Oct 192009

The following is a modification of a post I submitted to my favorite website, Metafilter. I put a bunch of effort into photographing things I had made some time ago, and obviously I had put in a great deal of effort to create the items in the first place. Frankly I haven’t investigated whether or not other people have experimented with firehose for arts and crafts, or functional artifacts. I feel that more can be done with this unique material, but my interests have shifted as of late. But it’s worthwhile to document things, so I thought I would create this page.

When I was in high school, I used a conventional sewing awl to repair a leather belt I owned:

Sewing Awl by you.

This was a scan of an old ad from Popular Mechanics magazine. This tool has been around for a long time.

I stitched the entire perimeter of the belt, as it was composed of two pieces of leather that had been sewn together in the first place. As I recall, the initial stitching had failed, and so this was a repair.

The amount of labor that went into this project was enormous, and made an impression on me. You still see numerous leather items that are composed of two slats of leather that are stitched together, like this folding knife scabbard for a belt:

Traditional Leather Knife Belt Pouch by you.

Notice how the ends of the two belt loop slits terminate in round holes. This helps reduce the chances that the tear will propagate.

Stitching is not the most robust means of attachment, and so myself and others have sought ways around this design weakness. The venerable Leatherman tool scabbard is one superb example:

Leatherman "Supertool" Belt Pouch by you.

It has no stitching at all, and uses only four rivets:

Riveted Leather Leatherman Belt Pouch by you.

Despite the obvious advantage of rivets, only two kinds of rivets are commonly available to the average consumer; “pop” rivets, and “cutler” rivets. Pop rivets leave a large bump on one side, and are unsightly for an aesthetic craft project. Cutler rivets are nicely flat on both sides, yet are available only in thicknesses appropriate for knife handles, as far as I know. The rivets you see on the Leatherman pouch are obviously a proprietary design. Thus one needs to make peace with the venerable sewing awl, as it’s very hard not to need stitching at least somewhere…

Fast forward many years. In about 2003 I decided to modify the standard sewing awl to become a more functional tool. I  flattened and colored one side of the sewing awl to provide visual and tactile cues. When withdrawing the needle from the work, I place my thumb on the wound thimble which enables good control of thread tension. Since the tool is now asymmetrical or “two sided”, I placed the spindle in an “overshot” configuration.

I replaced the flimsy thimble axle with a #10 fine hex-head machine screw. Existing holes were re-tapped for #10 fine threads. A much more robust design, with much less “play” on the thimble:

Modified Sewing Awl by you.

A short section of 3/8″ fuel line formed an effective scabbard for the sharp needle. It fit over the needle chuck nicely:

3/8" Fuel Line Needle Protector by you.

I use 130 pound test Spectra fishing line for “thread”. It must be admitted that the enormous tensile strength of such a product is probably overkill, as the stitching is more likely to fail due to abrasion rather than stress and strain. Yet the relatively large diameter of the line has the counterintuitive advantage of being less likely to cut into the base material. Since Spectra is polyethylene, it can be literally welded, which is a much better way to terminate the line of stitching than with just a knot. But to ensure a proper sewn termination, tie the ends off with a knot, then weld the knot. If you do it right, you can flatten the heated polymer to a more aesthetic “button” shape before it cools and hardens. The spool of line seen here is for me most likely a lifetime supply:

130 Pound Test Spectra Fishing Line by you.

Having worn various tools in belt pouches for a number of years, It occurred to me sometime in the early 2000’s that if one started with a material that was tubular to begin with, that no side stitching would be required. Luckily for me, I was able to obtain sections of used firehose at an industrial supplier here in Seattle. Here is a flashlight belt scabbard that I made out of small diameter firehose. Note the inclusion of enlarged holes at the ends of the belt loop incision:

Firehose Flashlight Belt Pouch Side View by you.

Note that only one end of the scabbard required stitching:

Lock Stitch Sewn Edge of Belt Pouch by you.

Being that firehose is a composite, with rubber on the inside bonded to a synthetic overbraid, the material’s edges can be heat sealed. Ultimately my flashlight scabbard was a mixed success; despite the heat sealing, the main flap began to pucker and fray:

Firehose Flashlight Belt Holster by you.

And one of the belt loop cut-outs began to tear.

Belt Loop Tear Extension by you.

Perhaps the material I chose was too intrinsically flimsy.  I had better luck with a key pouch made out of firehose:

Firehose Key Pouch by you.

I’ve used it for several years now, and am happy with the results. Again, note that only one edge of the pouch needs stitching, due to its tubular morphology. Unlike the flashlight pouch, I forgot to truncate the corners! Nevertheless, I’ve never been poked by the stiff corners, and I haven’t had any pockets wear out because of it. Were I to do it again, I hope I’d remember to include that simple feature:

Firehose Key Pouch Lock Stich by you.

It’s possible to get tubular synthetic firehose overbraid that has no rubber bonded to it:

Circular Braided Firehose Overwrap by you.

Being tubular, the ends of a segment can be everted, then sewn shut. This can provide a particularly aesthetic way to terminate an end.

I obtained a long section of some synthetic tubing in 4cm width. I don’t think it’s firehose overbraid though; I suspect it’s used for overhead crane straps:

Large Roll of 4cm Width Tubular Strap by you.

4cm Synthetic Tubular Strapping Width by you.

This width I found very useful, as I’ve made knife scabbards and belts out of it:

Knife and Scabbard by you.

Tubular Synthetic Strap Knife Scabbard by you.

As an aside, the yellow material on the knife handle is heat shrink tubing, a unique and valuable material in its own right.

Creating the knife scabbard was simple as pie, and being that the closed end experienced no mechanical stress, I didn’t even stitch it closed, I just heat sealed it:

Quick and Easy Heat Seal by you.

The belt buckle I welded myself:

Hand Made Belt Buckle  by you.

The bifurcation you see on the revolute joint is due to it being two steel washers welded to a segment of steel rod. Part of the main body I bent, and part I welded, thus accounting for the differences in the corners. Were I to do it again, I’d probably weld all joints.

Being tubular, the only stitching required on the strapping is what you see just below the buckle. A “tongue” was cut out of the tube, wrapped around the steel buckle, tucked back into the tube, then sewn shut.

The belt buckle holes were formed with a red hot poker (a sharpened machine screw). One could use a needle nosed soldering iron, but that would leave plastic residue on your iron. Over time mechanical stresses will distort the base material, so this is not an ideal, long term solution. But I’ve had this belt buckle for several years now, with no major malfunctions:

Belt Holes Formed With Red Hot Poker by you.

The most recent hole is to the far left, as I’ve lost weight recently. As you can see the middle holes have become distorted over time.

I have a strong intuition that firehose and tubular strapping are useful and robust materials for crafts projects, and I simply haven’t been able to think of further applications for it. Perhaps this webpage will act as a useful starting point for others who can see what I can’t. Good luck!

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Art

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