Stuart Knife scabbards a different way

This article serves a number of purposes. Firstly, for me to show off a couple of the scabbards I’ve made and secondly, to discuss the trends in scabbard construction and fashion during the late Stuart period.

Here is a photo of two scabbards I’ve made. What is unusual about them is that they are glued rather than stitched in the conventional manner.

The front and back of the knife scabbards,
click to eviscerate.

There. Now showing off is safely out of the way, lets get on with the construction. Both are based on scabbards from London in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Interestingly, there appears to have been a decline in the number of scabbards found during this time, but no corresponding decrease in the number of knife finds. This reflects a change in men’s fashion, where wearing a scabbarded knife was no longer de rigueur. In fact, there are a total of three scabbards known from this period, two of traditional construction, and one showing all the techniques of bookbinding instead. It is this last one I copied for the regimental scabbards, taking a bit of artistic licence making it one of a matched pair. Apart from it being a chance to practice my embossing skills, the main reason for the choice was that there is no stitching for buggers to cut when putting the knives back.

knife scabbards.gif

The top of the original scabbard is damaged, so I’ve based the way they fit the knife handles on some earlier scabbards and an early 17th century pen knife in the Museum of London.

After making a paper pattern and roughly cutting the leather to shape, the leather was dampened and shaped by stretching and clamping around wooden knife-shaped formers the same shape but slightly thicker than each knife.

The gluing was done once the leather was dry, before any of the design was applied. This was mainly to ensure that the shape was more or less final and embossed parallel lines were approximately parallel and the lines going around the blades didn’t spiral. If I’d done the embossing first, it would have changed shape where the leather stretched. If you prefer to do the embossing flat and then mould and glue, go ahead: that’s how I do scabbards with knot work designs where distortion of the design is less noticeable.

The design consists of stamped diamonds, fleur-de-lis and arabesques, framed with straight lines and highlighted with short parallel lines and dots. I made the diamond and lily stamps from scraps of metal lying about, the thin curves from the edge of a bit of thin steel cut off a forged spearhead socket, the rondelling with a plastic gear from Andrew’s Meccano and the dots with an old bit of brass rod. The frame was embossed in the now traditional method with the back of a butter knife.

With both these scabbards, I deliberately avoided using any modern leatherworking equipment. One reason was because I could, but the main reason is that it’s unnecessary and proves there’s no any excuse about not being able to find or afford the gear. Total time from start to finish was three evenings while watching telly.


Egan, G., Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition – Tudor and Stuart period finds c1450-c1700 from Excavations at Riverside Sites in Southwark MoLAS Monograph 19, London, 2005

Big Book Erratum – Chapter 5, Luggage

In the Big Book on p53, I feature an illustration from John Waterer’s Leather in Life, Art and Industry, with, what in my defence I will point out is Waterer’s original caption.


English travelling trunk of pinewood covered with cowhide, ornamented with brass studs. Second half of the 17th century. 

It transpires that it is a Queen Anne chest, reputedly Queen Anne’s chest (1702-1714) and dates from the first quarter of the eighteenth century. A contemporary chest of drawers appeared on Antiques Roadshow in 2013 and has more recently been authenticated.

Note the similarity of the bunch of grapes on both this chest and the Roadshow one.

Click to view the clip:

The Newport Ship reports

If anyone is interested in 15th century leatherwork, woodwork, or any aspect of maritime construction, the Newport Ship have their Specialist Reports online.

The introduction of the Fabric Specialist Report gives some background of the ship.

In 2002, during the construction of the Riverfront Theatre, on the banks of the River Usk in Newport, South Wales, an archaeological find of great significance was unearthed. In the summer of that year, while undertaking the excavations for the theatre’s orchestra pit, the well-preserved remains of a 15th century clinker built merchant vessel were discovered.

The leather catalogue is at:

Be prepared for turn-welted poleyns, leather pump components and an archer’s bracer (MSG 154 on p90).

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Inverness Museum & Art Gallery

Castle Wynd, Inverness, Inverness-shire, IV2 3EB

This was a rather nice small museum and gallery, tucked in at the foot of the castle mound. It manages to fit the whole period from when the earth had just started to cool, through to the week before last into two floors, concentrating on the Highlands. There’s an inevitable Pictish/Celtic slant throughout illustrated with a few quality finds from each location, period and racial grouping of your choice. We spent a wet morning there and managed to identify the snake we’d seen a few days earlier.


Bone pins

Bone dice

Bone die from Urquhart Castle, possibly loaded.

Bone objects from Bernera

Viking sword charm or toy.

Bone objects from Bernera

Shoe toggle and comb plate


Bonnie Prince Charlie dice box
This small copper alloy box with a miniature portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, painted in oils on a concealed ‘lid’ hidden beneath the outer kid of the box. It contains three ivory dice.


18th century powder horns

18th century powder horns

18th century powder horns


18th century powder horns


Horn cup 18-19th C

Horn cup with silver rim and mount, Robert Naughten (1786-1857)


Leather shoe sole

Leather shoe sole and reproduction. Castle Street, Inverness

Book binding, first edition Gaelic Bible, Bishop William Bedell. Published 1690
First edition Gaelic Bible, 1690

First edition Gaelic Bible, 1690

First edition Gaelic Bible, 1690

Leather faced Tage

Tage, 18th century, leather on wood with iron nails.

Leather case for a wax tablet

I saw in the site stats a few days ago that someone was here looking for information on satchels for holding Roman wax tables. It’s a little late now, but here’s one I prepared earlier, back in 1995 for a leatherworking competition at a re-enactmentconference.

Waxed tabula were used as note-books and for medium term document storage, and were usually bound into books of two or three leaves, however tabulae with up to five leaves were not uncommon. In the military context, they seem to have been used by officers for writing orders and jotting down notes. A rectangle tucked in a fold of the tunic behind the belt on some first century grave stones was identified as a tabula cerata by K. Korber in 1927 1. To protect these tabula bearing important information — possibly for transferral onto bronze or stone, satchels such as those from Barr Hill 2 or Vechten were used.

Leather case from Vechten

Drawing from van Driel, C., Leatherwork in the Roman Army Part 1

The case is copied from the one found at Vechten, which was flattened by the weight of the strata above it, so the reconstruction is based on the shape of the leather and the positioning of the stitch holes. Most commentators suggest that the leather would have been waxed or oiled to improve strength and moisture protection.

 This Recreation:

Roman Wax Tablet Case

Tab. Pomp. 15 was used as the model, as this tabula has three leaves and the available wood was about the right size. The thickness (11mm) was taken from fragments found in the hoard at Roman Corbridge, (AD80-163) as this attribute was omitted from the Pompeii catalogue.

The pine was thinned and hollowed with all the finishing done by hand. The binding holes were drilled, and the sealing groove was filed. The exposed surfaces were treated with olive oil, and the bees’ wax was melted and poured in to the recesses. The leaves were bound with 3mm leather thong.

The flat end of the stylus was forged from a rod of 6mmf brass and the point filed, the whole article then was tinned using the technique of lead-wiping. The stylus length was chosen by comparing the length of the stylus with the length of the tabulae of both the “Girl with pen and wax writing tablet” 3 wall painting from Pompeii and the London Procurator’s Office Tabula 4 and applying that relation to the tabula at hand. It seems likely that the stylus was the same length as the spine of the tabula, so the stylus could be pushed in to the ties for storage, without overhanging the ends and damaging either the stylus or case. This relation holds true in both examples.

Roman Wax Tablet Case

The case was made from vegetable tanned leather from the top split of the hide (next to the skin). It was sewn using black dyed linen thread which had been rubbed with bees’ wax. The type of stitch used is the same as used on leather shield covers (tegimen), leather “envelopes”, and tents (papillio) of the period. The label was cut and attached — it may have been used to address the document. The leather envelopes from Vindolanda are known to have had the address and seal sewn on 5, and the tabula found at Roman Corbridge were associated with small scraps of papyrus 6 which may have carried addresses. The case was finally treated with olive oil for moisture-proofing.

[1] K. Korber, Mainzer Zeitschrift 2, 1907, p26: 11. 1916, p.57. Quoted in van Driel, C., Leatherwork in the Roman Army Part 1Exercitus: Vol 2 No1 (Winter 1986)

[2] Robertson, A., Scott, M., & Keppie, L., Barr Hill, A Roman Fort and its Finds BAR 16. 1975 fig28 no 39.

[3] Williams, Rosemary 1983 Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Abridged and Illustrated, Bison Books, 1983

[4] Scullard, H.H., Roman Britain — Outpost of the Empire, Thames & Hudson, 1991, p87

[5] Bowman A.K. & Thomas J.D., Vindolanda: the Latin writing tablets, Britannia Monograph Series no 4 1983

[6] Allason-Jones, L., & Bishop, M.C., Excavations at Roman Corbridge — The Hoard, English Heritage 1988, p86 & 87, Object 298 (Fig 103 — AMLab Photo )

Mandatory Downloading

The York Archaeological Trust have produced some excellent works over the years and have lately taken to publishing on-line as well as paper. In a move that’s making the fatted calves look somewhat nervous, they’ve now made some of their out-of-print fascules available as PDF files. The third one in the list is The Archaeology of York 17/16 Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York by Quita Mould, Ian Carlisle and Esther Cameron.

Grab some of the others while you’re at it, there’s horn and bone projects in them for you to try.

I’m busily downloading my copy, the server is a little slow, running only a few K per second, so be patient. I’m getting a faster download using IE8 than I did with Chrome, so try a different browser if it seems too slow or unreliable.

My thanks to Glenda and Jenny for pointing this page out to me.

Testing Times (via International Routier-the Blog)

This is a post I wrote for another blog a short time ago. While discussing a particular set of wooden tubs that I’ve been repairing and maintaining for some time, it gives a comparison between the performance of wooden and leather buckets over a 12 month period in the situation that leather buckets were most commonly used in – being left dry for extended periods of time and then needing to hold water immediately.  Obviously the findings aren’t valid for other locations and patterns of use where the buckets would be kept wet or used on a daily basis.

The testing was informal rather than structured but I found it interesting to note how the leather bucket performed in a variety of climactic conditions and rough handling, including freezing, 40 degree heat, humidity ranges from 4% to 100% (sometimes on consecutive days) and being dropped from a height of about 1 metre on to concrete. The wooden buckets were exposed to similar conditions and handling. I thought it might be of interest to readers here.

Testing Times Back in 2009, I wrote a post on making a 16th century leather water bucket. Given our recent discussion on the condition and life expectancy of the regimental buckets and tubs, I thought it time to present the findings on some comparative testing I’ve been doing over the past 12 months. The primary concern is how resistant the waterproofing is to use, abuse and rough handling and how much maintenance would be expected when compared to a similar w … Read More

via International Routier-the Blog