Last year I decided I wanted to learn how to play the harmonica, so I went to the music shop and bought a nice Hohner Golden Melody in the key of C. It came with an ugly red plastic case, which is also a little inconvenient to carry around. Given that I love making stuff and I love cases and sheaths, I decided to have fun making one for my beloved harp!
In this instructable I will show you the techniques I used in this project to wet mold leather. This is the first time I try such a technique, so not everything may be perfect. Pretty much everything I know about leatherworking I learned watching Ian Atkinson's wonderful how-to videos. He deserves credit for a big part of this project. Here's his channel, which is really worth giving a look at.
Here's a link to a time lapse video of the build!
You can use the same techniques to make cases for any object you want, be it a knife, a cellphone or whatever! Anyway you should be aware that such a kind of projects can require a lot of time and patience, this is not an afternoon project: overall working time was six hours, plus drying time of leather, glue and dye. That said, let's get started!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
To complete this project you will need a number of things. Some of them are necessary, some are optional, some others are replaceable. The first thing I suggest you do is making a wooden template of the object you want to make a case for. The reason is that you're going to work quite hard on the leather and you're going to be pushing, tooling, forcing, even hammering leather onto your object. And I'm sure you don't want to ruin your precious harmonica or IPhone or else, do you?
Next step is to gather tools and other materials. Here's what I used:
- swiss knife and Xacto knife (notice that every cutting tool should be as sharp as you can make it, to make clean cuts and avoid jagged edges);
- metal ruler;
- flexible ruler (optional);
- stapler (not strictly necessary, but highly recommended);
- scrap piece of wood to staple leather on;
- leather groover (optional);
- leather hole punch;
- hammer (a dead-blow one is recommended);
- clamp and vise (or, even better, a stitching pony);
- snap buttons and setting tool;
- shoe dye or specific leather dye;
- latex gloves, tissues and plastic cover to protect yourself and your working table from glue and dye;
- vegetable tanned leather and some lining fabric;
- awl, blunted needles, waxed thread and a lighter;
Step 2: Wet Molding
First of all you have to cut a piece of leather big enough to cover your object. Be sure to leave enough excess on the bottom and on the sides: this will allow you to have plenty of material to work on and to staple leather on your wood scrap.
Next you have to soak your leather in mildly warm water until it stops making bubbles. I left mine in water for almost one hour. This process will make leather more malleable and more prone to retain its shape after you mold it onto your object (from now on let's say this object is a harmonica!).
Now comes the quite difficult and laborious part. I started by wrapping my wooden template in plastic wrap and laying it on the scrap wood. If you want you can screw or tape it down, but it's not strictly necessary. I got leather out of the water and started working it. I decided how deep I wanted my harmonica to go in its sheath and I marked my template with a piece of electrical tape. Pay attention in this step: my harmonica has quite a regular shape, but if your object has a curved shape, case's top edge should fall on the largest part of your object. If the largest part is below the edge you will not be able to use the case once the front and the back are stitched together, because your object will be too large to pass through the opening!
You should start by pushing leather with your fingers to form the sides of the case and once you've given it a rough shape, staple it to prevent the whole thing from wandering around while you're working. Keep pushing and shaping both sides, and staple all around them once you're satisfied. Only then concentrate on the bottom. This is the trickiest part, because as soon as you start molding the bottom, the excess leather will start to crease, making it difficult to keep it down on the template. To make your life easier, make some cuts in the leather, and let it overlap however it wants to. Just be careful not to cut the case, but only the excess. This will make it easier for you to complete molding procedure. For detail molding use a metal rounded object, such as a coffee spoon or everything available to you.
After you finish molding, leave everything to dry naturally overnight.
Step 3: Cutting the Back and Dyeing
After it dries you can cut the excess away. Get the front half of your case and cut a strip of leather that will serve as its back and closing flap. It has to be long enough to reach the point where you're going to set the snap button, but it is better to leave some excess, so that you can cut and shape the flap however you want.
Now you have to punch a hole in the center of your case, so that later you can set a snap button in it.
Now you should have something that looks like what's showed in picture 5. As you can see it is starting to take shape.
Notice that if you want to dye your leather it is better to do it before setting the snap button. It is not necessary but it adds a nice touch to the finished product, and also allowes you to cover any scratches you could have done to your leather while molding it. Since I don't have specific leather dyes, I tried using shoe dye, and I found that it works quite well. I suggest using latex gloves and a plastic bag to avoid spreading dye on your work area and yourselves.
Since I decided to line my case, there was no point for me in dyeing my leather on flesh side, but of course you can choose to dye and not line yours.
Step 4: Lining and Gluing
At this point you sould glue lining fabric on the inside of your leather. I started with the flap: I spreaded some glue on it and carefully layed leather onto fabric, then I gently pressed it to make the two layers adhere. I set the flap away to dry and started working on the front part.
The first thing I did was setting the male part of a snap button. I slided the post through the hole, then I placed the stud and hammered them in place (photo 3). I decided to line the case after setting the snap button so that it doesn't scratch my harp when slidind it in and out.
Now it's time to line the front part. In picture 4 you can see I made a turnup on the outside and then lined the inside. To make this, scribe a line just above the snap button and scratch the surface above that line. spread a little amount of glue on the scratched surface and lay your fabric on it. If your fabric has two different sides, the one that should be visible has to be downwards now, because you're going to fold it over itself. Before folding it over, stitch fabric and leather together.
Now spread a generous amount of glue in the inside, fold lining fabric over and glue it, payng attention to push it in every curve, so that it adheres well. After it has all dried, cut excess fabric away and glue the two halves together.
Now you can also add the male part of the snap button on the flap. So, punch another hole, slide the cap in it, place the socket and give it a couple of sound whacks. I suggest you protect the cap in this phase, as this is the part that's going to be visible, so you don't want it to get scratched!
Refine the edges with an Xacto knife when glue is dry.
Step 5: Make a Belt Loop and Burnish Edges
A sheath is not a sheath without a convenient belt loop to hang it on your hip and show it to everyone, don't you think?
So the next step is to cut another strip of leather and shape it however you want, that will be stitched on the back of our sheath to serve as a belt loop. You can make a simple one, or a more elaborate one, and you can choose to carry your sheath vertically or horizontally. I chose both! I came up with sort of an X shaped strip of leather that allowes me to slide the sheath on a belt both horizontally and vertically, so I can choose how to carry it around.
Before givinig it the final shape, you should test fit the loop on the belt you will hang your sheath on. Once you get this done, shape belt loop according to your taste and dye it. While it dries, you can save time burnishing the edges (picture 2) and poking the stitching holes on the sheath (read next step to see how).
Step 6: Stitching
Here we are: the final stage! Glue is already keeping our sheath together, but of course it's not enough, so now we will add the stitching.
First I used a leather groover to make a groove all around the harmonica: why? Because when you make the stitching, thread will be encased in that groove, so that it is not exposed to excessive rubbing, that can wear it down.
Then I marked stitchings every 5 millimeters. I used ruler and pen because I don't have an overstitch wheel, if you have one, use that. Once all stitchings were marked on the sheath I poked holes with an awl.
After that I flipped the sheath over and continued marking and poking stitching holes on the flap too, and then I used the groover again, all around the flap and the back (see images).
Now the real stitching. I don't have a stitching pony, so I had to improvise with a clamp and a small bench vise, but it worked quite well for me. Clamp your piece into the vise, thread your needles and stitch all around with the stitching technique you prefer. I used saddle stitching. I'll not explain how to saddle stitch because it's quite difficult to do it in a written tutorial, but you can look at Ian Atkinson's video-tutorial or any other explanation video on youtube.
Congatulations, you have made your very own, handmade leather sheath. Hang it on your belt and show it with pride!
Thank you for reading, I hope you found this tutorial useful. If you have any questions please ask in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer!