Nix's Sheath Tutorial -- Part Four
Prepping the sheath for sewing.
In the last part we got the requisite pieces for the sheath cut out of our stock piece of leather. So far, so good. But before we get to stitching it all together, prudence calls for a bit of prep-work. A little preparation now, will make things tidier and nicer later.
The first thing we’ll stitch up with be the belt loop. You can't stitch in the belt loop once the main body of the sheath is closed up.
And once the belt loop is stitched in, it is very hard to work on.
So, before it gets stitched down, let’s clean it up a bit and stain it.
If you look closely, I did a slightly sloppy job cutting out the loop and the arched tip (I did that on purpose for this tutorial….
To smooth that out, I used a sanding block. Sandpaper (or a sanding block) is a great tool for shaping leather. In addition to smoothing out the curved contour of the belt loop, I used the sanding block to bevel the rough side edges of the belt loop.
Next I used a chamfering tool to round the corners of the smooth side of the belt loop. Since the smooth side will be folded over, you won’t really see it, but, having the corners knocked off will make slipping the sheath on and off a little bit easier. So why not?
My tool dug into the smooth leather a bit. I didn’t like that. I probably should have used a craft knife to do this job, but the chamfering tool was handy.
The other tool in the picture above is a fancy burnishing tool. This is a good time to talk about burnishing:
A cut piece of leather has one smooth side (the top grain) and 3 rough sides, the back and two edges. These rough sides can be smoothed out, especially the edges, with a bit of brisk rubbing. The edges can be dampened, usually with water, and then rubbed with a hard object or tool. A burnishing tool is most commonly made of wood or bone. I like these wooden ones because of the grooves that can pinch down the edges. However, a simple dowel or smooth stick could work equally well.
By rubbing the damp edges with a bit of vigor, the fibers mat down and smooth out. This increased the durability and weather resistance of the edges of the leather. So, not only does it look more professinal, but it is also functional.
Again, once the belt loop is stitched down, we won’t be able to burnish it, so now is the time.
In this close up, you can see how the edge is smoothed out and become a bit glossy. The leather has been moistened with water, but nothing else.
We’ll do some more with the bel loop later, but for now it is in pretty good shape. We’ve smoothed it, rounded the edges, and burnished the edges.
Now, let’s get those welt pieces glued in and trimmed up.
To prepare the welt pieces we need to skive the ends. ‘Skiving’ is the process of tapering a piece of leather to provide a transition from a thick area to a thin area. One end of our welt will be thinned down.
We’re are going to use two welt pieces. If we didn’t taper them down, there would be gaps in the edges of the sheath. Not a problem, really, but gaps could be an area where water could get it. And gaps don’t look very professional. So, it’s worth doing, and only takes a moment.
Here, I’ve used the ulu to thin the primary welt as it approaches the fold in the sheath. The blade will be thin here and we don’t need a thick welt. Plus, a thin well will make it easier to fold the sheath over.
I do the same thing with the secondary welt to provide a transition for the ‘two welt’ section to the ‘single welt’ section. Here are the skived welts in place:
Now one last preparation step. This is optional, but seems to help. I’m going to cut a couple of grooves on the inside of the sheath to help it fold around the knife more easily. This is a small detail, but seems to pay off.
I’ve marked my groove lines next to the center line of the sheath. I’ve angled them inward slightly.
In this case, I’ve used a grooving tool to cut these grooves, but I’ve used a craft knife to do this in the past. Just be careful!
You can see that my grooves (spaced about a handle-width apart) fall inside the welt line. My welt won’t be binding up the fold. This is a good thing.
Things are looking pretty good at this point. Not perfect, but good enough.
The belt loop has been prepared. The welts have been shaped to flow smoothly from thick to thin. Everything is lining up nicely. We have some folding grooves cut into the inside to make folding easier.
I think we can glue in the welts now.
Again, I’m using contact cement to glue my welts in. This isn’t necessary, but sure makes things easier.
With this stuff, apply glue to both sides of the material and then let dry for 15 minutes or so before sticking the pieces together.
Once the primary welt gets glued in, the secondary welt gets glued in place.
After the glue has had a chance to dry, we can start to think about dying issues.
Once the sheath is closed, it will be hard to dye the interior. We might as well apply some dye to the inside now. I only dye the top third….nobody will notice that the bottom is not dyed.
I’m using a water-based dye. It is easy to work with, but….it does run if it gets wet. Oiling the sheath later will help with that, but even so, some running under damp conditions can occur. Oil based dyes might be a better choice, but my local shoe repair shop carried this dye, so that’s what I use.
The same goes for the belt loop. Once it is stitched down, it will be difficult to dye, so we might as well dye that area now.
It would be quite reasonable to dye the whole sheath now, but I find I prefer to wait.
I know I’m going to trim the edges and dye them after the sheath is stitched up. And I find it easier to see the stitching marks on un-dyed leather. So, for those reasons, I’ll wait to finish dying the sheath until the final stages.
But, now that the belt loop has been dyed, I burnished it a bit more. It won’t look much better than this once it’s done, so you better be satisfied with it now.
I think it’s OK. Oiling and sealing it will give it a slightly more finished look, but, as it is, it’s OK for me.
Now, before we finish up for the day, let’s do a couple of extra things.
One, we’ll trim the excess material off. The welts were slightly oversized, we can trim those off now. This is important to do before we mark out stitching lines.
And lastly, I’ve damped the leather. This is called ‘casing’. Leather is dampened and left to rest so that the fibers become evenly moist. You want damp, not wet or soggy. Just sponging with a little water is all that is needed.
Moistening the leather softens the fibers and allows them to bend and flex. It also makes tooling a bit easier. Since we are going to fold the sheath in half tomorrow, casing and resting the leather overnight will be helpful.
I really moistened the belt loop and folded that over, more or less into position. That will be ready to sew in place tomorrow.
The cased leather gets stored in a plastic bag to keep it from drying out (which would defeat the purpose, after all.).
Thanks for staying with me (if you read this far). We did a lot of small things today, none of which were very interesting. However, these little details will make a difference tomorrow.
So far, we designed our sheath and made a template. We used the template to cut out the necessary pieces for the sheath. And we’ve gotten these pieces prep’ed for assembly.
Tomorrow, we’ll actually sew up the sheath and start finishing it.