Skip to Content

Leather for Knife Sheaths – Options for Successful Projects

I recently purchased a new skiving knife with a beautiful leather sheath, which inspired me to look into creating my own. The first thing that came to mind was what leather to use for the project. So, I began searching for the perfect leather for knife sheaths. 

The leather used for a knife sheath should be vegetable tanned, thick, and firm. These characteristics ensure a durable sheath that will protect the knife and the user. A benefit of vegetable tanned leather is it can be wet molded to fit any knife, allowing custom sheath sizes, shapes, and styles. 

Picking the right leather is key for creating a durable knife sheath. Let’s look at what leather works best and how to use it to make any sized sheath. 

What Is Leather for Knife Sheaths?

Leather for knife sheaths must follow specific guidelines to ensure the final project is a success. This includes leather’s type, thickness, and firmness. Vegetable tanned leather is the best choice for making any knife sheath. It is often much more firm than chrome tanned leathers and does not react poorly with metal. 

While the thickness of the leather will vary, five to eight ounces of leather is standard. Lastly, the leather chosen will need to be firm to not only protect the knife but also keep the sheath working properly. Leather that is too soft may bend while trying to insert the blade, potentially damaging the sheath. 

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Leather for Knife Sheaths
  • Leather for Knife Sheaths Overview Table
  • Why Use Leather for Knife Sheaths?
  • Is Real Leather Better for Knife Sheaths?
  • The Best Leather for Knife Sheaths
  • Pros of Leather for Knife Sheaths
  • Cons of Leather for Knife Sheaths
  • Alternatives to Leather for Knife Sheaths
  • How To Make a leather Knife Sheath
  • My Personal Research Into Leather for Knife Sheaths
  • Helpful Leather for Knife Sheaths Insights
  • Key Takeaways
Brown Vegetable Tanned Leather Knife Sheaths - Leather for Knife Sheaths - Liberty Leather Goods
Brown Vegetable Tanned Leather Knife Sheaths

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Most crafters interested in making a leather sheath will quickly learn there are better choices than chrome tanned leather. It is often too soft and flexible and may also react poorly with the metal causing the blade to corrode. 

However, this does not mean the leather can not be used when making sheaths. Chrome tanned leathers can be a great choice for adding an inlay to any sheath. Another option is gluing a piece of vegetable tanned to the backside of a chrome tanned leather. 

This will allow the chrome tanned leather to sit on the exterior of the sheath, while the vegetable tanned leather inside provides structure and does not cause any unwanted chemical reactions. These are just a few ways chrome tanned leather can be used in a leather sheath. The possibilities are endless as long as the sheath has structure and a vegetable tanned interior. 

History of Leather for Knife Sheaths

Leather for knife sheaths has been the preferred choice since ancient times, with the earliest sheath tracing back to the Bronze Age. The popularity of the sheaths increased during medieval times, as blades were common. During this time, sheaths were decorated to help distinguish and provide ownership marks. 

As mass production of knives began during the industrial revolution, the sheaths became more utilitarian. These common knife sheaths were used for military purposes. Today leather is still a popular choice for knife sheaths, and decorative sheaths have made a resurgence. Knife enthusiasts, and collectors alike, enjoy the beauty of a custom leather sheath for their knives. 

Leather for Knife Sheaths Overview Table

Tannage TypeAny leather that touches the knife should be vegetable tanned leather to prevent corrosion. Other tanning types may be used for the exterior.
FinishThe finish for leather does not impact a leather knife sheath. However, it is recommended to have coated leather or apply a wear-resistant coating for durability. 
ThicknessLeather should be 5–8 ounces thick, depending on the knife size. The welt should always be at least as thick, or slightly thicker, than the thickest part of the knife’s blade. 
FlexibilityKnife sheaths should be firm enough to hot bend or bow when placing the blade into the sheath. This typically means firm leather. However, semi-firm leathers may be used with multiple layers to build rigidity. 
Leather for Knife Sheath Characteristics

Why Use Leather for Knife Sheaths?

Leather is a great choice for leather knife sheaths because of its durability and versatility. While leather may not be as strong as plastic, or other materials, it can still provide great protection. Firm vegetable tanned leather that has been treated is not only wear-resistant but can have some water resistance added. 

The material is firm enough to protect the knife but soft enough to feel comfortable when wearing. Where leather shines is the versatility. Leather can be molded around any knife shape to create a custom sheath, allowing unique knives to have a complimentary sheath. This makes leather a fantastic material for unorthodox blades.

Is Real Leather Better for Knife Sheaths?

Full grain vegetable tanned leather is the best option for knife sheaths. The unadjusted grain retains all the strength of the hide, while the vegetable tanning creates a firm, durable product. While faux leather can be used, its durability is lacking. 

It is not uncommon for faux leather to peel, crack, or simply degrade over time. Real leather will not experience these issues when properly maintained. With high-quality leather, a sheath can last a lifetime, becoming a permanent heirloom piece to match the knife it is made for. 

A benefit of vegetable tanned leather is it can be wet molded to fit any knife, allowing for custom sheath sizes, shapes, and styles.

The Best Leather for Knife Sheaths


When choosing a material for a leather knife sheath material, the tanning method matters. A leather that uses chromium in the tanning process has the potential to corrode steel over time. Therefore, a natural vegetable tanned leather is the best option for parts of the sheath that touch the blade. 

If a sheath maker wants to use an oil tanned, or chrome tanned leather, they can simply stack the pieces, making the interior completely vegetable tanned, with the benefits of chrome tanned leather on the outside. 


The average thickness for a leather sheath is 5–8 ounces. With multiple layers, this will provide excellent durability without becoming cumbersome. The most important part when considering thickness is the welt.

A welt creates space for the blade to side in so it must be at least the same thickness as the blade. A welt that is too small will prevent the knife from sliding into the sheath, making it unusable. 


The flexibility of leather used for making sheaths must strike a balance between durability and comfort. Ideally, the leather should be firm but not rock-hard in most cases. While the right flexibility is subjective, an overly flexible sheath may be dangerous. 

A knife sheath must hold firm when pressing the blade down into it. A sheath that is too flexible may bow out of position, potentially cutting through the sheath. Therefore a safe sheath must be able to retain its shape. 


A difficult part of leather for knife sheaths is sewing. Most sheaths will consist of three or more firm leather pieces. Depending on the thickness of the leather, it may become impossible to use chisels for a sheath. 

In most cases, a single side of the sheath will have pre-punched holes that will then be fully pierced with an awl blade. The thickness of the leather may make it challenging to keep the holes straight, so practice is necessary. 

Once the holes are made, the leather can be sewn together like any other project. However, I recommend using larger needles and thread to ensure the project’s durability. 

Pros of Leather for Knife Sheaths

Leather is almost a perfect material for making knife sheaths. This is due to the durability and versatility of the material. When coated with wear-resistant finishes, leather can become water-resistant. This means a leather sheath can easily last decades, if not a lifetime when properly cared for.  

The biggest benefit of leather, however, is the material’s versatility. Leather is easily workable and can be molded or cut to fit any knife shape. Even the most unique knives can have snug-fitting sheaths with leather. However, leather may also be used to cover a hard interior such as wood. 

Carol van Driel-Murray, author of Leather in Warfare: Attack, Defence and the Unexpected described a technique used in the 14th century that involved stretching leather over small pieces of wood, which was then stitched on the backside to create a leather sheath, showing yet another way leather can be used for sheaths. 

Leather can also provide visual flair. Choosing a specific color, or adding a tooling design, can enhance the look of a sheath, allowing sheaths to match the details of a knife, making each piece unique and beautiful. 

Cons of Leather for Knife Sheaths

While leather is almost a perfect material for knife sheaths, it has some drawbacks. The biggest one is the price. Leather for knife sheaths will need to be thick, firm, vegetable tanned leather. This is a type of leather that is naturally tanned, making it much more expensive than a chrome tanned leather. 

In addition, the leather is not water resistant when first purchased. Vegetable tanned leather must be finished with a protective coating to prevent the leather from deforming when wet. Finally, the thickness of the leather will make it harder to sew. 

Since a knife requires multiple layers of thick leather for protection, a sheath can quickly become too thick for stitching chisels. When this happens, an awl or other tool must be used to create the holes for sewing. This can make it difficult for those unfamiliar with alternative sewing tools. 

Alternatives to Leather for Knife Sheaths

While leather is often considered the best material for knife sheaths, a few other options like hard plastics and wood can be used. However, these materials are durable but will not provide the same comfort as a leather sheath. 

Another popular option is a heavy fabric, such as a waxed canvas. These must be purchased a a heavy weight to prevent the knife from piercing through when used. Canvas provides excellent durability and is much lighter than leather, but it will begin to wear much earlier. 

How To Make a Leather Knife Sheath

Making a leather knife sheath can be done with several steps. To start, a pattern will need to be created. 

  1. Trace – Trace the knife on a sheet of paper, marking it across where the guard starts. 
  2. Add width – Using a compass, add width to allow for a stitch line and room outside the stitch line. This will be the body of the sheath. 
  3. Trace onto leather – Trace the paper pattern onto leather and flip it to make the backside of the body. 
  4. Make welt – To create the welt, simply cut out the inside blade line of the pattern. 
  5. Trace welt onto leather – The welt pattern may then be traced onto leather that is similar in thickness to the blade and cut out. 
  6. Glue – Once all three pieces are cut, they can be glued together to begin sewing. The welt will sit between the two body pieces at the edge of the leather. 
  7. Add stitching grove – A stitching grove can be added to help protect the thread. 
  8. Punch holes – The holes can be punched inside this line. (Push an awl through the leather if the chisels don’t make it through.)
  9. Sew – Once all the holes are made, the knife sheath can be sewn using a saddle stitch, completing the project. 

In this video by Weaver Leather Supply, Chuck Dorsett details creating a pattern for a knife sheath, providing tips to help make the perfect sheath for any knife. 

My Personal Research Into Leather for Knife Sheaths

To better understand the leather used for knife sheaths, I decided to make a one myself. By doing so, I uncovered tips and key areas to focus on when making a knife sheath, including leather choice, sizing, creating a welt, and stitching the sheath. 

Leather Choice and Thickness

One of the most important parts of making a sheath is to pick the proper leather. Ideally, the thickness of the leather should be 5–8 ounces, depending on the thickness of the blade. The welt, a key part of any sheath, should be at least as thick as the blade. 

A firm vegetable tanned leather is the best choice, as chrome tanned leather can cause corrosion with prolonged use. However, thin leather can be layered with a chrome tanned exterior and a vegetable tanned interior. 

Sizing The Blade

The easiest way to create a well-fitted knife sheath is to create a template. For my project, I simply traced my blade on a sheet of paper up to the bolster. This provided me with a guide that I could begin to build off of. From the mark on the paper, I could use a compass to add width for a stitch line. 

With the compass, the spacing remains the same despite the shape of the blade. I did this a second time to create the outside shape of the sheath. This pattern could simply be traced onto leather and flipped to create both sides of a sheath. 

Creating a Welt

A welt is one of the most important parts of a knife sheath. They provide space for the knife to sit while protecting the stitches from being cut as the knife sheath is used. The welt should be a firm vegetable tanned leather that is as thick, or slightly thicker, than the blade. A welt that is too small will not allow the blade to slide in and may cause it to become stuck. 

Alternatively, a welt that is too large will cause the blade to move around much more in the sheath. If a blade has a varying thickness, there are two options. The first is to match the thickest part of the blade, potentially making other areas looser. Or, the welt can be skived to mimic the shape of the blade, ensuring a snug fit throughout. 

To create a welt, a paper pattern works best. I took my initial blade template and cut out the inside portion to recreate where the knife would sit. This will look like a “V” for most knives, as the welt follows along the project’s edges. 


Depending on the thickness of the leather used when making the sheath, sewing may require different techniques. My stitching chisels were large enough to go through the three layers of leather, but often crafters may have to resort to other methods. Stack the leather on each other, and place the stitching chisels next to them to see if they can make it completely through. 

If they can’t, a couple of options may work for you. Pre-punching the holes before gluing the pieces together is a popular method for thick leathers but will require accuracy to ensure the sheath stays aligned. Alternatively, an awl is a great tool for making stitching holes. 

One side of the leather can be punched to provide guiding holes for the awl to pass through. An awl blade will then be pushed through the additional layers of leather to create the stitching holes. Using an awl blade may require practice to keep the angle of the stitches consistent.  


Making a knife sheath is a popular leather project that can be done at any skill level with patience. When making a sheath, using the correct leather thickness plays a large role in the project’s outcome. This is especially true when creating a welt for the blade. In most cases, firm, thick, vegetable tanned leather is best for sheath making. 

Helpful Leather for Knife Sheaths Insights

What leather is best for knife sheaths?

The best leather for making a knife sheath is typically vegetable tanned leather. It is a much firmer leather that will be more durable. Leather that uses chromium may cause unwanted chemical reactions, potentially leading to corrosion. In addition, vegetable tanned leather can be used to wet mold a perfect fit around any knife. 

What thickness of leather is used for knife sheaths?

The thickness of leather used in a knife sheath varies by the blade size. A small pocket knife can use leather as thin as 4 ounces. The general rule of thumb is to use thicker leather as the blade gets bigger. Average-sized knives will use 5–8 ounce leather and multiple layers to build thickness. 

Is leather good for knife sheaths?

Yes, vegetable tanned leather is a great choice for a knife sheath. It is one of the few materials thick enough to protect the blade while also being moldable. This means no matter how unique the shape of the knife is; leather will always be able to create a sheath that fits around it perfectly. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Vegetable tanned leather is the best choice for a knife sheath.
  2. The welt of a sheath must be at least the same thickness as the thickest part of the blade.
  3. Leather can be treated with a protective finish that can help provide a more durable and water-resistant knife sheath. 

In Closing

When making important leather items, such as a knife sheath, the leather itself is just as important as the techniques used to make them. The leather needs to be natural, durable, and thick to protect the blade and the user.  When the right leather is chosen, there is no better material — offering amazing durability with beautiful, luxurious material. 

Other Resources: