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Sheath vs. Scabbard: What’s the Difference?

The difference between a sheath and a scabbard is the type of blade they carry. Sheaths carry smaller blades like knives, and they are usually leather, fabric, or plastic. Scabbards are for longer knives and swords, and they typically have a more durable design to accommodate a sharp sword.

In this article, I’ll tell you about the different ways sheaths and scabbards are used, the difference in how they are made, and the different styles and types.

Differences Between a Sheath and a Scabbard

For those familiar with sheaths and scabbards, the differences between them are easy to tell. However, I have constructed a table to explain these differences better for those who are not aware.

Level of BulkLowHigh
UsesFor small bladesFor large blades
MaterialsLeather, wood, plasticLeather, wood, metal
Sheath in a belt over camo pants
Man pulling a sword from a scabbard

Weight and Bulk

The weight of sheaths and scabbards are different because they cover items that are not of the same weight. Sheaths are almost always lighter and smaller than scabbards. 

A sheath usually holds a smaller blade, so less material is needed, making it lighter to carry. Sheaths are generally only made up of one layer of material, making them very lightweight. A sheath has a very sleek design and is not very bulky.

A scabbard is for large blades. Therefore, there are more materials used, making it a heavier object. Scabbards also have multiple layers for better protection for the large blade. The extra layers make it much heftier and bulkier.


Maintenance of a sheath and a scabbard are reasonably similar. It’s essential to keep both clean because dirt can harm the materials and cause wear on the knife.

According to Knives Illustrated, leather oil and soapy water are the best agents to clean a sheath or scabbard, depending on the material.

A scabbard is harder to maintain because it is more material to care for, whereas a sheath is usually much smaller.

It’s best to treat your sheath or scabbard with a water-resistant coat such as oil for even better protection.

If you notice any loose threads in the stitching, it’s best to fix it immediately, or it will keep fraying. Take a lighter and burn the ends so they can’t continue to get loose.

To keep your blade and its cover in the best possible condition, store your blade with its scabbard or sheath in a dry place. If moisture gets trapped inside, it can ruin your sheath or scabbard and hurt the blade.

Uses of Sheaths and Scabbards

Sheaths and scabbards are for different types of blades. A sheath is for smaller blades such as knives and daggers. In comparison, scabbards are for large blades like those found on a sword or katana.

The general purpose of a sheath and scabbard is to hold and protect the blade you are carrying. This protective sleeve keeps the blade sharp and keeps out moisture. 

The sheaths and scabbards also protect others because you could accidentally hit someone with your blade when walking or turning around. With a sheath or scabbard, your blade’s sharp edge has a cover to prevent injury. 


Sheaths and scabbards come in various materials, but some of these materials, like leather, are more common than others. However, leather blades require a thicker sleeve, so scabbards usually include metal components for additional protection. 

The most common materials for scabbards are more complex materials such as brass, leatherwood, and gold. These metal materials are often laid in multiple layers for added protection to prevent accidents and keep out dirt and water that could ruin the knife.

Sheaths are usually lighter leather, fabric, or plastic. Sheaths are usually single-layered and don’t need to add a high level of protection for accidents.

Carrying Styles of Sheaths

Hunting knives leather belts and sheaths on an old wooden table

There are four carrying styles for a sheath. There are vertical, horizontal, canted, and cross-draw. These four types are all worn on a belt.

  • A vertical sheath is what it sounds like – it sits up and down on the belt. This position makes it easy to draw your blade, and it stays out of the way when sitting down.
  • A horizontal sheath is easy to picture. It is the complete opposite of a vertical sheath. This sheath can be set level with or below the belt, depending on a person’s preference. The horizontal sheath can be worn almost anywhere, whether it’s your side, back, or front. It also rarely gets in the way of doing any activities.
  • Canted sheaths are similar to vertical ones. However, they sit at an angle on the belt. This type of sheath gets in the way less than the vertical one.
  • The cross-draw sheaths are canted sheaths worn on the non-dominant hand side. So, just like its name, your dominant hand has to cross your body to draw your blade out from the sheath. It doesn’t get in the way as much since it’s on your non-dominant side.

Styles of Sheaths

There are two common styles of a sheath – pouch and pancake. These styles are both protective and flat to make carrying smaller blades safe and convenient. 

The pouch is made to put in your pocket or a bag without the knife causing any damage. The pouch sheath usually comes with a flap on the top that can snap shut, keeping the blade in place. This pouch can also hang on the side of your belt, sort of like a phone holder for flip phones.

The pancake sheath is very flat, with a bit of room in the middle for the knife to go into. There is a small vertical opening on either side of the pancake sheath so that your belt can easily fit through, and the sheath lays flat against your hip or back.

Types of Scabbards

Scabbards can be made in the four same ways as a sheath. However, the type of scabbard doesn’t vary, and they are all made in the same straight, long form to carry the large blade adequately. 

They may have different belts or straps, but the scabbard itself almost always has the same basic shape and attachments. These attachments usually include a shoulder strap and a smaller loop for hanging or attaching to your belt. 

Styles of Scabbards

Several swords and scabbards on display

When it comes to scabbards, their design usually does not vary because it is hard to do so with such a large blade. However, scabbards are mainly about style and are generally elaborate or embellished to look unique.

A scabbard throat is the opening into which the blade goes. The throat can be plain, but it is often decorated or engraved with initials or a design.

A top mount is a piece that connects to the throat of the scabbard. Mounts support the part of the scabbard that attaches to the belt to keep it more stabilized. These can also be highly embellished or include attachments to make it easier to hang the sword up when not in use.

Drag is the part of the scabbard that drags on the ground. These drags are often elaborate and decorated with brass leaves, birds, or floral designs. They also can have engravings on them.

Final Thoughts

Sheaths and scabbards serve the same purpose: covering and holding a blade. However, sheaths are for smaller blades, whereas scabbards are for a sizable blade-like sword.

Sheaths are lighter because they carry a smaller blade and are naturally smaller in weight. Scabbards have multiple layers of materials and are usually lined metal, causing them to be much heavier.

A sheath is made in four ways, vertical, horizontal, canted, and cross draw. These carrying styles can work for either a pouch or pancake-style sheath.

Scabbards are often decorated head to toe with different medal designs and engravings.

For more, check out Ways to Hold a Sword | Methods and Poses.