Introduction: Leather Chef's Knife Roll

Backstory to this Knife Roll:

My step-daughter is highly creative and competent in the kitchen. She can turn pretty much anything into a fabulous meal. For her high school graduation present I made a leather knife roll so she could take her favorite tools to college. The leather will protect the blades and provide a safe transport for years to come.

Along with slots for her knives the roll has a detachable gadget bag, business card holder, place to put notes, and a thermometer holder. Laser engraved into the leather are her initials along with her favorite food quote by Virginia Woolf.

While the piece looks complicated, it was a fairly easy one to make. It is basically four large sections attached together. Once it was assembled I added a few simple attachments to make it more useful and beautiful.

If you look on the internet you'll see lots of examples for great knife rolls. Mine is an amalgamation of many designs I found online and I'd like to thank the great leatherworkers who inspired my project.

Also, I want to give thanks to the staff at our local Tandy store. They were very helpful in answering questions and providing tips.

As you look at other rolls you will notice that some designs have pockets for the knife handles rather than the knife blades. While that works ok, personally I feel having the blade in the pocket provides better protection.

And a final note, this Instructable is about making this particular knife roll but does not cover basic leather working skills.

Overview Of the Process:

We'll go over these steps in more detail later but here is the general flow of the process:

  • Arrange your knives and tools on a rectangular piece of butcher paper and measure its size.
  • Choose a piece of leather that is about 400% larger than that size.
  • Create a paper copy of your irregularly shaped piece of leather by tracing it out onto butcher paper (or several pieces taped together).
  • Arrange the knives and tools onto the paper copy in a way that you end up with:
    • a piece where the knives will set
    • a piece that will cover the blades to form pouches
    • a large piece to serve as a top flap that folds over and protect the handles and tools
    • and a piece for the end flap where the carrying handle and strap go
  • Cut the sections out of the paper copy and tape them together to make a paper mockup of the knife roll.
  • Insert your knives into the paper mockup.
  • Make adjustments to the design.
  • Using the final paper design as a guide, cut out the parts for your roll from the cowhide .
  • Assemble the major parts by riveting, sewing and/or gluing them together.
  • Add handles, buckles, etc.
  • Insert your knives and tools.
  • Take a look at what you've created and be very proud of your achievement!

Now on to the details!

Step 1: Arrange Knives to Determine How Much Leather You Need

Step Goals:

  • Choose which knives and tools to include
  • Determine the best arrangement for the knives
  • Determine the amount of leather that will be needed

Tools and Materials:

  • Marker, ruler, knives, masking tape, and a large sheet of paper. From experience I can say that butcher block paper works best since it doesn't tear as easily.

Directions:

  • Arrange your knives and tools on the paper in a way that not only looks best but also would make sense from a chef's point of view. For example, placing the chef knives together from large to small. That way in the heat of a busy kitchen it's quicker to grab the proper knife even if only the handle is showing.
  • Note that each knife needs some extra leather on either side of the blade to form the pocket. I played with scraps of leather to see about how much space to allow in between each knife.
  • Once you are comfortable with the layout, measure both the width and the length of this basic area where the knives are. This will give you the basis of how much leather to order. A good rule of thumb seems to be 400% more than that amount of space. Basically the more the better if you can get it.
  • So remember there are four major parts which will be needed from a hide:
    1. the basic area where you laid out the knives
    2. a sheet of leather to cover the blades
    3. a sheet of leather which will fold down over the handles
    4. a sheet of leather on the end where the carrying strap and handle go.
  • See Illustration for a visual explanation.

Step 2: Purchase Leather, Buckles, Straps, Etc

Step Goals:

  • Find the right piece(s) of leather, your buckles and straps, etc.

Sources:

  • Tandy is one of the best brick and mortar sources for the items you will need. And the staff there can help guide you.
  • There are also numerous online sites which sell the leather, the buckles and everything else you need.
  • And don't forget THRIFT SHOPS! Most of the buckles and hooks in my project came from thrift stores. Look around for inexpensive, old ratty purses and belts which have perfectly good hardware on them. They are easy to remove and repurpose.

Directions:

  • If you are going to a brick and mortar store to shop, carry your paper layout with you. And add the outline where the knives will go (see pic).
  • If you are purchasing online, talk to the people you are ordering from. Send them pics of your initial design so they can assist you better.
  • At either venue the staff will know best what weight of leather you will need once they understand what you are making.
  • Since the leather you purchase will most likely not be rectangular, pay close attention to its shape. On my piece I wanted a raw, unfinished edge of leather to fold over the knife handles (see pic). So when you are looking at a cowhide consider where you will be cutting the four major pieces from in order to choose a piece that will best suit your vision.

Step 3: Gather Your Leather Working Tools and Supplies

Step Goals:

  • Make sure you have the right tools and supplies for the project.

Basic tools you will need:

  • Everyone has their preferences when it comes to tools. But here is a basic list of what I used:
    1. Speedy stitcher awl (see this link for a good video on to use it)
    2. Various punches
    3. A good x-acto knife and razor blades
    4. leather hand sewing needles
    5. mallet
    6. heavy rubber mat

Basic supplies you will need:

  • Again, everyone has their preferences and each project is different in what it requires. Here is my basic list:
    1. wax linen for sewing
    2. leather glue (Barge brand works really well)
    3. rivets
    4. chicago screws (here)
    5. buckles and hooks (again, look for old purses in the thrift shops)

Step 4: Make a Paper Copy of Your Cowhide

Step Goals:

  • Make a copy of your cowhide using butcher paper

Tools:

  • X-acto knife or razor (be careful with a loose razor)
  • Scissors
  • Marker
  • masking tape or painters tape to piece together the butcher paper

Directions:

  • Lay out a piece of butcher larger than your cowhide
  • Place the cowhide on top of it and outline it with a marker
  • Cut out the butcher paper in the shape of the hide

Step 5: Create a Mockup of the Knife Roll in Paper

Step Goals:

  • Create a working copy of your knife roll in paper
  • Use this working copy to make adjustments in the design
  • Create a final mockup of the design

Tools:

  • X-acto knife or razor (be careful with a loose razor)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Masking tape or painters tape to piece together the butcher paper. (You will notice in the pics that I used packing tape which was a BIG MISTAKE because every time I wanted to change the design a little the tape ripped the paper. Masking tape works much better!)

Directions:

  • Using your initial design layout, place it on the large paper cutout of the cowhide
  • Position it to its best advantage of material use and mark with a pencil
  • Measure out a second piece for the bottom part which covers the blades
  • Measure out a third piece for the flap at the top
  • Measure out a fourth piece for the flap on the end where the handle goes
  • Cut out the four pieces and tape them together as shown in the photograph
  • Place your knives in the mockup and carefully roll it up (again, butcher paper will serve you well here)
  • Pay close attention to how the handles butt up against each other
  • Make sure you've allowed enough room between the knife blades for them to fit easily but snugly
  • You will probably notice that some repositioning of knives will be needed... mine needed a number of adjustments before I got it right
  • Securely tape together your final design

Step 6: Cut Out the Four Major Pieces From the Cowhide and Assemble

Step Goals:

  • Transfer the design from paper to leather
  • Cut out the four major sections of the roll (note that two or more of the sections may be in a single piece)
  • Assemble the four sections

Tools and Supplies:

  • X-acto knife, scissors and razor
  • Leather Glue
  • Rivets
  • Wax linen
  • Speedy Stitcher and/or needles

Directions:

  • Unfold the paper mockup and place it on the cowhide
  • Cut out each of the pieces; or if you are able to make this in two or fewer pieces, do that
  • Attach the bottom fold which covers the blades to the main backing
  • Attach the upper foldover piece
  • Attach the end piece where the handle goes
  • Once it is assembled, put your knives it it and roll it up. Do that over and over again for a few days to stretch out the leather and let the knives seat themselves.

Some tips and thoughts:

  • Before you do any final gluing, sewing or riveting, make sure the knives fit properly. At this point you may have to fine tune your design a little further.
  • Where the tip of each blade meets the bottom of its pouch, I added an extra fold of leather to keep it from punching through. While that is an unlikely event, it seemed prudent at the time.
  • Some people it seems like to sew the sections between the pockets. Some like to rivet. I'm on the riveting side. Your ideas may be different.
  • Whichever way you choose to attach the parts, it's a good idea to first glue them where you can using Barge leather glue

Step 7: Add a Handle, Strap and Closure Straps

Step Goals:

  • Create and attach a handle, closure straps and a carrying strap to the roll
  • Note that there are numerous ways to keep the roll closed and to carry it. Look at mine and look online for various examples.
  • Below is a very brief guide to how to do this. Your knife roll will be unique and you'll need to work out the best system for securing it and carrying it. Creativity along with some good ergonomic design will be the key to making a good roll.

Tools and Supplies:

  • Basically you need two straps which will secure the roll when it's rolled up
  • You will need a short leather piece for a handle
  • You will need two longer leather pieces to make an adjustable strap
  • You will need a 1" wide piece of aluminum approximately 16" long for the inner spine of the knife roll (available at Home Depot, Lowes, etc)
  • Straps and associated hardware can be found online and at stores like Tandy
  • Hardware can also be found in thrift stores

Directions:

  • Roll the knives up and position the two straps to secure the roll closed
  • Attach the straps to the roll and provide buckles for closure
  • Attach the handle and the carrying strap using the aluminum bar as an inner backing to keep the roll stiff
  • See pics for how it was done on this project

Step 8: Other Details and Additions

Step Goals:

  • Enhance project with small additions to make it more useful
  • Add artistic details

Practical Additions:

  • Thermometer holder - every good cook needs a meat thermometer at the ready
  • Removable gadget bag - this holds a wine opener, measuring spoons, grater and other small tools. It includes a hook on on the end so the chef can hang it up close by when she/he is cooking.
  • Business card and pen holder
  • Holer for notes, menus, and/or receipts - this is located under the business card holder. There is a magnet inserted beneath the business card pouch which connects to a another magnet in the main layer. That way several sheets of notes, receipts, etc can be held securely.

Artistic Details:

  • Laser engraved initials on the front of roll along with lasered art and quote on the inside (many trophy shops now offer this engraving service for a fairly reasonable price).
  • Raw edge details throughout the piece. Instead of simply cutting every edge straight I wanted this piece to feel more alive. So I incorporated the raw edge of the cowhide into the design in a number of places. The major place being the panel that folds down to cover the handles of the knives. Raw edge leather pieces were also added to the end of some of the straps.

Step 9: The Final Product

Thank you for taking a look at this Instructable. I would love to hear your comments and try to answer any questions you might have. Always happy to help another artist.

Best of luck to everyone who has entered this contest. There are some great projects throughout!

Wayne Henderson

  • artist, designer, crafter, blacksmith and proud step-dad of an aspiring chef

Comments

author
d03199802 (author)2017-08-08

I am absolutely in love with this bag. I am a chef myself and I am considering in making this. I am looking at leather options. What leather is this one in particularly.

Thanks in advance

author
Mokhtarii69 (author)2017-07-04

Es muy bueno el trabajo

author
DanaSM (author)2017-06-02

How many hours did it take to make this chef roll?

author
strikeswhilehot (author)DanaSM2017-06-02

DanaSM - not sure. It's been a while since I made it. But my guess would be 30 hours or so. If I were to make another similar one it would take less time. Lots of trial and error in the first one of course.

Thank you for your interest and in asking.

Wwayne

author
taria (author)2016-08-10

I have yet to make my chef bag, I was going to use thick vinyl and leather like material, Because I can't afford real leather. But since I don't have time as of yet, all the stuff if in the closet waiting. This is an amazing bag.

author
strikeswhilehot (author)taria2016-08-11

Thanks and good luck. Please post pics of your work when it's done. :)

author
ChrisT217 (author)2016-06-11

This is a nice look but not very good with some adjustments it can be nice.

First problem is blade is first. As you see them against the rivets it will cause the blade to be chipped when it hits it.

Second is again blade first the tips will puncture the leather at the bottom.

and last is pouch placement will hinder you access to the space below.

I do like it but again needs some big tweeks I make rolls and this I hope helps some of you to protect your knives.

Be careful with placement of rivets not to contact your blades even during the roll or fold up depending on style you are making or the reason you made this to protect them will end up damaging them.

author

Thank you for the comments Chris. Having researched both ways of doing this - blade exposed or blade sheathed - I felt this method best. Seems the issue with the blades exposed was that the knives bump up against each other. Perhaps not but I couldn't tell.
Anyway I was concerned about the rivets as you mentioned. So I made sue the knife edges and those don't meet. Each pocket is pretty tight to stop that. Perhaps over many years that may not work. We will see.
There is an extra fold of material at the end of each sheath to keep it from punching through. Again we will see how it holds up over time.
So far the pouch has not been an obstacle to removing the knives. But it is quite useful.
Thank you again for your comments.
W

author

Thanks I am glad you take it into consideration.
Tell you first thing, Always use a sheath on your blades this way they are not hitting each other and roll on top of one and other.
Hope these little details help I have spent more money and time than I care to admit just to research all of this and build the perfect knife roll.
I hope my experience will help you and others building one.
Again I love your work it is very nice.
These are just suggestions to help out. Also thank you for taking the time to make this for the community!

author
Moodle2 (author)2016-02-17

to get around the chrome tanned leather you can see denim from old jeans into the knife pocket, or just use denim.

author
VietyV (author)2016-02-08

About how much did this cost to make? All the straps on my knife roll keep breaking because my kit is too heavy and I figured I'll try to make something more durable (broke line cook can't be spending 300 bucks on a custom leather roll when he could spend it on more knives ahah).

author
strikeswhilehot (author)VietyV2016-02-08

vdo3- thanks for your question. The leather was about $165 or so. Can't quite remember. The hardware probably less than $15-20. Some of the buckles and things came from old purses and belts I got for a dollar or two at thrift shops.
Good luck on your project. Do send pics when your done.
And let me know if you have more questions. Always happy to help.
Best
Wayne

author
tariq sadiq (author)2015-11-14

i make it INSHA ALLAH

author

Would love to see pictures of your project when it's finished!

Thanks for letting us know.

author
WhyMeLord (author)2015-11-08

My oldest son and one of my sons-in-law are professionals chiefs. Both have a mobile fan base. This will be the perfect gift. All I need now is to find a goo/reason way to steal their tools long enough to do the deed.

author

WhyMeLord - Understandable about having to work around the availability of the knives. My trick was to make a life size photocopy of each knife. Not a perfect solution but good enough to keep the secret until the project was done.

Good luck!

author
overblast (author)2015-11-08

One important note.

Leather has acid and salt. If steel is stored in it long term it can cause rust and pitting.

I keep my knives inside a cardboard liner inside the leather sheath. This has kept my knives nice and shiny even though stored in the leather for over 30 years. Unfortunately, a friend's expensive custom made knives were left in their non-lined leather sheaths, now they have rust and pitting, which has damaged them and their value.

author
cagenuts (author)overblast2015-11-09

If the leather is veg tanned then you're good to go. However if you buy leather that has been Chrome tanned then using it for a sheath or tool roll will have adverse consequences as your friend found out. His knife may be expensive but it looks like the maker cut costs on the sheath. Remember that carpenters have been using leather tool rolls for centuries, long before the Chrome process was developed.

If the leather looks perfect (without defects), is particularly thin or easy to bend then you probably have Chrome tanned leather. Fine for your BMW seats or wife's handbag but not for tools.

author
strikeswhilehot (author)cagenuts2015-11-10

Good points. Thanks!

author
overblast (author)cagenuts2015-11-09

Thank you, that is very helpful

author

you have to use veg tanned leather to avoid any kind of rust in the blades.

author

Thanks. That's the leather which I used.

author

Thanks Overblast. Will check into that issue. If you have links to info that would be great.

author
Mo Poppins (author)2015-11-08

Beautiful work and well-written 'ible! For me, there was also the added enjoyment of your palpable love and pride for your talented stepdaughter that I felt while reading through it. ?

author
Tanzer26 (author)2015-11-08

Very nice. One of my kids might really like this.For straight line cutting of leather, I find nothing beats a rotary cutter. Mine will slice through even heavy oil tanned leather like a hot knife through butter.

author
zos57 (author)2015-11-03

This is absolutely awesome! What weight and size hide did you use?

author
strikeswhilehot (author)zos572015-11-03

Zos57 - I started out with a half hide and used pretty much all of it. Had a little left over for a cell phone case and some small items. Will have to look at the actual weight and try to get back to you. Can't put my finger on that at the moment. In the future I might try a heavier weight but not sure it would be as supple as what I used. Best too, as mentioned in the directions, to check with your supplier and let them know what you're making. They can help.

If you make one, do send me a pic. Would love to see it!

Thanks for your comments,

Wayne

author
Alywolf (author)2015-11-03

some great ideas in your method. i will definitely incorporate it into my future tool roll.

author
strikeswhilehot (author)Alywolf2015-11-03

Thanks for the kind words. Would love to see your knife roll when you've done it.

author
sabu.dawdy (author)2015-11-02

I am so going to give this a try. Love your work. Voted

author

Thank you!!

author
Ricardo Furioso (author)2015-11-02

Lovely work. Thank you for sharing. Appreciate the time and effort you put into this Instructable.

author

Appreciate those kind words Ricardo. It does take time to put these Instructables but they are worth it for the whole community. I've learned so much on this site!

author
Alex 2Q (author)2015-11-02

I like your design and you got my vote.

Cheers Alex

author
strikeswhilehot (author)Alex 2Q2015-11-02

Thanks Alex!!

author
DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2015-11-01

Wow! This looks pro grade. You need to enter this in the Leather Contest.

author

Thank you so much. I've entered it and hopefully it will show up there tomorrow.

author
4WantofaNail (author)2015-11-01

This is really something! im sure it'll be the envy of anyone cooking in her kitchen. congrats!

author

Thank you!

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