Leathercraft - How To Make a Custom Wet-Molded Leather Knife Sheath Tutorial
If you like leatherworking, one of the most popular projects to make is a knife sheath. A knife sheath like this is one of the most practical projects that a comparative beginner can make, but is still challenging enough to interest an advanced leatherworker. This leatherwork tutorial will show you how to make a leather knife sheath with just a few tools. You can learn how to wet mold leather and sew leather with the saddle stitch,
The process is fairly simple. If you work quickly, the sheath can be completed in two days, otherwise take as long as you like. This process required wet-molding, so veg-tan leather is a requirement. The leather doesn’t need to be fancy, though – a belly will work as well as a side for smaller sheaths, especially for beginners, and be a lot cheaper!
Tools for Leather Working
Besides leather, you will need a good utility knife, a cutting board of some sort (I use short pieces of scrap lumber), artificial sinew or waxed thread for stitching, needles heavy enough to sew leather, and some means of punching or drilling the holes for the stitches. A leather groover, edge beveler, and spacer set will make the project much easier and more polished professionial-looking, so use them if at all possible.
Making the Knife Sheath Pattern
1) Start by tracing around the knife to make a paper pattern, allowing 1/2-3/4 inch or so extra for stitching. You can just trace the knife on the leather, but if you make a mistake, it is going to be expensive. For the sheath in the picture, make two separate patterns for the top and bottom of the knife, since this sheath is made in two pieces which are sewn together all the way around. You also need a smaller piece for the welt – this is a thin curved section that is sewn along the edge of the sheath that comes in contact with the knife blade so that the blade doesn’t cut through the stitching. You really don’t want your sheath to come apart! Also, cut a small strip for a belt loop. Measure the width of your belt and then make it about 1.5 – 2 inches longer.
2) Cut the pattern out of the leather carefully and check to make sure that the size appears to be correct by making sure that the leather pieces more than cover the knife.
Wet-Molding the Leather Sheath
3) Now, we want to wet-mold the leather to the knife to give it a nice, tight fit so that it both looks good and won’t easily fall out of the sheath. In the picture above, you can see where the sheath has been molded to fit part of the knife handle. You can wet the leather by either soaking it in a small container for a few minutes or just holding it under a faucet and making sure that the whole piece gets thoroughly wet. Let the leather dry just slightly, but not too much. Cover the knife blade with plastic wrap or similar to keep the blade from getting too wet and rusting. Put the knife between the two leather pieces and with your fingers, carefully mold the leather to the contours of the knife. This will take a while, so do this when you have half an hour or so to give to the task. Be careful here, since wet leather takes impressions easily and you can get all kinds of marks in the leather that don’t look good. Try to keep from sticking your fingernails in it! Once the leather starts to dry out and the piece has been molded to your satisfaction, either clamp it with some leather scraps or weight it down gently to hold the leather in place until it finishes drying overnight. By the next day, the leather should be dry enough to hold its shape. Congratulations, you now have a custom fit for your knife!
4) Glue the welt along the edge of the piece where the knife blade will contact the sheath.
5) Mark your locations for stitching holes along the edges of both parts of the sheath. First, make a line of some sort to show where the stitching should run. This can be done easily by using a groover, or you can use calipers, a compass, or any other way that you can mark a line keeping a constant distance from the edge of the piece. Once you have this line, mark where the individuals holes should go along it. A leather spacing tool is best, but a small nail, fork, or anything that can make an impression will work. All you want to do here is make sure that the mark for each hole is a constant distance from the next, so that your stitching will look good.
6) This is the time to glue and sew the belt loop on the back piece of the sheath. Find the point where you would like the belt loop to sit. Put glue on the upper and lower 3/4” of the loop and set it onto the sheath. When the glue dries, punch a few holes so that you can stitch it together. You can use a thin ice pick (actually one of the best choices), a drill, a dremel tool (which I used for this project), or anything else that will go through the leather. Now stitch it on. The best stitch for leather is the saddle stitch, but it is a little too detailed for this article. I have a more detailed explanation of the saddle stitch in another hub entitled Leathercraft - Learn How To Saddle Stitch (The Best Stitch for Leatherwork").
Other Good Leatherworking Hubs
Saddle Stitching the Leather Sheath
7) Now that you have the exact locations for each stitching hole and the belt loop is sewn on, glue the upper and lower sides together. Give them a little time to dry, then punch or drill the holes through both pieces using the tool you used on the belt loop.
8) This is the last main step! Stitch the sheath together using the saddle stitch. This will take a while to do, but it is worth doing.
The sheath is really done at this point! There are other things you can do if you want to make it look nicer. The edges will look better if you run a leather edger over them. You can sand the edges to make them nice and even – most of us can’t cut a pattern perfectly, so a little evening of the edges is great. You can stain or dye the whole sheath. I’d recommend this, but it isn’t necessary.
Whether you do any of the above, the last step of all (apart from maybe dying or staining) is to burnish the edges of the sheath. This is done by wetting the edges and then rubbing them hard with a round hard object. A glass or glass candle or round smooth metal container work great. This gives the edge a dark, smooth, shiny look and really finishes the sheath off nicely.
Well, you have now made a nice custom sheath! It takes a little practice sometimes, but leatherwork is really fun and can be quite an addicting hobby! For more information about leatherworking, please check out my other hubs and leathercraft-projects.com.
Have fun with it! If anyone would like further explanation, or if I left something out, please let me know and I will try to answer.