DIY Primer on How to Get Started Working with KYDEX

by February 11, 2011 02/11/11
DIY KYDEX

This is a short how to article for anyone interested in working with KYDEX. I’m sure most of the people here know of KYDEX and many of you probably own a KYDEX sheath or holster that was either sold with a blade or purchased for a hand gun.

My personal experience working with KYDEX is somewhat limited and there may be others here with more experience and knowledge on the subject, so feel free to add your thoughts.

DIY KYDEX

I had a few knives that I really liked but loathed the sheaths they were supplied with, so I decided to make my own from KYDEX. I went with it because it seemed to be a material I could work with easily. (no stitching required, I suck at that.) After some web searching I came across www.knifekits.com. They offer KYDEX in various colors and thicknesses. They also supply tools, instructional books and all the hardware needed to complete just about any KYDEX related DIY project.

For those interested in just making a sheath or two, there’s no need to purchase an expensive arbor press and other specialty tools, a lot of the work can be done with some tools that you probably already own.

Tools

Here ‘s a list of tools that I used:

  • Hammer
  • Heat Gun
  • Drill
  • Hack Saw or Coping Saw, a band saw would be ideal
  • Belt Sander
  • Vice or other type of clamps that you can tighten down
  • Two pieces of plywood, 12″ x 12″ square should be sufficient for most knife sheath projects
  • Heat resistant gloves
  • Rivet Eyelet Flaring Die
  • Sheath making foam

The flaring dies and sheath making foam can be found at knifekits.com, but all other tools (and hardware below) can be found at a hardware store. Here are the materials you’ll need:

  • KYDEX sheeting, different sizes and thicknesses are available
  • Rivets – get the proper size for the KYDEX you intend to use
  • Chicago screws
  • Belt or web gear mounting hardware

How to Get Started

First you will need to make the molding blocks that you will use to form the KYDEX around your knife. Simply glue the two pieces of sheath making foam to the two pieces of plywood, allow to dry and there you have it.

Now you need to decide if you want to make your sheath from two pieces of KYDEX (a front and back) or from one piece wrapped around the blade. Using one piece wrapped around the blade is the easiest way to go and it creates a more narrow, lower profile sheath. However, it leaves less material available for mounting hardware.

If it’s a large knife I would recommend using two pieces of KYDEX riveted together on each side of the blade to allow for more stable mounting options, but for medium and small knives one piece of KYDEX wrapped around the blade is sufficient.

Wrap-Around Style

For the wrap around style of sheath first lay your knife flat on the KYDEX about one inch from the edge and roll the knife over once then add another inch, this will give you the proper width of KYDEX to fully wrap around the blade and should leave you with some extra “screw up” material. With a utility knife and straight edge (two tools that I forgot to mention above), score the KYDEX and snap it off.

Take your piece of KYDEX and lay it flat on a work bench. You should also have your Vice/C-Clamps and Foam Press within arms reach. Use your heat gun to heat the KYDEX until it becomes pliable. Hold the heat gun about four to six inches away from the KYDEX and fan it over the surface. If you pick up the KYDEX and it’s floppy, then it’s ready to mold.

When the KYDEX is sufficiently pliable, lay your knife on the surface with the spine of the blade in the center then fold the KYDEX over the blade.

Molding

With the KYDEX still hot, sandwich the knife between the two foam molds and clamp the entire unit down tight. After about ten minutes you can remove the sheath from the mold. Check that the blade is secure but not overly difficult to remove from the sheath, remember that the sheath will tighten up when you add the rivets.

The next step is to drill the holes for the rivets and mounting hardware. Drill the holes far enough away from the edge of the blade so that when you add the rivets they will not pinch the cutting edge of your knife. You can now use a saw to remove the excess KYDEX and shape the sheath to your liking. I used a hack saw for this but a band saw would be ideal.

Now that the sheath is roughed out you can sand down the burs. For this I used a belt sander, it removes the burs and can be used for final shaping of the KYDEX. You may want to move to a higher grit paper to smooth off the edge, you can also buff the edge just by rubbing it on your jeans.

Rivets

Adding the rivets and using the flaring die is pretty self explanatory just remember when setting the rivets one good tap with the hammer on the flaring die is better than a lot of little taps. There are several options for MOLLE or belt mounting hardware including making your own out of another piece of KYDEX, this is where the Chicago screws can come in handy.

For making a sheath by using two pieces of KYDEX the process is pretty much the same as above, you just need to be careful during the molding process because the two pieces will want to shift while you are clamping them together.

KYDEX is a forgiving material, should you have any screw ups during the molding process you can always reheat and try again. I hope this article is of some help to those who might be interested in making their own KYDEX sheaths.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Justin Spindler as a contributing author on ITS Tactical! An avid outdoorsman, shooter, fly fisherman and fellow connoisseur of BOSS Coffee! Be sure to check out his great photos on Flickr!

Click here to view the full KYDEX photo set on Flickr.


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GregCarson
GregCarson

YouTube also has a wealth of information from many professional bladesmiths/knife makers, some of which have awesome Kydex tutorials. But this is a great basic guide, thanks for posting.

Paden
Paden

hey, I know this is over a year old but Anyway you could tell me what type of karambit that you are using? Thanks

king
king

Awesome!!!, hey where can i get a backpack like that one?

any specifications on brand model, etc?

thanks

king
king

Awesome!!!, hey where can i get a backpack like that one? any specifications on brand model, etc? thanks

Greg
Greg

I like to finish off the edges of my project by using a buffing wheel dressed with jewelers rouge. It leaves a nice smooth, professional looking edge.

Darklady
Darklady

Well I am using the Solomon Bar for my Jewerly. I also think I can use a few of the others also.

Thanks you very much for taking the time and trouble to post and video this cool information.

I am 60 years old and love watching all the different things you do. My mind is going a mile a minute trying to conform your work with my jewerly. For the bracelet I will use a thick cord but for most of it I will trying using some silk, natural fiber and synthinic fiber.

Thanks again

Dark

Darklady
Darklady

Well I am using the Solomon Bar for my Jewerly. I also think I can use a few of the others also. Thanks you very much for taking the time and trouble to post and video this cool information. I am 60 years old and love watching all the different things you do. My mind is going a mile a minute trying to conform your work with my jewerly. For the bracelet I will use a thick cord but for most of it I will trying using some silk, natural fiber and synthinic fiber. Thanks again Dark

Ruroni
Ruroni

Great write up, I was looking for ideas for a better replacement for the nylon sheath that came with my machete and I think I found a winner. On a side note where'd you find that camo colored mitsudomoe (the three sided yin-yang thingy) patch that's on the pack in the pic? Never seen one in those colors.

Allen Matherley
Allen Matherley

One option you can do to make sure the retention is tight but not too tight it to place the item you are using into a sock and the mold the kydex around that. It works especially well for small handguns and also protects the item from any potential scratches.

justin spindler
justin spindler

Hi Mike, the pack is indeed a TAD gear litespeed.

If you need to purchase everything including tools and material I would put a rough estimate anywhere from $250 to 300$. that's just a guess on my part as I already had most of the tools that I needed. depending on quality, that number could go up or down measurably.

The material cost to make one medium sized knife sheath is probably in the range of ten to fifteen dollars.

justin spindler
justin spindler

hey pitbull, the process for a flashlight sheath would be virtually identical. as far as a holster for a handgun is concerned I'm probably the wrong person to ask, it would be similar but because of the more intricate shape and features of a handgun I assume it would be a bit more involved.

justin spindler
justin spindler

First, thank you to everyone for the welcome and a special thanks to Bryan for inviting me to do this article. You did a great job of matching the photos to the text.

Kevin M
Kevin M

Great write up, gonna try my hand at making a holster for my Strion LED and Leatherman. Side note; what kind of pack is that in the 6th picture?

kenpojitsu
kenpojitsu

Oh Crap. I see a New Hobby about to start. With this & My Paracord addiction I could do some cool Shit. Thanks for the Article!

Ken
Ken

Nice article!

Mike, Check out knifekits.com, from there you can get an idea on materials. Building your own press is pretty simple and cheap. A lot of guys have used the wal-mart sleeping pads when they go on sale towards the end of summer. I've also used towels with some success which is how I made my holster for my G19. What I like to do is get the general shape down, then using the heat gun to tweak it until I like it.

An added bonus for the leather workers is that while the kydex is hot, you can use your leather stamps to label the holster or sheath so you know what will fit in there!

the pitbull469
the pitbull469

how would the process change if i want to make a case for a flashlight or handgun?

trident
trident

Loved the writeup, and that knife looks sexy on the TAD LiteSpeed!

Mike Petrucci
Mike Petrucci

Great write up! I really want to try this myself now!

Quick question, what would you say the approximate cost is to build a sheath for a knife? For example, the one you have attached to the side of the pack; how much to make that one?

Would you mind giving a ballpark figure for both situations?

1.) You have no equipment at all (so you'd have to buy everything) = $

2.) You have all equipment and just need kydex/rivets/etc = $

I know a lot more goes into it, especially time and hard work but I'm really just looking for an overall idea. Thanks and keep up the great work! Do you plan on opening a 'store' of your own?

Bonus question - Who makes that pack in this photo: http://bit.ly/iclW6a (is it from TAD?)

Mike Petrucci
Mike Petrucci

Great write up! I really want to try this myself now! Quick question, what would you say the approximate cost is to build a sheath for a knife? For example, the one you have attached to the side of the pack; how much to make that one? Would you mind giving a ballpark figure for both situations? 1.) You have no equipment at all (so you'd have to buy everything) = $ 2.) You have all equipment and just need kydex/rivets/etc = $ I know a lot more goes into it, especially time and hard work but I'm really just looking for an overall idea. Thanks and keep up the great work! Do you plan on opening a 'store' of your own? Bonus question - Who makes that pack in this photo: http://bit.ly/iclW6a (is it from TAD?)

ZhDocMI
ZhDocMI

Great article! For those of you just starting down the Kydex road it can be addicting. If you find you don't want the Kydex to fit as snug as your press is forming it, wrap the "hot spots" with a layer or two of masking tape. This really allows a more custom fit.

Jason
Jason

It looks like the back of the one knife sheath (4th pic down) has some sort of attachment that would allow attachment to molle strapping. Is my assummption correct? If so, I will be getting very interested in kydex.

Eric S.
Eric S.

Great write up! Welcome Justin.

ZHDocMI
ZHDocMI

Pitbull, you can make a sheath for just about anything... just keep in mind that the overall shape has to bigger at the top (like a funnel, but not that dramatic). Kydex gives a little and that is what allows it to hold your knife/light/weapon tightly. However, you can't expect to form Kydex around a light head and then be able to get it out of the sheath (think AA Maglite). In this instance you would have to carry the light tip up. Hope this helps!

justin spindler
justin spindler

Hi Mike, the pack is indeed a TAD gear litespeed. If you need to purchase everything including tools and material I would put a rough estimate anywhere from $250 to 300$. that's just a guess on my part as I already had most of the tools that I needed. depending on quality, that number could go up or down measurably. The material cost to make one medium sized knife sheath is probably in the range of ten to fifteen dollars.

Ken
Ken

Nice article! Mike, Check out knifekits.com, from there you can get an idea on materials. Building your own press is pretty simple and cheap. A lot of guys have used the wal-mart sleeping pads when they go on sale towards the end of summer. I've also used towels with some success which is how I made my holster for my G19. What I like to do is get the general shape down, then using the heat gun to tweak it until I like it. An added bonus for the leather workers is that while the kydex is hot, you can use your leather stamps to label the holster or sheath so you know what will fit in there!

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