July 09, 2013
Treestump Leather: Great Sheaths for Any Knife
By David E. Petzal
Chris Kravitt is the man behind Treestump Leather in Waltham, Maine. He turns out knife sheaths, holsters, belts, and damned near anything that can be made from the hides of dead cattle, birds, and reptiles. I met him in 1992, and over the years since I’ve ordered probably 50 sheaths. This is because many factory knifemakers look at the sheath as a good place to save money and little else, and because many custom smiths detest leatherwork and will throw something together just to get a knife out the door. So it follows as night follows day that I’ve owned a lot of very good knives with sheaths that have made the run from Wretched to Laughable with stops at Useless and Pathetic along the way.
A couple of years ago I decided to stop spending my adult-diaper and pablum money on sheaths and make my own. How difficult could it be to fashion something that simple? I bought some 9-ounce leather that had once belonged to a bull, needles, punches, waxed thread, an edger, dye, and found a shoemaker who agreed to let me use his buffing wheel.
After a dozen sheaths or so, I had the answer to the difficulty question. If, like me, you have no skill with your hands you can still make a serviceable, simple sheath. I could produce one that would hold the knife securely, not let the blade punch through, and did not cause people who saw it to say, “Was the guy who made that drunk at the time?”
But my sheaths were far from professional. The straight lines were not quite straight. The curves went at odd and eccentric tangents. The stitching was never even. The stain was piebald. There were pockmarks in the welt. I was not happy.
So I went back to Chris Kravitt. Mr. Kravitt, formerly a 60s hippy (VW Microbus and all), has been a sheath and holster maker since the early 1970s. He long ago figured out how to work leather and is very, very good with his hands. Chris can make you a dead-plain working sheath for $50 or so, or he can make you one so fancy that it will require insurance. He can do tooling, carving, contrasting dye work, and exotic-leather inlays. A number of custom cutlers who turn out art knives for thousands of dollars have him make their sheaths.
Recently, he was nice enough to let me watch over his shoulder as he made a sheath for a fighting knife I bought (for reasons that are still unclear) that “crude” does not begin to describe, but which takes a terrific edge and can’t be made to look any worse than it already does.
Watching Chris work (the entire job took about 3 ½ hours, including time to let the leather dry after dying), I saw that he was not doing anything that I hadn’t, but he did it with infinitely more skill and much faster. He cut everything freehand, but his straight lines were dead straight and his curves were symmetrical. The sheath parts, six of them altogether, looked like they had been stamped with a die. Everything matched. When he glued the pieces together prior to stitching there were no blobs of glue. The dye job was perfectly even. The welt (the edge of the sheath) looked like one piece of leather. And he did this while carrying on a conversation with me.
When I asked him how he was able to do this voodoo, he said “I’ve been at it for 40 years.” And he has had help along the way. For example, Chris learned how to hand-stitch leather (he uses two sewing machines for most of his work, though) from a Scots harness maker who showed him the way and gave him the tools.
This sheath was made for Paul Jarvis' award winning Persian short sword.
Although the ultra-fancy stuff is what he really enjoys, Chris will make a sheath for almost anything, including horrible old junker knives whose owners can’t bear to part with them. His favorite in this category is a hunting knife that was used to cut a newborn girl’s umbilical cord. Years later, the father involved got a new sheath, gave the knife to the daughter whose cord it had severed, and who now uses it when she hunts.
At the other end of the scale are knives that will never cut anything, but are works of art with sharp edges. They are engraved, inlaid, bejeweled, and can cost in the $100,000 range. Chris will make an appropriate sheath for one of them.
You may not have such a masterpiece of the cutler’s art, but if you have a knife whose sheath is crummy and/or worn out, go to Treestumpleather.com and see what Chris can do for you.