Introduction: Universal Leather Knife Sheath

About: Civil engeneer, living between the big city and the country. Dog owner.

Hello everyone!

I would like to introduce you to my concept of universal leather knife sheath.

I called it "universal" because it is designed to carry almost every kind of medium size, fixed blade, knife. I tried it with dozens of knives - from budget swedish work-horses scandi knives with plastic handle, to art knives with amazing stabilized woods on the handles. It just fits. This is why one day I thought, that it would be a good idea to make a step by step story of making my sheaths.

I will guide you through my process of sheathmaking with all the details. I would like to point out that I am a craftsman with my own ways of doing many things, that works for me, but it is not one official way to do it. You can do many things differently, in another order and with different tools. But generel concept is always the same and I will present it for you.

I will call difficulty level of this Instructable as Intermediate but it can also be very usefull for beginners, because I am explaining almost every thing what I am doing, and I am describing all tools I am using. What is more I will tell you what is optional (tools, materials, steps in the Instructable if you want it simpler) and with what, and how you can replace it.

Please forgive me my language troubles, I will do my best to make this instructable as understandable as possible :).

In this Instructable I am using many tools. Some of them are essentials, and some are just for convenience.

Essential tools & materials:

  • leather
  • glue
  • sharp knife (and cutting board)
  • an awl
  • needles & thread
  • piece of paper, pencil, scissors

This is it - with this you are ready to make your first leather sheath.

Auxilliary, optional tools:

  • More professional leather tools like: edge beveler, creaser, groover, edge slickers
  • leather stamps, wooden or rubber hammer for them (or professional leathercraft maul), marble plate to stamping on it
  • rullers, french curves, patterns
  • Leather dyes, antique gels etc
  • Leather chemistry: gum tragacanth, neatsfoot oil, tan kote, super shene, acrylic resolene etc.
  • Hole punch, rottary hole punch
  • All hardweare addisions: chicago screws, rivets, D-rings, buckles etc
  • few gradations of sandpaper

Auxilliary tools will be necessary to achive effect I presented in this Instructable. But it only depends on you if you want to try it or just have some fun taking little DIY adventure with basic tools.

Important info: during making photo material for this Instructable, I will introduce all tools one by one, when I will use them (each tool has decription on the picture when it appears for the first time). There is no group picture of all tools, but each of them is presented and described it their own time.

I recommend to check out all pictures, they are presenting whole process step by step, and have some extra comments pinned to them.

Now, make yourself a cup of tea, it is going to take you a while untill you reach to the end :).

Step 1: Preparing the Pattern

What you need in this step is piece of paper, scissors and a pencil. Very helpfull addition can be small strap of leather (10-15" x 1/2" will be just enough) that you will use to make your sheath and a scale.

When we are talking about leather you may ask what kind of leather you should use?

I am using veg-tanned full grain cow hide leather. Veg tanned is important because this kind of leather allows you to stamp it. Leather I recommand for knife sheath project is about 7-8 oz (2.8 - 3.2 mm).

This is the beginning and is already a tricky part! Making the pattern is material for whole another instructable. I will try to describe making it in a simple way.

If you need pattern for a knife sheath start from drawing shape of your knife on a piece of paper. Mark all "special places" - places where width of the knife is changing (it will be: butt, beginning, middle, and end of a handle, bolster/guard, and a blade in 3 or 4 places). After that take your strap of leather and wrap it around the knife in all marked places. Measure length of the strap perimeter - this is the minimum lenght of the sheath in this part of the knife. (Remember that your sheath has extra leather spacer to protect the stitch!) Draw a straight line, close as possible to the back on your knife - it will be axis of your sheath. Divide all messured lenghts by 2 and mark them on your draw, in "special places" they belong (mark them perpendicularly to the axis!). Thanks to that you get rough outline of half of your sheath. Smooth your outline, make it look naturally, no sharp edges, just smooth weaves :). Fold your piece of paper along sheath axis, cut it out and your pattern is ready!

Now you need to prepare your stitch protecting spacer. Take your prepared pattern, copy half of it on a paper, and draw line that will be touching the edge of the knife. Width of the insert should be about 3/8".

You should also draw the belt loop, of any kind you like.

Step 2: Transfering Pattern on the Leather

Put your pattern on the leather, and draw the outline, remember to hold your pen perpendicularly to the leather surface, otherwise the outline can be different then the pattern.

Please pay special attention to what side of the pattern are you putting on the leather. If you designed the sheath for right-handed person and you put the pattern inversely it will result as a sheath for left-handed person. (It applay only to assymetrical sheaths, eg with integrated belt loop - like my sheath in this instructable. If you have perfectly symmetrical sheath it will not be a problem, but it is always worth to remember about it.)

Step 3: Cutting Out

Time to cut it out.

Sharp knife is your friend here. I prefere using Olfa cutting tools with spare blades (black - extra sharp ones). They work for me, but you can use anything sharp you have to cut the leather.

I used hole punch to make starting holes, but it is not necesary.

After cuting out it is time to round the corners. I am marking points to cut the corner evenly, and then round it in 2 or 3 steps, cutting smaller pieces every next step. Best way is to use circle drawing template to draw your cutting lines, you can use also a coin, a washer, or anything in shape that fits.

Step 4: Edges Beveling

To get nice edge you need to work on it for a while. It will pay you bask with smoothness for many years.

The tool you need in thi step is edge beveler (some people are repleacing it with manicure tool for 2$ - if it works, why not?). You can also round your edges with sand paper, but here I recommend you to ges some practice on leather scraps. Using beveler is simple, do not push it to hard, hold right (about 45 degree) angle, and bevel the edge. Important thing is size of a tool - for leather in this design I think size number 2 should be about right.

Step 5: Stamping

Stamping is optional, but I really like basketweave pattern on my leather stuff.

At the beginning I am putting my logo stamp on the belt loops.

To stamping leather you need solid base - I am using marble plate. You also need a hammer - the best would be wooden, rubber or special plastic leathercraft maul. Using iron hammer destroys the tools with the time.

To stamp veg-tanned leather you need to damp it with wet cloth. I've once read old leatherworkers advise that best way to prepare leather for stamping is to put it into a plastic bag for few hours after damping. Thanks to that the moisture will penetrate deep inside the leather. When the top looks dry you can start stamping - it is the best time. It will not last long, after taking leather from the bag you will have maybe half an hour, maybe little more depending on leather thickness, before it will get to dry.

After stamping my logo on the belt loop is time to put some nice touch to it. Use a creaser (I am using pro stitching groover with creasing tip) to make small groove around the edge. The groove is not cut out like in a case of groover (will show up latter). It looks good, product looks more finished when you do that. You crease wet leather like for stamping of course.

After that with the same tool we mark the outline of our stamping. In places where we can not use spacer I recommend using drawing curve. After that you can start stamping.

First boarder stamp, one next to another, inside our stamping outline. Important thing, as always, to hold the stamp perpendicularly to the stamped leather and to hit with the hammer the same way. Otherwise your stamping will have different, uneven depth.

Now basketweave stamping. What we want to achive is to fill whole free space inside the stamped area. Start with marking straight line in angle about 45 degrees to the sheath axis (remember drawing a pattern?). Then one stamp below, and one abowe the drawed line, like on a picture. When the line is finished it is easy - you are filling gaps between two stamps. However it requires some practice.

Harder case is with the tri-weave stamp. Here we have 3 directions that needs to be evened during stamping. Starting with one row of stamps, and crucial part is to make it straight. After that you are putting each time extra row of stamps and that is it. I honestly do not recommend this stamp for the beginners. I have ruined at least 3 sheaths with it...

After stamping let the leather dry completley. Do not bond it, do not fold it, just put it in well wentilated place and wait. Best way is go to sleep ;). At morning it schould be ready to work with it. If you bond it to soon, the stamping will loose its shape and it will loog like faded painting after all.

Step 6: Dying Leather

In this step you have many options.

I have choosed dying with antique gels, because it makes stamped surfaces look very nice. Use some old papers to cover the work area. Then put some gel on piece of baumwoole cloth (piece of old T-shirt is perfect) and then rub it into the leather. You will see the areas that needs some more of gel. After you dye whole sheath clean addition of gel with papper towell. Dye the edges, you can also dye the inside of the sheath. Honnestly it is hard not to dye it using the gels... :)

Do not forget about rubber gloves!

After dying let the leather dry properly. How long depends on many factors, but 2-3 hours should be enough if you wiped it corretly with paper towell.

Step 7: Finishing "single" Edges

Now it is time to finish all edges that will not be glued with any others edges.

To get them perfectly rounded shape you can use gum tragacanth (if you do not have access to one just use water, result will not be as good as with gum but will work) - the burnishing agent. It makes it easier to model its shape. After aplying agent you need edge slicker (I am using plastic one, but now on the market is a lot of wooden tools, the harder wood it is made of - the better). Model the edge with the tool by slicing it against the edge few times. If necessary applay another coat of gum tragacanth and continue modelling untill it looks shiny and is perfectly smooth.

Step 8: Belt Loop Stitching

Before stitching meet the new tool - groover. Very usefull tool to make stitching groove. Thanks to that the thread can be "hide" in the surface of leather what makes it much more durable. The stitch will better resist friction against clothes, and is harder to accidently cut it.

These days another method of stitching is getting more and more popular - stitching with diamond awl and pricking irons / stitching chisels. It is different. It looks different and it has its own advantages. Both method can be succesfully used. Here I am presenting stitching with regular round awl and stitching groover. I think it works good with knives sheaths (but I also use the diamond awl sometimes ;) )

First I am using stitching groover to make groove for stitching on our belt loop. After that I am using the compass to mark places for holes. (Little trick here - you can color it with the felt tip pen ;) ). After that remove the top surface form glued areas, for better glue contact. Before glueing do not forget about putting the D-ring on the belt loop. Glue it to the main body of the knife sheath. Make stitching holes in marked spots. As always remember about holding an awl perpendicularly to the pierced leather - this is the guarantee of the nice stitch on back side. Because it is hard to cut stitching grooves on the suede I prefere stamping them with the scerwdriver ;). It is fast, and works well. Thanks to that the handle will not damage the thread inside of the scheath so easly. After stitching (if you do not know how to stitch check out the "saddle stitch" or "two needle stitch") I am cutting the thread, leaving about 1/8" and melting it using hot needle (can be just regular gas lighter).

Step 9: Glueing the Protective Spacer

Time to glue the protective spacer.

(It is very important, bacause it will protect the stitch from beeing cut with the blade inside of the sheath)

But first I need to mark the place of my chicago screw. I think that it holds enter to the sheath better then just stitching. Because I am using rottary punch, and it is only comfort to use when punching through one layer of leather I am making a hole for the chicago screw before glueing protective spacer.

As always, when glueing leather prepare the surface by scrathing it with any sharp tool (in my case kitchen knife ;) ) or sand paper.

Step 10: Finishing Inside Part of the Sheath

To protect knives handles from beeind dyed by inside layer of the leather it is important to seal it with proper chemistry. I am using tan kote. Put two layers, and let them dry between first and second. Spread it even with brush or just finger, rather thin layer. After it dries you can go further.

Of course the best way is not to dye sheath inside, but in some projects it is impossible.

Step 11: Glueing Sheath Together

Very important step! :)

Now time to close the whole sheath.

This is the time when we found out if we cut it properly, and if it does not loose any shape during stamping dying etc.

In my case - using rotary punch I am punching hole in protective spacer just before glueing, to punch through only one layer of leather.

Step 12: Rough Edge Finishing

To mark the straight, and evenly spaced from the edge stitching line you have to put some work into the edges.

First roughly but very gently I am cutting it with the knife. When it is close to be all even I am using sandpapers to smooth it.

Sandpapers I recommend for smoothing the edge:

  • 40 or 60 grit (only if the edge is very irregular and uneven)
  • 80 grit
  • 120 grit
  • 180 grit (this I recommend to use after beveling edges)
  • 240 grit (gently, just to give it final touch)

First I start sanding with normal edge, after few strokes I am damping the edge with wet cloth and give it another few strokes, and repeat this procedure with all grits.

After 180 grit I am beveling the edge, the tip of the knife I am beveling with the knife.

With edge prepared like this You can start sewing.

Step 13: Stitching

Now I am punching through the last layer of leather for my chicago screw hole (first two pictures).

Stitching - we have been there before :).

When edge is even and smooth it is possible to make beautifull even stitching groove. Mark the holes in it using divider, stitching roulette, or just ruller and the awl. You can color it with felt-tip pen. Then make holes. I will repeat this for the fourth time - remember about holding an awl perpendicularly to the pierced leather in every surface (left- right and front-back). It will give you nice and even stitch on the back side of the sheath.

Check out the tip on the picture how to smartly prepare needle with the thread.

You can also make yourself finger protection covers like mine - helps to stitch withoul cutting your skin with the thread.

After stitching go back with the stitch two or three times, cut the threads, and melt them.

Step 14: Final Edge Finishing

The well finished nice-looking edge can really be a decoration of each leatherworking project.

Sometimes, especially when you make the stitching groove too close to the edge, the edge after stitching does not look so good like before. In this case you need to go back to the step 12, and polish the edge with sandpaper again.

But if the edge is nice and smooth we can finish working with it.

  • First - dying. Dye the edge to make it mach to the rest of the sheath.
  • Second - polishing with gum tragacanth. Aply even thin coat and polish it with something hard (can be smooth piece of wood, can be handle of one of your leatherworking tools)
  • Third - burnishing it with linen canvas - burnish it by rubbing it briskly untill you feel the heat generated from the friction
  • Fourth polishing with denim fabric and paraffin wax this - step finishes and seals the edge a little, and makes it waterproof (please do not mistake it with being 100% waterproof, more think about it like about higher water resistance in limited range. It means that when you put some water drops on the edge they will stay on the surface, but if you put it into watter it will soaked totally, no matter what you do. It is leather.)

This is very wide subject. Each leatherworker has his own way of finishing edges. I am sometimes using different methods, or just whole different techniques like special edge paint. It is important to remember that there is many many ways to finish the edges. This is not even my way. This is just my way of doing it in this particular project.

Step 15: Oiling and Finishing the Leather

Every leather needs conservation and preservation to keep its natural attributes like durability, flexibility and strength.

Process of stamping, dying and many cycles of wetting and drying weaken the leather. This is why after all this I am applying neatsfoot oil. You can also use many others care products available in eg saddlery and equestrian stores. After aplying generous (but not to generous...) coat let it dry and penetrate the leather for even 24 hours.

Last part is to seal the leather to prevent it from dying our clothes and gives it nice shiny look (you can choose matt finish if you like).

Applay it in even light coats with the sponge or aerograph. Let it dry, in my case it takes between 30 min to 2 hours to dry completley. After that apply next coat. Numbers of coast depend on how shiny you want your work to be. I usually apply 3-4 coats.

Step 16: Placing Chicago Screws

Put the chicago screw into the hole. You can use threadlock glue to be sure it is secured.

Also make holes in another belt loop, and attached it to the D-ring.

Step 17: It Is Done!

This is it!

You can see the pictures of finished sheaths here!

If you have any questions feel free to ask me.
Please leave some feedback comment!

Thank you for visiting!

Leather Contest 2017

Second Prize in the
Leather Contest 2017