Sheath Finishing

Your new leather sheath is made of the finest vegetable tanned tooling leather but, as supplied, is unfinished. Since the leather surface is unfinished and easily stained, care must be taken to keep dirt and other contaminants away from the open pores until you've applied your finish or stain of choice. One of the biggest villains in ruining your finish are oils from your skin. To protect your unfinished sheath from skin oils if you're not going to finish it right away, you might want to consider handling it with light cotton or latex gloves. Hold off on eating any potato chips until you're done (voice of experience) . I used to sell a nice leather cleaner until I found out that a diluted lemon juice mixture ( 20% lemon juice) actually  did a better job of cleaning finger prints off the untreated leather.

If your knife sheath is one that has a strap, slip your knife in and hold the strap in a position to secure your knife tightly ( well, not too tight)  in place. Press the strap against the installed half of the snap on the front of the sheath to mark where you'll have to install the second half of the supplied snap. Use a snap setter ( NCK-SNAP-SETTER,  click HERE ) to install the snap. Make sure you have the mating halves of the snaps facing each other.  This will insure a good, tight, custom fit.

Casing the Sheath
Casing refers to shaping your new sheath to fit like a glove over your knife. Since leather is slightly elastic when wet, you can make this look like it was custom made for your knife blade. (Because you're customizing it for your blade, right? ). Soak the sheath in hot water for a minute or two . Insert your blade into the wet sheath and use your fingers to begin to press and mold the leather to fit the unique shape of your knife. Pay particular attention to forming the sheath around the bolster or guard, the blade itself and the transition area where the guard or bolster and blade meet. If your sheath has a rear belt loop, be careful not to deform this too much and keep checking to make sure that the stitching is straight. This whole process should take no more than five  minutes or so. The perfect fit is where you can hold the sheath upside down and the knife is still held tightly but still slips out when you grab it.

Set it aside to dry for a few minutes. I leave the knife in for the first half hour or so of the drying process to help hold the sheaths shape. You don't want to leave it in the much more than that because the dampness could affect the surface of your knife -- especially true for non-stainless blades. It's rare, but I've seen it happen.  In addition to preserving your knife, taking it out allows for greater air circulation on the inside, preventing mildew from starting to grow on the wet leather. (Yucch). 

Once dry, the sheath will return to it's original lighter color and will retain the shape you have molded. I'd allow it to dry at least overnight, preferably 24 hours or more. Be patient. I know it's tempting to think about using a heat gun or sticking it in a microwave or warm oven, but this is going to damage it.. OK,OK, if you're in a hurry, you can stick in the sun for a few hours. You'll probably want to clean it off one more time with the lemon juice mixture.

Finishing Your Sheath
If you want to color your sheath as most people do, you'll need to get some leather dye. These are available in a wide palette of colors at any leather or craft store. These are usually alcohol based for deep and consistent coverage. That's the good news. The bad news is that if you get it on your hands or clothes ( or brand new living room carpet, Aaaaargh! ) it'll be there forever. This stuff is designed to be permanent. I use a small disposable foam brush and make sure to cover the edges and insides of both the belt loop and sheath itself. Saturate the sheath with the dye --- you'll be surprised how absorbent the untreated leather is.  Let it dry overnight and touch it up as necessary.

The leather is still somewhat absorbent and I'd really suggest a  protective coat.  One of the most common is called Neatsfoot oil. It's a heavy weight oil that also acts as a conditioner and waterproofs your sheath. It's easy to apply by wiping on but will slightly darken a natural or dyed finish just a hair.  ( A light wipe-on coat will also renew your old leather jacket and waterproof your outdoor boots.  Another product that I have seen advertised and that I've heard good things about is Resolene,  a colorless  acrylic protection designed for leather that can be wiped on or sprayed.

 If you want to go one step further to a professional looking finish, you can apply a liquid wax ( sometimes called Balm ) . Once hand buffed out, this will offer a nice velvet luster and a higher degree of water resistance.

Last Note:   I tried to do this page in a print friendly format so you can keep it on hand for reference.

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