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Making a 15/16th century moulded knife sheath


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Has anybody got any pointers on how to make one of these sheaths? As far as I can tell this sheath consists of an inner core of ~1mm bovine leather and around that is another layer of similar leather which the pockets for the by-knife and pick are stretched and wet-moulded into and which is then glued onto the underlying inner sheath after the moulding and stretching is done. The edges of the pocket are folded over? ... and glued? ... to give those smooth rounded edges. Any experiences and advice on pitfalls with this sort of work would be appreciated.

 

 

304ada8b84c5507faf9a461b6b675252.jpg

Edited by Kristjan Runarsson
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Ok, so I went and made a sheath for this Hauswerh that I got from Tod Cutler. It's really more of a combination kitchen chopper and carving knife but I wanted a sheath for it more or less like the one in this painting.

 

 

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I started by making the inner scabbards. These were made by 'damp-forming' the leather around the blades with the blades being covered in Ballistol before work began to prevent the worst of the inevitable rusting due to the damp leather. I say 'damp-forming' because people talk about 'wet-forming' which leads many newcomers to make the leather soaking wet which is a bad idea. The leather should be somewhere between slightly damp to heavily dampened at most. I find that most kinds of leather are easiest to mould just after they has begun to dry. The easiest way of doing the sheath for the big knife is to cut the upper edge of the piece of leather for the sheath straight with a razor blade and a steel ruler and wrap the leather around the blade such that the straight edge of the leather piece is about 1 cm below the blunt spine of the blade. Then use this straight upper edge of the leather to estimate how much to cut off the lower half of the leather piece once it has been wrapped around the blade. Make this a tiny bit too big to account for shrinkage. Then sew the leather up while it is still fairly damp. Keep the seam close to the blunt edge of the blade and sew it closed up to the notch at the tip of the blade. This is makes the forming of the leather around the cut out tip of the blade easier. Then form, trim and sew up the tip. Use a razor blade or X-acto knife for the trimming. If you got good quality vegetable tanned leather the damp leather should be stretchable and relatively easy to form and any bulges should be flattened out thanks to stretching and you flattening them out with a wooden dowel or a bone lissoir. Use a round wooden dowel or bone lissoir to form the sheath after it is sewn up and allow for about 10 extra millimetres at the mouth of the sheath since the leather will shrink a bit.

 

IMG_5517.jpeg

Edited by Kristjan Runarsson
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Strictly speaking you could actually sew the by-knife and pricker sheaths onto the main sheath and skip the gluing but gluing them is easier and results in a more stable sheath that is more smooth to use. The inner sheaths for the by-knife and pricker were sewed together and glued onto the Hauswehr/carving-knife's inner sheath with all knives seated in their sheaths and kept that way over night until the glue was fully cured. I plugged up the gaps between the inner sheaths with leather strips and glue. This isn't strictly necessary but it increases the structural integrity of the whole ensemble slightly. I was worried about the two stitches towards the tips of the by-knife and pricker sheaths showing in the outer leather covering but that turned out to not be an issue. I used 1-1,5 mm wegetable tanned bovine leather for this which is important because other types of leather like the chrome tanned stuff do not hold their shape very well. What you want is a good sized piece of the the stiff pale vegetable tanned stuff. I also carved that little tip-piece for the by-knife and pricer-sheaths out of a piece of ridiculously thick (6-8 mm) bovine leather I have since the tip of the by-knife peeked out of it's sheath and I did not want it to dig through the outer leather cover later. It also made for a slightly nicer tip once the outer leather layer had been applied. This was glued in place.

 

 

 

 Inner Sheaths.jpg

Edited by Kristjan Runarsson
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The outer sheath was hand fitted to the inner sheaths, once again with all knives and the pricker sheathed as much was possible. The simplest way to do this is to cut two straight slits in the thoroughly dampened outer sheath cover for the by-knife and pricker and force the by-knife and pricker through these slits and into the side scabbards while widening the slits millimetre by millimetre until the by-knife and pricker are fully seated in their sheaths. The lips of the by-knife and pricker sheaths will pretty much be folded over and pulled into mouth of the by-knife and pricker sheaths automatically. Now that the sheathed by-knife and pricker are holding the outer leather cover in place, mould the outer surface of the sheath into the desired shape starting with the by-knife and pricker sheaths, then the channels around the mouth of the sheath where they by-knives slide into their side sheaths. Then sew up the back of the outer sheath cover and mould the mouth of the main knife's sheath and the tip of the main blade last. Afterwards keep the outer sheath cover damp and mould it around the inner sheaths to its final shape with your fingers and with a shaping tool. These sheaths and many sword scabbards of the 15th century were suspended using a simple loop and these 'tubes' moulded into the outer sheath/scabbard cover. The slits that form the opening of the suspension 'tubes' must be cut carefully and stretched out a bit with an awl before threading a bit of suitably sized electrical cord through them which must remain in place until the leather is dry.  It's important to also keep the knives and the pricker in the sheaths as much as possible while doing this and keep them in there until the whole structure has dried out completely.  I found no need to glue the outer sheath layer onto the inner one, the whole thing is held together by friction but you can glue the outer cover in place if you want. The only glue in the entire sheath was used to stick the by-knife and pricer sheaths onto the Hauswerh sheath. Even the folded over edges of the by-knife and pricker sheath mouths as well as the main sheath's mouth are also not glued. I also found no need to glue a sheet of veneer on the inner Hauswerh sheath like Mr Johnsson did although that will doubtless be necessary with larger and longer blades.

 

The tooling was done using the two leather templates seen in the centre picture which were damp-modded over the scabbard and used to trace the outlines of the tooled areas using a very soft pencil. The pencil marks can be removed later with an eraser. Generally I agree with Peter Johnsson in that you could use thinner leather but if you want to do any worthwhile tooling (and medieval/reinassance people really did tend to tool every flat area on their knife sheaths in some way), then 1-1,5 mm bovine leather is really at the lower limit of leather thickness you can use without the tooling making the outer sheath layer too fragile.

 

Outer Sheath.jpg

 

 

The pattern was partly made up and partly lifted from the sheath in the first post in this thread and the archery bracer in the below video clip. The work was done with a steel ruler, an X-acto knife blade and an awl using the same techniques outlined by Leo Todeschini in his archery bracer tutorial:

 

 

Edited by Kristjan Runarsson
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So I ended up deciding to colour the whole thing black. Re-enactors will tell you that black was an impossible colour to achieve during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance but this is not quite true. Cloth was hard to dye black during the high Middle Ages but not impossible but leather could be easily dyed black with Vinegaroon for example. The belt was made from some old leather belt blanks that I had which I think are coated with some layer of synthetic which is why I didn't use them before, but upon taking a second look I think the synthetic coating isn't all that thick and noticeable so I used up these strips since they are nice stiff belt leather. The fittings are bronze with a nice patina, bronze is a bit up-market for the kind of person that would have used a knife like this but then again these fittings are also not terribly fancy so they are not completely out of place either. I'm planning to replace this belt with one that has pewter fittings but I'm still waiting for the fittings so this will have to do for now. I also gave the Hauswehr's handle a couple of coats of Tung oil which brought the Hauswehr handle's finish much closer to the finish on the by-knife and pricker handles. Note that I ended up shaving about 2-3 mm off the width of the by-knife blade so that it would fit the width of the Hauswerh without cutting open the mouth of it's side sheath which is what will happen if the by-knife blade is too wide. Optimally, the by-knife blade should be as wide, or only slightly wider than the handle of the by-knife.

 

The Hauswehr: https://todcutler.com/collections/medieval-daggers-and-large-knives/products/bauernwehr

The by-knife and picker are a cheap set from Outfit4Events: https://www.outfit4events.com/eur/product/7437-knife-spike-set-with-sheat-medium/

I also recommend this glue: https://www.amazon.de/Klebfest-60-Gramm-Tube ...

 

IMG_5537.jpeg

Edited by Kristjan Runarsson
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Yeah, this is a brutal blade. I always wrote these things off as clunky cooking knives rather than fighting knives and figured that in a drunken 15/16th century tavern brawl I would prefer a bollock dagger or a rondel but having tested this thing while carving up a leg of smoked lamb I would pick this Hauswehr over a dagger any day.

Edited by Kristjan Runarsson
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