By Todd Walker
A large part of self-reliance is learning to make your own gear. You’ll get FAT in two areas – your wallet and skill set!
Tools are essential for self-reliance, survival, and preparedness. You want the best you can afford. You’re not going to find heirloom quality tools, the kind you pass down to your children and grandchildren, in a big box store. Nor do you want to stake your survival on “Made in China” junk. So what’s the common man and woman to do?
Make your own!
Remember the True Temper ax I bought that wasn’t for sale? Well, it needed some TLC and a mask/sheath. Every cutting tool you use in the field should have a cover to protect the tool and you. Instead of paying to have a custom-made mask, I decided to make my own.
It’s been exactly 40 years since I did any serious leather craft. Check out the last picture in this post to see my first leather project I made in Industrial Arts Class in the 7th grade – back in the day when school kids were allowed to learn self-reliance skills like leather work, welding, and carpentry.
Ahhh, Smell the Leather!
You can make a sheath or mask for your cutting tools by repurposing old leather goods. Since I’ve taken on leather work as one of my Doing the Stuff skills this year, I decided to buy a shoulder of 8-9 ounce vegetable tanned leather from Tandy Leather. A few leather working tools were added to my arsenal as well. Of course, you could use common everyday tools to get the job done.
Gather the Stuff
- Razor/utility knife
- Cardboard or file holder for the template
- Marker and pencil
- Straight edge
- Needles and thread
- Hardware – snaps and studs (optional)
You don’t have to tap your 401k to get started. Substitute an ice pick or other pointy object for an awl. I used a drill with a 5/32″ bit to make stitching holes for the rounded portion of the mask. Get creative and save money.
Make Your Template
Use a thin cardboard box or file folder to lay out your template. A cereal or 12 pack beer box makes a thicker template and is easier to trace around.
Outline the ax with a pencil and cut out the image with scissors.
Draw a straight line on the other folder using a straight edge.
Center the ax head on the line and draw the shape on the folder.
Now align the full cut out of the ax to the top profile you just traced. Draw a line around full ax profile. Be sure to match the ends of the full profile to the top profile.
Once you trace the full ax, you will sketch a 1/2 welt where the cutting edge will rest in the mask. The welt is where the blade rests inside the sheath to protect the stitching. I took this design from my Wetterlings ax mask. As you can see, the welt at the toe of the ax is short. If the welt is extended too far towards the handle on this design, the ax head won’t fit in the mask.
Label and store the template for later projects.
Ready for Leather
Lay the template on your leather and outline it with a marker.
I’ve seen people cut leather with scissors and razors. I chose to use a utility knife. Take it slow and cut the line. You want a tight fit as the leather will stretch with use.
Next, cut the welt portion off of the template. Transfer the welt template to the leather. After I traced and cut the full welt, it dawned on me that I only need half of the welt in the mask. Learn from my mistake.
Dry fit the mask by securing the welt inside the mask with a few clips. This will revel any needed adjustments and test the fit on the ax head.
Holes – Glue – Grooves
To secure your mask to the ax head, punch an appropriate sized hole in one side of the leather to accept a snap. Without hardware, you could use a leather thong to secure the mask. Use whatever you have on hand.
Once you punch the first hole, align the mask by folding it over and punch through the first hole to create the second hole on the opposite side of the mask. You’re now ready to add snaps or studs to secure the strap.
Bevel the inside and outside edges with a beveling tool. This isn’t necessary for function but adds a finished touch to the project.
If you have an adjustable grooving tool, set the width to about 1/4 of an inch and groove the edges where stitching will go. I got carried away and ran a groove all the way around the mask even where no stitching will appear. Very cool tool!
Apply an all-purpose cement to one side of the welt and the mask. Follow the directions on the glue for wait times before connecting the two pieces.
Once the glue is cured, punch holes in the groove for stitching through the mask and welt. I used the new 4 pronged thonging tool. You can use an ice pick, awl, or anything that will punch through the leather. I used a drill for the rounded corners. [Experienced leather crafters, I need advice on lining up the stitching holes on the other side of the mask.]
Attach a strap to the mask with a rivet or stud. I used a screw stud. The strap needs to fit snug. Leather will stretch with use.
I dressed up the strap with a fancy buffalo snap from Tandy.
Here’s a quick video I found helpful for the saddle stitching on my mask.
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I haven’t decided if I will dye this project or not. I may just treat it with Fixin’ Wax and call it good!
As promised, the picture below captures my 40 year span of leather work – ha! Don’t laugh, folks, mushrooms and leather were hot in 1974! 🙂
This is our first post in a series called Self-Reliant Summer. We’re highlighting the top skills members are learning in the Doing the Stuff Network! Hope you’ll join us.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance!
This article first appeared at Survival Sherpa: Self-Reliant Summer: DiY Custom Leather Mask for a Heirloom Ax