Re: [medieval-leather] Thread question
- On Wed, 16 Mar 2005 10:01, William Stephenson wrote:
> For medieval footwear I exclusively use Barbour flax/linen thread - mostlyOoh, where do you get that from? Here in NZ I'm mostly stuck using what ever
> 5 cord LH twist. It's getting harder and harder to fine good long
> staple linen thread though.
my poxy local leather shop has when I wander in. I'm having Ok success with
some stuff from a saddlery shop but it's horribly expensive and doesn't come
on decently big spools.
- Here it comes at last: the DIY instructions on how I make scabbards.
Please note that I am mostly self-taught and there may be huge gaps
in my knowledge that I am not aware of. If you spot such gaps or just
have a differing opinion, please share it on the list or get in touch
with me off-list. It is not my aim to unwittingly spread
There are three line-drawings to go with this text. Would the person
who offered to put them on the web on my behalf please contact me off-
list to sort this out? Thanks.
How to make a Seax Scabbard with a Metal Edge Binding
(by Ana Deissler)
The majority of finds for seax-scabbards show the widely spaced marks
from riveting holes rather than stitching holes. These scabbards were
edged with a strip of metal, the sharp edge of the blade facing
towards the metal edge. And if you have ever accidentally cut through
the stitching of a sewn-up scabbard it immediately makes sense. A
metal-binding also stiffens the scabbard which again makes a lot of
sense if you wear it suspended horizontally from your belt and move
about a lot no accidental stabs in the belly or similar. The
following instructions describe how I make such scabbards, using
totally unauthentic techniques, but the result looks right. I am sure
that there are other and better ways of making a seax-scabbard with a
metal edge, but here follows my version.
I use copper-edging - it is not clear what material the edge would
have been - to my knowledge there are no finds with the edge still
on. If you know of any, please let me know. All the evidence I have
seen in the flesh was an exhibit at the Museum of London with an iron
rivet still stuck in it, but no metal-binding left. In the absence of
clearer evidence I choose to use copper for the edge and the rivets
and vegetable tanned leather for the scabbard itself. Do not use
modern chrome-tanned leather for this as it does not stretch
sufficiently and the metallic salts in it may interact with the seax-
blade when wet.
Developping the pattern for the leather of the scabbard:
For this you cut a piece of thick but pliable vegetable-tanned
leather into roughly the right shape, leaving a lot of trimming
allowances all round. Seax-scabbards are longer than on modern
knives and also encase approx. 2/3 to 3/4 of the length of the
handle. In order to be able to draw the seax properly the opening of
the scabbard must be loose enough to stick one finger inside when
drawing the knife. Allow for this extra room and extra length when
cutting the rough shape of the leather. Then you soak it in water and
when it has gone all floppy you just mold it around the seax with the
cutting edge of the blade facing towards the centre-line of the
leather. It might be a good idea to wrap the seax in clingfilm first
to prevent it from rusting when doing this. Mold the leather tightly
around the seax. Mark where the seax inside stops and the trimming
margins begin. You do this with a scratching tool like a thick
darning needle or similar tool - not with a pencil or biro that
leaves permanent coloured marks. When marking around the butt of the
handle remember to measure and shape around it with your index-finger
held alongside the handle inside the scabbard to allow for room for
this finger when drawing the seax later.
Then add to this outline the seam-allowances that will later be
covered by the metal-edge. This is where you determine how tightly
the scabbard will fit later. You will want it a bit too tight so that
the leather needs to stretch a little in the last stages of scabbard-
making . These stretched areas will grip the seax firmly enough to
keep it safely in the scabbard when you are moving around. Before
adding the seam allowances add approx. 5% of the scabbard length to
the tip-end of the scabbard and re-shape the outline with this longer
and pointier tip. Work out the width for each seam-allowance as
follows: Halve the width of the edge of the metal-strip minus 1.5
times the thickness of the leather you are using. Mark a parallel
line along each side of the scabbard at the calculated distance and
cut this shape out of the leather.
If you want to decorate the scabbard by tracing patterns on it, this
is the time to do it.
Take a pattern from an archaeological source and re-draw it to fill
the pattern and shape for your knife.
Allow the pre-cut scabbard to dry out first, then dampen it by
wiping it with a wet sponge - do not soak.
Get a piece of solid cardboard - not the corrugated kind - the shape
of the pattern. Cover in clingfilm. Put the leather on top. Cover in
clingfilm. Fix the drawing of the decorative pattern on top. Fix by
sellotaping to the cardboard carrier. Transfer the decorative pattern
onto the leather by tracing it with a pen that has run out of ink or
some other such implement. Done.
Alternatively you can decorate the leather by piercing scratching or
slashing - check the archarological sources for what was done -
mostly blunt tracing as described above to my knowledge.
Preparing the scabbard before attaching the edge binding:
Let it dry if you made it damp.
Cut a feather along the edges where the metal-strip is to go. This
means that you cut a long strip of a triangular cross section off
the flesh-side of the leather so that the edge is less than the
original thickness of the leather. This makes it easier to encase it
in the metal strip later.
Cover both long edges in glue and glue together to give the scabbard
its raw shape.
Preparing the metal edge:
If you cannot get sheet copper, bronze or maybe iron (iron will
blacken the leather when wet, long before it starts to rust), make it
yourself by cutting open and flattening a copper pipe. Alternatively
a copper-pipe of reasonable thinness can be hammered flat without
sawing it open first. Cut into a rectangle approx. 2cm longer than
what you need and round off the edges with a file (raw edges will
chafe your clothing and may cut your skin).
Cut also two strips of copper approx. 1cm wide and 4cm long - these
are to be two fittings, later to have two rings inserted and then
leather loops attached to hang the scabbard horizontally, tip
pointing slightly downward from your belt. Just put them to one side
for now. They are to become two v-shaped bits to be riveted to the
main metal-strip, holding a ring in the bend. Later a narrow strip of
leather will be fed through the ring, sewn into a loop and then the
belt threaded through the leather-loop.
Bend the large metal strip lengthwise to an angle of 90 degrees in
the bench-vice. Mark a centreline first and clamp it in the vice
lined up with the upper edge, protruding just the same amount as the
thickness of the metal sheet you are using (this ensures that the
crease is going to run down the centre of the strip rather than being
slightly off to one side). Hammer over the edge of the vice.
Mark the future location of the rivets on the metal strip.
The first rivet should be approx. 1cm from the knife-tip-end of the
strip, then one approx. every 2-4cm depending on the size of the
scabbard. Do not mark the location for the last rivet at the handle-
end as it will not end up exactly where you hope it will.
Mark two special riveting points but make them part of the riveted
One approx. ¼ of the length from the tip-end, one approx. 1/8 of the
length from the handle end.
I use copper rivets of no more than 2mm diameter with not too
prominent a head if I can get them. This is at least in dimension
correct from what I know of archaeological examples although I am not
sure if rivets made of copper were used or if they were all made from
Attaching the metal-edge to the scabbard:
The trick is to force the curved edge of the leather scabbard into a
straight shape. In order for this to work you must start at the knife-
tip end of the scabbard. You will gradually bend the metal-strip
closed around the leather-edge and rivet, then force the leather into
the metal-groove and rivet the next section in place.
To start this process hammer the groove in the metal-strip closed so
far that the tip-end of the scabbard can be squeezed in. Take a piece
of strong string and tie it into a loop with a knot that does not
shift. This loop should be large enough to slide over the scabbard-
tip and only large enough to allow it to slide up the scabbard and
edge approx. 2cm away from your first riveting point thereby pushing
the leather-edge into the metal groove and holding it there.
Hammer the metal edge closed over the tip. Immobilize with a clamp.
Drill a hole for the first rivet and insert a rivet. Leave the little
stalk that is to be peened over rather small to give only a small
riveted finish, not a large lump.
Make another slightly larger loop of string, slide it farther up the
scabbard to force
The next section of the curved edge into the metal-groove, hammer
shut. Depending on the size of your seax this second rivet may
already be one of the fastening points for hanging the seax
horizontally from your belt. Take one of the small metal-strips and
bend it in half in a V-shape (not lengthwise this time). Insert a
ring into the bend and slide it over the metal-edge, position it
flush with the edge of where the metal meets the leather. This ring
should be rather small. It is only there to slide a strip of leather
through it that then will be sewn into a loop that will be threaded
onto your belt. Drill through all layers and use a longer rivet to
allow for the extra thickness.
Get the next loop of string obviously you can remove the strings
once the rivets are in place and work your way in sections towards
When you have nearly reached the end, and you can see where exactly
the scabbard is going to end when inserted into the metal-strip, cut
it off at the right length with the tin snips and round off the edges
with a file before hammering the groove shut.
Continue and finish riveting the full length of the scabbard. Do not
forget to put the second fastening strip for the belt-fastening into
Shaping the scabbard and finishing off:
Insert the seax with the sharp edge facing towards the metal edge and
try for size.
It will be slightly too small. That is intended.
Remove the seax and fill the scabbard with water and leave to soak.
Leave on the draining board to let excess water run off for a while.
Wrap the seax into several layers of clingfilm. Then wind a single
layer of sellotape round the entire length of the seax. If it is a
sharp seax attach a few strips of sellotape over the cutting edge
before wrapping in clingfilm.
Your scabbard should be drip-dry now. Insert the seax. Yes it will
not go in as far as you hoped. And no wonder, the shoulder in the
blade is now facing the"wrong" way and the bulk of the handle hits a
tight spot too. No problem, you chose to use vegetable tanned leather
and it will stretch. Gently bash the scabbard vertically on the floor
with the handle-end to force the seax deeper into its scabbard. Now
it is nicely stuck.
Leave over night to dry at room temperature. Placed on a towel or
some such, never on a profiled surface and definitely not on top of a
In the morning gather all your energy and if possible a helper. Pull
the seax out of the scabbard. This can be hard to do. If you are
really stuck take a hammer and gently tap the edges starting at the
tip-end. That should loosen it up enough to get the seax out again.
Once you got your knife back out remove all the clingfilm and sello-
tape. And leave the empty scabbard for another couple of days to dry
out properly. If you put the seax into the scabbard now it should
slide in well and be "gripped" by the tight leather sections that
were stretched. It should be just tight enough to hold it inside the
scabbard safely when you are moving about.
Now you can oil the leather or paint patterns on (but I know of no
evidence of how they were painted).
Feed two flat leather strips through the metal rings. Stitch
together flatly to leave the loops just wide enough for the belt to
The tip-end suspension loop should be longer than the one at the
handle-end so that the tip points downwards at an angle of approx. 15
The Archaeology of York The Small Finds 17/4 , Finds from
Parliament Street and Other Sites in the City Centre, Dominic
Tweddle, published 1986 for the York Archaeological Trust by the
Council for British Archaeology
The Archaeology of York The Small Finds 17/16, Craft, Industry
and Everyday Life, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Skandinavian
and Medieval York, Quita Mould, Ian Carlisle and Esther Cameron