Thought I´d something on how I put leather on sword grips. The method I use involve vegetable tanned leather that is dyed with alcohol dyes. The grip has a shaped wood core that is fitted over the tang. The core is then wrapped with cord (linen or hemp) and given a coating of hide glue to make a good base for the leather.
The leather is put on wet and glued with hide glue. This has at least two benefits: you get time to work as the glue takes time to set, and the leather is soft and plastic, making it possible to shape it, press it, mold it, emboss it or whatever suits your fancy. I did not manage to capture all steps in the process. Especially the last part where you wrap the glued leather over the grip and have to bind it down with cord, is messy and a bit stressful (at least for me). If you have any questions, I´ll be happy to answer as best I can.
First an image of the two swords I was working on at the same time. One is a type XVIIIb: a slim but powerful sword of war in a gentleman´s guise. The other is a broad and thin type XXII: much lighter than one would think just by looking. The slimmer sword is actually a slightly bit heavier than the wide one. The broad sword is inspired by an original in the Dresden armoury, but is no attempt at a copy or replica. It is simply a sword of the same type, the same general dimensions and with a style that would be familiar at the beginning of the 16th C.
Next is a close up f the hilts where you can see the cord under wrap as it looks when finished:
Below the broad sword is having its risers added to the wrap as a final touch. There risers give surprisingly good purchase when you wield the sword. They also help to keep the leather in place as it shrinks when drying.
A close up of the pommel:
And a detail of the end of the guard:
Leather is being prepared by skiving. Thin (about 0.8 - 1.3 mm) calf or goat skin is first cut to shape so a small amount can be folded over itself at the ends of the grip towards pommel and guard. This folding makes the end more finished looking and avoids the frayed flesh side of the leather to be exposed to view. The wrap is done so that there is a "seam" along the length of the grip. It should be placed so it faces downwards when the sword is worn in its scabbard. This is the finger side of the grip. The overlap at the seam is about 15 mm. By skiving the leather down to nothing, you get a seam that can be just about invisible. This is good both for aesthetics, but also helps greatly to avoid anything catching the leather and opening the seam. I also think it makes the gluing more secure.
Next step is dying the leather after giving it a good soak in luke warm water. The dye will take more evenly if the leather is thoroughly wet. The color is a but difficult to judge on wet leather. It tends to get quite a bit lighter in hue. It is always possible to add more dye as a last step, but I try to avoid this as the seam may take up more dye than the rest and so stand out in a way it would not otherwise. Below you can see how the damp leather has been given a coating of glue and is wrapped on over the grip core. Perhaps you can get an idea of ow thin the edges of the leather is, by noting how it forms over the crd.
After the leather has let itself be shaped over the grip and the seam has been worked down so it sits reasonable well, it is time to wrap the grip with yet another layer of cord. This is done to press the leather down over the under cord and help to squeeze the glue thoroughly through the leather and bond to the under cord. It is difficult to take such a grip apart and t is not really sensible to wet either, as the leather afterwards will be treated generously with leather fat.
At the Solingen Knife Maker show in may both these swords were displayed. One went quickly, but I had time to get a snapshot of the broad one hanging on its rack. Perhaps you can make out some details in the finished grip: it has leather from guard to pommel, but also a twisted iron wire wrap on the upper part. This wire is secured by small tacks at both ends of the wrap. I twist the wire from the kind of binding wire silver and gold smiths use to secure parts when soldering. It is thin and strong and happens to be available in the same dimensions as was used in historical times.
Finally the sword in the hands of a visitor to the Show. I love the expression you can see in some one´s face when they get to hold a nicely balanced sword: something comes alight inside and they stand straighter...
Edited by peter johnsson, 01 October 2009 - 12:08 PM.