Sub Arctic Temps Vs Leather

John Cahoon

JWC Custom Knives
Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider
Apr 13, 2017
Well, I just shipped a leather sheath + knife to northern Illinois where it sat in a mailbox all afternoon at -23F and it got me wondering? Is that anything of an issue for the leather? I used the BF Google search but didn't turn up much.

If yes then are there any leather finishes that should be used when something goes out to extremely cold climates?

"At low temperatures leather becomes stiff and cracks, often tearing easily. When wet, untreated leather becomes frozen, it will not stand tension, bending, or impact. Leather items that are to be subjected to extreme cold should be carefully tanned and then treated with a light coat of good shoe oil or lard. Tanned skins are less easily injured by wetting and subsequent freezing than untreated skins. Much has been said about the difference between skins scraped and prepared by the Eskimos and those tanned by commercial methods. Commercial-tanned skins weigh more per square unit than Eskimo-prepared ones. Commercial-tanned items tend to stiffen, thereby reducing utility. For clothing, commercial-tanned skins are not as warm as the E [a?] skimo-prepared ones. — However, since commercial tanning is cheaper, commercially tanned items are more frequently used. Where leather and furclothing items are required for midwinter chill occupations, on the trail or away from main encampments, it would be advisable to use clothing made from Eskimo-prepared skins."
If your client let it come back to room temp before messing with it I think it'd be fine.
I think a lot would depend on the quality of the leather/sheath. I carried my Randall 14 in a leather sheath thru at least 10 Winter Warfare Exercises. with temperatures between -25 F and -40 degrees C/F, and never noticed any damage. I still have the sheath and it is still serviceable. John
Howdy folks, thanks for the valuable info, the client said it took a few hrs to warm up, specially the knife steel (pretty big one). It's W&C leather so that's good. I also asked the epoxy retailer about cold temps and they had no firm answer but no worries for cured epoxy, just the bottles should be stored at room temp... makes sense. I know JB Weld says it's good up to 400F but I'm unsure of the upper ranges of the other brands normally used.

This is the cold knife and sheath:
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I’d be more worried about the wood cracking/shrinking then the leather getting damaged. Being from Illinois I’ve never had the cold effect leather much but mostly other stuff like wood handles and the steel being so cold it becomes brittle and the edge chips more easily. Of course with that said, I’ve been chilling in West Texas for a year now and it was 75 outside yesterday. Don’t miss the cold one bit.