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Advice for Civil war dagger sheath


Aaron Gouge

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So…. I am working on recreating a dagger that was found on the Civil War Battlefield of Perryville. It dose not have a sheath but I would like to make one for my recreation. Any experts in Civil War era dagger sheaths? Or just personal options? 

From what I have see on the net sheaths we’re kind of all over the place….center seam, side seams, brass throat and chape…

      Pics show original and my recreation. 
Thanks
Aaron

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I'd go center back seam, brass throat and chape, with a frog button on the front of the throat.  You could also do the throat and chape, but with a leather-covered cardboard or papier-mache body. Those were pretty common on cheap English-made knives of the time.  Of course that one was not a cheap English-made knife, so probably leather.

 

Is your idea the original was made by a professional cutler, or was it made by a country blacksmith?  That will make a difference in how the sheath is made.  If pro cutler, it could even be an all-metal sheath. If country smith, he may have had a saddlemaker do a nice leather and brass sheath for it.  Regardless, for militaria of the period a separate belt frog is by far the most common, with applied belt loop being way down the percentage of surviving and period-photographed sheaths.

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I was afraid you might say that Alan!   

    I’m gonna go with country blacksmith….. I guess the only reason I would say that is the overall way the knife is fit together. If you look close at the junction of the garde and  ferrule  there’s some pretty significant gapping. Also, the guard was fit pretty loose to the blade. A metal shim was pounded through the guard into the handle to tighten things up. You can see a little bit of the shim sticking out in the picture.

     So are thier any good WIPS on making a throat and chape on a leather sheath? I’ve only ever made a throat and cheap for a dirk scabbard.

    Aaron 

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Jake Cleland had a few good ones for his sgean dubh sheaths, but those are leather over copper.  Do the same thing for the throat and chape, but you'll need to pin the brass bits to the leather on the back side.  If you look at historical examples, they use either blind pins in the center seam, a ring through the center seam that is then forged flat, or little staples at the very edges.  The few I've done (very badly!) were affixed with resin rather than staples/rivets, and tend to pull loose. 

 

The good news is that if this is a country blacksmith making it, the throat may just be a wrapped bit of sheet brass without a faceplate.  It will still need rivets or something to hold it on. 

 

JPH has some good instructions in his first two books, The Complete Bladesmith and The Master Bladesmith.   I'm better at throats than chapes.  For cold-forming the brass, I usually forge it around a steel mandrel and make the parts in halves, then braze the seams.  The late Alex Daniels made a neat-o press to do this.  He'd grind out a steel mandrel the exact size of the sheath tip and throat, make a paper pattern that would fit perfectly halfway up the sides of the mandrels. He'd then cut out the sheet metal (usually nickel silver or 420 stainless) and put it in the press.  This was just a steel frame with a hand-pumped hydraulic jack mounted upside down and a bed of 1/2" thick 70-durometer neoprene sheet.  The ram of the jack presses the mandrel into the sheet metal, and the neoprene sheet provides enough resistance that it perfectly forms the sheet to the mandrel with no hammer marks.  Then you just clean up the edges with files until they fit perfectly, solder, and away you go.  If you're Alex.  Me and Dr. Batson tried this once, and it turns out you have to have a lot of skill to place the mandrels under the ram so everything stays even.  I have the neoprene, but not the jack or frame, and I've made so few since I saw it done I just never got around to making it.  I need to retire so I have time to pursue this stuff! :lol:

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 Thanks for all the info Alan!  I will look for some of Jake’s posts. I can understand the brass pins around the throat but how to line the pins up on the chape!  It seems about impossible to feed a brass staple through the leather and into the chape…

    Aaron 

 

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17 hours ago, Aaron Gouge said:

how to line the pins up on the chape

 

The two methods I've seen on historic examples are a pair of through pins on the very edge if the sheath at the top of the chape, and a single semicircular pin run around the center seam on the back and peened flat.  Think curved upholstery needle.  For this method you need a bit of steel to put in the sheath that will act as filler when you hammer the pin flat.  Drill holes in chape and sheath, insert curved wire, insert steel filler, use flat punch between holes to flatten staple inside sheath, then peen ends of staple. Remove steel filler piece. You could use the blade itself, but I'd worry about scratching it up.

 

The two pins on the edges would be much easier.  

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Thanks Alan that was super helpful! Have you been able to examine any originals? Do you know if the post for the frog was braised on or was it more of a rivet like the modern ones?

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Not liking the selection of frog posts/stud that were available I did a quick and dirty of my own! Most of the sheaths that I have seen from the era had a much wider and flatter post/stud.  Mine vers Tandy’s 

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All the original frog studs I've seen had the large round top brazed on.  I couldn't tell if the shafts were brazed or riveted, though.  I suspect both.  And maybe for the tops, too.  That would be the easiest way to make sure everything stays aligned while brazing.

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The best frog stud/throat I've done was for a sword, and I made the stud top rather long to be worn in a fabric sash or leather baldric. The long tail means you don't need a buttonhole and it's easy to remove the whole thing.

 

frog.jpg

 

That I drilled a blind hole under the top piece and brazed in a bit of 1/4" brass rod. I then filed the other end of the rod square and riveted it to the throat, then brazed it in place prior to assembling the two halves and top of the throat.  The square rivet is a thing used on 18th century (and earlier) rifle furniture as insurance against rotation.

 

It worked well.

 

Va sword baldric side.jpg

 

Unfortunately the resin I used to secure the throat melted on a hot day.  The customer stuck it back on, but I should have used a couple of pins instead of resin to begin with.

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So this is where I’m at! Knife is done other than needing sharpened! Have my leather sheath made and formed! Need to work on the throat and chape. My sheath ended up being about 3/16 too wide at the base of the blade. Thinking I will glue some leather strips into the fold of the sheath to take up that slop. With that thought in mind I’m thinking about creating a throat with a top plate, to hide my leather spacers. My brass for the throat is .025 thick. Was contemplating making the top plate a little thicker… maybe twice as thick…

    Any thoughts? 

 

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2 hours ago, Aaron Gouge said:

 Any thoughts? 

 

If the top plate is the same thickness as the guard that would add some nice visual balance.  But the 0.025" will work if you don't have any thicker.

 

Looks good so far!

 

2 hours ago, Aaron Gouge said:

With that thought in mind I’m thinking about creating a throat with a top plate, to hide my leather spacers.

 

Yes.  A top plate will hide a lot of things.  Just be sure the slot is where it needs to be!  I usually braze the top plate on and then drill/cut the slot. I've done it both ways, but doing the slot afterwards is a lot less nerve-wracking.

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  • 7 months later...

So I forgot to post pics of the finished knife! I did not go with a top plate on the sheath throat fitting. But was pleased with how it came out! 

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