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The Sheath/Holster Makers Forum This is the place to discuss all forms of sheath and holster making.

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Old 01-05-2004, 03:19 PM
SCW SCW is offline
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 4
Please critique!!

I am just getting started with leatherwork, and I would like a few tips and critisisms before I get any bad habits, as well as any ways to refine my work.

I started last week with the Stohlman starter kit and a 1/2 shoulder from Tandy. I had an idea of what I wanted, but it didn't turn out quite as well as I had hoped.

This is my first sheath. I wet molded it and dried it in the oven, then punched the holes with an awl. I couldn't do both layers, so I did one side then the other as I stitched. Turned out OK, but not real 'refined'.

Yesterday I finished a holster for my Ruger pistol. I laid out the design on a peice of large paper, and just kinda plaid it by ear from there. My lines are better, I got much better with the groover and used a sharpened drill bit to punch the holes. Sorry about the picture, I don't have a digital camera so I just scanned the holster

Any help would be appreciated. I've decided I like doing this and will be doing more of it. Looking into starting some tooling now.

Thanks much!!
Shane Watson
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Old 01-05-2004, 03:21 PM
SCW SCW is offline
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 4
Sorry about the size of the holster, here it is again.

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Old 01-08-2004, 01:25 AM
RokJok RokJok is offline
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: Rainy side of the Cascade Mountains
Posts: 29
Quick comments on the sheath & holster.

The stitching on the holster (second piece done) seems more consistent than on the sheath. Not sure if that's the case or just the way the pics look. If you don't use an marking wheel or spacing fork to position your stitches, using such a tool will help keep your stitches consistent in size and spacing.

The molding on the sheath leather looks fine to my eye. The single thing that is most noticible on the sheath can be fixed. That is the inconsistent spacing between the stitch line and the outer edge of the leather. A very careful trimming of the excess leather outside the stitch line could clear up the inconsistent spacing. If you use a stitch gouge during the construction of a leather piece, that offset distance from the edge can more easily be controlled.

Using a stitch gouge will do three things for you:
1. help keep your stitches in line
2. keep your stitches set in a consistent distance from the edge of the leather
3. recess the stitches slightly below the surface of the leather, which both keeps them away from abrasion and creates a shadow line in which the stitches lay that helps your sheath look more finely finished.

There are stitch gouges on the market that have an adjustable fence to keep the same stitch line offset spacing all along the edge. Otherwise, some makers just use their finger running along the edge of the leather as they grip the gouge to set the stitches in from the edge a bit.

I note that your rivets on the holster are not placed in the stitch line, either somewhere in the middle or especially at the ends & corners where the stitch line changes direction. Putting rivets at the ends or corners of the stitch line is something that I see professional leather sheathmakers designing into their rivet setting. I believe it's done so that the rivet (which is the stronger mechanical holding device) will take the brunt of a force trying to "peel" the leather layers apart, instead of the stitching (weaker clamping device) or the leather itself getting torn as the force exceeds the holding limit of the stitching or leather material. Alternatively, rivets may be used to resist some of the abrasion and wear at the tip of the sheath.

Fit and finish can make a world of difference in the overall impression of a piece. The mouth of the holster being left as a trimmed edge jumps out at me. A folded, rolled, burnished, or buffed edge there would IMHO look more professional, especially since the leather looks like it is pretty lightweight for a holster.

The later piece (holster) appearing to be an improvement over the first (sheath) would line up with what the leather workers in the crowd say: that practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice, then practice some more. The way it will usually work is that over time the overall quality and individual techniques get honed to higher and higher levels. I realize these are your first pieces, so I'm sure subsequent pieces will just keep getting better and better. The fact that there is a discernable improvement between your first and second piece shows that you are observant enough to improve at a quick pace.

My advice would be to spend time looking critically and minutely at the sheaths made by professionals that really catch your eye. When you spot a sheath that stops you dead in your tracks, take the time to reverse-engineer it in your mind. Try to figure out the methods and sequence the maker used to create it. Look real closely at how the sheath relates to and enhances the knife it houses. Finally, check out the DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS of the sheath. Really pay close attention to the "not so obvious" design elements that the maker is using to make their statement, because often those are the elements that are saying the most for him or her. So often it is the details - how many, which ones, where placed, how they flow together and back & forth - that will raise a sheath, holster, or other leatherwork (or any design) out of the ordinary into the exemplary.

Finally, as you've done here, ask around on the forums. The leatherworkers and sheathmakers have IME proven themselves to be a friendly and forthcoming crowd. Just some of the nicest folks you'd want to meet.

It may be informative to check out some of the many tutorials that Dan Gray has up on his webpage:

Bruce Evans' leather sheath making tutorial, one of many ways of making a sheath, including use of a shopmade adjustable stitch gouge:

A glossary of leatherworking tools & terms that may come in handy:

Besides the excellent tutorials and info here on CKD, there is also info to be gleaned from and, as well as the tutorial pages that some makers have on their websites.

Thank you for sharing your work with us and I wish you much joy in your leatherworking.
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Old 01-08-2004, 04:21 PM
SCW SCW is offline
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 4

Thanks so much for the advise!!

I actually haven't touched the edges yet, on the sheath I burnished with beeswax and a steel shaft, but because I bought the minimum in tools I don't have and edge chamfering tool (don't know what it is called). When I burnished the sheath, the top and bottom didn't compress the same as the center of the leather, and I didn't care for how it turned out. After I found this board, I read about the Gum T, and decided to try that method instead. I did burnish the belt loop with the wax because it needed to be done before it could be stiched on, but again I don't care for it.

As far as the groover, I tried to do it on the sheath, but when I pulled the leather over the knife I used tacks to hold it in place, and I guess I placed them too close to the knife. When I ran the groover, the tack holes were so close to the knife that I couldn't groove and cover the holes at the same time. I decided to cover the holes.

Also, with the groove I just have a cheap-o from Tandy, and it was difficult to use. I think it wasn't very sharp when I got it, so I need to get another.

Can rivets be punched right over the thread? I thought about doing that, but didn't want to cut the thread. The rivets on the bottom and the 2nd rivet further away from the gun are covering blemishes caused by the way I clamped the leather as it dried. To clamp it, I cut a peice of wood in the shape I wanted and pulled the leather over the gun and under the wood. This seemed to work better than the tacks on the sheath, but I don't think it got enough pull to make a refined, *tight* look that I wanted. Any ideas?

Thanks again, I will be doing something else as soon as I finish a few things on this one, and of course reading a few things.

Shane Watson
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Old 01-11-2004, 10:31 PM
Sandy Morrissey Sandy Morrissey is offline
Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: Blairsville--in the beautiful Appalachian mountains of North Georgia.
Posts: 1,918
My compliments to RokJok

RokJok---I have carefully read your posting in this thread at least three times. I have not found as much as one letter that was misplaced, one statement that was not factual or a paragraph that was not creating a mental picture. I can say that I wish they were my words but must give credit where credit is due. I hope that you continue to favor us with your apparent knowledge of a subject dear to my heart. Sandy

Martin (Sandy) Morrissey Master Leather Craftsman 1105 Stephens Road Blairsville, GA 30512 706-379-1621
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Old 01-12-2004, 03:23 AM
RokJok RokJok is offline
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: Rainy side of the Cascade Mountains
Posts: 29

I am deeply honored by your comments on my observations of the sheath & holster, given your expertise and well-deserved stature in the sheathmaking world.

I am not a leatherworker or sheathmaker. Rather I am an inveterately curious & avocational student of how things either are designed & made to fulfill a function or how their internal processes operate. Consequently, I spend a lot of my time "looking critically and minutely" at the art and craftsmanship of blademakers & sheathmakers, housewares/clothes/outdoor gear designers, artists & sculptors, woodworkers & furniture designers, construction & remodeling contractors, and various engineers (architectural, industrial, mechanical, civil).

After studying the online tutorials on sheathmaking and watching a friend do a bit of other leatherwork, I appreciate how much attention to detail and sequencing together discrete steps & processes it takes to make a leather sheath. Closely scrutinizing the sheaths that have appealed to me over the years, to see what are the common elements in the design and execution of the sheaths that keep attracting me, leaves me somewhat awestruck at the talent that can be developed when a person has practiced their craft either for a long time or with intense focus & concentration. Then there is the level of mastery that says the most by speaking with a very subtle and quiet voice.


Here's my best guess on the rivets placed in a stitch line. As noted, I'm not a sheath maker, so this sequence could be off. Nonetheless, as near I can tell a person would:
- fold & mold the leather to shape around the knife after sewing on any external add-ons (belt loop, pouch, etc) that requires access to sew both sides of the sheath body material
- pencil in the stitch line and groove it
- mark the stitch spacing in the groove with a marker wheel
- drill the rivet holes where you want the rivets to be
- stitch between rivet holes to where the rivet heads & washers will cover the ends of the stitch lines (but don't stitch across the rivet holes)
- place and peen the rivets
- trim the outer edge of the leather to its final dimensions
- finish the sheath (dye, finish edge, wax, etc)

I trust one of the leather guru's will correct me if that's off the mark.
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Old 01-12-2004, 11:42 AM
paul harm paul harm is offline
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: attica, mi.
Posts: 799
that's how i do it, except i use an adj. groover, not a pencil for the groove. they're cheep, and i couldn't live without one [ tandys]. paul
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blade, knife

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