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15 minutes...

Discussion in 'Sheaths & Such' started by Gary W. Graley, Nov 15, 2013.

  1. Gary W. Graley

    Gary W. Graley “Imagination is more important than knowledge" Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 2, 1999
    I've heard it said, if we just allowed only 15 minutes more towards anything we are doing, the results would be almost night and day from if we hadn't...

    This relates in I think about all we do, not just in the leather bending world but knife making, handle shaping/finishing, sharpening, it all adds up.

    But I'll stick with the forum section here ;)

    Preparation, when I start thinking of making a sheath for someone, I go through the whole thing in my head, like a home movie kinda. I'll envision from start to finish on what steps I'll be talking, I can almost see the whole process taking place before hand. I think this can help a lot sometimes, as if you just start slicing up leather, you'll end up with a bunch of sliced up leather laying there.

    If it's a new knife, one that I've not done before, I may use some bubble wrap plastic, the kind with about a 1/4" diameter bubbles so the bubble wrap is about as thick as what the leather would be. Using that to cut up to make a template helps that it's easier to bend and fit, better than trying to do it with paper as the thickness is taken in account as you are shaping it around the knife. That recently helped a great deal when I was making the axe sheath, doing a wrap around and a fold down, the bubble wrap saved me a lot of trouble and leather before hand.

    Shaping, most of my sheaths are wet formed, some people may sew their sheaths up and wet form after that is done, might work to some extent, my method relies on a very snug fit and shaping is done before it's all stitched up. Soaking the leather, once it's cut to the approximate shape, under hot running water to help make it supple is key, that plus having trimmed your finger nails too and a clean working surface is also important. Sometimes I'll lay down some typing paper on my cutting board to help make sure I don't pickup any old dye/glue/crapola that may be resting in the cuts of that board, really important if your sheath will be dyed a light colour, that's all you need to have is some old black dye speckling your work, just ain't fun when that happens.

    The shaping process will take the bulk of the time, it is moderately hard work, in that you have to really keep working the leather down and around the knife, important that as you press down on one side, you hold the opposite side fast with your other fingers. And then as you work around you need to keep what you pressed down in place. I set it aside at that point for about 1/2 an hour and then put the knife back under the leather and repeat the forming process. Important to note that you don't want to use the bone folder on the main surface of the sheath!!! only along the edges that need to do the work of retaining the knife. Every time you rub that bone folder on the leather, it compresses that portion of leather, making it harder for the dye to sink in, plus it will give that area a more smoother look that the rest of the leather, as you might not have the nice texture from the leather coming through when you are done. SO for the top side I just smooth it down with my fingers to help keep it against the knife, if there is a clip, I'll form around it with my fingers so it is a more gentle transition and not a hard edge to that, for me it helps the sheath look more natural as if it grew around the knife. SO the shaping takes several hours in all to get it done, time well spent when it's over, as now the leather has been stretched repeatedly and you've taken a lot of the GIVE out of it so it should retain it's shape longer now.

    Once it's dry, you can emboss as you need, again in my head I've seen this happen, where it should go, the angle it should be at, all taken in account as best you can. A tip on embossing, if it's a wrap around sheath and you need to 'unfold' it to be able to emboss that area, what I would recommend is to put a block of metal or wood inside the sheath under the area you want to emboss. Then lightly dampen the entire sheath, less chance of water spots that way so wipe all the sheath at one time, and then carefully place the embossing stamp where you want it at, while the sheath is still in it's closed state. Then lightly tap the stamp down just enough to leave a light impression. Then later as you open the sheath up and set it down on your hard surface, marble or what ever, you will have that imprint to guide you on where you want that stamp to be at, as things look funky when you open it up and it is a lot harder to get it JUST right at that time.

    Embossing, my method is to have a SOLID surface beneath the leather, in my 'shop' (read kitchen table) ;) I put my marble block down and then I have a solid metal brick that is VERY heavy resting on top of that, beneath the sheath I have lots of small blocks of aluminum to choose from to act as small anvils, you don't want to be embossing with leather beneath your top layer of leather, meaning you have an anvil, then your leather, no leather below your anvil as that can cause bouncing and a double tap/skip of the embossing tool, nobody likes a skip when embossing, never a good thing, as you've already spent a lot of time to get that far!!! Also as I am striking the handle of the embossing stamp, I PULL down hard to prevent the stamp from jumping around, but you need a very very solid surface below the leather otherwise it could still bounce. Then I'll tilt the handle in the four compass directions, applying solid strikes down to make sure I get the embossing evenly into the leather. Later on, after I dye the leather, I'll GO back and emboss it once more, not as hard, but since the dye can make the leather swell up, the embossing can look not as crisp as when you first did it, so going back helps give you a more professional look, this would be part of that 15 minutes...

    Dyeing, Fiebings professional Oil dyes seem to work the best for me, hard to beat, but you need to let it do it's job and that takes a little bit of patience and time. You may find your work not dyeing evenly, several things can be attributed to that, the quality of leather, the mood the cow was in when he was being prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice so you could make something that isn't so cow like...well that might not have much to do with it but you never know...the amount of rubbing or compressing you did when forming the sheath can make it harder to let the dye seep into the leather, of course any dirt or glue will prevent the dye from getting in evenly. But the main thing is to WAIT, as Douglas Adams once said in his book on the Galaxy, Don't Panic !! or rush in this case. You just need to dye it and set it aside...wait, another part of that 15 minutes too...

    Waiting for the dye to settle helps in a couple ways, the most obvious is the work now has a more even appearance to it, the dye is distributed more evenly now and looks proper. Also not as obvious, when you go to sew the sheath up, if the dye has not dried completely, and you're using that nice WHITE thread, it'll pick up some of that dye as you are sewing, making the thread blotchy, also not a good look, HINT black dye hides a lot ;) but my favourite dye is the Burgundy or Ox Blood colour, I like that as not a lot of people use it, so now you have a sheath that doesn't look like most everyone elses, helps you to stand out from the crowd.

    Sewing, I do think I'm probably one of the only guys out there that sews by hand using an Awl n Awl, everybody seems to use the two needle things, never got into that, for me the way I do it makes the most sense and my stitching looks ok. Nothing wrong with the two needles, it must be ok since everyone I know making sheaths either use a machine or the two needle thing so don't feel you have to switch on my account, just saying that's how I've always done it. The holes in the leather, WAY back in the day when I use to make fixed blade sheaths, some of the welts were quite thick and I had to drill those holes out but I didn't like doing it, but had to in order to get through, I remember one sheath had a welt that was almost 1 1/2" thick, ugh that was not much fun as the small drill would angle off so the back side, well it wasn't as straight a line of holes back there, but that was the best I could do. But for my sheaths now adays I use the stitching prongs to set the spacing, if there is a pointed area of the sheath that I have, I'll start from that point and work backwards, making sure the point has a hole in the right spot. I hammer the stitching prongs down and then hold the leather down with the bone folder to help pry the prongs back out, if the leather is thicker I'll go back over those holes with a ground down small screw driver. It's time consuming I guess, more than drilling, drilled holes just look drilled to me, so I do it the slower way, probably not part of the 15 minutes since I'm stuck in my head to do it that way. Some people asked about making a groove for the threads to rest in, I don't do that, as pulling down hard brings the threads about flush with the leather or even down a little bit. About the only time I would do that is if I were sewing inside the sheath and the knife would rub against the threads, then I'll use my gouger to channel a strip for the thread to sink in lower. Having a groove is probably good for things like Saddles or shoes where you have the area of the threads under a lot of cross rubbing that could damage the threads, but on most sheaths, I don't think it's such a problem, especially on my folder sheaths, as the thread area is protected by the large portion above of the knife, so nothing should be rubbing down by the threads.

    Stitching, I'll sew to the end and then back up two stitches, before sewing I'll open up the holes with an awl to allow double entry in of the thread, this locks the thread in place very solidly, shouldn't be backing out from that.

    Edging of the leather, I use a Weaver #1 edger to trim off the corners of the leather, but then I'll also sand down the corners a little more so they have a more rounded appearance, I dye the edges, being careful not to flick onto the threads, then I burnish the edges with the bone folder, apply some gum trag, let dry, burnish some more, apply some more gum trag, let dry, then hand sand with some very high grit sand paper, 2000 grit and the like, then a little more gum trag and then I'll apply some atom balm wax on the whole project, let dry and buff with a shoe brush to get a satin finish. Tandy makes a coating material called Sheen I think, I've used that but it ends up making your work look like plastic, FAR too shiny for me, but the Fiebings atom balm wax works best. Also on the edging not just the thick sides but also the belt loop edges, make sure you round and smooth those corners down as well, a brief part of that 15 minutes...

    Packaging, I am a pack rat, there, I've said it, hmm don't feel a lot better for saying it ;) but what I mean is at my day job, they get a lot of boxes in with foam padding, I'll haul what I can home and save that for later. Then I'll carve into the foam to make a resting spot for the knife and sheath to travel back to their home, as safe and secure as I can, this would be part of that 15 minutes too. Some care and attention, I pack things as I would like to get them.

    Well, just had that thought of sharing this morning, home on vacation today, waiting on the FedEx truck, having my coffee, hope this might be of some help to you folks, but in all you do, always try to give just a little bit more, about 15 minutes worth should do it...

    sunnyd, Signalprick and WValtakis like this.
  2. ice-pic

    ice-pic Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    I like this,good thoughts.
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  3. leatherman

    leatherman leathermoderator Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Nov 30, 2001
    Wonderful article Gary! Thanks for posting it! :)
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  4. Joe R.

    Joe R.

    Aug 6, 2013
    Good read, especially to a beginner like myself:thumbup:
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  5. Gary W. Graley

    Gary W. Graley “Imagination is more important than knowledge" Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 2, 1999
    Thanks guys and Joe, I know it's a lot to read all at once, it was a lot to write too, sorry it went on so long but wanted to cover the high spots while I was in the mood ;) glad to hear it might can be of help to you.
  6. kevnkar


    Sep 22, 2013
    It was also said by Buckminster Fuller that if you spend just 15 hours studying any subject, you know more than the majority of the population which makes you an expert.
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  7. Gary W. Graley

    Gary W. Graley “Imagination is more important than knowledge" Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 2, 1999
    Nice, by all findings he seems to have been quite a brilliant man, full of ideas, thanks for that lead to such an interesting person!
  8. Ebbtide


    Aug 20, 1999
    Thank you for typing that all out.
    A good read for sure :)
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  9. jobasha11


    Oct 9, 2013
    Nice article, and very informative. Thanks for spending the time to write all that out for leather newbies like me.:thumbup:
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  10. Clem Kadiddlehopper

    Clem Kadiddlehopper Leather Craftsman Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Sep 4, 2012
    As you said Gary this can apply to many things we do - not just leather.
    The knife maker I help told me TIME was the whole secret to making good knives.

    For me since I started doing leather - trial and era was one way for me to learn.
    But reading tons of post here and on the web has helped me more than just trying to do something on my own. (school of hard knocks):rolleyes:

    I've also cut WAY back on the orders and making sheaths for a while, so I can put a LOT more time into the ones I do make.
    I'm not doing them to get rich - I just like doing them and having fun making something that who ever gets it may enjoy it for a long time?
    And if it's made very well and the right way? I think they will enjoy it and keep it longer?

    Thanks for posting - it's some very good advice.
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  11. Gary W. Graley

    Gary W. Graley “Imagination is more important than knowledge" Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 2, 1999
    Thanks guys and Al, that sounds like a good thing too.
  12. Diomedes Industries

    Diomedes Industries Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 19, 2007

    You mentioned visualization as your first step. I remember reading years ago about a study where basketball players practiced shooting freethrows. One group did it physically and the other group did it mentally - only visualizing the shots.

    At the end of the study - the group that only visualized the shots showed just as much progress as those actually shooting. I find this to be true when learning a new Poom-Sae in Tae Kwon Do.

    Great advice.

    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  13. P. McKinley

    P. McKinley

    Jan 27, 2008
    That was the best 15 minute read ever. I think I just more about the process than in the previous five years.

    That you Gary and Happy Holidays!

    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  14. Gary W. Graley

    Gary W. Graley “Imagination is more important than knowledge" Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 2, 1999
    Thanks Peter, it's the little bit extra that adds up to a lot
  15. harronek

    harronek Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 29, 2013
    Just thought I'd drag this thread back up to the top and ask a question .
    Who here works on more than one sheath at a time ?
    I personally only make one at a time . I start it and finish it before moving on .
    I find it makes me take my time , maybe it is a form of your extra 15 minutes Gary .
    The time intervals between the production processes for example waiting for the dye to dry etc I use to think ,plan and prepare for the next step . I have learnt to make myself wait and not be impatient and rush things .
    I actually at times set an the alarm on my phone and make myself wait that period of time before starting work on the sheath again . That way I'm not tempted to rush back at it before things are dry or before I've had time to think it through .
    I'm just interested in how others go about it .

    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  16. Gary W. Graley

    Gary W. Graley “Imagination is more important than knowledge" Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 2, 1999
    Good question, all depends I guess on the persons shop size as to how many you could safely work on at any one time
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2014
  17. Jolipapa

    Jolipapa Basic Member Basic Member

    Jun 4, 2015
    Gary, great to read you.
    This picture of my newly arrived Country Cousin is dedicated to you. I think y'll recognize my Grand'Pa's tools.
    Gary W. Graley likes this.
  18. Gary W. Graley

    Gary W. Graley “Imagination is more important than knowledge" Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 2, 1999
    Wow what a collection you have there!!

    Very nice!!!
  19. Jolipapa

    Jolipapa Basic Member Basic Member

    Jun 4, 2015
    He used to make things like this cover for Baudelaire's "Fleurs du Mal". His tools date from the 19th century.
    He passed long ago, but I kept some fine pig leather, very convenient to make folder's sheathes.

    He surely took also those 15 minutes.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2015
  20. leatherman

    leatherman leathermoderator Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Nov 30, 2001
    What a treasure and what skill! We just dont see that kind of talent and skill these days very often. Thank you for posting that!
    Gary W. Graley likes this.

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