This is a “Rerun” post from the original blog – I’ll be putting these up here and there alongside the new posts but with their original date of publishing.
I’ve owned all kinds of multitools over the years, starting with a classic Swiss Army Knife which was confiscated about two days later because I’d threatened my little brother with it, through a wonderfully ridiculous hammer/spanner/screwdriver thing I never actually carried or used and the chunky Victorinox Cybertool which was a constant companion through my years as a freelance IT tech.
These days a CRKT “Eat’n Tool” (a titanium spork that doubles (quadruples?) as a hex wrench, screwdriver and bottle opener) is a permanent staple in my backpack, and I’ve fallen in love with the Leatherman, the beautifully engineered range of multitools built around a set of folding pliers. The proper grips make them a much more useful gripper, snipper, grabber and wirestripper than the Swiss Army Knife equivalents and they just feel nice in the hand.
I carry a Leatherman Wave in my bag most of the time, with a bit kit which makes it a full set of screwdrivers…
…and on my person whenever possible the Leatherman Squirt PS4. It’s only 6cm long but it’s got needlenose and regular pliers, screwdrivers, a file, bottle opener, wirecutters, scissors and of course a good sharp blade.
Even at its diminuitive size and relative lightness, in a smart pair of trousers the Squirt was an awkward weight and an unsightly bulge (ladies…). Belt pouches are a no-no for smart menswear, but I reckoned that the tiny Squirt would be almost invisible clipped to a belt. The only problem: Nobody was making a belt pouch for it. I scoured the forums, Ebay and Etsy, and only found generic pouches, sheaths with no belt clip or word of some crafter who no longer sold them. So my first leather project when I acquired a hide and some tools was to make this pouch myself.
I was inspired and educated by these articles, which are not just great step-by-step guides but have lots of excellent tips and peripheral information:
Research and Development
Reading the Beebe Knives article linked above, I liked the fact that the whole sheath including the belt loop was made from a single piece of leather, and I reckoned it should be fairly easy to do the same with this small sheath, making a stronger and more elegant result plus saving me some stitching.
I started out by prototyping with paper to get a feel for the shape and size needed…
…and then cut out a first draft leather version, allowing a little extra room to accommodate the thickness of the leather compared to the paper template. I’ll talk about some of the tools I’ve ended up using in another article.
As per the Art of Manliness article I soaked the leather in warm water for a few minutes, wrapped the multitool in clingfilm then wrapped the leather round it…
…holding it in place with bulldog clips.
It always looks so snug at this stage! Enjoy my psychedelic towel, incidentally.
Allowed to dry out like this, the leather keeps the shape it’s been held to (and hardens a little). It also shrinks slightly, although the clingfilm provides just enough padding to let the tool come easily out of the finished pouch. In earlier versions I shimmmed it with a piece of lolly stick, but I’ve found that isn’t actually needed.
For such a small piece, there were an amazing number of problems to solve. First, the size calculations become surprisingly complex once you’re factoring in the thickness of the leather across multiple adjoining curved surfaces (which is why I immediately stopped calculating and just tested and adjusted). This is further complicated by the fact that the leather easily compresses or stretches when it’s wet, and shrinks rather unpredictably when it dries. Several versions ended up with slanted edges and warped lines as a result.
Wet, it also creases, marks and dents very easily. Various ways of clamping and pinning it ended up leaving big marks in the final pouch, even when I resorted to building homemade clamps out of lolly sticks and bolts.
(the sticks were also too flexible, so they compressed the leather more on the ends than the middle and left a misshapen edge).
On top of this I had to think of the ergonomics and wear on the final pouch – I wanted this to be a quality piece of work that would feel great to use and could potentially last a lifetime. On version 4, the belt loop folded over the top of the pouch from the back, which obstructed the tool coming out and created friction which could wear out the join. Versions 5 to 15, I recently realised, had a different problem – the belt loop was joined flat to the pouch but with too little space, which could potentially mean the belt sawing through the joint over time as the pouch was drawn on and off it.
Testing and correcting for all these problems was slowed by the time the steps took – once it’s soaked and shaped it takes at least 24 hours for the pouch to dry enough to be glued, and then another 24 hours for the glue to set enough to stitch and finish.
The stitching, rounding off, dyeing and waxing have required a lot less experimentation – just practice. I’ll get into those in part 2.
I’ve abandoned and gone back to this project at least a dozen times in the last couple of years; whenever I get really frustrated (or just bored) I switch to something else, but I’ve finally got it to the point where I’m happy with the result. I’ve learned so much along the way, about leather and crafting and using my hands in general, and found myself actually developing some skill and technique which has been immensely satisfying.
I don’t know how much time I’ve spent on these pouches in total; it’s probably in excess of fifty hours over the last couple of years. That probably sounds a daunting commitment to most people, but in the course of learning to make them I’ve also been learning to work leather in general; when I started I literally knew nothing at all. Starting a project like this from scratch would be much quicker now (as you’ll see when I write up my leather portfolio case project).
I’ve also found leather a really satisfying material to work with – it’s almost as easy to work as cloth, with most of the durability and utility of wood. And it feels like a living thing – it reacts to water, oils, temperature and humidity, changes texture and flexibility, ages with you as it is affected by the environment and use.
A good leather piece is almost an extension of yourself, and there’s something primally satisfying about learning to work one of the most ancient materials mankind has used.
In part 2 I’ll show my whole current (version 18) process of making a pouch.
A message from the far future of 2020!
These little pouches are very special to me, as they were the first thing I’d made that I actually set up to sell seriously. Originally I listed them on Etsy, but you can now buy my leather pouches from my webshop Uncommon Works. I’m currently running down stock as I’m focussing on other things for a bit, but if you’re particularly keen to own one I may be up for making some to order – and I’m finally going to release a template and easier to use instructions in the next month or so. Thanks for reading!