MEXICAN LOOP STYLE SHEATH TUTORIAL
by Wild Rose Trading Company

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Brown Sheath

Cales Sheath

Fink Sheatf

Brown
Slotted loop and with scalloped edge skirt.

Cales
Riveted loop and with scalloped edge skirt

Fink
Slotted loop and with smooth edge skirt

Three variations on the Mexican Loop style knife sheath theme

The Mexican loop style knife sheath was very popular in the Southwest US during the late frontier era post 1875 or so. One reason is the large loop allowed it to be carried on the cartridge belts of the period. The inspiration for my pattern came from the original carried by Texas Ranger, Bill McDonald (1852-1918), which is pictured below.

McDonald Rig

I adapted the style to hang lower on the belt and to eliminate the center front seam. The McDonald original was made of one piece of leather just like Mexican Loop Holsters of the period.

For the slotted loop style my construction uses four pieces: The face, the welt, the back, and the loop/skirt. When making the arched face there is a fifth piece - the welt wedge, and if making the riveted loop, a sixth piece - the loop itself is needed.

I recommend using 7/8oz veg-tan. Heavier leather makes it difficult to form the loop around the body. If you have a very large knife (10" or larger blade) I would recommend making the riveted loop style out of 9/10oz for the body and skirt and 6/7oz for the loop itself.

This style sheath is actually quite easy to make and I will try to explain my procedures so even a newbie should be able to figure out how to to do it. If you have any questions contact me at chuck@wrtcleather.com

!!!! PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE TUTORIAL !!!!
BEFORE MAKING THIS SHEATH

The main part of this tutorial will refer to making the simplest style, straight throat, slotted and smooth edge skirt.
I will add notes to explain the procedures for making the variant styles.

The face, back, and welt are based on the same pattern (except as noted for the arched throat in the Cales image) so there really are only two pattern pieces needed as pictured here.

To make a pattern for your knife adapt the above. I use manila file folders to make patterns with. First I lay the blade on a piece with the crossguard presses against one edge. Take a compass and spread the legs apart 3/8". Draw an outline with the compass all the way around your blade, making sure you maintain the 3/8" - i.e don't cant the compass as you move it.. As an alternative, draw around the blade with a pencil and then using a ruler mark an outline 3/8" around the blades actual outline. I often reshape the tip of the sheath a bit as sometimes the 3/8" outline ends too abruptly and just isn't graceful to my eye. Check again and again to make sure everything is fitting right and then use a knife and carefully cut your face pattern.

HINT #1: When transferring your pattern to leather, use a red roller tip pen if you are going to dye the item brown. If the item is to be dyed black then use a black roller tip. If you are putting a natural finish on your sheath use a soft lead pencil. After drawing the pattern onto the face side lightly dampen the area with a sponge and allow the color to return to almost normal. Use a sharp utility knife and cut your item out. When possible use a straight edge.

SECTION 1:
Cut your face piece first before laying out anything else. Smooth and even the two sides (I use a small 4" x 36" belt sander). Use your stitch groover and mark around all three edges. Around the top edge the groove appears as a border. If you're going to tool it, now is the time, although a simple impressed single or double straight border just inside your stitch line can be very nice. Simple yet elegant. To make it, dampen the face and use a pair of dividers to impress the lines.

Border line

VARIATION 1: Arched face at mouth. This entails more work, including an extra part than the straight cut mouth. If you want to give this a go make your pattern as shown. If the guard is more than 1/4" wide on each side of the blade I recommend not to use this style as proper fitting can be a nightmare.

SECTION 2:
Next I cut out my back piece using the face as a pattern. Make sure you lay the two pieces smooth side to smooth side and then draw the outline of the face piece onto your leather for the back. Again dampen your leather and when it's ready cut out the back piece. I carefully cut about 1/16" to 1/8" outside of the line. This leaves me a little room to work with when lining it up to the front.

SECTION 3:
Next I cut my welt out. I like to fit my sheaths to the blades and the welt is the most important part of that procedure. Normally I use a piece of leather that is approximately 3/4 the thickness of the blades spine, a dimension that works 99% of the time. I have several weights of leather on hand, but if you only have one weight on hand you can thin a thicker piece by sanding on the belt sander or by skiving with a knife. I skive and then smooth out any ripples with the sander. This can be done after the welt is glued to the back piece. Of course if it needs to be thicker (unusual) you can glue two pieces together and then skive/sand to fit.

To make the welt I lay my back piece on the leather for the welt and draw around it. Now lay your blade onto the uncut welt and draw an outline of it on the leather, making sure you maintain the 3/8"+ all the way around between the edge and the face outline.

IMPORTANT: If the blade has a belly, such as on some of the big Bowies, you will have to make the mouth of the welt as wide as the widest part of the blade. Trying to fit a 2" wide section of blade through a 1 1/2" gap just doesn't work!

Again dampen your leather and when it's ready to work as described above, cut the section out to the INSIDE of the blade's outline. This is where your blade will fit.

Now lay the blade on the flesh side of the back piece and draw an outline of the blade onto the back. Next contact cement the welt to the back making sure that the inside edge of the welt is up against the blades outline.

HINT #2: To make sure the welt follows the blades outline as closely as possible (with the same caveat as above regarding blade shape) I glue the spine side down and then fit the welt snug up against the edge and glue it down.

Before proceeding trim away the excess welt material.

SECTION 4:
My idea of a good fit is when you can turn a sheath upside down and the knife won't slide out, yet at the same time it should not hang up in the sheath when being drawn. This can be a painstaking process of trying and fitting until gotten right. To get a good fit of blade to sheath I do the following:

I skive/sand the side of the welt along the sharp edge of the blade and the false edge if there is one
until the welt is between 3/32" to 1/16'" thick depending on your blade.

(For those who folks who are at this point thinking I'm crazy, proof is in the pudding - I have done it this way for at least 25 years and have NEVER once had a blade cut through the welt. If you're not comfortable with this method then skip this step and go on to the next section.)

Work SLOWLY! To test the fit, RUBBER CEMENT the front and back together and use a couple of small clamps close to the mouth to keep it snug there. If the blade is too loose pull the front and back apart apart (the reason for rubber cement and not contact cement) and skive/sand some more. If the blade has a false edge or is double edged (the hardest to get a good fit) I also trim the welt along that edge. The object is to have the leather along the face and back contact as much of the blade as possible. This gives it the proper tension for gripping the blade properly. If the blade has a ricasso you of course have to leave the welt the correct thickness and the welt will then be tapered along it's length from tapered grip to point, in other words a distal taper. Once I get a good blade fit I trim the back and welt to match the front. You don't need to final trim the sides at this point as that will be done after sewing the front and back together. But you do need to trim not only the sides, but the mouth as well and this is easily done on the belt sander - just GO SLOW! If you take too much off, the blade won't fit all the way into the sheath. It can be fixed by pulling apart the front and back and carefully carving the welt away, but it's better not to. After sanding the mouth edges even, I take an edge tool and trim the fuzz off the inside edge of the mouth.

VARIATION 1-2: Arched face at mouth. To make this style work correctly a "wedge" has to be fitted to the inside of the face. See the image below. The purpose of the wedge is to allow the guard to sit flat against the mouth. The face will then sit against the face of the grip. This wedge should go down the face about 1/3 of the blade length. It is skived to a feather edge and glued so that its top edge will match the top edge of the welt and the back It takes a lot more work to fit it properly and it makes for a thicker seam, but for shorter blade knives it does give some extra retention.

Wedge View

SECTION 5:
Once the blade is fitted I pull the back and front apart and proceed with cutting out the skirt/belt loop and attaching the belt loop to the body.

!! IMPORTANT: Read this entire section before cutting out the belt loop/skirt !!

When cutting out the skirt/belt loop adjust the belt loop for length as noted on the pattern. Points A/B should fit approximately 2" below the top of the back of the sheath as shown below. Before cutting this piece see HINT #3.

Back

Distance from A to B should be the width between the inside or your seams. If you look closely at the left side of the image you can see that I tapered the sewn end of loop so that it would fit between the seams yet maintain a wider dimension for the actual loop. I find that with this design the inside length of the belt loop should be about 1/2" longer than the width of the belt to be worn. Before attaching to the back piece, the sewn end of the belt loop should be skived on the flesh side to an almost feather edge to eliminate bulk. Also note that when sewing the loop to the back that you start the stitch 3/4" down from the throat of the sheaths body. As an alternative the sewn end of the loop can be rounded and in order to use a single continuous seam. Carefully contact cement the loop to the back. Be sure to lightly skuff the smooth, flesh side of the back before applying the glue. Then mark and punch your sewing holes from the outside as explained in my WRTC Sewing Tutorial Next turn the whole thing over so the flesh side is up and re-punch the holes from that side. Lightly dampen the area around the holes and run your overstitch wheel around the seam to "indent" the seam into the leather. To increase the depth of the stitch groove, take your stitch groover and carefully dig the seam a little deeper into the flesh side and then dampen and run your overstitch wheel around the seam again. You only need this groove to be as deep as the thickness of your thread. CAUTION: Too deep and it will weaken the leather. The stitch groove will help eliminate wear on the stitches from the blade being slid in and out of the sheath.

The actual skirt part (when making the slotted loop style) needs to be a minimum of 3/4" from the ends of the slots (points C,D,E, & F) to the edge of the skirt. The slots are approximately an 1/8" longer than the body is wide.

HINT #3: To judge exactly how wide the slots and skirt should be, cut the belt loop to the correct size but leave the skirt wider than necessary and finish making the body (IMPORTANT: the belt loop MUST be glued and stitched to the back piece before gluing and stitching the body-also see Section 6 below before gluing and sewing the body together). Once that is done draw a center line down the skirt and line up the body in the proper position. Mark the ends of the slots just to the outside of the body and then cut them (the top slot should be about 1/4"-3/8" down from the throat of the body). Try fitting the finished body through the slits; they should fit snug, but if they are too tight lengthen your slots a VERY little bit at a time until the body fits. Go slow, make it too loose and you will be starting over.Once the proper length is found, use a small hole punch (about 1/8") and punch a hole at the ends of both slots. This helps prevent tear out. With all of that done, you can now breathe a bit easier and cut the skirt's outline to the proper size. Again make sure that there is at least 3/4" from the ends of the slots to the edge of the skirt.

If you want to use the riveted loop, which I prefer, instead of the slotted loop, do the following: Make the skirt 3/4 of an inch wider on each side than the sheath body. Next take a strip of leather about 1 1/2 inches wide (actual width depends on the size of the blade - make it the right width to look good) and cut it to length so it fits it snugly around the body. Draw a center line down the skirt and match the two ends of the loop to this line. Place it vertically along this center line so that it will wrap around the sheath body at the correct height (about 1/4" - 3/8" from the mouth). Glue it down with a couple of spots of contact cement to hold it in place. I then rivet it using three speedy rivets or copper rivets to a side in a triangle pattern with the base of the triangle aligned along the vertical seam and third rivet on each side goes about 2/3 of the way out to the edge of the body.

VARIATION #2: To make the edge of the skirt scalloped I use a 7/16" or 1/2" arch punch (circle punch) on which I have ground away 1/2 of the circle. Then match the bottom and top curves to meet the scallops. Practice on some scrap first.

SECTION 6:
Once the belt loop is attached to the back and before gluing/sewing the back to the front you need to dye and seal the inside (flesh side) of the sheath. I apply dye with a dauber and let dry thoroughly (12 to 24 hours usually). Once the dye is dry I add 3-4 LIGHT coats of Fiebings Leather Balm with Atom Wax. Let it dry thoroughly between coats.

SECTION 7:
You are now on the downhill side. Carefully Contact cement the front and back together making sure that you line all edges up as close as possible. After contact cementing I like to let the glue dry over night. Sand the edges again and then follow the steps in my WRTC Sewing Tutorial. Once you are finished sewing, sand the edges again and burnish lightly. After sewing the blade will sometimes be a bit snug, so I put a LIGHT coat of olive oil on it and push it all the way into the sheath and let it sit overnight. Check it every couple of hours just to make sure that no moisture got stuck inside. Leather is malleable and will mold itself to the blade by doing nothing more than this. If you have done everything right your sheath should fit the blade like the proverbial glove. Don't be disappointed though if it doesn't. This is not an exact science and I have a box full of rejects to prove that statement - as a professional I have a responsibility to my customers so nothing leaves my shop unless it's right.

IMPORTANT NOTE: On the Fink Sheath you will see that there are rivets at both corners at the ends of the seam. These are cutlers rivets that were ground to fit exactly the thickness of the sheath with virtually no compression of the leather. Regular rivets would most likely compress the layers of leather to the point that it would make it difficult to draw or sheathe the blade.

SECTION 8:
You are now ready to dye and finish. Here are some tips and the method I use:

For most of my commercial work on veg-tan leather I use Fiebings Leather dye (not the Pro oil dye - see below for hint), but Lincoln brand is also very good. There are natural dyes, but I'll take that up in another tutorial. When using commercial dyes, do it in a very well ventilated area!

HINT #4: How to make your own oil dye. Pour an 1/8 cup of olive oil in with a quart of your dye. Mix well. You can even put the dye and oil into a blender and give it a few whirls (no you shouldn't mix up your margaritas in it later!) (And, realize that a full quart will not fit in the blender, so do it in 2 batches). The oil helps penetration and also feeds the leather back some of the oils that are leached out from the chemicals in the dye.

In reference to veg-tan leather, you should de-glaze the smooth side before dying or finishing. I use denatured alcohol and if that doesn't quite cut it I use acetone. You can get leather de-glazer from Fiebings or Tandy but the above two are cheaper and work just as well. Also you can use denatured alcohol to thin your dye if you want a lighter color.

Application Methods:

1) Dampen the leather's surface with water just before dying. This opens the pores and will help you get an even coat, but it is still difficult to get it really even.
2) Use an airbrush or paint sprayer.
3) The simplest and easiest way and the method I use is to dip dye. After everything is sewn together I plug the mouth of the sheath. For this type of sheath I use a piece of wood whittled to fit. Then take a quart of dye and pour it into a plastic container that is big enough to put the whole sheath into at once (those cheap plastic "sweater" boxes work great - just don't store the dye in them as they aren't air tight and the dye will dissipate). If the dye isn't deep enough to cover the sheath completely just turn it over and roll it around until you get a nice even coat. Take it out of the dye and wipe any excess off with an old towel. Remove the mouth plug and hang the sheath up to dry. When the sheath is COMPLETELY dry, thoroughly wipe off the fine film of dye powder left on the surface. If you don't get this film off before applying your final finish it will leach through and rub off onto everything.
4) Bone/smooth your edges again until smooth. Depending on what type of finish you want I use one of the following water resistant finishes:

  • Semi-gloss: Fiebings Leather Balm w/atom wax
  • Low-gloss: Fiebings Tan Kote
  • Easy oil type: Montana Pitch Blend (a mixture of mink oil, pine pitch, and beeswax-similar to the oil/wax bath but you just have to rub it on. If you hit it with the heat from a hair dryer or set it out in the hot sun it will soak right in. Wipe off any excess)
  • I got this one from the now defunct Mast Harness supply folks who were Amish and therefore knew of what they spoke when it came to harness and other real using leather: Use Gum Tragacanth as a final top coat . It gives a real low sheen finish that seems to bring out the beauty in the leather like nothing else I've ever used. I often use it on my commercial stuff before using Leather Balm or Tan Kote to bring out the hi-lites.
  • With any of these if you get too much on or they streak a bit, de-glaze with denatured alcohol and reapply.

Remember it is always best to use several light coats of finish instead of heavy coats. With any of these suggested finishes, if you get too much on, rub the leather down with a clean denatured alcohol rag and then reapply. As always practice/experiment on scrap.

SECTION 9:
Once the finish is dry fit the body through the loop. Now here is the final trick I learned from making many of these. Remember how we sewed the belt loop 3/4" from the top of the sheath? Well the reason why is no matter how snug you get that loop, over time it loosens and the body tends to "pull up" when you draw the knife. So what I came up with is to place a rivet just below the mouth that goes through the front of the belt loop (the side that is sewn to the body) and the back of the loop/skirt. Carefully flex the sheath so you get access to the area of the belt loop just above where it is sewn to the body. Punch a hole through the two layers of the loop and set a speedy rivet or a copper rivet (the speedy's are simpler to set). Voila! you are done.


For those of you who would like to persue knife sheathmaking further
we offer a 4 hour 2 disc DVD
Custom Knife Sheaths

The above tutorial was written to share with my fellow leather craftsman on the
KnifeNetwork Forums Sheathmaking forum.
This Tutorial is copyrighted as of 2000 - all rights are reserved by Wild Rose Trading Company.
Printing a copy or copies for private, non-commercial use is allowed.
Any commercial use is strictly prohibited.
Any non-commercial leather working site wishing to display or link to this tutorial
must get written permission from Wild Rose Trading Company

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