Friday, April 30, 2010

XD IWB holster

Patrick wanted me to make a holster for a 4" XD, so I did:  (click to enlarge)
The belt loops are temporary--I used pop rivets through the snaps to hold the loops to the holster, and the loops are scraps of slightly thicker leather of unknown provenance rather than the proper vegetable-tanned holster leather. The front button part of the snap wouldn't crimp right with the extra thickness, so I wound up using backs on both sides of the snap.  I don't like the belt loops as I've got them, but I think I can improve them, and give some adjustment capability without major effort.

I measured the thickness of the slide, and added half of that to the gun for the pocket sewing. Worked out well, except I think I will go a little closer for the bit of stitching just below the trigger.

 I'll probably do the next version as a tuckable with clips--not so much because I want to tuck my shirt in, but because I think I will be happier with clips than loops.  Clips will give me more leeway around the grip area, and are a bit less bulky.   I may also reinforce the mouth of the holster, this one doesn't stay open as well as I would like when the gun is removed.

This isn't quite as comfortable as my Minotaur, but it is also for a much larger gun--The XD I carry in the Minotaur is an inch shorter in both barrel and grip.  I'm not used to carrying a full-sized gun.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Giant J frame

I was talking about making holsters to an in-law.  He said he needed to get a smaller gun, because his "stuck out too much".  It turns out that he has a J-frame similar to mine which should be plenty small enough.  The problem was his holster, a cheap plastic thing with a single belt loop.  Fine for range or competition use, (although the J-frame isn't a competition gun) but lousy for concealed carry.  I wound up loaning him the holster in my last post, and if he likes it he's either going to buy it or commission a similar one.  (I had already made yet another holster for my own use with the gun at a different angle

If you are going to carry a gun, budget a lot more for your holster and belt than you might initially think.  An everyday concealed carry holster needs to be safe, hold the gun securely, with a reasonably fast draw, reasonably discrete, and comfortable worn every day.  The typical Foebus or Uncle Mike's plastic holster is fine for the range, but isn't going to conceal well for most people.  You can go too far the other way too--there are deep concealment holsters that are nearly invisible, but take quite a bit of time to draw.

When I carry my XD, I use a Comp-Tac/Minotaur M-Tac.    These are relatively cheap at around $80, work well and delivery time is very fast compared to a full-custom holster.  I have also carried in a Crossbreed Supertuck, another very similar holster, with similar performance at a similar price.  I learned a lot about holsters from the holster forum on Defensive  There were several skilled holster makers who were very free with advice and information.  I haven't read there in a while, so I don't know the current situation but even if there aren't holstermakers currently posting, the archives have a ton of good information.

One of the reasons I began making holsters was my inability to find a simple basic pancake holster for my J frame at a reasonable price.  I bought one inexpensive holster at a local shop, and it had some oddity with the leather where my gun would get stuck after an hour or so, requiring either precise wiggling or wedgie-inducing levels of strength to get free.   Obviously this wasn't a good concealed carry holster...

A problem is that it isn't practical for a shop to carry a full line of holsters.  As an example--Crossbreed recognizes 90 different "shapes" of handgun--not counting caliber differences, guns of different brands similar enough to use the same holster, and unlike some holster designs, not counting differences in barrel length.  Multiply that by the most basic options--Inside or outside the waistband, color, height, angle--you wind up requiring a huge inventory to merely cover the basics.   What typically happens is that most shops will have a selection of Foebus or Uncle Mike's plastic for the top 30 or so,  one cheap and one expensive brand of leather,  and a handful of nylon "fits medium revolver".   There are also some aspects of making a good holster that can't be done in mass production.

All this is why it can make sense for a hobbyist to make their own holsters.  The rout from hobby to pro is often making a holster for an obscure or brand-new model and selling those on the internet.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another J frame holser

This is the second version of this holster.  In this one, I paid close attention and did not screw up the layout-- so the sweat shield was on the back where it belonged and I did not have to cut it off.  I am happier with the boning around the barrel and ejector.  I moved the rear loop about half an inch closer to the gun, and angled the front loop a bit, both attempts to get the grip to sit a little tighter to my body.   I also moved the stitching in a little closer to the gun--this is another gun where half an inch seems to be excessive.  So far it feels successful--retention is excellent, the draw is great--it feels like it is being held in by the boning, rather than friction.  It also re-holsters one handed. I used  better leather  than previous holsters--I picked up a double back from Tandy Leather in Columbus, significantly better than the belly I was using.

For the next holster I make, I am going to take a life-sized picture to help figure out where to concentrate the efforts of boning--this is especially necessary since I am still using the vacuum foodsaver bag to get the initial rough boning.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Remedial holster making part 2

When we left off, we had 2 pieces of leather sewn together. I finished that holster without taking more pictures, so I will continue with a different holster, this time for a Keltec P3AT, a simpler design than my first attempt. I'm still experimenting, and this time I tried pre-dying the pocket area of the holster back before assembly. I also used a smaller pocket on this holster, since the last one was far too big. I may have gone a little too small, the pocket was barely big enough.

The next step is molding and boning. Get the leather wet--not sopping wet, just run it under warm water, making sure you get inside the pocket. Blot it dry, and set it on a towel for 15 minutes or so.

Unload the gun, make sure it is unloaded, then assume that every time you turn your back, someone might come and load your gun so you have to check again. You will be handling your gun in odd ways, it will be very easy to violate Rule 2, so it is doubly important to make sure it is empty. 

Put the gun in the holster, wiggle it around until you have the depth and angle right. The professional, high-volume makers have presses with rubber that does the initial rough shaping.

Although it is not necessary, I have had good luck with doing the initial shaping in a Foodsaver vacuum bag--not only does the vacuum begin the process, the bag protects the leather during boning. The Foodsaver brand bags have texture on one side which can get transfered to the leather, although it rubs out fairly easily. I put a paper towel around the holster, both to avoid the bag texture and to absorb some of the moisture. I also make sure I put the back side of the holster against the textured side of the bag.  I may leave the texture on a future holster.   

The front of the trigger guard on all guns, and the ejection port on a semiauto are two of the critical areas--these details help hold the gun in place firmly but without excess friction, so they should be deeply and crisply boned.   Make sure you do NOT mold to the trigger itself.

Push the leather into these spots with whatever smooth, rounded tools work--old pens, knife handles, clay working tools--I did a lot of the boning for this holster with a sharpie marker and a butter knife handle.  Ideally you will follow creases and contours, so the inside of the holster is a close match to the gun.

If you use a vacuum bag, touch up the details outside the bag, with the gun still in place.  Remove the gun and dry it off.   Let the holster dry in a warm, dry place.

Once the leather is dry, touch up the edges--make sure they are properly beveled, sand off any burn marks and loose bits.  Once the edges are good, burnish.  I use a 3/8 dowel chucked into my drill press at a medium speed.  Rub the edges along the spinning dowel. I've sanded the tip of the dowel to a rounded point that lets me get into the belt loops.

I'm not going to cover dyeing--I'm not that good, I basically rub leather dye on until I get a reasonably even coat, then wipe it off and let it dry.  Q tips for the belt slots.  If I keep this up, I'll likely get enough dye to dip.

This holster was designed for my wife.  She doesn't like gunbelts, so the belt loops are sized for the biggest belt she's willing to wear.  I don't think a gunbelt is necessary with small guns It was too tight initially--the stitching along the top of the trigger guard should be 1/8-1/4 inch wider.   I put the pistol in a baggie, holstered it overnight belted to a range bag.  If I were re-doing it, I would also make the front leather match the shape of the back near the rear sight.

I had her put it on to test it.  She forgot to take it off. I consider that success.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Second holster

Although I didn't take pictures, I did finish the holster in the last post:
(click to enlarge) I'm reasonably happy with the result. The boning around the barrel could be better, and the dye is somewhat uneven. Plus there's the issue of the missing sweat shield. It carries nicely, though, much better than the first one I did.

Remedial holster making part 1

I'm doing a fairly simple pancake holster for my J-frame. First step is to make a pattern--I've got a big roll of heavy craft paper which seems to work well enough. I make a tracing of the gun, then add about half an inch depending on the thickness of the gun. (I'm guessing that the actual measurement you want is about half the thickness of the gun--As I mentioned earlier, the P3AT 1/2 inch was way too big. This piece will help lay out the pocket. Also mark the position of the trigger--I made a cut in the paper so I could easily mark on other patterns or leather.

Next I traced the width of a gun belt on fresh paper, and laid the pocket pattern on top. I then did a rough sketch of what I wanted, making sure that I had at least 1/2 inch of leather around the belt loops. I laid out the back, which was supposed to have a sweat shield. (I'll get to that in a bit) Make sure you have adequate clearance to get a good grip without running into leather.

I also sketched the proposed front side. Being a revolver, it should be right at the cylinder edge--too high and it will be very difficult to re-holster. I went a little high, to trim after molding.

I cleaned up my sketch, straightening out lines, and making sure the radii (plural of radius, right?) were not too tight. The ruler I was using had a circular end about the right diameter. I would say a quarter is close to the minimum size you want.

Attach this to another piece of paper (I folded in half, and paper clipped the other end) and cut the back side out. You will have two backs, one of them marked for where the front is cut. I then use a hole punch to make holes at the top and bottom of each loop, and to help align the pieces. Put the unmarked back piece aside for now. and cut the sweat shield off the marked piece to become the front.

The next step is VERY IMPORTANT. This pattern is ambidextrous--depending on how you cut the leather, you will get a left-hand, a right hand or a screwed up holster. Hold the pattern to your beltline and assemble it--then mark it clearly--the parts that face each other should be rough, the outside should be smooth. Don't do what I did, and cut it as a left hand holster if you are right handed. This is why my final holster does not have a sweat shield....

Use the pattern to trace the outline onto the rough side of the leather. I do the belt loop holes first to make sure I maintain alignment. Also trace the pocket, so you know where NOT to glue. Cut the leather--A razor knife or tin snips work for me. Cut just slightly large.

Once the pieces are cut, put glue on the rough sides where the pieces will be together. Do not put glue where the pocket or sweat shield will be. Let the glue dry for about 15 to 20 minutes. If you are married, you may want to do this outside, my usually forgiving wife complains about the smell every time I use Barge cement. Contact cement bonds instantly on contact with itself, so you must be careful to get the alignment right the first time. Use a razor knife to trim any leather that isn't aligned on both sides, and any areas where the holster is too far from the pattern. Sand the holster down to the actual pattern--I use a bench grinder for large areas and roughing in, and a Dremel with a sanding drum for final touch up and inside curves. I suspect with more practice cutting, I could eliminate most of this step. This would also be a good time to lay out and cut your belt slots (I did mine later in the process) using the holes cut in the paper pattern as a guide. Be careful to leave enough leather around the slots, especially along the top. I used a 1/4 inch drill bit to do the ends, then cut from the holes toward the center with a razor knife. I have a 1/4 inch bit with rasp sides that I used to smooth the holes up.

Use the pocket pattern to lightly lay out guide lines where the pocket stitching will be on the front side of the holster, matching the marking you made for glue.

Using a freehand groover if you have one, or an adjustable edge groover if like me it is all you have, cut the lines for the pocket. The lines should not go all the way to the edge, they should stop where the edge grooves will be.

Adjust the edge groover to the distance you want your stitches from the edge. Cut a groove from the top of the pocket stitch groove around the holster to the bottom on each side. The top and bottom of the pocket itself should not be grooved. Go slow around the corners, and keep the cutter aligned properly with the radius. Edge groove front and back, don't groove the back of the pocket stitching until you've drilled the holes. For larger guns you may want to stitch around the belt slots, this would need a groove as well. I plan to go closer to the edge with my next holster. 

Run a beveler around the edges, especially any back edges that might contact bare skin. You may want to skip the pocket for now, if you plan to trim to fit after wet molding. Make sure you bevel your belt slots when you get around to cutting them.

With a squirt bottle or a wet finger, moisten the groove. Use the overstitch wheel, mark along the damp grooves to make stitch placement guides. Go slow around the radiused corners, and where possible start on the sharp corners with a point of the tool in the corner. With an approprite sized drill bit (about the size of the needle, big enough that stitching can be done without tools to pull the needles through except when backstitching. I made a bit out of a bicycle spoke sharpened with my bench grinder and a file. Works well enough. I use a drill press, the Tandy Leather manager recommended a dremel. Use scrap wood on the back side.

Once the holes are done, groove the back side of the pocket stitching along the holes. I am not entirely happy with the over stitch wheel in the corners, I think I may look for an alternative--the book I got suggested calipers.

Sew the holster together. Tandy sells wooden sewing clamps, but I made my own with scrap lumpber, screws and a bolt with wingnut.
Take a thread long enough to do one continuous thread for each section, if possible. Put a leather needle on each end of waxed nylon thread, and center it in the starting hole. Feed each needle through each hole in turn. I run the left needle through first, pull it snug and out of the way, then push the right side partway through the leather. Switch the free needle to your right hand, then pull the other needle through the leather with your left. Repeat on each successive hole until you are at the end (or back to the beginning, if you are sewing a loop) Try not to drop your needles between stitches, and it will go much faster. Pull tight--the stitch you just did may go loose again, but the one behind it will stay snug.

Once you reach the end, back up for 3 to 5 stitches. At this point the needles should be difficult to get through the leather--I use pliers here. You have to pull very straight, or the eye of the needle will snap. When you are done, run the thread on the front side of the holster to the back, and cut both threads flush with the leather.

The final steps are wet molding, boning and burnishing. I will cover them in part 2.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


While walking the dogs, I saw a car with two bumper stickers--One an Obama/Biden sticker, the other saying "At least I can still smoke in my car".

First holster

I decided to start small--literally, with a holster for my P3AT. I wanted something my wife might wear--one problem is that she wanted the holster to ride very low, with the grip at the beltline. With the P3AT being only 3/4 of an inch thick and with a tiny grip, a standard design riding that low would be difficult to draw from--that is why I did the wing on the grip side--it allows space to quickly get your fingers around the grip. I initially only had the cutout on the front side, but the back of the holster interfered a surprising amount. Most instructions say to make the pocket for the gun 1/2 inch bigger than the gun, but that is based on guns quite a bit thicker than the P3AT--the second line of stitching across the slide is to tighten the pocket up.

The tools on the right, are the main specialty tools needed for holster making--the over-stitch wheel to mark stitch spacing, the adjustable groover to cut a groove a fixed distance from the edge, and the beveler to round the leather edges. Each hole has to be drilled or punched prior to sewing--I used a drill press with a bit made from a stainless steel bicycle spoke. Sewing is by hand with two needles--each needle goes through each hole. Once sewn the holster is wetted, the gun is inserted, and the leather is pushed in to follow the details of the gun. When the leather dries, it should be quite stiff, and should hold the gun securely upside down.

Update: While I am happy with the construction of this holster, the design leaves quite a bit to be desired. I was attempting to do a holster that sits very low--the thin size of the P3AT makes getting a good grip difficult. The holster does not sit well, with quite a bit of butt sticking out under normal circumstances. I believe that this is because the belt loop under the grip is too long and flimsy, and needs to be closer to the gun.

I have built a pancake holster for my J frame and took pictures, I plan to publish posted the beginning of a fairly detailed and illustrated howto in the next few days. here