Introduction: Wetformed Leather Sheath (Can Be Made Anywhere)
I recently went on a backcountry canoe trip with a friend of mine in Algonquin Provincial Park here in Ontario, Canada. As part of the trip we both brought a project for the other to complete. My friend brought me some leather to make this sheath for one of my wood carving knives. I had never worked with leather before, but my friend assured me that this was a beginner level project and that we could complete it with the small kit of tools he brought in a Tupperware container.
While I show how to do this for my small carving knife, this technique can be used for any type of knife.
Check out the video at the top of the page if you want to see a fun take on learning a new skill. The video takes you into the world of an adventurer learning the dark art of leathercraft.
I hope you enjoy as it was a lot of fun to film and share with you all!
Below are links to tools and materials I used in this article. It is either the exact tool/supply or something very close.
- Hammer (or hatchet)
- Swivel knife (optional)
Note: The links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Step 1: Make a Paper Template
The first step was to make a template from paper. This ensured that we didn't waste too much leather.
I simply placed the knife on a piece of paper and wrapped it around. I made sure there was lots of excess (because it is very hard to make the leather bigger after it has been cut). I traced out the pattern. I also wanted to add a bit of a loop so that I could tie the knife to something (i.e. a carabiner) so I added an extra bit of straight paper coming off the top. This will be folded over to make a loop.
Step 2: Cut the Leather
Using my template, a straight edge and a knife I cut the leather along the lines I had made in the template. Other than the loop, these do not have to be perfect as they will be trimmed in a later step.
Step 3: Soak the Leather
In order for the leather to form around the knife, you need to soak it in water. We ended up soaking it for a few minutes. In order to tell if it has soaked enough, you first can check to see if it is still releasing air bubbles. After that you just need to keep feeling it until it feels completely pliable.
The nice thing about being in nature is that you have beautiful places to do this work. This crystal clear water was so nice to use as a backdrop for this step.
Step 4: Clamp the Leather Around the Knife
Now that the leather was pliable, I placed my knife* on the leather and wrapped it around the knife. In order to hold the shape I added a lot of clamps. I basically put as many clamps on as I could. I also used a binder clip as it was wider and had more tension that the little clamps. My friend advised me to add a bit of leather under the binder clip to ensure it didn't leave any marks.
If I could go back and do this again I would have used something (like a bit of wood, or even more leather) to spread out the force exerted by the all the clamps. Some of them left marks in the leather that are visible in the final product. As this was my first leather project I am ok with it, but I wanted to pass along something I learned.
Then it was time to wait for the leather to dry.
*a good tip is to wrap the knife in masking tape so that it will be protected from the water and has less chance of rusting
Step 5: Add Glue
After waiting a long time for the leather to dry (over 24 hours) I unclamped it. Magically it held the shape of the knife!
I then added some glue along the parts where the leather was clamped together and put the clamps on again. Then it was time to wait again.
Step 6: Add Rivets
Using a leather hole punch I added 5 holes for metal rivets evenly spaced across the sheath. I added a sixth hole that went through the loop.
I then placed the backing part of the rivet on the back of the sheath (the part with the loop) and the front part of the rivet on the front of the sheath. I used a small block of metal as an anvil and the rivet set tool and hammered them into place. I repeated this step for all the holes.
As I was camping on this trip I didn't want to bring a hammer so I just used the back side of my carpenter's hatchet. If you are interested you can see how I restored it in this instructable: http://media.nbcmontana.com/Carpenters-Hatchet-Restoration-and-Customization/
Step 7: Cut to Final Shape
Now that the rivets have been installed I was able to determine the final shape of the sheath. I drew a line with a pencil and then cut along that line.
Step 8: Sand, Bevel and Burnish Edges
I may not have made the best cuts in the previous step so I spent some time hand sanding the edges of the leather until they were perfect. Then using an edge beveler I went along all of the exposed edges of leather and added a bevel. This is mainly so that it looks nicer, but it also helps remove any mushrooming edges that happen when you sand too much in one spot (don't ask me how I know). To burnish it, I took the burnishing tool and lightly and quickly rubbed it along all of the edges. You will know when it is done because the edges feel very smooth and hard.
I added some beeswax to the edge and used the friction from the burnisher to seal the edges.
Step 9: Add Carvings (Optional) and Finish
I wanted something to remind me of this amazing trip with my friend, so I asked him to carve our initials in the sheath. (I would have done it myself, but I wanted it to look nice!)
I then added some finish to the leather. I used a mineral oil and beeswax combination as that is what we had on hand, but I would suggest you get some proper leather finish if you want it to last longer. If you choose to use the mineral oil and beeswax like I did, just simply rub it onto the sheath using a rag. Then keep rubbing until all the finish has been soaked into the leather.
Step 10: Enjoy!
The last step of every project, enjoying your hard work! This was a fun introductory project to leathercraft and it was made even more fun because I made it during a canoeing trip out in the wilderness. Now I have something that protects my knife from damage (and everything else from being poked!)
I hope this project inspires you to make your own sheath. If it does I would appreciate if you could post a picture here (and share if you made it in a cool location) I love seeing other people's completed projects. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comments below.
Runner Up in the
Hand Tools Only Challenge