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FAQ: How should I care for a leather sheath?

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Once you've fitted your prized knife with high-quality "pants," what's the best way to take care of the hide?

Sharpshooter Sheath Systems' Reid Hyken has produced high-quality sheaths for the likes of Bark River Knives and Benchmade, and he knows a thing or two about leather, so we decided to pick his brain for answers to some common questions.

Judging by the number of potions and goops and pastes on the market, it'd be natural to assume that caring for leather is complicated -- but according to Hyken, it's really very simple.

The "cardinal sin" of leather care is applying petroleum products, including compounds that use petroleum bases or carriers.

"Leather is skin, just like yours," Hyken says. "Look at it this way -- if you wouldn't put it on [a particularly sensitive area of human skin], why would you treat your leather with it?"

He notes that all Sharpshooter sheaths are treated with neatsfoot oil compound at four different stages of the manufacturing process, with the intent of creating nearly maintenance-free finished products. For regular care, if desired, he recommends Obenauf's, a beeswax/propolis formula available through KnivesShipFree.

Hyken also is the developer of the EEP leather treatment -- Extreme Environmental Protection, applied to the leather during production and available through KnivesShipFree. More than just surface waterproofing, EEP fills the voids among the leather's fibers, making it resistant to water, mold and mildew. EEP can withstand high temperatures and, unlike other treatments, it won't dry out.

At the end of a hunt or a camping trip, a leather sheath is bound to be in need of cleaning. Hyken advises against making two common mistakes: trying to get the leather too clean and trying to dry it too fast.

"Wash it out with plain, lukewarm water -- don't use hot water and don't scrub it," he says. "Wrap it in a dry towel and put it in a warm (not hot) place to dry naturally. You might want to change the towel every so often. And don't re-sheath your knife while the leather's wet."

Hyken offers one more tip to those tempted to dry a sheath by propping it up next to a campfire or leaning it against a radiator: "Once leather is stiff and dry, its natural oils are gone for good -- it's cooked, it's poached and there's no restoring it."

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