water damage. Dip your leather sheath into the oil and then let it dry.
Gloss your leather sheath by rubbing it with a dry cloth, and it’s done!