Leather Wet Forming Retention Issues

Top Gunner

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Dec 12, 2019
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Hey everyone,
Every time I try to wet form a leather pouch sheath, I end I’m completely losing retention, and I’m at a loss as to why.

I put a thin layer of oil on the blade, I wrap it in a thin layer of plastic wrap, I wet the leather quickly in warm water, insert the knife, press firmly around the contours, so the leather takes shape, and then leave overnight. When I come back to it, it’s wet formed, but if I turn the sheath upside down, the knife falls right out.

I have sheaths that have been wet formed by professionals, and the retention/fit is excellent. What am I doing wrong?
 

JamesBro

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Aug 21, 2012
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Pics would help but shape of the handle and depth into the sheath may be an issue. I don't leave the knife in overnight but quickly pull it out after the leather dries a little, giving the shape a little hand forming and then leave it to dry. But Its more the design of the sheath and handle, I like using a spray bottle better than a complete dip.
 

ferider

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Jun 20, 2018
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Pics would help but shape of the handle and depth into the sheath may be an issue. I don't leave the knife in overnight but quickly pull it out after the leather dries a little, giving the shape a little hand forming and then leave it to dry. But Its more the design of the sheath and handle, I like using a spray bottle better than a complete dip.

This: take the knife out immediately after wet-forming, tighten the handle areas a bit with your fingers, and let dry without the knife. And don't worry about plastic wrap, oil, etc.
 

Top Gunner

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Dec 12, 2019
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Thank you both. As I think about it, this has happened with two broomstick handle knives, so there’s no bulge at the guard area where one might create some retention. It just sits in the formation, with nothing to grab onto. I’ll try to upload some pics later today. Good advice so far, I appreciate it.
 

ferider

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Beside cosmetics, in a knife like this, there is only one reason to wet-form - IMHO: to prevent you from pushing the knife to hard into the sheath (protect the stitches at the tip). So the only area that matters is what you call the guard area. You could push the leather completely together on top when wet .... it will loosen up anyways after some use; the other thing you can do is tighten the top of the sheath with a couple of stitches or a chicago screw, after the sheath is dry.
 

Top Gunner

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Sorry folks, I can’t figure out how to upload a pic. Keeps telling me it won’t take me imgur link, and when I try to load directly, it says there are “problems.” If it helps, this is an Esee 3hm, with their standard brown leather pouch sheath.

Anyway, I appreciate your suggestions. One more question - can I reasonably expect to be able to re-form my wet form? Meaning, can I, say, spritz the sheath as suggested, and perhaps insert the knife partially, form it, remove the knife, let the sheath dry, and then expect that to take its new wet form? Or is this all just a terrible idea? Thanks.
 

ferider

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Sorry folks, I can’t figure out how to upload a pic. Keeps telling me it won’t take me imgur link, and when I try to load directly, it says there are “problems.” If it helps, this is an Esee 3hm, with their standard brown leather pouch sheath.

Anyway, I appreciate your suggestions. One more question - can I reasonably expect to be able to re-form my wet form? Meaning, can I, say, spritz the sheath as suggested, and perhaps insert the knife partially, form it, remove the knife, let the sheath dry, and then expect that to take its new wet form? Or is this all just a terrible idea? Thanks.
You can. Just everytime you do it, depending on the leather, too, the surface of the leather will suffer a little more.
 
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Well I was gonna point ya to the pancake tutorial at the top of the page in the stickies. But it and some of the others appear to be broken. The tutorial details how I get a snap in firm retention from wet molding and then drying in the oven. I do this to all my sheaths.
I soak in warm water that has Pro Carv in it till the sheath starts to sink. I'll turn the sheath over in the water at this point and usually they will sink then. Take em out of the water and place on a clean towel. When leather is wet its pretty susceptible to stray marks and dust and grime etc so the towel protects from that. I'll punch slots if a pancake or a slotted or a slot and loop sheath, trim the bottom edges even, sand the edges, edge the edges and rub the edges, all before wet molding. If these processes have taken too much time (I work in batches , so I might be working on anywhere from ten to 30 sheaths at a time usually), I'll rapidly redunk the sheath. If the color is coming back and is almost how it was then its too dry. While the leather will still mold at this stage it will take on dark marks where you are rubbing with your forming tools (I use a small block of ligum vitae wood with the corners rounded and smoothed). So that is why I redunk it so I don't get those darker marks around the outline of the knife. If the knife has a carbon steel blade I'll lightly oil it first and then insert the knife into the sheath. I use a pair of needle nose pliers to open up the sheath for the knife. This also helps keep the interior of the sheath straight so that you are not putting the knife through the wet leather. Form the leather to the knife by rubbing with modeling tools. Lots of things can be used. Smooth bone, antler, wood etc. I use my fingers for some final smoothing sometimes if I leave a mark with the block. Take the knife out of the sheath and wipe the blade down again. I then preheat the oven in the kitchen to 178 degrees. I'll place the rack in the center of the oven and place the sheath on four sheets of card stock and then place on the rack. I'll set a timer for one hour. I'll then flip the sheath over at the one hour mark and set the timer again for an hour. At the second buzzer I flip the sheath back over again and set the timer again for an hour. After this final buzzer I take the sheath out of the oven. Getting leather wet does not hurt it. Allowing it to dry without reconditioning it will hurt your leather. As soon as the sheaths come out, I oil them very lightly with prewarmed 100 percent neatsfoot oil. VERY LIGHTLY. I'll allow them to set over night and then do the final rubbing of the edges and put some finish on the sheaths they be done. Besides sheaths I do this to holsters as well:

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On something with a lot of tooling like this oak carved sheath, I'll do all the molding on the back side:

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A crossdraw holster for a Smith J frame:

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Anyhoo hope that helps.
 

Top Gunner

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Horsewright - This is incredible, thank you so much for taking the time to share. Very helpful, and very much appreciated!
 
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If you are having retention issues try moving stitch line. Moving the stitch line towards the center of the sheath will make your sheath tighter. Wet molding is great but it will not fix a poorly fitting sheath. Wet molding improves and compliments a properly fitted sheath. If the wet sheath dries over a knife wrapped in plastic it will be looser after the plastic is removed.
 
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Horsewright - This is incredible, thank you so much for taking the time to share. Very helpful, and very much appreciated!
Ya bet. If after the wet molding you are still having retention problems let me know. I've got a trick that will help tighten sheaths.
 

Hengelo_77

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Mar 2, 2006
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Do you make the sheath as well?
I make wet formed sheaths, but I make them with very close tolerances, up to the mm.
This one has a simple handle but you can shake it upside down in it and it won't come out.

IMG-20200602-100512.jpg
 

SwissHeritageCo

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Jan 8, 2021
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As said above, lose the plastic wrap and once the knife is out press the wet leather down a bit on the edges of the imprint.

That said, wet form sheaths (outside of Scandinavian) have never been useful for retention in my experience.
 

Hengelo_77

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Mar 2, 2006
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I disagree, a well made wet formed sheath holds a knife, even held upside down and shaken.
It's about taking your time making a good template and working exact.

A little trick: heat shrinks leather. You can carefully blow hot air from a hairdrieer or paintstripper in and over a sheath that isn't tight enough.

Here's a sheath I made a while back. You can have it on your belt on a trampoline, you won't loose the knife.

IMG-20170818-184203.jpg


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IMG-20170902-180833.jpg
 
Joined
Dec 11, 2000
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Veg tan leather appears to stretch a bit when wetted and does not return fully when dry. If I size the sheath snug with the knife dry, then wet with the knife in there, my experience has been that I get a loose fit. My handles always have some shape, so that helps, but simply pushing the leather down doesn't really make it tighter.

On a fold over sheath I would try sizing with the knife dry, then shifting the seam so that the knife won't really fit. Stitch, wet and force the knife in, wrapped in plastic, leave it to dry like that.

Another way is to do the sizing wet, but it is hard not to mark the wet leather surface.
 

Hengelo_77

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Mar 2, 2006
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Veg tan leather appears to stretch a bit when wetted and does not return fully when dry. If I size the sheath snug with the knife dry, then wet with the knife in there, my experience has been that I get a loose fit. My handles always have some shape, so that helps, but simply pushing the leather down doesn't really make it tighter.

On a fold over sheath I would try sizing with the knife dry, then shifting the seam so that the knife won't really fit. Stitch, wet and force the knife in, wrapped in plastic, leave it to dry like that.

Another way is to do the sizing wet, but it is hard not to mark the wet leather surface.

I never had leather stretch when wetted.
I always make a measuring strip of the leather I'll be using. That way you know how wide a piece of leather you need to get a tight fit.
Try it with a wet strip if that is what your leather does, but it sounds strange to me.
 
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