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Making a Scabbard With a Veneer Core

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Dear firetenders

I have been very slow in posting in recent months and I am sorry to have missed your company and many good discussions.

I thought I´d make up for that by posting a WIP of a scabbard I am currently working on.
It is being made for a large dagger or short sword that is part of a set that will go on an exhibit (but more on that later). All of the swords and daggers of this set are being made to be time-less or free from any direct associations with existing cultures or past times.

All of them will be have their form and proportions defined by geometry and each will be dedicated to a figure of legend or mythology.
This blade has a dark theme, being made with one of the Furies, Megaera, in mind. She was the Furie of Envy and Jealousy.

The scabbard for the blade is constructed on a hard core that is made from thin sheets of high quality plywood (model air plane plywood). I have found this to be great to work with, as it allows thin walls that does not build up the bulk of the scabbard unnecessarily. You can get this material in various thicknesses. I favour 0.4 mm, 0.6mm and 0.8 mm sheets. 

The innermost layer is covered with textile (in this case thin felt) to protect the surface of the blade. The felt is glued to the wood before the three layers of each side is guled together. Below the felt is tested for fit:


Preparing for the gluing of the layers:

The blade acts as a former with the three layers of thin plywood clamped on as the glue cures. Since the glue is simple carpenters glue it does not take very long for the core halves to get set. The three layers keeping the form by locking each other in place.

Next step is the glue narrow margins on each side of the cores. These thin slivers of veneer build up a slight thickness along the edge, making sure that the blade is not too tightly held in place in the scabbard. The narrow slivers will be filed to shape afterwards so that they allow for a good and flat fit to each other. The final width of the glue line is no more than 3-4 mm on each side. This is more than enough if the fit is good. The core will also be further strengthened by the covering layers of the scabbard.

The tip end of the core halves are pierced for a peg that will help seeing them aligned during the gluing operation. Otherwise they can easily glide and get set slightly out of true. This is frustrating if the fit is such that there is no room for lay between the core and the blade. You do not want carpenters glue smearing on the blade or making blotches on the felt liner (since this may cause scratches or rust later in the marriage of the scabbard and its sword.
(The awl in the picture was made for me by our Petr Florianek. It is one of my favourite tools)

Before final gluing the fit is texted between blade and scabbard. You want a good and tight fit that allows the blade to stay inside even when the scabbard is turned upside down, but not so much that you have to pull hard to bring the blade out. The felt lining does help a bit with this, as it cushions the blade a bit. Since the blade is pattern welded and will get a deep, topographical etch I want the lining to protect the surface of the blade.

After the two halves have been glued together you form them into shape with a cabinet makers rasp. The layers of the thin plywood is a great help as yo clearly can follow the removal of material, making sure it is symmetrical and even on all sides.

The cross section of the core must be made with allowance for additional layers that will be added. The scabbard is typically thinner than the front end of the hilt and must be made to meet the hilt design in a way that makes sense.

This core will have metal mounts that builds thickness and the guard of the hilt must be made thin. The core is now shaped to meet the final design. Obviously it helps to have a plan laid out before work begins. The plan is such that it allows for some adjustment and creative changes through out the making of the piece, but some important proportions and dimensions are made clear from the very beginning.

The plan for the project:

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Great stuff Peter. Good to have you back.

"The way we win matters" (Ender Wiggins) Orson Scott Card


Nos qui libertate donati nescimus quid constat

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Excellent!  Does that model aircraft wood work well for sword-sized scabbards?

I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan....

- Benjamin Franklin

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Thank you, guys :-)

Yes, the goal is to cover most aspects of the making of this scabbard, including the metalwork. 
At this stage the final design can go several ways: there are some techniques that needs testing before I can choose what will work best.
The scabbard must also work well with the hilt, so at this stage I am leaving the scabbard be until I have made some progress with guard and pommel for the blade.

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On 1/21/2018 at 11:30 PM, Phil Ullrich said:

...Does that model aircraft wood work well for sword-sized scabbards?

It works well for anything from a small knife to a long sword.

The suppliers I have tracked down offer it in 30 cm x 100 cm size, so that would be the limit in blade length.

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Peter! Having now held one of your scabbards made in this way I am convinced I must try it! I have used 1.5 mm wood before as the core piece to scabbards and while it works well, the singular nature of the wood allows for warping and bending which I am not particularly fond of! Do you happen to have an international supplier for the veneer? I'm afraid there aren't really any hobby shops around here that I can visit in person. I hope to make the scabbard for the sword Joyeuse like this and bring it to you completed when you return to the states :) 

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Thanks for this tutorial Peter, I'm planning to make a few scabbards in the near future so this is very well timed.

I found a source for the plywood, big sheets too.... http://m.aircraftspruce.com/catalog/wppages/finnishbirch.php 

I want to verify, the plywood is bowed to the cross-sectional shape of the blade when the layers are glued together, and afterwards retains that shape?

George Ezell, bladesmith

" How much useful knowledge is lost by the scattered forms in which it is ushered to the world! How many solitary students spend half their lives in making discoveries which had been perfected a century before their time, for want of a condensed exhibition of what is known."

view some of my work

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Nice WIP!

Looks like another thing I need to add to my list of things to try. :)

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."~Proverbs 27:17

Nobody ever left foot prints on the sands of time by sitting on his butt. And who wants to leave butt prints on the sand of time? ~Unknown

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Yay! Peter's back! Bringing gifts too! Thank you for this Peter. 

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  





J.States Bladesmith | Facebook



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  • 2 months later...

Hi Peter, long time no speak - always great to see such detailed pictures of your work!

I've done a few scabbards playing around with this technique too and have not gone back to hand carving poplar slats since. A few variations I've tried:

Tried cutting the blade shape out of thin slats of plywood leaving little to no margin around it, then would wrap glue soaked linen around (a technique shown to me by Mathieu Harlaut).

Never managed to make it work: linen shrinks while it dries around the core and traps the blade inside - had to destroy the whole thing and start from scratch.
I've seen beautiful scabbards from Mathieu done that way though.

Second attempt & still using this approach to date - similar technique but leaving 5 mm margin around the blade profile, soak the slats in water for a few hours,  clamp wet on the blade very tightly to bend the slats over. I leave to fully dry for 24 hours at least as I use 'thick' plywood (3.2mm). I then apply glue and clamp again. I then round the edges and end up with a core that beats any I'd hand carved before. But more often that not I still get too tight a fit. When this happens I usually crack open the top of the scabbard on one or both sides, halfway down towards the tip, then insert thin strips of veneer between the slats until it builds up enough to get the right fit.

Long story short, it works but has it's downsides: hit and miss, lot of fiddling around, working with wet wood and wood glue is messy etc.

I prefer your method by a long shot so I will build up a "wall" around the blade profile rather than wet the slats from now on.

Couple of questions:

1 - What's the advantage of building up thickness with multiple layers vs working right away with thicker plywood? Do the slats form better around the blade (each layer been able to bend further)? I noticed than I manage only a very very slight bend on the 3.2 mm plywood even after soaking and leaving for days (I forgot the clamped blade in my shed for weeks once). This curvature is also only visible one the broader part of the scabbard near the mouth...at the tip nothing, too narrow to bend.

2 - How to you apply this method to a sword with a prominent central ridge or deep hollow ground and maintain a close fit with the blade?

Looking forward to see the rest of this project!




Edited by julien m
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I am watching this one with great interest! By the way I love the awl in the pic with the face!!DSC02132.JPG

C Craft Customs ~~~ With every custom knife I build I try to accomplish three things. I want that knife to look so good you just have to pick it up, feel so good in your hand you can't wait to try it, and once you use it, you never want to put it down ! If I capture those three factors in each knife I build, I am assured the knife will become a piece that is used and treasured by its owner! ~~~ C Craft

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