Do you have a special knife for survival purposes? If so, you may be interested in how to make a knife sheath that will keep your precious tool protected when not in use. But first, let’s talk a bit about the importance of a proper knife.
First, you should know that the knife is one of the human-kind’s first tools. Ancient people found the knife so important that some cultures attached spiritual and religious importance to this tool.
They used it to kill their prey, cut trees, dig holes and injure or kill their enemies to name a few. For modern men, knives are important too. We use it every day for cooking, and it is also a very helpful tool if you want something sliced.
In the outdoors, knives mean survival. You can use it to make shelter, start a fire, we use it for self-defense and hunt and kill food. In fact, the knife is such an important tool the survival expert Tony Nester has a “knife only” survival course.
While a knife sheath is not as important as a knife, it plays a big role in the “health” of your knife. If you knife is your most important tool when you are outdoors, it needs a special protection vessel.
Why You Need A Sheath
Some people may be wondering why you need a sheath. This is because a sheath keeps your knife from getting dull quickly and prevents you from accidentally injuring yourself or other people. Sheaths also protect the knife from the elements and from nicks and chips to the edge. Just like a loaded gun, you only turn off the safety when you intend to fire it. You can think of the sheath as your knife’s safety.
How To Make A Sheath At Home
There are many sheaths available online or in physical stores. You only need to go to one of them and buy anything you fancy. However, for DIY-ers there is nothing more enjoyable than making something using your own two hands. Making a knife sheath does not take rocket science. All it needs is imagination, preparation and patience.
What you need
First of all, you need to plan. A knife sheath is not like a dress you sew together. Knives come in different sizes and designs. You also need to think about the material you want to use. Some materials include leather, nylon or PVC blend fabric.
Making a knife at home is quite easy because you usually have all the tools you need. Some of the tools needed are:
- Pricking Wheel
- Stitching Awl
- Rawhide Mallet
- Edge Beveller
- Sewing Palm
- Harness Needles
- Thread preferably waxed Nylex thread or something similar
- Heavy duty shears or scissors
- Leather cement or contact cement
The Process of Making the Sheath
Now that you have selected the material you want to work with, you want to start by drawing a pattern of your sheath. It’s best to use old file folders, illustration boards, cardboard or something stiff to draw your pattern on.
Lay your knife flat on the center of the folder and using a felt-tipped marker draw the shape of your blade. Turn over the knife and trace the other side. Draw ½ inch above your first drawing for the weld. This is the spot where you’re going to sew your sheath together.
To make sure that it is not too big, you can use your knife as a guide to make sure that it is not too loose. Once you are confident with the size of your sheath template, cut off the excess folder. You now have your template that you will use as a guide to cut your material. You can also glue together the ends of the sheath and try to insert your knife in the template to see if you are happy with the fit.
Once you are sure with the fit, lay down your chosen material. Let’s say that you have chosen leather for this project. Start by laying the leather ruff-side up. Place the template above the leather and then trace around the template using a pencil. Make sure that the template does not move while you’re tracing it.
Using very sharp shears or scissors, carefully cut the leather on the traced line. Cutting the corners can be tricky but you can use a hole puncher to punch holes. This way, the corner is perfectly c-shaped when you cut through the holes.
You can dye your sheath at this stage if you want to or wait until it is done to do so.
At this point, you can now fold your sheath over so that you can estimate the fit. Once you are confident, you can now start to apply the leather cement. Lay the leather flat again and start applying the cement on the edges. Fold the leather so that the edges touch together. Secure the edges using some binding clips. Some people like to wait overnight before stitching while others are alright with half an hour.
Once your preferred waiting time has lapsed, mark where you want to place your stitches on the leather. Use your groover to make grooves along the marks. Make sure that they are not too deep but deep enough to make sure that your stitches do not stick out above the leather.
After you are finished grooving, dampen the grooves and use your picking wheel to mark the proper spacing for your stitches. Some people like to use 5, 6 or 7 stitches per inch. After you are done marking, there should be strong impressions on where the stitch holes need to be punched.
Now that you can see the markings, take out your mallet and stitching awl. This part of the process needs precision and care. You have to make sure that the awl stays straight while you punch the holes or else it will not be spaced the same on the opposite side of your material. You can also wax the awl so that it will be easier for you to remove once it goes through the leather.
Now you are ready for the stitching. To measure the length of the waxed thread you need, measure the area you need to stitch and multiply by 6. You will have a lot of thread left over but that’s better than running short. Thread your needle on each end so that you have two needles, one for each hand.
You can now begin stitching the leather. Pull the needle through the hole until you reach the center of the thread. Both sides should have the same length. Pierce the next hole with the needle on your left hand. Once the left needle is half-way through the hole, put the needle on your right hand on top of the left-hand needle.
Pull the needle up and pull and turn at 90 degrees. Use the right hand-needle to penetrate the same hole. While you’re doing that, use your left hand to make a clockwise loop with the thread around the needle. Pull both needles towards you. Repeat this process with the third hole until you are done stitching the whole sheath.
Once you get to the end of your sheath, lock the stitches by backstitching over the last two stitches in the opposite direction. Cut the remaining thread and you’re done.
In most cases, the edge of the sheath will not be very even. This is understandable especially if it’s your first time making a sheath. You can use a knife or a belt sander with a light paper grit to trim away the excess.
Once the seam is trimmed you can use an edge beveller to make the ends look round and neat.
Now that you’re done, dampen the sheath lightly and place your knife inside. Make sure it can go in and out without a hitch. At this point you can choose to burnish your sheath for a more polished and finished look.
How to Make A Knife Sheath in The Wilderness
When you’re outdoors camping or hunting, it’s very hard to look for materials when you need an emergency sheath. You might have lost your original one or broken it. Whatever the reason is, a sheathed knife is even more important in the wilderness because you don’t want to accidentally stab or hurt somebody when help is so far away.
You can follow the same steps as above but the problem with making a sheath outside your home is coming up with the proper material and having no proper tools to make it. However, if you can think outside the box, there are ways to make an emergency sheath for your knife.
The first thing to do is to look around camp for materials that you can use. A piece of cloth can be easily cut especially if your knife is sharp. However, if you have denim, then it will have to suffice. Another good option for the emergency sheath is a piece of canvass or nylon. You can make use of a bag, your tent, tarp or other sturdy pieces of fabric.
Another challenge you face is the glue or adhesive to make the edges stick together. If you have time to forage, there are plants that can be used as adhesive. Sticky sap for example, can be used as glue. Other plants to look out for include soap root and rubber rabbitbrush.
The bulbs of the last two examples are roasted and the juice can be used as glue. Trees like White Spruce and Ponderosa Pine also have pitch that can be used as glue.
Now that you can glue the material together, you need a thread and needles to sew them together. The first place to check is your first aid kit. If you don’t have them, you can improvise using small thin twigs for a needle. However, you have to be careful not to break them during the sewing process. You can use your knife to whittle down a pointed end to make them sharp. For the best bushcraft tool you’ll need to survive in the wilds, see our earlier article on this.
For thread you can substitute dental floss or you can pick apart some nylon ropes that you have or even a bungee cord.
In your camp, you won’t have time to make a template or pattern. All you can do is to make allowances and adjustments to make sure that your knife fits in the sheath. In most cases you won’t have a ball pen or marker so you can use anything that leaves a mark (like charcoal).
Follow the same tracing style mentioned above and then cut your material carefully. Since this is an emergency in the wilderness, you will most likely be using the knife to cut out the material you are making a sheath for.
Now that you have your material, you can glue the edges together using your adhesive. Since you don’t really have the time and resources to be fussy you can also go ahead and stitch the edges together. Your sheath won’t look beautiful and you will probably want to buy or make a better one when you get home but it will serve the same purpose for the time being.
Making The Sheath Stronger
Emergency sheaths will wear and tear easily since the material you’re using is quite thin. If you have time, you can make it a bit stronger by placing a layer or two between the nylon and your knife. You can use wool, hemp fiber, straw, boxes or even double or triple the material you use.
If you decide to use a box for example, you can cut off a template or two and then lay them on top of the material before gluing or sewing. This will make it harder for you to sew together but at least you have an extra layer or two between your fingers and the knife.
If you want to use the same material like a tarp for example, cut off two or three templates so that you can stitch them together. You can also opt to place a cut-out of your clothes (if you have) to make it thicker and sturdier.
Another way to make it stronger is by alternating between your material and natural materials. If you can find natural tree bark then this will your sheath less susceptible to cuts as you put your knife in and out. Dogwoods and myrtle have nice looking barks that are pliable enough for you to fold.
Natural Materials that can be used
Speaking of natural tree bark, you can stop destroying things in camp by looking for tress that have soft bark. The above mentioned dogwoods and myrtle are good examples. You can also try to look out for river birch. It has soft peeling bark which you can layer over and over to make a sheath.
First gather enough bark to cover your knife. Next look for suitable binding material so that you don’t have to stitch the barks together. You can lash together pieces of long grass, bamboo strips or use your rope to secure the pieces of bark.
If you choose river birch, the material will be thin so make sure that you have several pieces. Try to make two pieces. Use your natural glue to make bigger and thicker piece of material. You can overlap the bark so that it become strong and thick. Carefully make thin u-shape from your first piece of bark and try to see if this will fit your knife comfortably.
Next, take the second piece of bark and make another thin u-shape. Place the two pieces of bark together so that their open ends meet. Slide them together so that they form one piece. Try to make the bottom end narrower by ensuring that there s no gap at the bottom of the two pieces. Secure the pieces with your rope. Cut off pieces of the bark on top so that you can slip your knife in and out of your handmade natural fiber sheath easily.
If you really need a sheath and you have limited resources, you can use your socks as a sheath. Line your sock with tree bark, pieces of a box, paper, tissue paper or plaster from your first aid kit. Remember it’s all about protecting people in your camp from sharp knives. Anything that hides the blade is good enough if it’s an emergency.
If you have enough plaster to spare you can make a cardboard sheath and use adhesive plasters to tape one the top end of your sheath. Just make a template on the cardboard box and then cut it out. Fold the pattern and then use the adhesive bandage to secure the top of the sheath so it does not lie flat again. Make sure that the pointy end of your knife is covered with the cardboard box.
Making a sheath in the wild is certainly challenging compared to making it at home. However, you have the satisfaction of making something with your own two hands. You can even brag about it to your friends and show them the fruits of your hard work. In time, your sheath-making skills will improve and you can experiment with other designs, materials and features.
For a comprehensive guide when choosing the best fixed blade knife, check out our article for details.