Author’s note: The pictures used for this article were taken as stills from the video produced by Hedgehog Leatherworks with their permission.
Well, Hedgehog Leatherworks is at it again. Still feeling the shockwaves of success from their new sheath designs for the Fallkniven Northern Lights series of knives, they’ve already taken up the challenge of releasing a new offering that’s a bit more mainstream. In fact, this new sheath is for a knife that’s been around for quite a long time. Your Grand Pappy might have used one in WWII. Hedgehog’s new sheath design is for the KA-BAR line of fighting knives. There’s several unique twists and turns in the story of the development of this sheath, the first of which that I’d like to point out is that it’s for a knife that’s over sixty years old. The KA-BAR has become so well-known in our society that even people unfamiliar with knives or weapons can tell you what a KA-BAR is. That’s true brand development. But, that’s not the only unusual aspect of this story.
Considering how old the KA-BAR knife is, it’s interesting to note the technological approach Hedgehog took to design a new sheath for it, even though the sheath, itself, is made of old-world materials. Paul Scheiter, the owner of Hedgehog Leatherworks has taken this different approach to design his last couple of sheaths, and he fully utilized internet technologies to make it happen. First, he sent out an email to subscribers of his monthly newsletter making them aware of his intent to make the new design and that he would be contacting them later on to get their input. Soon, thereafter, he emails those same folks with a link to a video that has been uploaded to the internet. In that video, Paul talks to his subscribers about his goal for the new design, offers some options, and then asks for feedback. He has a submission form right under the video where people can write their thoughts, and then fire them off to Hedgehog Leatherworks.
Throughout the design period, Paul follows up with more videos and shows off prototypes of the new sheath. Again, he points out various options he’s considering and requests more feedback from the audience. After 2-3 rounds of this, it all ends on a full-tilt boogie crescendo of anticipation when he sends out the last video showing off the finished product. It’s bad enough that the audience members are already drooling on their laps, but Paul offers up a little incentive to the folks that helped with the design. He lets them know that it’s going up for sale at a particular time, and that the first person to order a sheath also wins a free KA-BAR knife to go with it. Also, he informed the audience that the first folks to place an order during the introductory period will get their sheath marked with a special First Production Run stamp. Well, the first purchase event has come and gone, and Hedgehog has already gotten a queue of orders lined up for production first thing today. It’s expected that the first shipment will go out in a couple of weeks. And, some lucky person will get a free KA-BAR fighting knife thrown into their box as a nice prize for being the first to place an order.
We have reviewed a couple of sheaths from Hedgehog Leatherworks in the past. One of the things we have remarked upon is the old-world feel that his products embody. Beyond that, when you handled and inspect their sheaths, the user is immediately struck by the absolutely top-drawer quality that goes into each and every product. Despite Paul’s relatively young age and time in the business, I’m still going to go out on a limb here. I have used leather products from some of the best leathermakers in the industry, and there are some good ones out there. But, in my opinion, the sheaths from Hedgehog Leatherworks are the best I’ve handled and used out of the box. It isn’t just the quality of the materials. It’s how each design is executed, and it’s the solutions that he has developed for problems that other makers have ignored. One such solution is his rapid-release mechanism for the retaining straps on his sheaths. I’ve seen some different work-arounds and solutions executed for tactical, nylon sheaths, but never on a leather sheath until Hedgehog Leatherworks came along.
Another irony (I guess I’ll call it that) is that while Paul is making sheaths that have that feel and smell to them like they were made in another century, he is fully utilizing the potential of the internet to enhance his business and his interactions with his customers. Far too often, I see custom makers of sheaths, knives, and other products that simply have an email address and no other way to contact them. I suppose this is OK, provided you ever get an answer from them, but it’s a basic element of the net that’s been around for three decades. Because products like custom knives and leather holsters and sheaths are usually produced by people in their older years, they aren’t as technically savvy as the young folks coming out of school today. As a result, they haven’t altered their business model to match the new paradigm that the internet creates for interaction, networking, and community. Those that pay attention to the trends will see that the hottest sites on the web are those that allow user interaction and input, and encourage a sense of "community" by facilitating interactions with others on the web. Some of these sites include Digg, Youtube, MySpace, Facebook, and others. This is probably why so many forums are so popular as well.
One example of someone using the internet to help propel their business forward is Jerry Busse. I have several of his knives, but I know a lot of people don’t for whatever reasons. But, whether you have his products or not, there’s no denying the sense of community that he has built with the followers of his products. He participates online and in person with his users, and the most dedicated folks get their own Hog-related online names for their forum. But, no matter how good he is at promoting the products he designs, it’s still happening after the fact. I see Paul as a pioneer, of sorts, for the new craftsmen of the outdoors industry for this coming century. By involving users in the design phase through the available online tools, not only is Paul developing a rapport with this audience, he is also including them in the ownership of the design. That builds loyalty, and it opens up a good dialogue for the future between the maker and the user. It also gives the Hedgehog team a number of ideas and answers to use for their products that they might not have otherwise known about. That results in a better product and a more fulfilling end-user experience.
The new sheaths for the KA-BAR fighting knife fit the old model, and the fit the Next Generation line as well. They start off at $129.00 for the base model and work on up in price depending on the options you add to the base unit. The options include a Hedgehog Fire Steel with a loop added to the sheath, and there is also an option for a pocket for survival gear as well. Again, there are nice touches that you’ll find with these items that take them a step or two above the normal offerings. The pocket has a thin nylon strap that you can lay inside and then load your bag/box of gear into the pocket. Instead of trying to dig out the small bag/box with your fingers, you simply pull the end of the strap and it pulls the contents of the pocket right out into the open. I’ve seen fire steel loops on various sheaths, but Paul takes the extra step to add a retaining strap to his fire steel loop as well. As he states, over time, the fire steel will become thinner with use. Eventually, it will be loose enough in the loop that it could fall out and get lost on the trail. The retaining strap keeps that from happening.
Of course, just like a car, the options will cost you a bit more. A "loaded" sheath (fire steel loop with Hedgehog Fire Steel and Survival Pocket) will cost you around $248.00 (U.S.), so it’s not for the meek or the timid. That decked out sheath will cost you about three times the old style knife, and about twice the price of a Next Gen KA-BAR. But, remember, with these add-ons, you’re no longer just talking about a sheath. You’ve got a thick fire steel, a way to carry it, and you’ve got an integral pocket to carry surival gear that just might save your life. But, yes, even with that in mind, it’s a bit stiff in the price department. But, what about value? For this article, I looked around on a few different sites of well-known leather sheath-makers, and I didn’t see any warranty information posted. Hedgehog Leatherworks offers a 25 year warranty and proudly displays the terms of that warranty on their site. So, aside from getting a fantastic looking sheath out of the box, you’ve got a product that will give you years of service. I may seem to be gushing a bit here, but you have to hold one of these sheaths in your hand to really appreciate the fit and feel of it.
Once you see one up close, you won’t even worry about the warranty. You can tell right off the bat that it’s made to last. It’s built with thick, quality grain leather with equally robust double-stictching around the border of the sheath. And, when you examine the stitching, you’ll notice that it doesn’t look like something that came out of your mother’s sewing box. These are substantial, industrial-quality threads used to bind the sheath together, and the whole package is finished of with a clean, burnished treatment around the edges. All in all, you get your money’s worth for the product, and on top of that, you’ve got a great conversation piece as well as a trusty companion to ride on your belt out in the wilderness.
If you get a chance, this sheath system is well worth checking out. It’s a contemporary design that stays true to the classic roots of the KA-BAR knife line. The sheaths are available in brown and black, and they will be available for either horizontal carry or for vertical carry. Use your imagination, and with the available add-on options, you’re sure to come up with a combination that will be perfect for your outdoors style.
For more information, visit: www.hedgehogleatherworks.com