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Knife Sheaths of the early American Frontier

Updated on February 9, 2013
A fold over hand stitched antiued leather pouch style belt sheath
A fold over hand stitched antiued leather pouch style belt sheath

Knife Sheaths that still work well today

Today when one thinks of a knife sheath you might think of a sheath made of a hard plastic worn on the belt.  You can see plenty of these in the glass case at your local big box store.

The other popular Production made sheath is the nylon type sheath with a few stitches and rivets holding it together maybe with a camo design. But....if your of the traditional mind set you might be thinking of the leather knife sheath.

Years ago Knives and sheath were carried in different ways and made of leather, rawhide and sometimes wood.

A common way to carry a knife during the 18th and well into the 19th century was high on the belt, often cross drawn. Either worn on the belt or sometimes even thrust through the belt without a belt loop.

Carrying a leather knife sheath in a high carry can still to this day be a great way to carry your knife in the field, hunting, camping or your woods journeys.

You can see from the photo this large knife can be carried high on the belt, left side and cross drawn with the right hand.  Sheaths of this style can also be set up to be worn on the right and drawn with the left hand.
You can see from the photo this large knife can be carried high on the belt, left side and cross drawn with the right hand. Sheaths of this style can also be set up to be worn on the right and drawn with the left hand.

Another common way a knife was worn and still is worn by some was around the neck. This is referred to as a neck knife. During the 18th century knives were generally larger and it wasn't uncommon to see a larger sized trade knife worn as a neck knife by long hunters, trappers and Native Americans. The photo below is a period piece from my shop and the neck sheath was done in antiqued brain tanned leather at the top with a hard rawhide body. The beads are vintage trade beads.

Vintage style frontier knife.  Brain tan  and aged leather belt sheath with vintage trade beads,  Antiqued hand forged stag knife with patina aged blade.
Vintage style frontier knife. Brain tan and aged leather belt sheath with vintage trade beads, Antiqued hand forged stag knife with patina aged blade. | Source

As mentioned above it wasn't uncommon for a knife to be worn on the belt through a sash or belt. An example shown below could be worn this way. This sheath was another hand worked from my shop as well as the knife. Sheath of brain tan and rawhide.

This set up below is referred to by some as over the belt carry sheath. The loop on the side can have a belt run through it or sash to be worn on the left or right side, or I have even seen these worn in the small of the back. These continue to be favored by many to this day as a knife carry option for option. I have also seen custom leather pistol holsters set up in a similar fashion.  I made the one below for a gentleman that wanted his hunting knife set up this way.

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    • profile image

      Jim Peplinski 6 years ago

      Great to see actual leather sheath's. It has become a lost art of hand made leather work and hand made knives.

    • mlesniewski profile image
      Author

      mlesniewski 6 years ago from Upstate NY

      Hi Him, Thank you very much. appreciate that.

      Your right it is becoming a vanishing thing.

      Once again thank you

      Matt

    • GNelson profile image

      GNelson 5 years ago from Florida

      Really great hub. Some talent went into making the knives and sheaths.

    • mlesniewski profile image
      Author

      mlesniewski 5 years ago from Upstate NY

      Thank you GNelson..appreciated..

    • profile image

      Ghost32 5 years ago

      It's interesting to see the sheaths that extend up to cover most of the knife handle. Never had seen even one of those before!

      During my hardcore hunting years (age 12 to age 26), every hunting blade I owned had a leather sheath stopping at the guard, then a strap-and-snap around the handle just below the hilt.

      With one exception. The summer before my sophomore year in high school, got myself a mail order fixed-blade knife for 99 cents (plus postage). The blade was three layers of laminated Swedish steel, somewhere around 4 to 5 inches long. Came with a bright red plastic sheath.

      Worked well enough as a hunting knife, yet slim enough (even with the blond wooden handle) that I was able to carry it as a hidden boot knife in school. Fortunately, no one but me (and I mean no one!) ever knew I was packing, and I was never dumb enough to have it on me during basketball season when I had to dress out for practice!

      Not a clue whatever happened to that thing....

    • mlesniewski profile image
      Author

      mlesniewski 5 years ago from Upstate NY

      Hi Ghost:

      Most knife sheaths during the 18th and even into the 19th century were similar to this..handle was covered with a pouch type sheath. This was before snaps.

      Second and third picture down are braintan deer skin and rawhide core or part of the body of the sheath..

      I understand what your saying though as time went by we have grown used to seeing knife sheaths with snaps and most of the handle exposed on a knife.

      Those swedish laminated knives held a decent edge. I believe it was prob carbon steel in the center down into the cutting edge..

      Thanks for posting.

    • TNmoonshine profile image

      TNmoonshine 5 years ago

      Hey.. The Sheaths are Awesome.. I need a couple of Sheaths like the example in picture 3... Item An example shown below could be worn this way. This sheath was another hand worked from my shop as well as the knife. Sheath of brain tan and rawhide. This what I need in the Blade size.. I can send Pics of Knife also...The Blade size is Blade is 7 ½” long, 1 ¼” wide, and 3/32” Can you contact me.. Let me know...

    • mlesniewski profile image
      Author

      mlesniewski 5 years ago from Upstate NY

      TNmoonshine..thank you very much..email sent..

    • profile image

      Turtle 5 years ago

      As much as we hear/read about carbon steel knives rusting and leather sheaths rotting when they come in contact with water or even humidity, it's a wonder that our fore fathers managed to survive without synthetics and wonder steels. My heart and soul reside in the past. What you make exemplifies the true definition of heirloom quality. Tools that, if cared for, will be around for my great grand kids(Lord willin') to use if they need a good knife.

    • profile image

      stormpebbles 5 years ago

      just wondering if anyone reading this can help me out with bark tanning ,(im tanning a bull hide thats ranges from about 6 mm up to 15 mm thick.)

      **** how often do u change the solution, ive been making a new solution every weekend , is this correct?

      and when making the solution ****do u boil ur bark ?(ive been boiling each solution , i just bring it to the boil then the next morning when the solution is cold i strain it and put the peices of skin in.. nope not doing the whole hide in one peice .. would need a crane to lift it lol )

      THANKYOU IN ADVANCE

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