Saturday, April 03, 2010

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.

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