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September 11, 2008 Comments (0) News

Hedgehog Leatherworks Tracker Sheath

Hedgehog Leatherworks Sheath

Hedgehog Leatherworks SheathYes, I saw the movie The Hunted with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro.  And, yes, the knife in the movie was "cool", even though I’ve never gotten one.  In the movie, the knife was the master of all trades (not the just the jack of all trades) and soon, thereafter, a whole bunch of folks got in line to pick a version of it up.  One such version is produced by Tops Knives and is simply known as the Tom Brown Tracker Knife.  We’ll discuss a little bit about the Tracker during the review, but the main subject of this review is the actual sheath that was designed for it by Hedgehog Leatherworks which has established a bit of a cottage industry around the Tom Brown series of knives, including the Scout which is also distributed by Tops Knives.  

Tom Brown is a leading outdoors skills instructor who provides instruction to civilians, military and law enforcement (www.trackerschool.com) and he designed the Tracker to be his answer to the question of the best all-around knife for the outdoors. There’s a lot of debate in the online knife communities over the value and practicality of the knife as a field tool, and there doesn’t seem to be too much in-between consideration.  You either love it or you hate it and it seems that never the twain shall meet, based on the heated discussions I’ve come across.  Paul Scheiter is the owner of Hedgehog Leather works, and he sent me a brand new specimen of both the sheath and the Tom Brown Tracker Knife made by Tops Knives to review for this article.  You can’t beat that with a stick!!  Luckily, it arrived two days before I was due to leave for the WAR rendezvous at the Wilderness Learning Center in up-state New York.  I guess you already know that the Tracker and the sheath got packed in with the rest of the gear for the trip!

First, before I get into the review of using the knife and sheath during the trip, I’d like to give a little background.  I had heard of Hedgehog Leatherworks previously, but I first met Paul Scheiter in April of this year.  Paul started Hedgehog Leatherworks in the fall of 2005 and is located in St. Louis, Missouri where he has a few folks that help him out with the business from time to time.  Right off the bat, I enjoyed talking to him.  He’s very personable, loves the outdoors, and approaches conversations with a wide open enthusiasm for sharing information.  He happened to have one of his sheaths with him showing it to other people when I first came to know of his work.  I ambled over and after peeking over someone’s shoulder and getting a quick glimpse, I eased my way forward so I could get a better look.  I’ve had several custom leather sheaths made by some very well-known and skillful individuals, and I can tell you that the workmanship on these sheaths are as good as any I have seen.  And, that’s saying a lot considering Paul’s young years and relatively short time in the trade.  He’s a quick study and turns out excellent work!  Paul has what I would call an "old soul" and I base that on the things that he talks about and values, and the way he conducts his business.  The following is what Paul wrote to try and convey the mission of his business…

"My intention with Hedgehog is to inspire people to discover their lost connection to the wilderness. I believe that most of society no longer appreciates the significance of the primitive skills that kept our ancestors alive for so many generations. We may not need those skills on a physical level anymore, but I think that many of us are starving for them on a spiritual level. I never feel more connected to the higher power than when I am in the woods. I believe we can show some of the willing people that path… we do it by providing a handmade knife sheath that is a product of natural materials. More importantly we strive to build authentic relationships with our customers and to encourage their adventures in everything we do… whether it is a phone chat about primitive skills or through our monthly newsletter which always has a “how to” survival skills theme. My dream come true would be for our customers see their Hedgehog sheath sitting on a shelf in their home and it pains them so much to be inside that they get up and leave for the woods that very moment."

Thick Sturdy Welt Built Into The Tracker Sheath

His mission and his message are both truly born out in his work.  The sheath itself is made of 11 oz. vegetable tanned cowhide tanned and distributed by Hermann Oak, one of the premiere leather dealers in the country.  So, everything from the materials to the craftsmanship is all 100% of U.S. origin.  As you can see from the picture, the sheath has a thick, wide, and well constructed leather welt that runs along the edge of the sheath.  The welt’s main function is to protect the stitching at the edge that brings both sides of the sheath together.  With the leather welt in place, the edge of the knife only comes into contact with it instead of the threads.  The welt is first glued to the two edges, and then double-stitched to ensure a snug fit and rugged construction.  Once that’s completed and cured, all three edges have a nice, dark burnished treatment done to them.  Aside from the sheath itself, you also get some accessories to go along with the package.  That’s what the little bundle in the picture below contains.  The accessories include two additional leather straps and the hardware to put them in place–inlcuding screws and a mini allen wrench.  Additionally, they include some replacement pieces, such as an extra Rapid Release Closure cord, for the sheath should you need them down the road.  Basically, you’ve got your own little field repair kit to carry along with you. 

What really drew me to the sheath was his implementation of what he calls the Rapid Release Closure (patent pending).  You can see how fast this little device is in the video just below this paragraph.  This mechanism is integrated into the retaining strap so when you pop the restraining strap loose from the post, the mechanism (like a thin bungee cord material) pulls the retaining strap back out of the way of the blade when you’re drawing it out of the sheath.  I have typically stayed away from sheaths that have straps around the handle for this very reason.  First, it’s easy to cut the strap as you draw the knife, and then the strap gets in the way when you’re trying to re-sheath it when you’ve finished using the knife.  Paul’s answer to this problem is quite ingenious and is skillfully implemented in his design.  It’s a very nice touch.  You can see how quickly this set-up works for drawing the knife in the video that follows which was posted by Hedgehog Leather works.

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Speaking of nice touches, I’d like to take a step back and mention the package that I got from Paul.  Not to be too dramatic, but I was a little bit in awe of how he packaged the sheath.  The first layer was a heavy-duty, sealed plastic pouch that contained everything else.  It was air-tight and waterproof and appeared to be the kind of vacuum-sealing type medium that you can seal with heat at both ends.  That in itself helps to preserve the leather by keeping out moisture.  But, the next step of the packaging was what really took me by surprise and immediately flung me back to the days when someone might walk into town and buy something at the merchantile.  Around the sheath and the included accessories, a type of linen cloth was doubled over a couple of times and then used to bundle up the sheath in a nice, rectangular package.  To keep the cloth in place, a length of thick twine was wrapped around the entire parcel and tucked in nicely to ensure that it didn’t slip loose.  When you see that, you’re already in that "old days" frame of mind.  Call me old-fashioned, but you don’t see many touches like this in people’s work any more and we could stand more of it.  Remember when there was an actual gas attendant that came out to not only pump your gas, but checked your oil and washer fluid as well?  Now, not only do you have to pump your own gas to save them money, to make matters worse, they make you walk back and forth just so you can pre-pay and have to guess how much you’re going to pump.  I was informed by Paul that this wasn’t just for the demo unit.  They pack every sheath this way and have been doing it for over a year now.  I don’t know if Paul is old enough to remember the gas station attendants of years past, but he picked up the service aspect of those times somewhere along the way!

Retaining Strap With Slot and Hole Configuration

As stated, this is a beatufully crafted sheath that’s not only handsome, it is very well-designed with its carry options and the Rapid Release Closure strap.  But, I would like to address a slight niggle that I have with one particular thing.  As you can see in the picture, the leather strap is slotted with a small hole at the end to fit over the post which holds the retaining strap in place.  During my use of the sheath with it being carried horizontally across my back, I had a small issue with getting that retaining strap loose.  Now, don’t misunderstand.  It’s very easy to do.  All you have to do is grab the end of the retaining strap with your thumb and forefinger and slip it slight up and over the knob on the post and the strap is free!  Very easy to do.  But, in a situation where the knife might be needed very quickly, it would be very handy in my opinion to have a male snap post in place of the current post and a female snap post receptacle on the end of the retaining strap with some type of metal reinforcement tab on the piece the user is flipping down with just the thumb.  I’ll try to clarify.  After a period of time, used leather is going to get more malleable and more supple, and it seems that it will be difficult to just grip the knife and use only the thumb to move the leather retaining strap over the current post.  In essence, I’m thinking of something along the lines of thumb-break leather holsters that most of us have seen that have a leather retaining strap that’s reinforced with a small metal tab (to prevent the leather from rolling) and is snapped open with just pressure from the thumb. 

Front View Of Sheath and Retaining Strap

Now, I’m not a leatherworker, so I couldn’t tell you what’s involved in having that set-up as opposed to the current set-up that Paul has incorporated into his design.  But, from what I can tell, there looks to be room to put a metal reinforcement tab and snap onto the retaining strap and there appears to be room to put a male snap post on the piece of leather where the current post is located.  I don’t know if this has already been considered and has been unable to be implemented because of the way the sheath is constructed, but it’s worth talking about and seeing if it’s a viable option.  Paul and I have already discussed having a follow-up interview later this month to talk about the sheath, the review, and other finer points that need to be covered.  That interview will be available as a podcast and that will be one of the things I will bring up to him and see if it’s something they’ve already considered.  But, in all fairness, this release strap might become easier operate with just the thumb after some time and more use breaking in the leather strap.  As you can see from the video above, it seems that the current design works quickly enough for that person. 

As far as the price, well as the old saying goes, "You get what you pay for."  That might be trite, but old sayings usually become trite as a result of being true.  As mentioned, I’ve had several custom leather sheaths made, some with exotic materials such as crocodile or stingray.  And, I’d have to say that Hedgehog Leatherworks sheaths are on par with just about anything I’ve seen so far.  The first thing to keep in mind is that these are custom sheaths–not production runs.  Each one is hand-made and fitted to each knife, and they recommend that you don’t use one of their sheaths unless it has been molded to your particular knife model.  There are other Tracker variants out there that are slightly different shapes and sizes, so its best to have yours hand fit when you have a sheath made.

  Besides the high level of craftsmanship, top quality leather, double stitching, and the clean burnished edges, there’s a lot more leather that goes into making this sheath than normal because of the unusual design of the Tom Brown Tracker.  And, as previously mentioned, you get the extra accessories including two additional leather loops, an assortment of screws, replacment parts, and an allen wrench to help you configure the sheath to your liking.  Throw in the custom touches with the airtight packaging and the cloth and twine wrapping, and I think the price is far more than fair for what they offer with this package.

So, we get to my final grumble with Hedgehog Leatherworks.  As I mentioned earlier, they’ve built a bit of a cottage industry around the Tom Brown series of knives.  However, I have an original model Cold Steel San Mai Master Tanto that I would love to have a sheath such as this to use for its carry.  I might even like one for my Fallkniven S1 or my TOPS Knives Longhorn Bowie.  But, I have pleaded with Paul to no avail.  He wants to keep his focus on this series of knives for the time being as he seems to be getting plenty of business for them.  But, maybe if enough of you write him or start a petition, he might give in and offer some of these style sheaths for other models of knives (I’m crossing my fingers!).  Update:  After writing this article, I was informed that Hedgehog Leatherworks is looking to expand their sheath lines and are reviewing certain knife models first before making the move.  This is great news!!

TOPS Knives Tom Brown Tracker

TOPS Tom Brown Tracker (Sorry, but it’s already been used a bit)

I absolutely think that TOPS Knives is one of the best production knife companies out there today, and I own several of their models.  In fact, we have a couple of their products scheduled for review in the coming weeks.  However, as cool as the Tom Brown Tracker design came across in the movie, I just didn’t think it was my cup of tea.  There other types of knives that I like better and such examples from TOPS Knives are the Spirit Hunter and the Armegeddon (which is an original design by Trace Rinaldi).  More often, I’d rather have the burden of carrying two knives such as those that are designed to do a specific job well as opposed to one all-around knife that compromises in each area.  As I told Paul, some people’s favorite color is blue, mine is green.  That’s just the way it goes.  But, TOPS Knives are simply producing a high quality model (like all their others) that a lot of folks happen to like.  I have to admit, however, after my initial chagrin at the Tracker design and actually having the chance to use it the past week, I can see how a lot of folks find the appeal in this particular design.  It does have the forward balance that lends itself to easier chopping, and for throwing as well (of course, you give up your weapon when you do that).  It has a nice straight edge portion as part of the blade that can be used either as a draw knife for wood work or for finer work such as making traps or other wooden tools.  In all honesty, I think the saw-back is pretty much useless other than for the pure looks of the knife.  Maybe I haven’t found the right place or time to put it to proper use.  But, all told, if I did have to make it in the outdoors with just one knife, I think I could do it quite easily with the Tracker model.  However, I do hope that I’m never forced into that decision because I would still rather have two knives (like the Spirit Hunter and the Armageddon) to perform the specific tasks they were designed for instead of one all-around solution.  All of that said, we will be using the Tracker more over the next couple of weeks and we will post our final thoughts after we’ve given it a fair shake in the woods.

More good news is that Hedgehog Leatherworks also produces sheaths for the Tom Brown Tracker Scout knife which I do like very much, and Hedgehog Leatherworks also sells that particular knife as well.  You can get those sheaths made for horizontal carry just like the one for the original design–but this sheath doesn’t incorporate the Rapid Release Closure strap like the sheath I’m reviewing in this article.  An example of that sheath can be found here.  Now, if you’ve read a couple of my previous articles where I discuss my affinity for shorter fixed blade knives, you’ll know that the Scout model knife would be one more to my liking.  So, that knife and a Hedgehog Leatherworks sheath is probably what I’m going to pick up in the very near future, and will hopefully do a review on those two together once I’ve had a chance to give them a workout in the field.

All in all, the quality of Paul’s work is fantastic.  A great deal of attention is paid to detail and you can see the care that was taken not only with the packaging, but the actual product as well.  One strong feature of the sheath is its mode of carry.  Hanging on the user’s belt in back, it provides an easily accessible grip on the handle with the ability to rapidly draw the knife for quick deployment.  I like to carry a sidearm and a large knife while out in the woods.  However, being a big guy, carrying cross-draw (whether knife or gun) isn’t always the most comfortable option for me.  Having this sheath positioned at the small of my back gives me access to both my sidearm and a large knife with my strong hand.  That’s a very attractive benefit for me, and that’s one of the reasons why I like this sheath so much.  On top of all of the tangible benefits of the sheath I’ve mentioned above, there is that less-than-tangible quality of aesthetics.  I believe that Paul did capture what he talked about above with regard to his intentions in designing these types of sheaths.  There is nothing like the feel and smell of a quality leather sheath to transport you back to those earlier days when people were more in touch with nature on a daily basis and relied upon it for their day to day needs.

If you’re a fan of the outdoors and a fan of the Tom Brown Tracker series of knives, I implore you to take a hard look at the offerings provided by Hedgehog Leatherworks.  I don’t think you’ll find a better implementation of quality leatherwork that employs both innovative design in conjunction with old-world style.  You just can’t go wrong with it, and if taken care of properly, the Tracker Sheath will provide you with a lifetime of service in the outdoors.

Visit:  www.hedgehogleatherworks.com

 

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