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Leather Pouch Sheath Tutorial


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HOW TO MAKE A LEATHER POUCH SHEATH

The leather that I will be using is vegetable tanned cowhide in a 7 to 8 oz. weight. My reasons for using this leather are: that it is readily available, it can be tooled, carved and stamped, it can be shaped while damp, it can be dyed almost any color, and it is least likely of all the types of leather to contain chemicals that will react with the knife.

 

MATERIALS:

Leather – Vegetable Tanned, in a 7-8 oz. weight

Glue –PVA(Polyvinyl Acetate, Elmer's')

Candle

Thread – Waxed linen

Dye

Dye Applicators

Eco-Flow – Gloss, Satin

Saran Wrap

Latex Gloves

TOOLS:

Knife

Gouge (Adjustable V Gauge)

Foam Pieces or Folded Towels or a Box of Sand

Coarse Sandpaper

Skiving Knife

Awls

Leather Stamps and a Mallet

Harness Needles

Pliers

Adjustable Grooving Tool

Stitching Wheel

Adjustable Line Tool

Clamps

 

Edited by B. Norris
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First of all, you will need a knife and some leather. Having a clean area to work is also very important.

 

The leather will absorb oils or react chemically, in unexpected ways, with material it comes in contact with. I made exactly one sheath in the workshop, it came out with fine, little, black specks all over it. Each little, black, speck was where a piece of steel dust off of the grinder found the leather. I had cleaned extremely well and had not ground anything for quite some time but, the fine dust was still there and still got on the sheath. Now I do not do any leather working (except grinding the edges) in the shop.

 

Sheath Tutorial 01.jpg

Edited by B. Norris
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You can make a paper pattern or just sketch it out on the flesh side of the leather. Some people use a red, felt tip, marker for this because, the red disappears under most dyes. Patterns are good if you wish to make multiple sheaths and have them all the same.

 

Sheath Tutorial 02.jpg

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Cut out an oversize piece of leather. You can always trim a little more off but, it is way harder to add some leather on! That said I was overzealous with this sheath, you would not normally need so much extra.

 

Sheath Tutorial 03.jpg

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This is an Adjustable V Groove Tool, it is used to cut a groove in the flesh side of the leather to achieve a bend with a smaller radius. I use this tool to cut a groove (a series of grooves, side by side, actually) where the spine of the knife will sit. By cutting the groove from where the blade/handle junction is, to the tip of the sheath, I get a large radius for the handle and a small, tight, radius for the blade. There are no pictures of the sheath with just the grooves cut on the inside but, you can see them in later pictures.

Sheath Tutorial 04.jpg

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This picture shows another piece of leather that will be glued between the two sides of the sheath to create a surface for the sharp edge to ride on and thus protecting the stitching from the blade. Please note that if you have any other pieces that will become a part of the sheath they need to be cut out and dyed (or stamped, or tooled, etc.) at this time. Once these pieces are attached they become considerably harder to be dyed, or stamped, or tooled.

This step in the process is one point where the leather can be stamped, or tooled, or dyed, or some combination of the above. You would want to do this if, for example, you wanted a sheath with extensive work such as a basketweave pattern. Some people will dye the parts now because, it is harder to dye the leather under a belt loop after it has been sewn on. Dampening the leather prior to dying will help to avoid streaks or blotches. Leather that is dampened absorbs the dye more evenly. Another reason to dye your leather now, and quite a good reason at that, is that later on you will have had much more opportunity to get glue or some other substance onto the leather that will cause the dye to not take in that area. Dying the leather now gives much more consistent results further on and avoids nasty little surprises like a grey splotch on the sheath that is supposed to be black.

 

Sheath Tutorial 05.jpg

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This is the previously mentioned piece of leather, this picture shows it after being sanded with a coarse grit sandpaper on the hide side. The purpose of this step is to give the glue a better surface to adhere to when it is glued up.

Sheath Tutorial 06.jpg

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This picture shows the welt glued in place on one side of the sheath. The welt has also been tapered towards the tip of the sheath with a Skiving Knife. There are other styles available but, this is what works best for me. The taper of the welt should match the taper of the blade and doing so results in a sheath that fits the knife better and looks more professional. To glue the welt, I use a PVA (PolyVinyl Acrylic) Glue, some people use rubber cement, which is faster than waiting for the PVA glue to dry but, when I tried it the rubber cement always came apart on me, so I use this.

 

Sheath Tutorial 07.jpg

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This picture shows the sheath, after the glue has dried, trimmed closer to the final shape. The grooves cut by the V-groove tool are easily seen in this picture. Notice that the grooves stop where the handle of the knife begins. This gives a different radius to the bends where the blade and the handle will sit.

 

Sheath Tutorial 08.jpg

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Here is the belt loop. The loop has had the edges rounded with an Edge Beveler. Finishing the belt loop completely before stitching it on is much easier than trying to finish it afterwards. Holes for stitching it to the sheath have been laid out and punched with an awl. The stitching holes in the sheath are obtained by holding the belt loop in place on the sheath and using the awl to mark their location.

 

Sheath Tutorial 09.jpg

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Before stitching the loop to the sheath, use a skiving knife to cut two flaps on the inside where the stitching will be. The flaps should be cut from the tip of the sheath towards the throat. The stitching for the belt loop will not go all the way through, only to the underside of the flap. After the belt loop is stitched on the flap will be glued down over the stitching. This will prevent the stitching from ever becoming sliced by the blade. The flap is cut from tip to throat to prevent the blade from ever catching on the edge of the flap and pulling it loose.

 

Sheath Tutorial 10.jpg

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This photo shows two, different, styles of needle. Notice the eyes of the needles. The top needle is known as a Harness Needle and will stand up far better than the other style of needle. I used to break needles all the time, since switching to the harness needles I haven't had any break.

 

Sheath Tutorial 11.jpg

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Here is shown stitching the belt loop to the sheath. It was recently pointed out to me that if the top of the belt loop folds over, that the belt is not riding directly upon the stitching and that also, there is a bit of space between the sheath and the loop for the belt. Notice also, the stitching for the belt loop should have a line cut into the surface of the leather so that the thread falls below the surface of the leather and is therefore harder to wear through. I point this out because, it is very easy to get going with leather working and forget steps, especially when you have not done it for awhile.

 

I sew my leather with what is know as a double needle technique. One piece of waxed, linen, thread is used with a needle upon each end. To start sewing, one needle is pushed through and the thread is pulled to the center. From there, sewing progresses in one direction. The top needle is pushed through to the back and the back needle is pushed through to the front. It is good practice to moisten the surface of the leather when stitching, it helps the stitching seat a bit better. There is an excellent tutorial on hand stitching by our own Chuck Burrows. In case it is not obvious, the pliers are used to grab the needle and pull it through when it cannot be done by hand.

 

Sheath Tutorial 12.jpg

Edited by B. Norris
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Then moisten the leather and use the Stitching Wheel to lay out the spacing of the stitches. The stitching wheel makes a huge difference in the finished appearance of the sheath and is another little thing that makes the difference between amateur and professional results. From there use an Awl to punch holes through. Previously I posted a tutorial on hand sewing by Chuck Burrows, please pay special attention to his graphic titled "Stabbing the Awl Holes" before you punch any holes.

 

Sheath Tutorial 14.jpg

Edited by B. Norris
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The two halves of the sheath are now glued and clamped. Notice the scrap pieces of leather top and bottom to protect the surface of the sheath from any accidental marks?

 

Sheath Tutorial 15.jpg

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Use the previously punched holes from the welt side of the sheath to lay out the holes on the backside. I intentionally punch the holes prior to cutting the groove for the stitching. Should you cut the groove first, it is likely that a few of the holes will be outside of the groove. By punching the holes and then coming along afterwards and cutting the groove I can adjust for small irregularities.

 

Sheath Tutorial 16.jpg

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This photograph shows the groove cut for the stitching.

 

Sheath Tutorial 17.jpg

 

From there the edge of the sheath gets cut down to finished size. I usually grind the edge of the sheath, with a clean, fresh, 50 or 36 grit belt. You can also use the skiving knife on the edge but, it is much harder to make it look good. Below are some photos of grinding the edge of the sheath and using the edging tool, they are from a different sheath as I did not get photos of these steps the first time round. The first photograph shows the edge as glued. The second photo shows the edge after being sanded on the grinder. The third picture shows the sheath after the edge has been rounded with the Edge Beveler. I use a #3 size edge beveler for this weight of leather, not because it is best but, because it is the only one I have.

 

Edge Grind 01.jpg

 

Edge Grind 02.jpg

Edge Grind 03.jpg

 

Once the edge is cut, lightly, moisten the leather and stitch the two halves together. I usually start stitching at the bottom and when I reach the top go backwards and overstitch 3 to 4 stitches. After the backstitching, I use the awl to make two holes, from the stitching holes, and out through the center of the welt. Run the threads through until it is almost tight, put a drop of glue on each thread and pull the last little bit (with the glue on it) through, then cut it off flush with the welt. Below are some photos of this process, they are from a different sheath as I did not get photos of these steps the first time round.

 

Thread End 01.jpg

 

Thread End 02.jpg

 

Thread End 03.jpg

 

Thread End 04.jpg

 

Lightly moisten the leather around the stitches, on both sides, and run the overstitch wheel over the top of the thread. This helps to even the stitches out and make them look more even and uniform. You can also, carefully, flex the sewn edge back and forth a few times. Watch out, flex it too much and you will have fine wrinkles form on the surface of the leather.

 

At this point you can mold the sheath to the knife for a better fit. Wrap the entire knife with saran wrap and put some tape over the blade, on top of the plastic wrap, just in case. The idea is to protect the knife from moisture. Immerse the sheath in water until bubbles stop coming out of the leather. The leather will be very pliable and quite easy to make an impression in. Fit the knife into the sheath and then apply pressure, usually overnight, while the leather dries. It does not have to be anything fancy. You can bury the sheath in sand, it works but, is extremely messy. You can put the knife between two pieces of foam and clamp them between two boards. You can even set the knife between two folded up towels (ones you do not care about getting stained) and stack books on top. The important thing is that the leather is able to dry and that whatever material is used will press against the leather and mold it to the knife.

 

Molding the leather to the knife can also be done at the very beginning of making a sheath. You would just take the piece of leather, that you cut out to fit the blade, cut your crease on the inside with the V Gouge , and then soak the piece in water. From there you would fold the sheath around the wrapped up knife and mold it to the knife as discussed above. Doing so will change slightly the process of putting the sheath together but, the basics are still the same. You will probably have to fold the sheath back out from time to time. To cut the flaps on the inside of the sheath to protect the belt loop stitching, for example. Even if you mold the leather to the knife at the beginning, you may still want to do it again near the end of putting the sheath together. Molding the sheath to the knife twice will give an extremely snug fit, if you do not want a such a tight fit then only do this once.

Next, use an edge beveler to round over and clean up all the sharp edges. From there I use an Adjustable Line Tool (they call it a creaser) to make a line around the edge of the sheath, between the stitching and the edge. This particular tool is used hot, I use a candle and just pass the tip of the tool over the flame a few times, every couple of minutes. I get better results, a deeper impression and a more visible line, when I lightly moisten the leather before doing this. One blade of the tool rides on the edge of the sheath and the other blade creates the mark. You adjust the position of the line by opening or closing the gap between the two tips.

This is another time in the process when the sheath can be stamped, tooled, dyed, or a combination of the above. You should not expect to work the leather extensively at this time but, if all you want to do is stamp a border on the inside of the stitching and dye the sheath, for example, it can be done now. Just remember to put something inside the sheath to support the leather before hammering on it. A scrap piece of leather can be cut to fit inside the sheath for support.

 

One final thing about dying the leather, a more uniform coat, with fewer streaks and/or light and dark spots can be had by moistening the leather before applying the dye. Oh yeah, the latex gloves are to keep your hands clean while working with dye or Eco-Flow.

Edited by B. Norris
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Here is the finished sheath. I have elected for no stamping, tooling, or dye. I have treated the sheath with Neatsfoot Oil. My hope is that the sheath will darken over time just as the Osage wood of the knife handle will.

 

Sheath Tutorial 18.jpg

 

Sheath Tutorial 19.jpg

Edited by B. Norris
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  • 3 weeks later...

Nice job on the tutorial (and the photography)! Your process is a bit different from mine, but works out to a solid sheath nonetheless :)

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