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Alexander B.

Location: Germany
Joined: 16 Nov 2014

Posts: 46

PostPosted: Mon 27 Apr, 2020 10:10 am    Post subject: Needing help with late medieval scabbard construction         Reply with quote

Hello fellow enthusiasts.

I am currently grounded at home and using the time to build a scabbard for a longsword of mine.

I have a few questions I hope the learned folks around here might be able to help answer, regarding the construction techniques, materials and some issues I am having. Or rather, any and all constructive feedback and critique is welcome.

I am fond of the method steaming and bending thin slats of wood around the blade for slender scabbards. I am led to believe this is one historically documented technique.
As far as I am aware, poplar, Ash and Lime were common woods for the scabbard cores, but boy is ash sturdy, will likely
fall back to poplar/lime.
I have experimented with various thicknesses and it seems 1.5mm is a minimum thickness, two is better. However, I suspect I need to get a bit thicker still, as the available hardware (chapes etc.) seems set up for slightly beefier scabbards.

I use hide glue to glue the core together, and later put a strong strip of glue soaked linen around the core, after rounding the corners. The linen goes on lengthwise, with a small overlap on the designated back side.
On the latest scabbard, I wanted to create a median ridge, and glues a narrow strip of wood shaved from scrap slats to the core, before adding the linen.

I then glued leather risers on, but am now sufficiently frustrated to try strong string/twine next time.

After all that, Supposedly one is to glue slightly moist leather to the scabbard, and sew the seam. BUT: there is no way I can neatly pull the leather tight around the core other than sewing. And the sewing is painfully slow, orders of magnitude too slow for the hide glue to stay warm and active.
I am wondering, if the glueing of the leather to the core is actually a neccessary thing present in all originals, as opposed to an option. After all, after drying, the leather is soaked in wax/fat7whatever, to make it water repellent, so as to keep the core and sword dry. Does it really -have to- be glued?

If so, I'd love to know how to do it properly, as I fail to see, how one can accomplish both a tight fit and and successful glueing.

And then, I'd like to know if there are some handy tricks and good advice on how to neatly finish off the throat of the scabbard in a plain and simple way, as working the leather around the edge of the core and sticking it in place with hide glue is only working so-so for me. One reason being the well oiled sword by then rubbing off some oil/grease to the wood.

And last but not least, Any advice for attaching the chape in a historical manner? simply hammering it into place seems like a sure fire way of losing it, given how everything except the sword blade itself swells and contracts with changing weather. Is there any kind of glue or compound documented to fix these buggers?

In all aspects, I prefer documented historical methods.

My library of reference images for originals is woefully small, too, so I have precious little to draw from and am not completely sure on some aspects of construction. For example, I have a few images of scabbards showing a wooden core, thread/twine risers poking through damaged leather, but I am unable to tell if the leather used to be glued into place, and a linen layer is suspiciously absent.

Thank you so much for reading this wall of text, and for your kind help,


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Alexander B.

Location: Germany
Joined: 16 Nov 2014

Posts: 46

PostPosted: Mon 27 Apr, 2020 10:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nobody any experience with hide-glue or advice regarding the chape?
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Leo Todeschini
Industry Professional

Location: Oxford, UK
Joined: 12 Nov 2006
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PostPosted: Mon 27 Apr, 2020 11:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Alexander,

Please give a little more time for answers.

You do not have to glue the leather outer, but it is nice. Try painting a less viscous coat on the leather and the wood and accepting that you won't get a full power bond but more of a "tacking" bond.

You will find my chapes will fit well; but don't forget you have 2-3mm of wood on each side plus 1.2-1.6mm of leather on each side plus the blade thickness of (say) 2mm and you will end up with a thickness of 9-14mm approx at the tip.

Good luck

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Alexander B.

Location: Germany
Joined: 16 Nov 2014

Posts: 46

PostPosted: Tue 28 Apr, 2020 10:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Tod,

Just got a new glue pot with thermostat and bells and whistles so a bit giddy about continuing work. My apologies for being too impatient.

Thanks for the advice on the glue. I'll try that out next time. Can you comment on wether you think having a layer of linen between wood and leather is plausible/documentable for late scabbards?

I believe with the chape, I will then have to wait for the whole thing to dry thoroughly for a week or two, before hammering on the chape, yes? I still feel a bit uneasy if it won't simply fall off at some point, so part of me is still hoping for some documented additional means of fixing them. But I understand none such measures exist?

As per thickness, I generally like slender things, and overall, at the very tip my scabbards tend to be rather thin.

Another question that just came up, was the finishing of the leather afterwards. It's now in situ, it is black, do we know what kinds of fats, oils or other treatments were applied to the leather as a finish and to make it water repellent?
I do have a stache of 18th C. shoe polish, basically tallow, bees wax and lamp black.
But a friend mentioned this might not be as applicable to earlier times as one might think, as he can't seem to think of reasons or documentation for pigmented finish being used, and cautions that bees wax was very expensive in medieval times.

At least as far as 18th C. scabbards go, I tend to generously apply that stuff and work it in with mild warmth, and essentially it leaves the leather so abyssmally black, nicely glossy and full of fat and wax, that there is no way for water to penetrate it at all.

Thanks and best,


PS: -L-O-V-E- your hardware, Tod. <3

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