The knife and sheath combo that settled the American West.
Have you ever wanted to make your own frontier-worthy accouterment, like a custom sheath for a belt knife?
A sheath that not only looks good but really works-
I did, but I also needed a proper knife to start the process.
To my surprise, I only had to go as far as my kitchen to find it.
The simple butcher knife ruled much more than the kitchen. This style of knife was essential to families and frontiersmen for over three centuries. The butcher knife’s usefulness extended far beyond the kitchen; we know this from old text and pictures.
Knives like these dominated the fur trade, won the west and held favor in most homes in early Western civilization. For a good reason, every house, chuckwagon, and frontiersman had at least one and has proven its worth on every continent.
They’re simple, inexpensive, and easy to produce…what was not to love?
But how were they carried?
Some carried knives and large sharps in a tool roll or cloth bag. This was the safest way to carry large knives over distance, and having an extra swatch of material for that purpose was not hard to find at that time.
I do not think there were too many swashbuckling pirates’ that grasped them between clenched teeth!
So let’s look at the more realistic approach to carrying a sizeable butcher-style knife…The sash belt or leather belt carry-
Early frontiersmen of the fur trade era carried most of their tools everywhere they traveled. This included an extra long sash belt used for many things, and one of those uses was to have a secure way to hold a wrapped knife close to their side.
To have an unwrapped or unsheathed knife so close to the body was just plain silly, so they made sheaths for the big knives.
At that time, processed leather was at a premium!
Commercial furs and leathers came from the tanner or local tannery, if at all.
Most premium leathers were shipped off to be made into garments, hats, and boots. The natives used leathers of the brain-tanned type. This natural process made thick leather supple and more enjoyable to wear. It soon became a staple for those who lived in the wilds at that time. There were more animals with thick leather than women and textile mills to make their clothing-
One of the attributes of quality brain tan leather is it's soft and pliable. This is okay if you want to cover and protect the blade of a large butcher knife, but to carry it, you need something a bit more robust.
At the time, natives carried bone tools and essential items in “parfleche” bags: Parfleche is another word for rawhide.
Rawhide was used extensively during that time and was a handy item to have and make. You skinned the animal, scraped the flesh from the hide, and stretched it on a rack or frame to make rawhide. This frame could be pinned to the ground, but a raised rack would deter bugs and most small critters wanting a quick chew.
After the hide was dried, they either kept the hair on or scraped it off. Mostly the hair was scraped off because the hide was not tanned or smoked to keep the hair from falling off at a later date. When done, the rawhide could be re-wetted and shaped, then dried again to a rigid and almost woody feel… it was a perfect way to sheath sharp knives and tools for extended carry.
Fast forward to the modern ages-
Now we can find and source rawhide in many forms.
Dog chews are one of the “go-to” articles of modern-made rawhide that can be further processed down into a thin sheet…IF you buy the proper dog chew. This can be very tedious, and after the extra work you place into making the dog toy a usable sheet of parfleche…you will soon realize that it's better to buy a commercially dried hide if you want to produce some high-quality arts and crafts.
A pocket-style sheath will accommodate many knife styles.
I love my butcher knives for the same reasons our grandparents did- they were simple, effective, and easy to obtain.
The sheaths that I make are just as effective as they are useful!
To make a quality rawhide sheath, you need just a few basic tools and materials, here is a helpful list to get you started…
One of my paper templates ...and some miscellaneous tools that I've used when making rawhide sheaths.
CLICK HERE for this scannable PDF template!
***NOTE: This template is made from 2 separate pages of print paper. You simply download, print, cut out the pattern, and tape/transfer it to rawhide. Thanks-jb
You start with a template created by tracing the knife you want to sheath. Then you transfer and cut out the shape using tools from your tool list. I prefer heavy medical shears or special leather shears, but a simple utility knife will do-
I encourage you to use your own butcher knife. It can be a large butcher like this OLD HICKORY BUTCHER STYLE KNIFE, or a smaller paring knife of the same style. This sheath pattern can easily be modified to fit smaller knives.
If you do not have a knife suitable here are 2 inexpensive models to choose from-
Many of the sheaths I make are made from 6-8oz rawhide leather bought in “bends” from Tandy or Weaver leather. It can be bleached or natural. I prefer natural for its imperfect color patterns; it adds to the vintage weathered look.
The tools I use can be found in almost any home or workshop.
Being the thrifty craftsman, I outsource my dyes and accouterments from many places like shoe outlets, craft stores, and local hardware stores.
Let your imagination be your only limitation when creating knife sheaths and other projects from rawhide.