Make your own sheath or send it out?

Discussion in 'Knife Maker Shop Talk' started by Smallshop, Jan 9, 2017.

  1. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    How many of you knife makers make your own sheaths?

    Why or why not? Advantages/disadvantages?

  2. John Wilson

    John Wilson Well-Known Member

    Every knife that I make gets a sheath. Some leather, some kydex, depending on the style of knife.

    Pros: I do it myself because I wanted to learn how. Granted, my sheaths aren't Paul Long quality but they are nice and I'm proud of them. My customers really like them. Like anything else, the more you do something the better you get at it and the easier it becomes.

    Disadvantages? none for me. I'm not a full time maker, so it's not like the sheaths are taking me away from knife production. To me, the sheath and the knife are part of the same product. If I had to farm the sheaths out, I'd have to charge a lot more to cover it and I wouldn't necessarily make any more money.
  3. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    I'm in the "Make my Own" arena. Personally I dislike sheath work the most of any aspect of knifemaking, but I am also so anal about my knives being "just right" that I can't accept a knife with my name on it going out the door without a sheath that does not "match" the knife in every aspect. To explain, I've tried a number of times over the years to out source sheaths, and one of two things is generally the result.....

    1. I get a low quality, light weight sheath, that I wouldn't put a knife purchased at Walmart in.
    (I've seen far too many very nice knives that were sold with a crappy sheath..... or vise-versa.... kinda like buying a Cadillac with retread tires.....they just don't go together)

    2. IF the sheath meets my required "quality level", it simply doesn't "match" the knife, meaning that it is very obvious that the knife and the sheath were produced by different individuals... another situation where the two things simply do not go together.

    Neither scenario is acceptable to me. Therefore I just "suck it up" and build my own sheaths, whether that be leather, kydex, or whatever.

    That being said, there are some very fine sheath makers out there, and while many makers have great success, and are very happy with their products, it's simply not something I do with my knives/business.

    One of the things that my business has been built on over the years is that folks know that when they order a knife from me, EVERYTHING, including the sheath, is done by me, and that's a trust that I'm not willing to jeopardize. At this point in my career, even if I could find a sheath maker that could "match" a sheath to the knife I made, I'm not sure I would do it.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
  4. Ruger4

    Ruger4 Well-Known Member

    Yup , all in house from blade to sheath , Im actually liking leather work more and more all the time
  5. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    Thanks guys!

    My instinct was that to really have design continuity you would want to make your own. Possibly you can find a sheath maker that has the same artistic bent...but good luck. I know in the gun world there have been famous collaborations between stock makers and metal workers....but that doesn't work for a lot of guys.

    On a fixed blade knife a sheath is part of how it works, and what it looks like, the feel, etc. I don't want to pay the overhead for something I do not really like.

    Time to learn leather working....sigh. but from the many you tube vids I have watched it seems easier than knife making/metal working....while sharing many of the same skill sets. you have a local source of quality leather?

    Thanks again guys!
  6. Dennis Morland

    Dennis Morland KNIFE MAKER

    I make my own sheaths. Unlike others that have posted, I like to make leather sheaths. It generally means that I have finished a knife...

    Although it is not local, here is a really good place to get your leather. Starting with good leather is a must. Try theirs and you will understand why I like using it.

  7. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    DeMo makes a very good point with that link!

    Be very thoughtful about the leather you buy. Generally if you go out and look for the least expensive, you'll likely get "chrome tanned" leather. This is leather that has been tanned with chomatic acids, which can never be fully removed once introduced..... ever see an older knife that had a leather sheath and "green goop" on the hardware? That's the result of using chrome tanned leather.

    It's hard to describe in print, but there is a definite difference in how a chrome tanned leather looks, feels, and works... versus those tanned with natural products, often referred to as "Oak Tanned" or "Vegetable Tanned" leathers. Stick with the naturally tanned leathers, and although they are going to be more expensive, everything else about them is superior to chrome tanned leathers.
  8. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    Thanks DeMo and Ed.

    Ummm...sorry to make you guys work:eek:...just discovered the knife sheath! I'll do some reading before I bomb you with more questions...
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2017
  9. CAJones

    CAJones Well-Known Member

    I too do my own and I fall in with DeMo. I enjoy the leather, I can do kydex but I'm much better with leather. Truth be told, I have advanced my leather skills beyond my knifemaking. I even find myself doing more and more leather projects that aren't all all knife related.

    I would also add Hidehouse as a resource for leather. I would take their economy grade leather sight unseen over anything handpicked from the "premium" rack at Tandy.

  10. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    Thanks chris.
  11. bladegrinder

    bladegrinder Well-Known Member

    It's a love-hate relationship with me, when I started making knives I had a friend who "did leather work". he also liked to drink a lot. it was tough, he would come over and make a sketch, then come over two days later and say he lost it. when I finally got the sheath it would be different from what we agreed on.
    He would say 'I thought it would be better this way' and I'd tell him ' but that's NOT what I wanted. that didn't last long. then...I met Martin Morrisey, he lived not to far away. that man did some of the best leather work I ever saw. so he started making them for me. eventually he moved away but before he did he invited me over to teach me how to get started in leather. to this day though when I receive a new side of leather I just love admiring it.....then comes when I have 3-4 knives ready for sheaths, then dread kind of sets in....BUT, a well designed sheath, nicely hand stitched, with my name stamped on the back rounds out a nice custom knife package.
    On a side note, a very good knifemaker friend of mine who passed a few years ago actually had someone serving life in prison making his sheaths, he would send a paper template, the man did really good work but sometimes you could tell he was using institutional leather dye, water based.
    I'll end it with this, for the life of me I don't understand some knifemakers that set up at shows and offer straight knives without a sheath.
  12. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    I agree Steve. When I see a fixed blade knife that is not a kitchen tool for sale with no sheath it feels unfinished...OR...they want to sell to a collector and it stays in the box with the little slip of paper.:les:
  13. John Wilson

    John Wilson Well-Known Member

    I have really come to enjoy leatherwork. I don't get as much time as I'd like to embellish my sheaths, though. Leatherworking is something I think I'd enjoy all on its own- one of the many rabbit holes you can follow in this business that leads to its own world if you keep going with it. At this point I put out a good sheath but I haven't really tapped into the customer that is willing to pay a bunch more for the sheath, so I don't devote a ton of extra time to it. I keep telling myself that I will- just as soon as things slow down....
  14. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    That brings up an interesting point. Early on in my career, I never really considered a sheath when quoting the price for a given knife. Of course as time went by, and I realized the "bottom line" just didn't add up, I realized that I wasn't adding in the cost of a sheath. I suspect that's something that other have done too. Maybe that will be some food for thought for somebody. :)

    In response to
    I have to agree, even though I have a lot of knifemaker friends who do it..... I'm just not comfortable selling any knife that should have a sheath, without one.
  15. John Wilson

    John Wilson Well-Known Member

    Guilty as charged! I wasn't considering the value of the sheath at all early on. I figured the knife ought to have a sheath so I provided one. Then, exactly as you said, the very real cost of the sheath hit me when I wasn't seeing profit accumulate the way I expected. I realized that I had to at least recoup the actual cost or else it was coming out of my pocket. As my skills and confidence improved I began to charge for the value of the sheath and not just my cost.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2017
  16. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    I know it's skewing a bit off topic, but talking about costs brings up another thing that took me several years as a knifemaker to realize/understand..... you CANNOT charge for the cost you paid for a given material.
    You have to charge for what it's going to cost to REPLACE that material. That might sound trivial, but when you consider some of the exotics such as Fossil Ivory, or even Sambar Stag are very volatile in price/cost, you can easily loose any profit margin you might have if you only charge what you paid....cause sooner or later you're gona wanna replace it... and for me, that's when I realized I was loosing my shirt by having set prices for things such as Ivory or Sambar Stag.
    It's a bit more effort, but when I give quotes now a days, unless it's something super common, I always hold off on a quote and check current, and in some cases speculate on future prices before giving a hard quote.
  17. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    Good point Ed. None of the high end sea food restaurants put a price in their menu. It is always based on current market availability. As a machinist I have had to double check prices if a quote goes out a few months. Some companies will try to get you to jump on a PO that you quoted 4-6 mos earlier.(typically quotes are only good for 30 days) One job I had quoted had almost doubled the material in 6mos. Fortunately I was not lazy that week....which isn't always the case.

    Then I get to wondering how many guys are really costing materials correctly. You have some nice wood that a buddy gave when the ol' walnut tree in the front yard gave up the was free. You buy some real cool looking kirinite for $30 a set and you make two similar knives. Are you going to add $30 to the knife with the kirinite handle? Or do you factor in the easier finish time and call it even?

    My goal is to make semi-custom knives. I have tools and skill sets that would make it foolish to not use. Yet I want to express my artistic side also. So I test methods and systems etc. This has brought me to the realization that you can have two custom knife makers and both are producing works of art. One guy is making money and the other is basically sending a $20 bill with each knife he sends out. Both should be proud of their work yet only one is in the "business" of knife making. Profitability in any manufacturing system is a huge encouragement. It boosts creativity and ambition. I get that some makers make knives because they have's a fatal attraction. I hope to not fall in love with the This is why many of my questions are about this-over-that.

    I also try to stockpile supplies. but your point about replacement has to weigh in heavily. If I have scales that were bought at $5.00 a pair and I don't add them in the price of the knife at $15-$30 then all my foresight in stock piling is gone valuewise. Yeah...maybe took care of availability issues but not roi for tying up cash for however long it took to use them.

    Don't get me wrong...I am not a money guy by nature. If I had my druthers I'd just be making cool stuff and not thinking about income. But contract machining is competitive and the painful lessons stick with you.....
  18. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    Truer words have never been spoken!
  19. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    New sheath

    My son Joe just finished a knife...he did about 90% of the work.....then we got to sheath making today...I did about 80% of the sheath because I wanted the project out of the shop. Joe Likes the knife and sheath so much he going to start another knife right away. His confidence level has gone way up with this project.'s a pic of my first sheath....I won't say I really enjoyed it's o' learning mistakes) I believe the next one will be more fun. I don't care too much for stamping letters on a sheath but Joe wanted Mike's initials on it so he stamped it.
    20170310_203753.jpg 20170310_203802.jpg
  20. wall e

    wall e Well-Known Member

    Looks good holds the knife in place your good to go.
    I make my own sheaths also so I can say I made this and also to try and be artsy fartsy with the color flow between handle and sheath.
    But I did the cheap thing and bought scrap boot leather that is double tanned. Still it is boot leather and you are stuck with the color it is and there are 3 colors the boot maker had, black,brown, and red brown.
    I took a wise ones advice a while ago and use a barrier between the leather and the blade that doubles as a retaining system, kydex insert. I know it is extra work and if I molded veg tanned leather to the knife it would hold it in place just as well.

    Sent from my SM-G930R4 using Tapatalk

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