How to Make a Homemade Leather Knife Sheath
Alright all, my first tutorial. The knife featured is the first one I've made, the sheath is my second. Be gentle.
So, you've got a good fixed blade knife that you want to carry, but that hard plastic sheath it came in doesn't hold it well enough. With some basic materials and a bit of time, you can make your own leather sheath and form it to fit your knife exactly.
I'll be showing how I made a sheath for a basic fixed blade knife with a leather wrapped handle that I made. The tutorial is pretty long, but I tried to make it as detailed as I could.
- Leather. Fairly obvious. I got a 5 lbs back of scrap leather from the craft store for a few bucks.
- Drawing tools. Usually a pencil or a Sharpie, depending on how dark your leather is. Also, paper, possibly a few pieces.
- Sharp scissors or knife. This is used to cut out the design you draw on the leather.
- Sewing materials. Good heavy sinew is better than normal thread, and a thick needle is better for getting through the leather.
- Sewing awl. $17 at a craft store. Handy little tool to punch through the leather and make stitches at the same time.
- Power drill with small drill bits. Seems overkill, I know. However, it's effective if you don't have an awl, or have really tough leather.
- Snaps. This is only if you want to make a handle strap as extra security.
- Some sort of clamping device. Nails, glue, clamp, tape, anything will work.
The first step is to decide the design of your sheath. Personally, I prefer to hold a knife horizontal on the belt with a strap over the handle to hold it in place. I make the sheath shape out of one piece, and fold it over the back of the knife.
Lay the knife flat on a piece of paper and draw around it, making sure you leave enough room for the sheath to fold over and seal shut. Also, try your best to make sure that the edges are mirror images of each other to get a clean edge.
As you can see in my images below, I included the strap in the initial design so I don't have to sew it on later. I prefer to have part of the handle inside the sheath. This is important if you want to form fit the sheath, which is Step 3 of this tutorial.
Once you think you have the shape of the sheath right, cut it out along the the outline you just drew.
Fold the paper over how you want it to look and tape the edges and slide the knife inside. This is to test for the correct size. It's good to have a little wiggle room, because the leather is much thicker than paper is. This is also a good time to check your edges and make sure it's nice and clean where they meet.
Also, ensure that the strap you cut out is long enough to attach firmly to the rest of the sheath. This is the reason for using paper and not leather, as leather is much more expensive and it's easier to change a paper design than a leather one.
This part is largely trial and error. I made three different designs before I found one I was happy with, so be patient and make sure your happy with that shape. Remember, errors in the paper design are much easier to fix than errors in the leather.
Now that we have a design we're happy with, it's time to start building. The first step is simple; just trace your design onto the piece of leather that you want to use.
A simple tip here that could save aggravation later is to figure out which side of the leather you want outside of your sheath, and trace on the opposite side. This way, if there's any markings left after it's been cut out, they're safely hidden away. In this case, I was using very dark leather, but a black ink pen worked well in marking it out.
When cutting, make sure that you cut on the outside of the lines. If there's an error, you can always cut the excess off later. You can't add more leather if it's too small.
You'll also need to draw and cut out the "welt." This skinny piece of leather sits between the edges after the main piece has been folded over. This both protects the edge of your knife and prevents your stitches from being cut easily.
I unfortunately forgot to take pictures of designing the welt, but below you can see the finished welt compared to the sheath.
The outside edge of the welt should follow the same curve as the edge of your sheath design. It should be between 1/4" and 1/2" wide, depending on the size of your sheath and your confidence in your sewing skills. Mine is roughly 3/8" wide.
Now that your have all the leather you need cut out, it's time for the preliminary assembly. I use a hammer and small nails, but here you can do whatever you want (clamps, glue, tape, whatever).
I put the sheath together using the nails to hold it in place to see what the final product will look like. Make sure the welt goes between the edges of the fold, so your edge is actually 3 layers deep, as seen below.
This is also a good point to test your sheath for fit on your knife again. Don't want to go through all the work and find out there was an error early on.
Also while the sheath is held together with nails, I like to go through and make all the holes for sewing. Using a combination of the awl and drill, I made holes all along the edge. It's a pretty slow process, but it helps a lot when it comes time to fully assembling it.
Once you have all the holes made, you also want to make sure your snaps will actually close. Pull your flap over the knife and see where it lands on the body of the sheath. Make sure you pull it tight so the knife will actually be held with it. Mark its position on the body with a small pen/marker mark, and open the sheath back up. Using your mark, attach one side of a snap onto the body of the sheath.
Also worth noting, this is a good time to attach belt loops if you want it horizontal on your belt. Simply sew one end into the center fold of the sheath, and leave the other end hanging to sew later. In my infinite wisdom, I forgot to do this, so you'll see my solution later on. It's MUCH easier to plan each step and know what you have to do than to just run with it.
Now that the snap (and belt loops, if you're smarter than me) are attached, it's time to stitch up the final product. The sewing awl is very useful, as they come with heavy thread and do heavy duty stitches. However, normal sewing needles will work just as well if you take your time with it.
This image shows the stitches halfway done. It's a pretty slow and tedious job, but just take your time and don't rush (I'm not responsible for you rushing and stabbing your finger with a needle.)
The final step in building the sheath is to attach the other half of your snap onto the strap. As before, try to make this tight over the knife so t holds strong.
You now have a functioning sheath designed specially for your knife.
This is the simplest part of the sheath process, and also totally optional. If you're happy with how it functions, you don't need to do this part.
Forming is exactly what it sounds like; forming the sheath to fit your knife exactly. When leather gets wet, it gets pliable. So simply get the assembled sheath wet. Either run it under the sink it put it in a bucket, but it doesn't take a lot of water to change. Once the leather is wet, put the knife inside the sheath and start to press down into it. It doesn't take a lot of pressure, but it takes persistence.
I applied pressure for about 20 minutes, focusing around where my handle was inside the body of the sheath. This way, as the leather dries and tightens back up, the sheath will be "molded" around the knife profile, which gives it a more secure fit.
Compare these 2 images with the final image in Step 2 to see the difference forming makes in the shape of a sheath.
And here is the completed sheath, along with another one I made previously for a Buck knife.
- Belt Loops: I attached belt loops using Gorilla Glue epoxy. You can see in the above image it's not as clean as stitching, but it worked. I would still recommend stitching them for strength, but I didn't want to take my sheath apart again.
- You can see 2 different textures in the sheaths pictured above. On the Buck knife sheath, I used the soft side of the leather on the outside. The sheath featured here shows the smooth side on the outside. Make very sure that before you cut out the leather you know which way it folds and which side you want showing.
- Typos: At the time of writing this, my "I" key is not functioning properly. Sorry for any mistakes coming from this.