Sunday, 8 February 2015

LARP Sheath - Start to Finish

The past few weeks I've been working on several projects for my character Kampi's LARP kit for start of next season of Medieval Chaos. This is one of those projects: constructing a sheath out of leather for my Seax/Scramasax dagger. Below is the final result:

Herein I aim to list what I did and learnt whilst building it from conception to completion. I used a couple basic pointers from this Instructable on Leatherworking, but the majority of this was experimentation.


The first thing I did before anything else was sketch out the basic design and dimensions of what I was aiming to create. Historically, seaxes varied in shape and construction but one of the most commonly related factors among them was that these single-edged blades were kept horizontally inside a scabbard with the edge facing upwards. As I was looking to do something similar and this proved to be beneficial since the construction of the foam seax meant the back of the blade was the thickest part, which made it easier to shape a piece of leather around it with the edge facing the seam and suspend it from a belt rather than the other way around.

I had a pair of snaps on swivel hooks from a couple old wallet chains sitting around (because I hang on to 'useless' junk like that) and decided they would make excellent straps for attaching the sheath to a belt. Not exactly period but hey, this is for a fantasy LARP so to Hel with exact authenticity. They make the sheath a bit more modular without having to undo ones' belt to add/remove the scabbard. I can also attach each snaps to each other if I ever need I larger mount. Also my reasoning for placing the slightly shorter strap near the throat of the sheath was to give it a tiny upturn to the hilt-side of the blade.


Now that I had my basic blueprint, the first thing I did was construct a mock-up sheath out of cardboard. I actually did this twice, as I realized the first one I made was going to be too tight for the rivets and lining I was planning to add (also I redesigned the point); I adjusted my plans accordingly and made another mock-up with the correct dimensions. I also used a bunch of binder clips instead of staples to close the mock-up and simulate the rivets; I used them to figure out their general placement along with the eyelet straps, and tested the balance of the whole piece by wearing it around.

Cuttin' Time

This was a vital part for me, I had to make sure my pattern was correct else I'd be wasting precious leather. I took my mock-up, unfolded it, and placed it upon my vegetable-tanned leather, where I then traced its outline upon it and then cut the piece from the leather. I then wrapped the piece around the blade and clipped it up, again testing its arraignment.

Because the inside of the leather would be too abrasive on foam dagger and might rub the paint off the blade, I measured a piece of felt the length and circumference of the blade for a protective lining.

Making Impressions

I wanted to try my hand at making actual designs on the leather, as so far it looked a little plain. The difficulty arose lacking the specific tools to carve and 'tool' (leave impressions on a moist surface); also since the local leather supplier had closed I was unsure where I could acquire these tools; so I made do with the (somewhat unorthodox) items what I had available.

I didn't have any transfer paper to move the vector images I had selected onto the surface, and I didn't trust plain paper to hold up to the stress of being drawn upon with a stylus against wet leather. Rooting through my junk I found a bunch of printable labels, so I experimented with both the sticky label and the non-stick back by printing the appropriately scaled images on both sides.

Using a damp sponge, I moistened the leather so it'd take an impression better. Using a pointed wooden stylus (normally used for sculpture) I traced the lines of each of the printed images through the template onto the surface of the leather. Both the label (serpent) and it's non-stick, water-resistant backing (raven) worked fairly well for their purposes; though the label held fast enough to the damp surface to get a reasonably accurate transfer without slipping, I was initially concerned that when I peeled the label off of the moist leather it raised some of the surface along with it (noticeable in the top-right photo), but fortunately that has since disappeared.

The basic imprints looked okay, but since I lacked a swivel knife to carve a deeper impression, I opted to use a solid-point burning tool to make the images stand out more. Following the impression lines was fairly easy and the results look great.


Now, many people dye their leather; I, instead, opted to paint mine using acrylic paint. A couple of the reasons for this are a) I don't know how to confidently dye leather, and b) the Missus used just paint on the leather helmet she built for me and it looks awesome. Any future marks to the leather can easily be touched up with a bit of paint. After the paint dried I gave it a quick layer of boot polish.

Then I stitched a small strip of rabbit fur to the end of the felt liner facing the mouth of the sheath (partially to provide additional tension on the blade, as a wipe, and for looks) and glued the whole thing to the inside of the sheath.

I ran into a bit of a challenge as the glue we opted to use was a wood glue that was too liquid-y and seeped through the felt and into the leather before it had time to dry. I then used ordinary white glue, which better suited my purposes.

Hammer Time

Once everything was dry, it was time to punch holes for the eyelets, rivets, and the stitches. We have/had a proper leather punch somewhere, but I was unable to find it where I last recalled it being. Instead I used a hollow length of thin copper pipe with a partially conical end; it worked perfectly for punching the eyelet and rivet holes. I placed the rivet holes relatively evenly across the spine of the sheath approx. every 2 inches, and placed the eyelets between them about 6 inches apart.

Stitchin' Time

I used a proper stitching awl for puncturing holes. I knocked numerous holes into and stitched together the sheath point with a thicker buttonhole thread that I waxed prior by drawing it through a lump of beeswax (to improve weather resistance and prevent the thread from drying out and cracking). I worked along the seams one way making a 'Z' pattern, then went in the opposite direction with an 'S' weave.

Once I had both sides of the sheath's point sewn up, I did a similar process along the spine towards the throat. I didn't place the stitch holes as frequently as I did on the point (thank the gods); about every centimetre. I kept the rivets in loosely, to ensure the binding didn't offset the punched holes.

I may have made a mistake because when I reached the throat at the opposite end, as I went and fully hammered in the rivets; doing so might've made my attempt to back-stitch down the spine extremely difficult (I broke a needle and my patience in the process). Even when punched, sewing hard leather is arduous for the uninitiated/those without the proper tools. Probably would've been far easier with an actual sewing awl. Plus my stitch holes weren't lined up as parallel as they should've been.

I am unsure if the rivets were to blame and/or if the initial stitching itself combined with poor hole placement made the whole thing too taut to do my back-stitch. I feel the final result might've looked more complete, but with the current mixture of rivet and stitch, I have no concerns about the overall sturdiness of the sheath.

Finishing Touches

I hooked the two swivel straps through the eyelets, and bent them closed. Finally, I gave the whole thing another coat of shoe polish and then blasted it with a heat gun to really bring out the shine.

Overall I'm quite happy with the end result, though I have a minor gripe beyond the incomplete back-stitch: I found the white interface backing of the rabbit fur around the throat far too noticeable when viewed up close; it looks better now that I've painted it a darker shade but I would've rather if I didn't have to do that in the first place.

I've worn the sheath during rather vigorous activity and it performs admirably; it's tight enough the blade doesn't slip or fall out, but not too tight as to make it difficult to draw. All-in-all this was a good project that improved my confidence, know-how, and skills when working with leather.

Advice, Comments, and/or Questions Appreciated!

Skoal! ;{١

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A Belated Rebellion Day [Character Sheet Tip]

The last day of January, I ran the Star Wars Roleplaying Rebellion Day gamekit at a FLGS, who originally got the kit for FFG's event back in September of last year but had neither the time or people to run said event. Eventually, some time was put aside last weekend to run it after I inquired/volunteered to helm it.

Only a couple people showed up to game (one of which was my friend who'd already played the system), but the experience was still enjoyable and the new player left with positive impressions of the system and a set of narrative dice as a prize. Beyond gaming I had the chance to chat with a few familiar faces; reminds me how much more I need to get out and about, and I'm considering running a RPG at the game store on the last Saturday of each month (or each weekend before and/or after GottaCon and Medieval Chaos).

Speaking of GottaCon, I was trying out a GM aide that session: Though printing character sheets is somewhat low-cost these days, many don't have access to a printer or suffer from various printer issues: lack of ink, poor print quality, etc. Or a times you may get access to very nice colour prints of (usually pregenerated) character sheets and it seems a shame that they're going to end up marred by pencil, pen, and eraser marks. Additionally, let's say you're GMing the same adventure repeatedly at a convention; that means you need to provide fresh copies of character sheets to your players every game. A bit of a hassle.

For example, the Rebellion Day kit came with several full-colour pre-generated character sheets, and I was considering reusing them at GottaCon later this month as one of my Games-On-Demand selections, but lamenting that I'd only be able to do so a few times before all copies were trashed.

I quickly came across a solution to many of these problems: Vinyl Sleeves and Wet-Erase Markers. You just slide the character sheets into the appropriately-sized sleeve, give each player a marker along with their sheet and POW they can write on the sheet all they want. All you need is a bit of water on hand (like a small finger-pump spray bottle) and a tissue to make corrections and clean up the sheets afterwards for reuse next session.

I choose Vinyl and Wet, not Dry-Erase markers for a couple reasons; Specifically, Dry-Erase markers don't work as intended on vinyl surfaces (too porous); they smear messily when you attempt to clean them up and may stain the surface (as I learned in my younger days both with a vinyl tablecloth and a battlemat in a household of gamers). Also, since Wet-Erase markers don't wipe away without water, this means that you can safely transport a stack of sheets without worrying what's written upon them being erased.

I presume you could go with another type of plastic sleeve (in a pinch, magazine sleeves used by collectors work for both ink-types; inexpensive but they aren't as sturdy nor as nice looking IMHO) and possibly Dry-Erase for quick-wipe, non-permanent marking, but these were the options I went with.

Even if you're not using fancy or pregen char sheets, I think using these sleeves it on regular sheets are just as useful at the gaming table: the sheets last longer because they're not longer subject to the constant writing and erasure wear (particularity in the areas of hit points) and are protected from food stains and drink spills. Maps can easily be sleeved and wrote upon without fear of permanent marks, and clever GMs could have their own sleeve for keeping notes/tracking initiative (and in the case of EotE/AoR, Group and Base sheets respectively; making tracking and editing Obligation/Duty easier).

The map provided in the Rebellion Day kit was full-page, but the PCs only had access to part of it.
Solution: Fold it in half and stick it in a sleeve with a blank sheet and presto, a place to track initiative.
The trial run of this idea at the Rebellion Day event was a success and I plan on using this aide when I'm running Games-On-Demand at GottaCon; since the sheets provided with the kit are only one-sided, I went and printed the pregens for the free EotE adventure, Under A Black Sun and sleeved them on the reverse, giving me quick access to both current flavours of the Star Wars RPG for interested players.

[Quick aside: I really like how FFG has designed the pregens in both these adventures; they allow a bit of customisation and such choices actively effect the related adventure with a slim-down version of the Obligation/Duty mechanic respectively. Brilliant.]

Regardless of system, I think that this whole concept has merit and despite the initial cost, might prove invaluable. I'm considering implementing this beyond my convention games.

Cheers! ;{١