In our last entry in this series, Defensive Knife Design – Ergonomics, we looked at the importance of how the knife handle interacts with our hand. Now we move along to another very important fundamental aspect of Defensive Knives – The Sheath.
The Sheath may seem like a secondary component to the actual knife, but it plays a vitally important role, especially in Defensive Knives.
The Sheath is not only the component which attaches the knife to your body, but it’s also responsible for the delicate balancing act between retention and accessibility. The sheath is useless if your knife falls out of it easily, but likewise when you need to draw the knife it has to come out smoothly.
This is why Kydex is the material of choice for defensive knives. It is a material which is easily mouldable and can be fine-tuned to give just the right amount of retention. There is also plenty of skill on the part of the maker required to know just how to achieve the right level of retention, and for many it is an ongoing process of trial and error to find the best methods.
We also need to realise that the “perfect” retention is very subjective. Everyone will have their own preferences so this is again something we as makers need to decide on, and accept that not everyone will like it. But with that said it is again one of those aspects which requires a deep understanding of what the knife is meant to do and the environment it’s meant to do it in.
Why do we want retention in the first place?
Because without it there is a good chance we might lose our knife in a life or death situation. Understanding the dynamics involved in Close Combative Incidents means you also understand that there is a lot of dynamic movement in play. You may be running, falling, wrestling on the ground and everything else in-between these. So you need to ensure that your knife doesn’t come out of its sheath and tumble across the ground out of reach.
But at the same time we want it to remain accessible. We don’t want the retention so tight that it requires a full body motion to get it out. It can be an extremely delicate balance which can also be compounded by the design and profile of the knife.
The sheath also needs to be comfortable to wear all day. It won’t be a very good EDC knife if you grimace at the thought of wearing it. This is partly down to the actual knife design, but the sheath can play a role here too.
You want a sheath that creates as small of a footprint as possible. Generally speaking the larger the sheath the more uncomfortable its going to be to wear, and the more difficult it will be to conceal. It is surprising how many makers don’t actually carry all the different knives they make. You need to wear it to know if its going to work. Not just for a few hours but for a week at least. Feel what its like getting in and out of a car, or sitting at an office desk for a few hours. Does it work with different types of clothing, etc. If you want to understand something you really have to get into it.
A good sheath design will work with the majority of lifestyles and clothing types. There are of course fringes where it probably wont be the best – but nothing is a jack of all trades.
Generally speaking you want your sheath to be wearable either Inside the Waistband (IWB) or Outside the Waistband (OWB). Just exactly where on the clock face doesn’t matter, that’s for you to decide, but a good sheath will work for both of these instances.
When it comes to the style of sheath there are also some thoughts. What is better, the full style “pancake” sheath or the fold-over style “taco” sheath?
Both are fine if made correctly is the answer.
The full style sheaths offer a bit more option in terms of mounting points for hardware, but come at the cost of a larger footprint, while the fold over is the opposite – smaller footprint but less mounting points.
In our experience fold over sheaths work nicest with smaller knives which are inherently discreet. Larger, heavier knives aren’t going to be that concealable anyway, and may benefit from having extra mounting points, especially if they are going to be mounted on a plate carrier or other tactical mount.
In closing, making a good sheath is very much art and science. So many tiny factors can influence how a sheath turns out that it really can become a specialist subject all of its own. There are many makers out there who do just that, specialising in custom Kydex sheaths and holsters. So we don’t at all claim to know everything, but it is an area we constantly work to improve upon because we understand its importance.
We will definitely follow up on the impact of good sheath’s and carrying options in future articles.