Wet Molding Leather and Making Pouches for Victorinox Swiss Army Knives

This time I am learning a new leatherworking technique: wet molding leather. With wooden molds I make sheaths for three of my Victorinox Swiss Army knives out of veg tan leather.

Video transcript:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Tony Needs Hobbies. My name is Tony and in this video I will be making sheaths or pouches for these three Victorinox swiss army knives out of 3.5mm thick or 9 ounce veg tan leather. Have fun watching!

To begin I start by marking the lines to be cut with the awl on my victorinox swiss army knife. The one that I am using in this video is the Victorinox Pioneer Farmer Alox. It is my favorite because it has just the few tools that I regularly use, and a little saw, that I never use. I’ll post a link in the description with more information about this wonderful knife.
Then, to cut the leather I use a regular box cutter. I don’t always use a ruler to guide me at this stage. That is because these leather sheets will be wet molded later on in the process. After that they need some trimming to get clean edges, so there is no need in making very accurate and precise cuts at this stage. Just do your best and try not to be too sloppy.

To prepare for this project, I watched many videos posted by Chuck Dorset of Weaver Leathercraft Supply. He shows that wet molding isn’t too difficult if you take your time and work carefully. An important step is preparing the mold. You can use many materials for this, like stacked pieces of scrap leather or plywood. At the moment I don’t have enough scrap leather so I opted for wood. To make the outer part of the molds I use 15mm or 5/8 of an inch thick plywood. This also matches the thickness of two out of three knives that I am making sheaths for. For the third one, the outer mold will be 15mm as well, but the knife itself, a Victorinox Solo Alox, is somewhat thinner, so for the inner mold I will use 9mm or 3/8 of an inch thick plywood. I pre-drill holes to get nice rounded corners on the outer molds and cut all the pieces with a jigsaw.

When leather is soaked it will be very pliable and soft. That means that every dent or roughness in the wood will be transferred into the leather and will remain visible when the leather dries again. I learned this the hard way when stitching leather that did not thoroughly dry during my last project: making a case for a pair of sunglasses. This time I will use all the tools to my disposal to make these molds as smooth as can be to get the best possible result in the end. I recently got a small disc sander, but effectively, you can only us half of it, as you should only use the part of the disc that moves downwards. I should have bought a bigger one. Please remember to always wear personal protective equipment. If I was not wearing protective glasses, this piece of wood would have hit one of my eyes.

Then I only need to round off all the edges that will come into contact with the wet leather to ensure that the molds will not leave any marks on the leather when it is wet. I do this by using files and a lot of hand sanding. Once all the molds are finished, I can finally start with some actual leatherworking.

To get the leather nice and soft, I soak it in plenty of water at room temperature. I leave it in there for 20 to 30 seconds, then I take the leather out and let it sit for five minutes so that all the water can soak into it. If there is still a bit of water on top of the leather after those five minutes, it means that the leather doesn’t absorb any more water so you’re good to go. Just wipe it off with a clean cloth, get your molds ready and start forming the leather. I start with the thinnest mold, because I thought it would be the easiest one. With some careful stretching I managed to clamp the thick leather nice and tight between the two pieces of the mold. Then I repeated it for the two thicker molds, with a little bit more hand molding before clamping tightly. When everything was clamped up, I left the leather in the molds for three hours. Then I took the formed pieces out so that they could dry completely. That took about 24 hours. This time I took my time and didn’t hurry because I learned that you get the best results if you take your time.

When the leather has dried I use a box cutter to trim off the excess leather. This needs to be done carefully because this will give these leather parts their definitive shape. I use my Stanley knife again, guided by a stainless steel ruler to make straight cuts. Then I trim of the corners to round of the bottom of the part. I am making three sheaths, so I repeat this two more times.

On to the backside and the flap. This together is one piece. It’s really straightforward: I measure the width of the front side and cut a 17,5cm or 7 inches long strip of leather with the same width. Using an awl and a paint can (or any other round object) I mark an English point on the leather and then cut it off of it. Then I punch the holes for the snap buttons using a hole punch and a mallet. To make burnishing later on easier I break the edges using an edge beveler. Everything will be beveled, except for the part of the leather where it will be glued and stitched. There I only do the top grain side of the leather. Before pressing the buttons in place, one of the pouches will be stained using a 75% diluted dark brown leather dye. Then I fix the buttons to the leather and prepare for stitching.

Before I will start with punching, gluing and stitching, I give the leather a neatsfoot oil treatment to prevent it from drying out in order not to get any cracks later on. Then it’s time to punch the holes for stitching with diamond hole punches. I do my utmost best to match the positions of the holes on the front and back part for easier stitching. Then I apply a bit of contact cement on both sides, let it dry for a minute and clamp all the parts together tightly using these little clamps. Be sure the leather is dry or these clamps will leave their marks.

Previously I always melted the waxed nylon thread using a heated up screwdriver. Last time however, it left a mark on the leather so I looked into a new method of sealing the ends of the thread and I found that most people do it by cutting of the thread, and burning the ends with a lighter and then rubbing the melted ends flat. This works way  better than what I did before so that’s what I will be doing from now on.

And that brings me to the final step: slicking the edges. Using a piece of 400 grit sandpaper I make sure that everything is smooth before applying just enough water to dampen the leather. If you apply too much, the leather will mushroom over the edge and that doesn’t look very nice. In case of the dyed leather pouch I apply diluted dye to edge to give it a similar color. Then it takes a bit of elbow grease to burnish these edges until everything looks nice and shiny. To seal the edges I rub them against a piece of beeswax and then burnish them once more with this hand slicker. Then I put my mark in them and check to see if all the pocket knives fit. By the way, as you can see the first one isn’t a Victorinox knife. It is actually my dad’s pocket knife made under license for the Dutch army in the 70s. Really cool.

I am really proud of these little pouches that I made for my Victorinox swiss army knives. For sure, they are my best leather working projects yet, especially this one which has the most regular stitching. Some other things that I learned that improved the final products are wet molding leather and sealing the burnished edges with beeswax. I hope you learned something from this video and if you did, please hit the like button and consider subscribing to my channel. I have almost reached 100 subs and am preparing a very neat giveaway, but that will be the next video, so for now, I would like to thank you for watching.

Bye, bye!

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