copyright© 2001 Cliff Jacobson

Piragis Northwoods Company

How to make a knife sheath:

Cliff Jacobson

How to make a knife sheath:

By Cliff Jacobson


Some friends were lining their canoe around a dicey rapid when the tail of the craft got too far out in the current (a dangerous situation!) The man controlling the bow line tried to compensate by letting out rope, but the rope tangled in some bushes and the canoe spun side-ways and began to fill with water. Fortunately, I drew my sheath knife and cut the rope before the craft went under.

My knife saved the day because it was sheathed in a "quick-draw", native American style case I made myself. I've tried other types of sheaths but none work as well as this traditional design. Here's why:

* The sheath fits the knife like a molded pistol holster-the blade is secure even when you tumble down-hill or capsize your canoe.

* The knife tells you when it's properly sheathed-it locks in place with an audible click.

* A simple pull releases the blade-there are no straps or snaps to get in the way.

* The blade won't catch on leather-or cut you-when it is quickly pulled or blindly holstered.

* The knife doesn't flop around when you run, or poke you when you sit.

* It looks like a custom sheath because it is.

The case-style sheath modeled in this article took two hours to make. Cost of materials was less than 15 dollars. A custom sheath like this would probably sell for 50 dollars or more!


* Full-grain leather; one-eighth inch thick-thinner or thicker, as you prefer. Leather that's thicker than one-eighth inch is difficult to work, while thinner stock may cut through. Get a rectangular piece of leather that's as long as the knife and four times as wide.

* 6 feet of heavy, waxed shoe-maker's thread plus 2 light harness needles for sewing.

Or, you can rivet the sheath and nix the needles and thread. A riveted sheath is bulkier than a sewn one but it's easier to make and probably sturdier. If you rivet, you'll need about 14, one-half inch long rivets and 4, three-eighths inch long rivets. Get two-piece rivets that are designed especially for leather work. You can order everything you need from Tandy Leather Company

* A small tube of contact (Barge(r)) cement.

* Electric drill with 1/16" diameter bit.

* Miscellaneous tools: small pliers, scissors, light cardboard, ruler, pencil, sharp knife, file and sandpaper or electric grinder, shoe polish. Leather stain if you prefer a darker color. Optional: soldering or wood-burning iron to brand your initials in the finished sheath.


1. Make a cardboard pattern like the one shown above.

Enlarge the pattern width by 3/8" to allow for insertion of a leather blade guard. See number 2. below.

2. Soak the leather in water until it is supple, then cut out the belt loop (Figure 1. right). Tip: a narrow (I prefer one inch diameter) belt loop is more comfortable than a wide one. Next, cut out the edge guard (panel B) and set these two panels aside.

3. Transfer the cardboard pattern to the leather (panel C) and cut it out.

4. Fold panel C in half to form a "sheath" and try the knife for fit. Use your thumbs to mold the wet leather to the contour of the knife. Tip: don't extend the sheath too high-enough handle should be exposed so that you can easily grasp it. Now's the time to trim excess leather for a perfect fit.

5. Decide how high on your hip you want the knife to ride-a high mounted sheath is more stable when you run and more comfortable when you sit. But it's easier to insert the knife in a low sheath. Then, sew on or rivet the belt loop.

I prefer to rivet because rivets can't cut through when the blade is sheathed. Use the short (1/2 inch) rivets for this.

6. Now, you're ready to glue in the edge guard. Wet the edge guard to restore its suppleness, then mold the guard to the fit the edge of the sheath. Glue the edge guard in place. No need to wait for the leather to dry-you can contact cement damp leather.

7. When the edge guard is dry, cement and close the remaining edge of the sheath. Sewing or riveting comes next.


A shoe-repair shop can sew your sheath in less than a minute, or, you can do it yourself in half an hour. If you sew , you'll need to drill 1/16 diameter holes to accept the stitching. Space the holes about 1/8 inch apart. Rivets should be set about half an inch apart-more or less, as you prefer. Remember that rivet heads smash out fairly wide so you'll need to make a wider sheath and edge guard.

After the holes are drilled, thread two needles and double-stitch the holes as illustrated above. A small pliers is helpful to pull the needles through the tiny holes. Or, you can use a "Speedy Stitcher", which has been around for decades. It has a self-contained bobbin and a strong replaceable needle. Every leather shop has them.

The next step is to smooth the edge of the sheath. You can use a power grinder or a coarse file and sandpaper.


Wet the sheath to restore flexibility, then fit the knife. Painstakingly mold the wet leather to the shape of the knife. Press especially hard on the area around the guard. When you're satisfied, remove the knife from the sheath (the leather will remain formed) and allow the sheath to dry overnight.

The final step is to apply stain (if you prefer). Otherwise, several coats of shoe polish will do just fine. Don't use boot greases or oils on sheaths; they will soften the leather.

That's all there is to it. While you're at it, why not also make a fitted case for your Swiss army knife and multi-tool?