Anyone that goes camping should have a special knife to take with them. One that is reliable and good in every situation. And like every other knife, it needs to have a special place. I’m about to teach you how to make a knife sheath for your special knife.
If you follow this step-by-step DIY tutorial on how to make your own knife sheath, you’ll have a healthier knife in the long run. Knives need protection against the elements when they are not being used.
If you want to go all in with this DIY project, you can actually start by making an actual knife with our tutorial about how to make a knife. They are both important items for a camping trip, so making them from scratch would add to the experience.
How To Make A Sheath At Home
Of course you can buy one, but why would you, when you can make a homemade sheath. If you are an avid camping enthusiast, you probably have a lot of things you made yourself instead of buying.
Now I’ll teach you how easy it is to make a sheath at home, as long as you follow this step-by-step tutorials.
What you need
First of all, you need to plan. Knives come in different sizes and designs. You 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, like:
- 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
After you have selected the material you want to work with, 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 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.
Fold your sheath over so that you can estimate the fit. You can start to apply the leather cement after you’re sure the size is right.
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. You can let it sit overnight, or start on it after waiting at least 30 minutes.
Now 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, make sure you can see where the stitch holes need to be punched.
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. Waxing the awl would make it easier to remove afterwards.
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 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 back-stitching 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 and dye 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. A sheathed knife is important in the wilderness because you don’t want to accidentally hurt somebody or ruin your knife.
The steps above would help, but the problem with making a sheath when camping is coming up with the proper material and having no proper tools to make it. Thinking outside the box, you can find 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. Look for them before going out camping, they can be used in different situations.
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.
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, a bungee cord or from your paracord bracelet. You can make a paracord bracelet yourself following our tutorial.
You might not be able to make a template in the wild. But you can start with a bigger piece, and adjust it little by little, leaving enough room for error, 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, even all you have to use is the knife to cut out the material you are making a sheath for.
With the sheath cut you can glue the edges together using your adhesive and stitch the edges together. Your sheath won’t look the best, but you’re looking for safety and keeping your knife healthy, so looks don’t matter.
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 is 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.
Why You Need A Sheath?
You need a Sheath because a it 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. 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.
What is the best leather for making knife sheaths?
The best leather for making sheaths is vegetable tanned leather.
While you can make a knife sheath from any type of heavy leather, vegetable tanned leather, or russet as it is commonly known, will make the best sheath.
What animal leather is best to make a knife sheath?
The best animal leather to use for making a sheath is deer leather. One of the toughest leathers available not to mention abrasion resistant.
Another good leather is ostrich leather. Not only the finest but also the most durable leather.
Buffalo leather is also a good option. Extremely strong, durable and rugged on the contrary it is also soft and supple.
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. In time, your sheath-making skills will improve and you can experiment with other designs, materials and features.
Daniel is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.