Introduction: How to Build a Sheath
This instructable is a tag-along to my first, "How to Build a Knife." I had some requests for this after I posted that first one, so here it is--a lot sooner than I thought, too.
So, you want to make a sheath? Maybe you have a nice old knife lying around that doesn't have one, or has a crappy one. Maybe that knife is store-bought or maybe you made it yourself, maybe it's a hunting knife, a fishing knife, a fighting knife, or a kitchen knife; in any case, you can make a good sheath for it.
So, if you're intrigued, or if you have nothing better to do, read on.
Step 1: Designing the Sheath
Step number one: same as last time. Get out a pad of paper and a pencil. First, the sheath has to accommodate your knife's blade. Trace out the entire knife, handle and all, on the paper--see picture one. After that's done, draw your sheath around the knife. ALWAYS allow adequate space around the blade for expansion when the knife is in the sheath and connection of the sheath's sides. Here I'm going to make a layered leather type of sheath, a good kind for beginners as leather is more forgiving than other types of material like wood or metal. My project has three layers--the back of the sheath, the front panel, and a spacer between them. I gave about a quarter inch of space (maybe a little more in places) to connect them all. Of course, this much space might not be needed if you're doing another kind of sheath, such as a buckskin or front-sewn sheath.
As you can see from the second picture, the structural design of my sheath is pretty simple. It has a pouch and a belt loop, somewhat contoured to the first half of the grip. Don't think that something simple like this is the only option--there are thousands of other variations you can use, from the practical to the totally outlandish. I favor practical designs , but that's just me.
Step 2: Cutting the Pieces
Okay, for my purposes I'll be making a leather sheath, and assuming all of you are too. It a good way to start, and later you can branch out to other materials like wood or Kydex. I got my leather from a local store called Craft Mania before it closed down. I'm really bitter about the closing, because this place was easily the best material store in my area. The other commercial craft-supply places are overpriced featherweights who can't stock an honest piece of cowhide for their lives. I'm not sure where I'm going to get my leather once my stock runs out--unless, heaven and earth forbid, I get it online.
Okay, back to the matter at hand.
The idea here is to transfer your drawing to the leather as accurately as possible, and then cut it out as cleanly as possible. Place your leather on a cutting board and lay the sheath design over that. Using a stylus or other instrument of pokery, push through the paper and into the leather at critical points on the knife design: things like corners, the contours of curves, the outlines of cutouts, etc. See picture three for a visual aid. Don't move the paper AT ALL while doing this. Once you're done, lift the paper away. You should have a nice, neat connect-the-dots thing going on. Use a pencil and connect them--but make curves curved, straight lines straight. When you're done you should have something that looks like picture four below. Pencil is good for marking leather because you can see it, but it isn't too dark and will fade away pretty quickly.
Now, cut along the pencil lines with a razor blade. Be careful, because anything you do here can't be undone. That includes cutting off fingers. FINGERS DO NOT GROW BACK. This should be common knowledge among all craftsmen. Picture five shows the back panel cut out. Notice the tail I left on the belt-strap area of the sheath. This is so I can fold it over and create a loop. To make the loop I folded this cutout over, cut out around the bottom part of the loop to create an even profile, and then added a tasteful fleur shape to the end. See picture six.
In picture seven, I'm tracing along the already cut-out back panel to mark out the front panel. This one will be similar to the back panel, but will have no belt loop. It has a little bit of a depression to contour to my knife's rounded bolster (front part of the handle).
The last part I cut out was a spacer to go between the layers. It's basically the exact same outline as the top panel, but with the shape of my knife's blade cut out of the middle. Picture eight shows all three of the pieces lined up, in the order they will be stacked. But, before that part, we get to do the next step--ornamentation.
Step 3: Tooling--unnecessary, But Fun.
This next part you don't have to do if you don't want to or don't feel comfortable doing. I have some of the tools and some of the practice, so I'll show you how to press an attractive design into the leather.
Tooling is one of my favorite things to do on sheaths. I have a machete sheath that I've done over completely. Now, many of you professional leather workers out there might look at my handiwork and scoff, but keep in mind that I'm basically an amateur at this. I'm showing how I did it, nothing else. If you have the skill, by all means, do your best. I'm just doing mine.
So--you have a nice front panel, looks great as just plain leather and everything, but you want something more. Something to say (insert your name here) has been here and conquered. What says that more than a pretty design? Exactly. A pretty design with the first letter of your name in it. B for Basta. Get out your tooling kit.
Okay, to do this you'll need a hard surface (stone works best, but if you don't have that, thick glass or wood will work too. Just don't use your nice coffee table, as the tools can damage it even through the leather. You'll also need a pencil (for plotting out the design) and a leather tool or set of tools. This can be as simple as a nail or as complex as motorized leather stippler. If they exist. I'm pretty sure they do.
First, soak your leather, as I'm doing in picture two. This makes it supple and allows it to hold a design. Let it sit in hot water for about fifteen minutes, and when that time is over, pad it dry. Hopefully by now you've chosen a design; I got mine from this site: http://www.sentex.net/~pql/Dingbats/inits.html. Transfer the design lightly to the leather with the pencil. It shouldn't leave a pencil mark--rather, it will leave a thin impression on the leather. Try no to make a mistake. If you do, though, rub and fold the area in question until the line disappears or becomes less. Once you have your design down you can start to tool the leather. For a deep impression, press the surface of the tool into the leather without moving it. For a medium depth impression, draw the tool along the surface while applying downward pressure. This way, it's easy to draw lines and fancy filigree like I did. I also stipples the inside of my letter design--this is where you just make dots using the tip of the tool. See picture four for drawing and five for stippling. A video would surely make both of these better, but I think you get the idea. Picture six shows the leather after tooling. Let it dry out before you move on to the next step.
Step 4: Putting It All Together
For this step you're going to need contact cement. You can also use leather sewing thread in lieu of the cement, but I recommend both as two types of adhesion are better than one. I didn't sew the sheath together because, first of all, my leather needle was and still is broken; and second of all, I found the contact cement bond was strong enough for my purposes.
Contact cement, like the kind in picture one, is great for leather. You use it by spreading a layer on both sides to be glued, wait fifteen minutes, and then press the pieces together. It adheres instantly and gives a strong, flexible bond.
I picture two I am spreading the contact glue on the back panel of the sheath and the spacer. Make sure you're putting the glue on the correct side, otherwise you'll be in a pickle. Contact glue can't sit forever--it will harden completely if left too long.
Let the adhesive sit for about ten or fifteen minutes. When the time is up, lay the pieces EXACTLY WHERE YOU WANT THEM. Contact glue adheres instantly and is very hard to shift around once it's set. Picture three shows the first layer in place. Repeat the process with the other panel, as in picture four. Finally, make the belt loop (if you have one). Picture seven shows this part completed.
Step 5: Finishing
So, now the sheath looks and functions like a sheath. Time to clean up the edges, put a finish on there, and maybe a little something else. For my design, I decided to trace the tooling in gold ink and then sand the leather a bit, to give it a nice antique look.
First, cut off the rough edges with your trusty razor blade. Don't worry about a change in the color, the wax will fix this up later (if you chose to use it--wax could darken the edges of a lighter, non-stained leather too much). The first picture is of the sheath before it's been painted. I used a paint called "Brush 'n Leaf." If you use ink on your leather, always test on a scrap piece first.
I used a normal, small paintbrush and painted (carefully) every tooled line of the design. For the stippled parts, I painted completely over the leather. At first I though this would be fine, but I quickly realized that the gold was overbearing and a little careless looking despite my pains. See picture three. To remedy this I waited until the paint dried and then hit it with a foam sanding block (picture four). This took off some of the excess paint and showed the stippling very nicely, and also wore the leather down in some places to give it a nice aged look. To finish, I rubbed my all-time favorite sealant, Butcher's wax, into the leather. This made the leather a little darker and shinier, as well as darkening up the non-polished parts of the leather where I had sanded, and the sides of the sheath. The last picture is me, proudly holding up my creation. It's ornate, but also very functional.