Though pirates look romantic with knives stuck in their belts, shoving a blade in or around one’s waistband and swashbuckling about isn’t a terribly sound strategy. The knife has to travel with you and show up intact to be of any practical value. As such, the sheath or scabbard for a blade is in many ways as important a choice as the knife.
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At the most basic level, the sheath has to protect the blade and hold it in place while its owner is moving. In many cases, the sheath can be engineered to carry other knives or survival-related items, such as a sharpening stone or fire-starting ferro rods. A sheath can also complement the style and enhance the value of a knife by matching the materials and design of the blade’s historical period.
QUALITY START: Chuck Dominick, owner of Chuddy Bear Leather and maker of many of Neilson’s more modern knife sheaths, frames it this way: “There is no substitute for good leather. I use 8- to 10-ounce English bridle leather from Wickett & Craig. They are local, so I can go hand select the pieces I want to begin with. Many potential problems are eliminated right from the start by starting with quality material. You also have to make sure your leather is vegetable tanned. Many leathers made for jackets or other leather clothing have been chromium tanned, and the salts involved in the process will stain the knife’s metal.”
But when it comes to sheaths, fit and attention to detail are paramount. Dominick’s sheaths have the fit and finish of a fine English dress shoe, but their rugged construction is made for a life in the field.
SHEATH SHAPE: According to Dominick, “The sheath should be designed around the knife. Some sheath styles may not fit a knife’s design or intended purpose. The sheath design should be functional, protect the wearer from the knife during vigorous activity, and vice versa. Many common ‘taco-shaped,’ wrap-around sheaths will not prevent a sharp blade from poking through the seams and stitches under pressure or constant use. Look for recessed nylon threads that are tightly stitched.
“I hand stitch all of my sheaths at five stitches per inch. A machine can only perform a lock stitch, which when pulled will unravel like a T-shirt. I use a tight saddle stitch that tensions the threads against one another inside the holes in the leather. It can take seven to 10 days to finish a particularly ornate sheath by hand, but it’s worth it. I have never had one come back because it came apart. Your knife has to show up with you and be ready to work when you need it to be of any value.” (chuddybearleather.com)
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This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN™ Winter 2016 issue #205. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.