Photo Tutorial: Making a waxed leather drinking flask

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Photo Tutorial: Making a waxed leather drinking flask

Eric Methven
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Eric Methven
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April 21st, 2010, 11:28 am #1

Here's a full photo tutorial for making a waxed leather drinking flask.
There is more than one way to make one, but this is one of the ways I do my commercial ones.

This tutorial will be in three parts.  1) Cutting out, marking and stitching. 2) Wetting and forming.  3) Emptying and hot wax dipping.

The material I am using is 3mm veg tanned shoulder.

I have made a template that you can print out for your own flasks,  It's a PDF file Flask Template.


A piece of leather with the image from the template drawn on it.  When you do these, draw round once then flip the template over before drawing the second one.  That way, if there are any inconsistancies with symetry, both halves will still come together properly.


Then use a sharp knife to cut roughly round the two flask halves.

 
These are going to be sewn together, so I find the best way to keep them in register is to glue the edges.


I only glue about a quarter inch in.  That won't make any difference when opening the flask up as the stitching will cover that anyway.


Both halves joined together.  Be careful when joining them if you are using impact adhesive.  Once contact is made, they won't come apart.


Now the edges are still rough.  This is when I sand down the edges to get a nice smooth edge.





We need smooth edges, because we are going to cut some grooves where we will run the stitch wheel.  The groover uses the edge of the leather as a guide, so the smoother the edge, the neater the groove will be.


Cutting the groove in the leather.




 
Here the grooves have ben cut, ready for the stitching wheel.  The groove also allows the thread to sit below the surface of the flask.  Not essential, but tidy.


Now before you can mark the leather with the stitching wheel, you need to soften it, so it takes an impression of the wheel.  We do that by wetting it under runnng water.


We run the stitch wheel around the grooves.  It looks good, but it's function really is to mark where the holes will go for stitching the two halves.


Here is the stitch wheel finished, ready to sew now once the leather has dried a bit.

 
This is what I'll be using to make the holes.  It's a Dremmel copy with an extention shank and a tiny little model makers drill bit the same diameter as the needles.


Here's a close up.

 
The holes are drilled on a block of scrap wood, keeping the drill completely vertical so it goes through at 90°





Here is the flask with all the holes drilled.

 
At this stage, I prepare to sew the two halves together.  I am using a stitching clam between my knees to hold the work steady.  This allows both hands free to do the stitching.  I am using artificial sinew and what is known as the saddle stitch.  The sinew is threaded onto two harness needles (blunts), one at each end.
These are then passed through the same hole, but in opposite directions.  Then they go through the next hole and so on, making figure eights all the way along.  They are pulled tight after every stitch (or every couple of stitches once your arms get tired).




 
Hint:  When preparing the artificial sinew, only use lengths long enough for your outstretched arms.  You will need four lengths or so to complete the flask, but if you have one long length, you will spend ages pulling it through the holes and there is a likelyhood that it will get tangled (especially if using waxed linen thread).
When you get near the end of a piece, back stitch four holes, then forward two - so you'll have 6 bits of sinew going through that last hole.  Then just snip off flush.  Don't worry about tying a knot,  The packed sinew will keep it there and the hot waxing will seal it in later on.





Here's the flask all sewn up and ready to stuff with pearl barley to take it's shape.
Last edited by Eric Methven on January 3rd, 2016, 2:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Eric Methven
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April 21st, 2010, 11:30 am #2

At this stage we are going to shape the flask.


The leather needs to be really wet, so we take a bowl of tepid water


The flask is dipped in the wqater and submerged.


You'll see bubbles escaping from the leather.  This is a good thing.  The air is being expelled, the colagen is softening and the leather is becoming maliable and soft.
Be careful at this stage.  Any tools or objects that come into contact with the flask at this stage will mark the leather and it won't come out.  So handle with care.


I open the hole in the top up, and use my fist like a funnel.  Then I use a cup and just pour some pearl barley into the flask.


It fills up pretty quickly so it need a bit of help getting in there.  I find blowing it open like a balloon opens it enough for the barley to fall to the bottom.

 
Now I take a piece of dowel and ram the barley in.  Don't be gentle, really ram it down hard.  You want the force to be enough so it forces the barley to push and stretch the leather sides outward.

 
You can see here that it is starting to swell.  There's about a cup and a half of barley in at this point.
Keep pouring, blowing and ramming until the barley is right near the top.  But leave enough room to fit the cork.


Here's the flask full of barley and fully shaped.  The cork is in and it is important to fit a cork.  The reason is to make the mouth nice and round.  If it dries oval (which it would otherwise do) you will find it difficult to fit a stopper for it later, once it's waxed.


Here's the cork from the top.

 
Now all it needs is to dry thoroughly (certainly overnight - possibly two days).  I put mine on the mantlepiece above the solid fuel fire, but I have used an airing cupboard before.
Last edited by Eric Methven on January 2nd, 2016, 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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Eric Methven
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April 21st, 2010, 11:31 am #3

This part deals with getting the barley out of the flask and hot waxing it to make it suitable for holding liquids.


You can see the difference in colour between the dry flask and the wet one I set on the mantlepiece to dry.  This is the following morning.  Nice and dry and ready to empty.


Here's what I need to get all the barley out.  Metal nuts and an old bicycle spoke.  Plus someplace to put the barley.  My barley sack has a lot of barley in it, but if you are just making one for yourself, you will only need a fraction.  I do six at a time usually which is why I have so much.


These are the type of nuts I use to act as an abraider and knock the stuborn bits of barley off the inside.  The spoke is to run round the inside initially and remove easy to get at bits.  The nuts get the ones that are hiding in the corners.


To start, I remove the cork and just tip the barley out into the plastic basin.  Then I put the barley into it's container out of the way.


I pop the nuts into the flask, place my thumb over the opening and shake like hell for a minute or so.  Then I tip it all out into the basin.


This is what comes out


Here are the nuts and dislodged barley after one good shake.  Now you put the nuts back in, empty the barley into the sack and shake again.  Then tip it out and see how much barley came out.  Then you keep repeating that until all you get out are nuts.  (If you want to do this under field conditions, small pebbles will work).
The flask is now ready for waxing.


Here's what you'll need for the waxing.  Worktop covered with paper.  Heavy duty rubber gloves (your fingers will get dipped into very hot wax.  If it gets on your skin, it will hurt.


This is my double boiler.  Wax in the top part and water in the bottom part.  It is essential that a double boiler is used.  Even a pan in another pan of water will do, but NEVER put a pan of wax directly on the heat source.  Two reasons.  One, it may reach flash point and cause a nasty fire, and Two, too hot wax will cook the leather and make it go shrunken and crinkled, completely ruining it.  If it can't get hotter than the boiling point of the water, it can't do either 1 or 2 above.


Now put on the gloves and lower the flask into the wax.  You'll have to push it under the surface until it fills with wax.  It will want to float.  Get it submerges as quickly as possible though otherwise the wax will start to set on the still cold leather.  It is only when the leather gets hot in there that it starts to penetrate into the fibres of the leather.


Once it is submerged, you'll see bubbles come to the surface of the wax.  That is the air being expelled from inside the leather and being replaced by wax.


Gently move the flask around, flipping it over to ensure all the air from inside came out and that there are no air pockets left.


When the bubbles stop rising, you can lift it out.  Be careful at this stage because it is very slippery and if it drops back in there, you'll end up getting splashed - not nice!


Invert it long enough to make sure it is drained of molten wax.  






That shiny look won't last long.  All that is is a film of excess wax sitting on the surface.  After a couple of minutes it will turn into a milky film.  It needs to be removed.


To remove it, we use kitchen towel - lots of it.  I made the mistake of using my dear wife's tea towels once.  Don't ask, all I'll say is it wasn't pleasant when she found them.


Now I didn't mention it before, but I tied a bit of lace through one of the holes so I could keep hold when I dipped it.  Now is the time to remove it.
If I don't, it will get in the way and stop me wiping all the excess wax away.


Keep wiping until the surface looks duller and keep changing the kitchen towels for fresh ones as the old ones get clogged with wax.








Once the flask is waxed, it is essential to give it a water test - to check for leaks.  If it is going to leak from anywhere, it will be along the seam, where the stitching is.  If it does leak, the cure is to pour a small cup of wax inside and rock the flask from side to side so it runs along the inside of the seam.  Then pour the excess out before it sets.  This has to be done on a cold flask of course, so it creates an instant seal.
To check for leaks though, I give it a one hour test.  Fill the flask with cold water, until a bead forms on the top.  Then set the flask aside and check after an hour.  If there is any loss, nomatter how slow, that bead of water will sink down inside.  So if the bead is still there after an hour, it is guaranteed to be sound and leak free.


Here is the finished flask after I mad a nice rustic cherrywood stopper, and gave it a good polish.
It is now ready to wrap and post off to it's new owner.

Well, I hope you found this tutorial of use and I hope it was clear enough.  I appreciate feedback so let me know if you didn't understand any of it and ask any questions you may have.

Thanks for looking,

Eric
Last edited by Eric Methven on January 2nd, 2016, 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
With age comes skills, such as the ability to multitask.
I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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tangiblesanctity
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April 21st, 2010, 12:10 pm #4

Thanks Eric! That flask is brilliant!

Funnily enough I just started making my first flask from veg tanned leather last night and got as far as cutting out the leather and marking the holes. I was planning to use an awl to make the holes for the stitching though, rather than a drill. Also, instead of having to melt so much wax I was planning to pour a smaller amount of wax into, and onto, the flask and then place the flask into the oven upside-down to heat it enough so that the wax soaks in and any excess drains off. Do you foresee any problems with that or is it best to submerge the whole flask in melted wax as you have?

Thanks for the tutorial - it really helps.

Best wishes
Dan
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Eric Methven
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April 21st, 2010, 2:53 pm #5

The oven method as you describe it will work - sometimes.  Keep the oven on a low heat and check every five minutes or so.  Also make sure the flask cannot fall over.  If it does, the wax will pool inside and possible cook the leather making it go shrunken and crinkly.  I found the best way to avoid that is to hammer a 6" nail into a piece of wood and place the wood on an old baking tray, then invert the flask over the nail to keep it upright.

It's how I did them in the beginning, but because I do them commercially now, the cost of the double boiler and all that wax justified the expense.

As far as using an awl, that's fine.  It's how it was done originally.  I use a drill because it's quicker and makes no real difference to the end product.
Some folks that use an awl have found it easier to put the awl blade in the chuck of a drill press, and use the leverage they get from the handle as a good way to get through a double layer of leather.  Just an idea.

Eric
With age comes skills, such as the ability to multitask.
I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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tangiblesanctity
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April 21st, 2010, 3:26 pm #6

Great, thanks! I shall experiment! I also mean to experiment with embossing as well. I haven't got any of the tools, so I thought I'd just start out making marks in the damp leather with the edge of a knife or spoon

Dan.
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Eric Methven
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April 21st, 2010, 4:30 pm #7

OK Dan.  If you are going to try tooling, do it before the shaping, but after the stitching.  There's lots of stuff you can use for tooling.  Teaspoon handle, cross head screwdriver bit, bullet casing for dot and circle markings, edge of your awl, and there's lots you can make yourself from some 6" nails.
Check out Iliana's home made tools here.

Eric
With age comes skills, such as the ability to multitask.
I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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Yotman
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April 23rd, 2010, 6:52 am #8

Hi Eric What a nice tutorial. I have a couple of questions for you after you have coated with the wax and set to dry and ready for use do you have to watch out for the sides if they get pressed inward will the wax crack and leak? How much wax do you melt in your double boiler and how much is bees wax where you live? Thanks Curtis
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inwabo
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April 23rd, 2010, 2:59 pm #9

Brilliant, precise & clear. Thanks for doing this!
Patrick Farneman
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http://www.bridgestothepast.org/
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johnnycaribe
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April 23rd, 2010, 9:08 pm #10

Thanks a lot! Very helpful! I started making mine a couple of months ago then stopped when I caught the flu. The waterproofing turned out to be very VERY tricky since I kept spilling some wax in the frying pan. I got impatient and put the oven at 300. The side that I couldn't see from the oven door got all crinkled. That'll teach me Also, I did some tooling before the barley (actually, oats in my case) and it disappeared after the forming since it was stretched. Do you have any advice about that?
And the leaking issues took some time to resolve but all in all, a success! I can't wait to show it off at the weekends archery tournament (giving you credit for it, obviously.)
Very kind of you to have done this, sir! I've gotta try that dremel trick too...
Simon
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Eric Methven
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April 23rd, 2010, 11:31 pm #11

johnnycaribe wrote: Also, I did some tooling before the barley (actually, oats in my case) and it disappeared after the forming since it was stretched. Do you have any advice about that?
I tool mine before shaping.  I know what you mean about the tooling dissappearing.  I overcame that by wetting the leather, then letting it almost dry - so it looked dry, but was still cold to the touch.  Then I tooled deeply, more so than normal.  When it stretched, the deep tooling evened out a bit, but the image was still OK.

Eric
With age comes skills, such as the ability to multitask.
I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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johnnycaribe
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April 23rd, 2010, 11:39 pm #12

Ok! Thanks! May you tell me where do you buy your beeswax in such quantities? I bought a beeswax candle for 8 CAN dollars and melted it since I had no other known supplier. Farmers, maybe?
Last edited by johnnycaribe on April 24th, 2010, 1:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
Simon
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Grey Taylor
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April 24th, 2010, 2:19 am #13

Truly excellent tutorial, Eric.
Thanks so much for putting it up.

Guy
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Eric Methven
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April 24th, 2010, 8:55 am #14

johnnycaribe wrote:Ok! Thanks! May you tell me where do you buy your beeswax in such quantities? I bought a beeswax candle for 8 CAN dollars and melted it since I had no other known supplier. Farmers, maybe?
I get mine from friends here in England.  Many of them keep bees.  See if there are any beekeepers near you.  If Google doesn't throw anything up near you, try your local library and see if there are any bee societies around.  Then make contact.  Most beekeepers have both honey and beeswax for sale.

Eric
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I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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Juri
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May 2nd, 2010, 11:21 am #15

Thank you very much Eric!
Here is couple of flasks I have made following your instructions. I used the oven method for waxing and linen thread for stitching.
These are just brilliant to carry with. Light, durable, good looking and also keeps the drinks cold a long time.

I made a wooden stopper for one flask, but that was not so good idea. It swelled up so tight that I couldnt open the bottle anymore. And there I was very thirsty in the middle of the forest, a nice flask full of water in my hands.

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johnnycaribe
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May 2nd, 2010, 3:57 pm #16

Nice! The seams of mine are still leaking a bit and I just ran out of beeswax The wooden stopper thing happened to me too, Juri!
Simon
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Eric Methven
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May 2nd, 2010, 5:14 pm #17

Juri wrote:Thank you very much Eric!
Here is couple of flasks I have made following your instructions. I used the oven method for waxing and linen thread for stitching.
These are just brilliant to carry with. Light, durable, good looking and also keeps the drinks cold a long time.

I made a wooden stopper for one flask, but that was not so good idea. It swelled up so tight that I couldnt open the bottle anymore. And there I was very thirsty in the middle of the forest, a nice flask full of water in my hands.

Wow!  Those are absolutely brilliant!  What did you use inside to puff them out?  With the one on the right you can see the texture (lumps) of whatever was poured in and rammed.  I think it adds character though and I love them both.
You can make matching tankards at the gathering.

Eric
With age comes skills, such as the ability to multitask.
I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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Juri
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May 2nd, 2010, 6:28 pm #18

Thank you!
I used mung beans, only because that was what I could get from the nearby store. After these ones I drove a bit further to buy a bag of barley.

I just wonder what could be the smartest way to carry these flasks on a belt? Shoulder strap is very practical too, but not with a back bag.
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Eric Methven
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May 2nd, 2010, 7:19 pm #19

If you want to carry it on a belt, then the easiest way is to make yourself a net bag.  Attach the net bag to the belt then slip the flask inside the net.  You just remove it for a drink, then slip it back in the net again.  I'll bring some netting needles to the gathering and we can do some custom nets for carrying all kinds of stuff.

Eric
With age comes skills, such as the ability to multitask.
I can now cough, sneeze, fart and pee my pants all at the same time!
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toxophileken
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May 3rd, 2010, 3:59 am #20

Great tutorial! And lovely flasks, Eric and Juri!

Ken
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