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Looking for input on starting out with some leather work

Discussion in 'Handguns: Holsters and Accessories' started by Lucifer_Sam, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. Lucifer_Sam

    Lucifer_Sam Well-Known Member

    I'm thinking about making some holsters, sheaths, slings and such. I'd like things to look nice, but I'm not worried about anything too fancy or elaborate--simple and clean would be fine. I'm thinking that these tools will be good for starting off:

    Stitching groover

    Stitching spacer-

    Strap Cutter (I have another use for this, so figure I might as well get one)

    Edge slicker

    Dye, Needles, thread

    I plan to make some burnishers out of dowels, and I'll cut the leather with a utility knife.

    Should I be good with that set up?

    I plan to cut the stitch holes with a dremel using a needle. Its something I saw recommended on a leather site and sounds like a good idea, let me know if it's not.

    I'm also interested in what products are recommend for water proofing that don't ruin colors, and what colors and types dyes work well. I personally like a reddish brown color on leather, so anything that fits that bill would be especially interesting.

    And any general tips, dos and do nots, etc would be welcome. Thanks.
  2. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

  3. Lucifer_Sam

    Lucifer_Sam Well-Known Member

    Thanks. Thats one thing I forgot, some of that leather cement. That tip on not using belly was helpful, too.

    So you use Crisco on the leather for the waterproofing? What does it do to the color? I've got neatsfoot oil, but that just turns everything really dark. And really oily.
  4. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Well-Known Member

    I on occasion made true hand made, no machines, one-off custom holsters for select (read rich) customers, for which I charged very high prices.

    Almost anything that will water proof leather is a waxy or oily compound and they soften the leather, which you DO NOT want in a holster. Holsters are not boots, gloves, or saddles, holsters should be very stiff.

    Using Crisco is not something I'd recommend and I doubt any professional holster makers would.
    The best product to use on a holster to make it water resistant is Fiebing's Resolene.
    This is a milky-white liquid that drys crystal clear.
    I sprayed it on with an air brush then force dried it with a hair dryer.
    After letting it cure overnight, I applied a coat of a good wax like Johnson's paste Wax or neutral shoe wax.

    To make the holes for stitching you can drill them with a drill, but this never looks good due to the round holes.
    The best tool to use is a stitching awl with a diamond shaped blade. This short ice pick-like blade cuts a diamond-shaped hole in the leather and forces the stitching cord to pull INTO the body of the leather instead of outward toward the edge.
    The finished stitching looks far better and is stronger.

    For dyes, you can choose from solvent based or water-alcohol based. Either can work well.
    Black will tend to rub off on clothes. Good colors are Cordovan which is a red-brown, standard brown, and British saddle tan.
    Seal the dyed holster with Resolene.

    To finish edges use an edge beveler to cut the bevel, then use Gum Tragacanth to wet the edge and then use the edge slicker to burnish it to a smooth finish.
    You can slick thick edges with a tool handle.
    Finish with buffed wax or an edge finish, which is a paint-like material. For added look, use black edge finish on lighter holsters.

    To mold the leather to the gun, soak the holster briefly in warm water, then let it stand until it's almost completely dry. This is called "casing" the leather.
    Most people start to mold way too soon. If the leather is too dry, give it a spray with a spray bottle.
    Don't put the gun in a bag or wrap with anything, that will make the holster over-sized.
    If you started molding with the leather at the right stage, the gun will come out of the holster bone dry.

    Insert the gun and mold it using your fingers, or whatever tool you come up with.
    Once the holster is molded, REMOVE THE GUN. If you leave the gun in, the leather will stretch out too much.
    Remove the gun and let the holster dry completely.

    Once the holster is completely dry, apply a THIN coat of real neatsfoot oil. Careful, much of this is labeled "Neatsfoot Compound" which means it's mostly fish oil. Buy pure neatsfoot oil.

    Allow the oil to soak in a few hours, wipe completely dry, then apply a coat of Resolene, allow to cure, then apply wax. If you apply a thin coat of neatsfoot oil, the leather will darken but then lighten back up as it soaks through the leather.
    Wax is the only thing used for maintenance after the holster is finished.

    What you need to buy extras from Tandy is:
    The large booklet "How To Make Holsters" by Al Stohlman. This has full sized patterns and leather carving patterns, but it also shows the fundamentals on how to stitch leather the right way using a stitching awl.


    A bottle of Resolene.

    A stitching awl with blade.

    Egg-eye leather stitching needles. These come in large 000 and smaller size is 0.

    A jar of Gum Tragacanth.

    Waxed stitching cord. Finding the exact size you need is tough. Most of it is too large or too small.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2013
  5. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    I did, what you did, mostly the way you did, but my customers weren't rich - as most of them were cops... :(

    But I made some good friends. :)

    I will add that the paper used to make supermarket bags (if you can find any in this age of plastic) is good for making patterns, and if you are working small-time you will discover that no two people have the same handgun.
  6. Lucifer_Sam

    Lucifer_Sam Well-Known Member

    Thanks very much. That's really an outstanding post, definitely the best post I've seen on holster making and the techniques used. I'd seen people mention the not to drill thing and say something about "bad holes", but they never really said why. You covered all the bases and a few roadblocks I didn't even know about.

    Thanks. I actually have some of that brown craft/packing paper from Lowes, its pretty similar. I wouldn't have thought of using it for that.
  7. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Well-Known Member

    If I was feeling rich I'd buy white poster board from art supply or office supply houses.
    If I wasn't feeling rich (most of the time) I used cereal boxes, which are excellent for making patterns.

    Old Fluff.
    I did make holsters for a few cops, usually at cost.
    These were for cops who wanted a true custom "one-off" concealment holster, and in the days before lots of custom makers, they couldn't find what they wanted.

    I did holster work strictly after hours, and only did it for select people.
  8. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    I had always used neatsfoot oil or Lexoil until about 15 years ago. I was talking to an old saddle-maker, (well, older then me, which puts him at 80-90 if not dead now) and he had an interesting story about leather oil.

    He ran to run a high end saddle making school here in Kansas, but in his younger days worked for a well known saddle/tack company in Wyoming .

    Anyway, he said one of their best selling products was the companies well-known brand of "Magic" saddle oil.
    His first job there was to fill the companies empty 4 oz. bottles of high-priced "magic" saddle oil with pure vegetable oil from a 55 gal. drum.

    It is also the only oil he recommends to students in his high-dollar saddle making school.

    He still insists there is nothing better for vegetable tanned leather because it is a natural oil, and unlike neatsfoot oil from boiled pigs feet, is salt and acid free.
    (Plus, you can always use it for cooking if you don't sell enough hand-made saddles to eat regular!)

    I have been using it for about 14 years now on my custom knife sheaths and holsters with perfectly satisfactory results.

    Vegetable oil - 13 years ago - Looks exactly the same today.

    Vegetable oil - made 10 years ago and this was a month or so ago:

    Vegetable oil - made 9 years ago, and still the same today.

    Tandy Leather-Sheen (water based latex) top finish coat.

    If you haven't tried it, don't knock it.

  9. bamabiker

    bamabiker Well-Known Member

    What's that old saying..."the proofs in the pudding."
    Well rc that pudding looks very good. Very nice work.

    As to the OP, there are lots of ways to work/finish leather. Do a little research and experimenting and find what you like best. You don't have to do it just like someone else to get nice results.
    At least I don't think so.
  10. Haystacker

    Haystacker Member

    LCR Pancake Holster


    I made this LCR pancake holster. I used drum dyed leather from RJF leather. This is 7/8 leather and molds, stamps, carves, oils well.

    When I do dye leather I now use the pro water stains from Tandy Leather. They are better than any others that I have used.

    I try to build affordable, quality leather holsters. No frills. Just good usable gear that looks good.

    If you want to email me at haysholsters@hotmail.com I will be glad to share patterns, instructions etc.

    A great source for holster making is leatherworker.net.

    Good Luck.

    Attached Files:

  11. robowo

    robowo Active Member

    A little research will show you several excellent ways to approach leather making. Find what works best for you.

    When someone requests a holster I ask them several questions.
    • What is the purpose of the holster? Conceal carry, western style, cross draw etc.
    • Any cant desired?
    • Do they want it wet formed to the handgun?
    • Do they want a thumb break or other retention device?
    • Any tooling or stamping desired or just plain?
    • If the handgun has a scope mounted, do they want an open top style or the scope enclosed in the holster?
    After the basic questions are answered, I make a holster pattern using heavy paper. I staple the pattern where the stitch line would be. Then I put the gun in the pattern and verify with the person any desired changes. I don't cut any leather until the customer is completely satisfied with the style and fit. Here are a couple holsters that I made for my two 6" barrel Ruger GP-100 revolvers, one with a scope mounted and one without.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 26, 2013
  12. Lucifer_Sam

    Lucifer_Sam Well-Known Member

    Thanks all. Thats some very nice looking work.

    I actually have been researching on and off for a month or so. Read some leather forums and watched alot of you tube videos... though some of those videos are of very dubious value. Like the guy who oils his holsters with WD-40. I dont think I'm going to do that...

    Thanks very much for the offer Haystack, I may take you up on it if I hit a wall or something.
  13. Haystacker

    Haystacker Member

    The best how to videos I have ever seen for modern holsters is Adams Leather works. Sometimes the videos are free and sometimes he charges a nominal fee. This guy makes some great looking holsters too.
    The best western videos I have seen are the John Bianchi western holster making dvd. The DVD's are $50 -$60 bucks. Worth it in my opinion.

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