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
Now on to the details!
Step 1: Arrange Knives to Determine How Much Leather You Need
- 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.
- 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:
- the basic area where you laid out the knives
- a sheet of leather to cover the blades
- a sheet of leather which will fold down over the handles
- 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
- Find the right piece(s) of leather, your buckles and straps, etc.
- 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.
- 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
- 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:
- Speedy stitcher awl (see this link for a good video on to use it)
- Various punches
- A good x-acto knife and razor blades
- leather hand sewing needles
- 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:
- wax linen for sewing
- leather glue (Barge brand works really well)
- chicago screws (here)
- buckles and hooks (again, look for old purses in the thrift shops)
Step 4: Make a Paper Copy of Your Cowhide
- Make a copy of your cowhide using butcher paper
- X-acto knife or razor (be careful with a loose razor)
- masking tape or painters tape to piece together the butcher paper
- 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
- 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
- X-acto knife or razor (be careful with a loose razor)
- 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!)
- 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
- 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
- Wax linen
- Speedy Stitcher and/or needles
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Enhance project with small additions to make it more useful
- Add artistic details
- 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.
- 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!
- artist, designer, crafter, blacksmith and proud step-dad of an aspiring chef