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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fine Tune Your Mora Part 2 - The Two Way Sheath by Jim Dillard

Although the Mora knife is one of the true bargains of bushcraft equipment, the plastic sheath does not always satisfy the needs of avid bushcrafters. Aftermarket sheaths such as the JRE are available, but of course one of the most rewarding aspects of bushcraft is to use your own self-made gear. The following is a step-by-step tutorial on a really easy sheath to make for your Mora. This particular sheath features a hard liner in the blade area, which will insure the safety of the user.
Photos 1 and 2 show the two-position use of this sheath. The handle up position is best when the sheath is worn beneath a shirt or jacket, and the handle down carry is best when the sheath is worn on the outside of the clothing. I frequently carry mine in the handle down position under my left arm. This provides a quick one-handed draw with my right hand.
Photo 3 shows the first step in the process. To use the plastic sheath that comes with your knife for a liner, cut the sheath at the same angle as the guard portion of the handle. Cut the sheath so that you have about 3/16” of free space between the tip of the knife and the inside of the sheath.
Photo 4 – bevel the inside of the plastic sheath to eliminate the possibility of the knife tip catching on the edge when the blade is inserted into the new sheath. Photo 5 – tape the knife to the sheath liner. This will prevent shifting when you are molding the leather and will make a more secure fit.

You will need a piece of thin leather about 6” x 10”. It should be 3 or 4 ounce, about 1/16” thick. This is a standard thickness for most Scandinavian style sheaths. Leather a little thicker will work, but will be harder to form. To form the sheath you can either wet the leather with water or with rubbing alcohol. I much prefer the alcohol because it evaporates quickly and therefore takes much less time to form. Soak the leather thoroughly until it becomes limp. With the alcohol this will take a half hour or so. Then wrap the leather around the knife and liner and begin to form it with your fingers. As the leather dries, it will begin to stay in place. Pay particular attention to the handle area around the guard of the knife because a snug fit in this area is what keeps the knife from falling out of the sheath.
When the leather begins to dry in the forming process, it will retain the shape of the knife and liner. When this happens you can clamp the edges and let it dry over night. Be absolutely certain that the clamps are put ONLY on parts of the leather that will be trimmed off. The clamps will leave permanent and ugly marks on the wet leather and you don’t want those on your finished sheath. When the leather has dried overnight, take out the knife and liner and let it dry another day.

After the leather is completely dry, trim off the extra, leaving it about a half inch or so larger than the size you want the finished sheath.This will give you room for adjustment if the leather shifts a little during gluing. Then take the tape off of the knife and liner and clean the liner of any tape residue. You will need a good rubber cement type glue such as Goop or E-6000. Spread glue over the entire sheath liner and where the leather comes together along the edges. It is necessary to have the knife in the sheath during gluing for good alignment, but be careful that you don’t glue the knife handle to the leather. When the glue is spread, clamp the edges, but be sure to use padding under the clamps to avoid ugly blotches on the finished sheath. Photo 9 shows the scrap trimmings being used as pads under the clamps. Have everything ready and laid out before you start to glue, because the glue will dry quickly.
When the glue is completely dry, trim off the excess about a quarter inch out from where you want the stitch line. You will need a knife with a narrow tip to cut the curves smoothly. Also notice in photo 10 that extra leather has been left in the tip area for the 3/16” hole that will allow for the handle down carry position. Once the leather has been trimmed, sand to smooth the edges. It is essential to use a sanding block under the sandpaper to do this, because sanding the edge with loose sandpaper will only enlarge irregularities on the edge of the sheath.

Before drawing the line for the stitching holes, pull the knife in and out of the glued sheath a few times to determine where the stitches should be around the guard area. Watch the guard bulge the leather as you pull it out. You want it to be snug enough that the knife can’t fall out in the handle down position, but not so snug that it is difficult to remove from the sheath. The stitching line in photo 12 is just right, but you need to make this judgment for yourself as the position of the stitch line can be influenced by differences in materials. If the knife ends up too loose in the sheath, stitching will need to be redone in the guard area, but if it is just a little too tight, a little bar soap and a few minutes working the knife in and out will usually fix the problem.
Once the stitching line is drawn, mark the stitch holes. At a cost of only about $6.00 a stitch marking wheel is worth the money. It will do an excellent job and makes quick work of marking where the holes go –also shown in photo 12. If you don’t have a stitch marker, you can use a ruler, making the stitches about 1/8” or 4 mm apart. Then use a small drill such as Dremel to drill the holes. A 1/16” but will work, but the thread will be loose in the holes. For the best job use a wire gauge drill bit size 55 to 60. This will make the thread snug in the holes.

To finish the edge of your sheath, use a commercial edge finisher such as gum tragacanth. This will eliminate the fuzzies. Apply the edge finisher to the rough part of the leather and burnish with a hard, smooth object such as a knife handle. Edge finishers along with the stitching marker and leather finishes can be purchased at leather suppliers or from knifemaker supply houses.

At this point you may stain or decorate the sheath. The sheath shown at the beginning of this article was left its natural color and was decorated with a common child’s woodburner, about $15. at a hobby store.

After decorating or staining your sheath, coat it with a leather finish. Since I live and play in a temperate rain forest, I really like two coats of an acrylic leather finisher inside and out. It lasts a long time and is waterproof, and it can be redone if necessary.

For the stitching, use nylon thread made for sewing leather and use as small a needle as possible. A needle that is too large will stretch the holes. I prefer to use a common small needle made for sewing cloth. To get the large thread through the eye of the small needle, set the end of the thread on fire and while it is still burning, smash it against a hard surface with the side of a knife blade. Then, as in photo 14, trim the hard, burned part of the thread to a point that will go through the eye of the needle. What you see in photo 14 is a macro shot of a very small needle. The knife blade in the corner is only the bevel of the Mora knife.

Although I have never had a problem with a knife cutting the stitching in a sheath, that is a concern with some. To protect the exposed thread in the upper part of the inside of the sheath, run a bead of the same glue you used before over any thread you can see on the inside of the sheath. The glue is actually tougher than leather and will provide excellent protection.

If your project isn’t perfect, try again. It won’t be long before you will have the skill you need to do an excellent job every time. The sheath in the first photo of this article cost me about $7.00 to make, and at that cost doing a few sheaths simply for practice is certainly reasonable. I have also found that sheaths make great trade items with other bushcrafters, and of course, the more you make, the more skilled you become.


Tyler said...

Thanks for all your articles Jim, they are appreciated. I generally use thicker leather and a 3 prong leather punch (rather than the sheath liner, wheel and dremel) when making a sheath. I don’t use glue but do clamp the excess. A bandsaw cuts the thick leather cleanly. I really liked your result though, have never tried that design. Looked almost like a Leuku sheath!

Mungo said...

Nice looking sheath, and terrific tutorial. However my first thought was 'I would NOT trust a down-carry sheath for my Mora'... the thing's way too sharp for it to fall out while I'm bending etc...

How tight is it? Is there a risk of it falling out?

samh said...

A great looking sheath, and seemingly quite easy to make. Thanks!