How to Make a Simple Pouch-Type Leather Knife Sheath
In this tutorial I have tried to clearly lay out for you the basic steps that I use in my shop for designing and making a simple, leather knife sheath. I acknowledge the fact that there can be a variety of excellent ways to end up with a similar finished product, so I want to stress that this is how it is done in my shop. (In this tutorial I am doing all the stitching by hand, but we normally do most of our stitching now with a sewing machine to save time. We do still end up doing a little hand stitching in certain cases).
Although I build sheaths in a number of styles, I have deliberately chosen a very simple pouch-type sheath for this tutorial. This sheath design requires only two pieces of leather. One piece will make the whole basic body of the sheath, including the belt loop, and the other piece is for the welt.
The welt, although somewhat inconspicuous, is a very important part of a good sheath. It is a strip of leather that is placed between the two outer layers of the sheath, along the seam, and is made from leather at least as heavy as, if not heavier than, the leather used in the sheath itself.
Besides adding stiffness to the sheath, the welt protects the stitching from being cut by the sharp cutting edge of the knife. This is much more friendly to that knife’s sharp edge than metal rivets.
If you are new to leather work, you may want to follow the steps laid out here fairly closely, at least until you have developed the feel for leather work. And if you are more confident of your own skills, feel free to use or modify whatever you find here to suit your own needs.
- Leather - I use 8-9 oz. vegetable tanned shoulders for most of my regular sheaths, and 9-10 oz. shoulders for larger sheaths. Vegetable tanned leather is preferred for this kind of work, as it can be wet-formed easily and also can be decoratively stamped and carved.
- Waxed Nylon Thread - You will want a good heavy waxed thread such as the kind used in a sewing awl.
- Contact Cement - I prefer Barge Cement, which is designed for permanently gluing leather, but most any brand of good cement will likely do the job.
- Leather Dye (optional) - I prefer to dye all my sheaths, but this is not an absolute necessity. If you are purchasing dye, be sure to get some daubers for applying it as well.
- Neatsfoot Oil
Tools and Other Supplies Needed
- Paper, Pencil, and Ruler
- Masking Tape
- Utility Knife - I use the kind with a replaceable blade, but I prefer to re-sharpen it a few times before replacing the blade. I recommend keeping your knife as sharp as possible so that it will slide through the leather without a lot of effort.
- Drawing Compass
- Overstitch Wheel - This is for marking out evenly spaced stitches. They come in different stitch spacings - the one that I use marks 7 stitches per inch.
- Wood Rasp
- Sandpaper - I use a fine grit (maybe 300 grit or so) to lightly smooth the edges of the leather after sanding them down on the belt grinder.
- Drill Press and 1/16” Drill Bit - If you don’t have a drill press you could use a hand drill.
- Sewing Needles - You will want needles that are heavy enough to accept the thread that you are using. I say “needles”, as you may want to have extras on hand in case you break one.
- Needle Nose Pliers
- Water Spray Bottle
- Hole Punch - You will want a leather punch with a diameter approximately equal to the thickness of the leather you are using for the welt (1/8” to 5/32”). A drill of the right size can also do the trick.
- Belt Grinder (optional) - I use my belt grinder (the same one I use for knife making) for sanding the edges of the leather, particularly along the welt/seam. If you don’t have a grinder, you could likely use a drum sander, or even your good sharp knife, a wood rasp, and some sandpaper.
- Leather Stamps and Hammer (optional) - I like to at least stamp a border across the top of the sheath as a finishing touch, but this is not absolutely necessary.
A Few Suggestions
- Clip your fingernails - Vegetable tanned leather is nice and smooth on the good side, and when damp, it marks very easily. I prefer to keep my nails short when working with leather to avoid putting unwanted impressions in it.
- Wash your hands - Damp leather picks up dirt and grease very easily as well.
- Brush off your workbench or table - This will, once again help you avoid unwanted marks on your pristine leather.
- Use good lighting - To me, this is a necessity in any workspace. I like to have one or two “swing-arm” or “gooseneck” lamps set up at each of my workspaces, besides my regular overhead lighting.
Now let’s get started. You can click on any image below to enlarge it and to read more details about that step in the process of building a leather knife sheath.
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