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Cheap, easy home-made leather knife sheath from used leather

Picture of Cheap, easy home-made leather knife sheath from used leather
I went backpacking in Alaska a couple of years ago, and, of course, bought the obligatory huge Bowie knife. I bought a 14" Winchester. The knife was a great deal: cheap, pretty good steel, nice heft. Unfortunately, it came with a cheap looking nylon sheath. This wasn't a huge problem for me, though, since it was a right-handed sheath and I was left handed. I just packed it away in my pack (where it could be quickly dug out if needed to battle a grizzly !). I survived the trip, but, without a proper sheath, the knife was seldom used again for my forays into the local woods.

One night recently, I came across the knife again and decided to see if I could build myself a proper-looking, left handed sheath. I had no experience with leather work, but figured (rightly so) that it couldn't be that hard. This is the result. Looks great. Works nice. Cost nothing.  
 
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Step 1: Get the leather

Picture of Get the leather

I told my wife about my idea for a sheath and she told me that she had an old leather jacket that had been stained and was destined for the trash can. The jacket was made of fine, soft leather in a buckskin color. It was thin and pliable.

This is what I used, but it is easy to get cheap leather in a number of ways. You can buy a large old purse, suitcase, briefcase, jacket, pair of boots, shaving kit, or leather whatever at a garage sale, junk store, Goodwill, or wherever. Slice the leather from the rest of the lining, case, or whatever and use what you can. 

 I am even keeping my eyes out for a junk leather couch or chair that I can salvage leather from! Check dumpsters behind furniture store for a good chance at a score. Use your imagination! 

I cut off the sleeve and carefully removed the lining. Try to keep the leather in the largest possible single piece. Watch seams, button holes, rivets, etc. I used a heavy pair of scissors to do the dirty work, but you may have to use a knife is your leather is heavier. If it is really heavy, you may have to put the leather on a board and use a utility knife. Be careful, that big, old Bowie isn't the only sharpie that can bring blood and leave your finger laying on the table while your hand follows you down the hall.


Step 2: Prep the old sheath

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As I said, my knife had a sheath made of heavy plastic covered with black nylon. It had a nylon strap with a snap to hold the knife in the sheath, though it didn't seem to be needed with the nice-fitting plastic insert. The belt strap was sewn to the back of the sheath and had a snap of its own.

I unsheathed the knife, pulled the belt loop down and carefully sliced the threads holding the loop to the sheath, separating the two pieces as shown in this picture. I could have continued on to remove the rest of the nylon from the plastic inner section, but elected not to. I thought it might help fill out the shape of the thin leather.

Since I was making a left-handed sheath, the snap left on the old sheath was going to face inside, so I didn't bother removing it. Depending on the thickness of your leather, and where any snap might end up, you may consider slicing it out to keep it from showing through.

Step 3: Make a pattern, cut it out and make lacing

Picture of Make a pattern, cut it out and make lacing
I found some wrinkled up wrapping paper from the last thing I bought on ebay, and used it for a pattern. I was pretty good at those old high school Armed Forces Aptitude Test questions that asked you to unroll a weird shaped box into what it would look like if opened up to a flat piece, so I sketched out a shape that would fold in half and make the actual knife sheath.

I used the original sheath and traced around it, flipped it over and completed the main sheath portion of the pattern.  I added a tall top that could be folded down and connected to the sheath part to form a belt loop. Use care to put the loop on the correct side of your pattern for a left or right hand sheath.

If your leather is thin, leave an extra quarter inch or so of material anywhere you will have an exposed edge. Later you will fold and glue them to produce a finished edge. I also added a piece that I could use as a retaining strap if needed, but thus far have not needed it. I leave it tucked under the belt loop. Also leave some extra on the top edge of the outside edge of the sheath so that it can be folded down and glued to leave a finished edge.

If you get the pattern cut out, folded up, and then you realize that you made a mistake, just make another or tape an extra piece or two until you get what you need. When the folded up result looks like what you want, transfer it to your leather (be sure you have the correct side of the leather facing out), and carefully cut it out.

While you are wielding the knife, cut a round piece of the leather a few inches in diameter. Begin cutting around the circumference of the piece about 1/8 to 3/16 from the edge to make a long piece of leather lacing to use to sew up the sheath.  

Step 4:

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Get a piece of wood, an old punch (a large nail or piece of 1/8" rod will do), and a hammer to punch the holes. You may find other ways to make the holes, but don't make them too big. You can always make them bigger later, and tight ones make the finished product look better.

Start at the tip of the knife. Fold the leather over and punch both sides at once. Thread the lacing through both holes and make both ends the same length. Punch another set of holes a little less than a quarter of an inch farther up the sheath. Cross the laces and thread them through the holes from opposite sides. Continue punching and lacing until you get a couple of inches from the top.

Step 5: Glue the belt loop and other finished edges

Picture of Glue the belt loop and other finished edges
partial laced.jpg
I used regular Elmers glue and folded all the extra material over to make the finished edges. Don't allow extra glue to stick pieces that shouldn't be glued. I used a heavy glass candle to hold the folds in place for about 30 minutes as the glue dried.

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Step 6: Staple the belt loop

Picture of Staple the belt loop
Once the edges were finished, I folded the belt loop over towards the inside and,after adding an additional scrap of leather as a reinforcing patch, I stapled it vertical several times. This is what keeps the knife attached to your belt, so be sure that the connection is sound. I even added a little glue for extra insurance. By folding the flap to the inside, no edges are exposed in the finished sheath

Step 7: Finishing up!

Picture of Finishing up!
Finish lacing up the side of the sheath and insert the old knife sheath. Smooth out the leather and carefully tighten up the lacing if needed. I just tied the laces in to a bow for a rustic, "Indian" look. I think it looks great and fits nice for a leftie when carried on either side of the body for a regular draw, or a cross-draw.

I hope you enjoyed my first instructable. I know that some of you that read this are accomplished leather crafters and know easier and  better ways of doing things. I really enjoyed the evening project and intend to make a lot of other neat stuff from the leather I have.... I also bought a book, some tools, stamps, and a big piece of leather on ebay so I may yet learn the "proper" way to work with leather. Good luck with your projects!
rofus2 years ago
i had one of those knives. i broke the blade right off splitting a piece of wood. when i looked at it it had a kinda like a v shaped notch in the metal just inside the handle almost like it was meant to break. not a very good knife to me...
fredellarby rofus11 months ago

Mine did the same thing

overblast2 years ago
Never store your knife in leather. Good for carriage but not for long term storage, leather has acids and salts that will corrode your blade. I store mine in carboard sheathes and only use leather for travel.
judgeyoung (author)  overblast2 years ago
All true, but in this case, the actual part of the sheath that comes in actual contact with the blade is the original plastic/composit sheath that I covered with leather, so it is no problem here. Thanks for the input.
stevenh4293 years ago
I also have a bowie knife, but its 10 in. :D
henster224 years ago
cool knife!!!
nice. i been wanting one of the fancy Guatemalan machete sheaths but idk where to get one except for going to Guatemala
(YOUR N4 years ago
OO88
LoneWolf5 years ago
"The jacket was made of fine, soft leather in a buckskin color. It was thin and pliable." Ummm.....that's one thing you DON'T want. The main purpose of a sheath is to make it easy to carrry around a knife withought cutting yourself. The fact is, if the leather is pliable, then when your out hiking or climbing or you fall and the leather bends - the knife won't - and the blade will poke through your sheath and possibly into you.
judgeyoung (author)  LoneWolf5 years ago
Of course that is correct.... if you are making the sheath only of the leather. I bought a piece of very heavy leather to make another one from. You will note that on this one, I actually only covered the hard plastic sheath that came with the knife. My objective was to make it look more "rustic" and, mainly, to convert it to a left handed belt mount. Thanks for looking! Randy
Oh, sorry I didn't realize that. Now you've given me a good idea!!! I was gonna make a sheath for a knife I just ordered - but instead of making a whole new one, I'll just cover the one that came with it with leather!!!!
imakeknives5 years ago
i happen to own that very same knife. u did a good job on the sheath.
Greg C.5 years ago
 That original sheath is really not that cheap-looking. But, like you said, if it's meant to be a right-handed sheath, it's very awkward for a left handed person, and vise-versa. Very nice knife by the way.
Thanks for the 'Ible!
Greg