Tutorial Repeat: Waxed leather drinking flask.

  • Hey Guest, For sale we have Hultafors Outdoor Knives with Firesteel PLEASE LOOK HERE for more information or use the Pay Now button in the sidebar


Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Apr 20, 2005
Durham City, County Durham
(Note: I lost the original photos to this tutorial when the host server closed down and my own originals were trapped in an old hard drive no longer connected to my computer. I've managed to get them back and make a new tutorial as a number of members have asked for it).[i/]

Making a waxed leather drinking flask. A Tutorial

I promised this a while ago in response to a request on how to make a leather 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) Hot wax dipping. The material I am using is 3mm veg tanned shoulder.

Part 1: Cutting Out, Making, and Stitching

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 symmetry, 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 running 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 maker’s 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.

Part 2: Wetting and Forming

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 water 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 needs 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. Next we will look at emptying and getting all the barley out, then hot wax dipping and finishing with making a wooden stopper.

Part 3: Hot Wax Dipping and Making the Stopper

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 submerged 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, no matter 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 made a nice rustic cherrywood stopper, and gave it a good polish.

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.

Have fun,

Eric Methven
  • Like
Reactions: Samon

Albus Culter

Jan 14, 2013
West Yorkshire
I remember this of old. I so want to try this and may just have enough leather to have a go!!!


Is there any other option but the hot dip method? I'm going to struggle to get that much wax and justify it for one project.


Feb 23, 2014
A lovely bit of craftsmanship. I want one!

I would try myself but I seem to have left my pot of hot wax in my other jacket pocket.


Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Apr 20, 2005
Durham City, County Durham
Yes there is. But it has the potential to be more messy.
If you only have a small amount of wax, then try this.
Heat the dry flask in the oven. Not too hot though or you'll cook it.
Melt the wax and paint it on with a paintbrush. The hot leather should let it soak right in.
Then pour the rest of the wax into the flask, swill it around then tip it out.
It may need some more oven time if the wax has set on the outside of the leather. Just keep a close eye on it else it'll cook and go all wrinkly.

Albus Culter

Jan 14, 2013
West Yorkshire
Hmm, sounds messy, but more achievable for a one off.

Would a hairdryer/heat gun heat the leather enough to get the wax to soak in? Or maybe a combination of oven to get it hot and waxed then hairdryer to keep it warm while you work?

May be worth a play. Again thanks for posting the tutorial again as I'd long forgotten the old one and I'd love to have a try.

Yes there is. But it has the potential to be more messy.
If you only have a small amount of wax, then try this.
Heat the dry flask in the oven. Not too hot though or you'll cook it.
Melt the wax and paint it on with a paintbrush. The hot leather should let it soak right in.
Then pour the rest of the wax into the flask, swill it around then tip it out.
It may need some more oven time if the wax has set on the outside of the leather. Just keep a close eye on it else it'll cook and go all wrinkly.


Oct 16, 2010
The oven method works well if you have a limited amount of wax but you have to be careful. The first one i made was left in the oven to long and it came out looking like a big walnut.Thanks for posting again.

ol smokey

Full Member
Oct 16, 2006
Great tutorial as others have said. As you know I have one of your flasks and feel it is a treasured heirloom, and much more so, now that I have seen just how much work and skill has gone into making it. As someone who has always been
good with my hands,, (but not anything like as good as you, ) a bit slap dash, and happy if I get fairly near to what I am aiming for I did have some idea of what was involved, but to see it in stages just blows me away. We are so used to seeing
mass produced articles nowadays, it is very easy to not appreciate the work that goes into hand crafted goods.
You really are ace at all the things you make, and it is a shame that we all under value real workmanship like this.

Hultafors Outdoor knife for Sale

We have a a number of Hultafors Outdoor Knives with Firesteels for sale.

You can see more details here in this thread OUTDOOR KNIVES The price is £27 posted to the UK. Pay via the paypal button below.