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Scabbard-Mkng-art - 8/17/07


"How to make a Seax Scabbard with a Metal Edge Binding" by Ana Deissler.


NOTE: See also the files: scabbards-msg, swords-msg, swordcare-msg, swordsmiths-msg, Sword-Fighting-art, leather-msg, bladesmithing-msg, lea-tanning-msg, leather-bib.





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    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Subject: [medieval-leather] DIY instructions for Seax Scabbards with Metal Edge Binding

Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 18:23:10 -0000

From: ana_deissler <anahay at btinternet.com>

To: medieval-leather at yahoogroups.com


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 misinformation.

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.


Developing 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 archaeological 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 centerline 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. 1/4 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

mild steel.


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

the handle-end.


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

feed through.


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-Scandinavian

and Medieval York, Quita Mould, Ian Carlisle and Esther Cameron


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org