By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Brian Gustad, a 2006 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted graduate, enjoys the outdoors, and especially likes hiking and backpacking because of the “challenge and sense of adventure.”
“It tests my skills and physical ability,” he said. “Some of the most amazing places can only be reached by foot, and that’s what makes it all worth it.”
It was Gustad’s love for exploring the outdoors that showed him there was a need for B. G. Leatherworks, a business he began more than two years ago. That was when he discovered, as he purchased different knives and axes for his hiking adventures, that none of them came with a cover or sheath for protection from sharp edges.
“You have to have a sheath on sharp edges like that, and so I decided I would try to make one myself,” Gustad said.
He bought some scrap leather and made a knife sheath with a leather tie to be worn around his neck. The sheath served its purpose so Gustad decided to try making a sheath for his tomahawks because they’re very sharp and hard to carry.
“First one I tried out and then, you know, I had to make the next one to make it better,” Gustad said.
Eventually, Gustad made three extra tomahawk sheaths and offered them on e-bay, and they were sold in about a week.
“So after that, I made more, and it (B. G. Leatherworks) pretty much took off from there,” Gustad said.
He is currently working on a modular knife sheath, his most popular right now, for someone in Australia; and he has made leather products for customers in other countries outside of the US, as well.
His largest order to-date, came from Missouri, when he made five knife sheaths for the US Air Force survival instructor graduates.
If he would have had the capabilities, it would have meant an annual order from the Air Force for 40 sheaths.
“But I can’t get out that many in two weeks. Not with the quality work that I do.”
All of his sheaths are hand-sewn with waxed nylon thread.
Stitching by hand is superior to stitching by machine, according to Gustad, because the machine does a lock stitch which actually hooks the two strings together.
For his leather work, he does the saddle stitch which uses two needles that go through the same hole, “but it’s one needle through and then the second needle through going the other way,” Gustad said.
The sheaths Gustad makes are from leather that he gets from various suppliers, usually in a 24-square-foot size.
His cutting tools have to be extremely sharp to cut the leather.
“Usually I have to resharpen my knife after 10 to 20 cuts. If it’s not hair-shaving sharp, it’s not sharp enough,” Gustad said.
Has he made mistakes?
“Plenty,” Gustad admitted. “I have a big box of leather sheets that I have screwed up. Leather is about $7 a square foot, so it’s expensive to make mistakes.”
If the leather product Gustad is making is for something special, a tool he doesn’t have, it has to be shipped to him.
“I don’t work off of templates or outlines of knives. There are too many tolerances. For example the thickness of the knives and the width. I have to have the knife in hand in order to make the template off of it,” Gustad said.
Because of his success with B. G. Leatherworks, Gustad has made the decision to make it a fulltime job.
For the last five-and-one-half years, he has worked as an auto mechanic at Bryan’s Service Station in Winsted. Gustad said he likes working as an auto mechanic, but has given his notice. His last day at Bryan’s will be Friday, May 18.
Soon after Gustad leaves Bryan’s, he is packing up his sheath-making equipment and moving to Duluth where he has leased a home which has a large basement where he can set up his shop.
His current shop is in one small room of his apartment in Delano. The heavier equipment he needs has been kept at his parents’ home in Winsted. Being able to have room for all of his equipment in the larger shop in Duluth will make his work much more efficient.
“I know a lot of people up there,” Gustad said of his move to Duluth. “I know a knife maker up there and a couple of other people, and it’s a better local market to work with. They are big on the outdoors.”
Also, in the future, Gustad is hoping he may be able to hire someone to help him.
He would come up with the designs and then have someone follow the steps he has laid out to complete each project.
“I like the creating and designing, not so much the reproducing,” Gustad said.
Gustad will also be offering his sheaths made from a product called KYDEX, a thermo-molded plastic that is heated in the oven.
“Then, you mold it around the knife, put it in a press, and let it cool. It forms a sheath for the knife. Then you rivet it together,” Gustad said.
With KYDEX, the process is easier, and the product less expensive, according to Gustad.
Some people like leather and some like KYDEX and Gustad wants to be able to offer both.
To learn more about B.G. Leatherworks, go to www.bgleatherworks.com.