How to make a molded leather holster.

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by Handy, Mar 19, 2003.

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  1. Handy

    Handy Guest

    I've made a couple decent holsters for myself and used them for IDPA and carry. While I'm sure there are more qualified instructors, here's the basic formula which has worked for me.

    Pancake holsters are the easiest quality design since they incorporate a sight channel and hold the gun tightly. Here's a picture of one to reference:

    How to make a pancake holster:

    Leather. Look for smooth leather about 3/16 of an inch thick. Thicker is generally better as it makes the holster stiff, but 1/4 inch is probably pushing it. Use you judgement.

    You'll also need leather work needles (more than one, the eyes break), waxed linen leatherwork thread, leather glue (it's like elmers but has some kind of rubbery agent), an awl for marking the stich drill points, a fine drill bit-like the smallest one in a standard set. It should be small enough to require a smaller than standard chuck for the dremel. Any leather dye will work, but liquid beeswax is better for finishing.

    Most of the leather specific stuff can be had from a local leather/crafts store or a saddlery or shoe repair place. For mail order, Tandy Leather has everything, but it's nice to pick out the leather in person. Check your yellow pages.

    I start by holding the gun against my body until I figure out how it should fit-figure out where the belt is in relation to the pistol and it will all go from there. I pen and cut both sides of the holster from brown bag paper and staple it into a shape the gun will fit into, leaving about 3/8 of an inch from the gun to the stitches. The outside stitches go about a 1/4 inch from the edges of the leather. Cut the pieces with a little extra so you can trim the front and back together. Mark, but do not cut the belt holes. I would do this after the stitches. I like to leave the muzzle open so cases or dirt fall through.

    Once you think the leather shapes are about right, glue them together inside the areas that will be closed in by stitches (the same area where the belt loops will be cut). Do one side at a time, lightly clamping the glued portions between wood for a good set. Doing them one by one allows for the front and back pieces being different shapes, as the piece closer to your waist should be a little smaller than the one going around the outside of the gun.

    Once the glue has set, mark for stitch holes. All you need are two rings of stitches, one over the slide, one under the trigger guard. The stitches define the outside edges of the holster and the inside area that the gun fits into. The spacing of the stitch holes is around 3/16". Tandy sells a little spur wheel thing that gets the spacing perfect, but I eyeballed it. Make the marks with the awl. Drill the holes. Use the awl to scratch an indentation between the holes that the stitches can seat into (optional). As you'll see when stitching, it would be ideal to have an odd number of holes, but don't bother counting.

    Stitching. Starting somewhere inside the holster body (so the end of the thread gets hidden) start a basic up and down stitch. It will miss every other space as it goes above and below to hit every hole. That's okay because you go around twice, the second time one off the first, covering the gaps and going through the holes for a second time. In the end, every hole will have two threads passing through it and every gap (front and back) will have a single stitch crossing it. (hope that makes sense.

    Molding. Your holster will not come out with the super crisp molding lines of custom holsters. That's because they use inside and outside molds. Hold your creation open and let a second or two of water run through it, then the same to the front and back. Wrap the oiled pistol in a layer of sandwich wrap and insert (don't get oil on the leather). Now take the rounded end of an awl, screwdriver or similar and force the damp leather into the contours of the pistol, front and back. Bend the holster into the curve of your waist and let it dry on something soft (a wire rack would leave marks). Let dry completely, remove gun and let dry some more.

    Do any final trimming, die the holster a pleasant color (I think naturals or reddish browns look best) and let dry completely. The next day, apply liquid wax and work in with cloth, then buff with a shoe shine brush. Burnish edges as best you can (I never mastered this) with wax and emory cloth or the appropriate dremel attachment.

    About 2 days total (drying time) and 3 hours actual labor. A wet molded holster that looks very good and is super durable for about $15 invested. If you have the spare time, it's fun.
  2. anchored

    anchored Member

    Jan 21, 2003
    West Virginia
    Great project - an alternate way of molding I've used on store-bought holsters is to soak it in denatured alcohol until saturated, then insert pistol and vacuum bag it for a little while (watch exhaust - highly flammable - do it outside). Probably, those new storage bags you use with a vacuum cleaner would work. If you let it run several hours, leather will dry almost completely.
  3. faustulus

    faustulus Member

    Dec 28, 2002
    Middle Tennessee
    I find the boning process easier if you boil the leather.
  4. swampgator

    swampgator Member

    Jan 8, 2003
    Gatorville, Florida
    Burnishing edges:

    After holster is dried completely, take sandpaper (anything over 300 works well) and lightly sand the edges.

    After sanding smooth, take gum tragacanth and apply to edges. Then using a smooth item (like a leather slicker) and rub until completely smooth.

    After completion apply edge coating. Fiebings makes the best I've used.
  5. Penman

    Penman Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    For the best definition to your moulding, saturate the leather and then wait until the surface dries to the point that it no longer appears wet. The leather will still be damp, and this will take the boning and give you a nice, burnished look. Letting the leather dry until the surface looks dry is called "casing" by the old leather workers. If they needed to set the piece aside to work on later, they would wrap it in a towel and place it in the refrigerator.

    Having plastic wrap or a thin bag around the gun will not provide the most crisp detailing. A light coat of RIG (Rust Inhibiting Grease) will protect the gun and allow for a closer fit. A light coat of RIG will not discolor the leather. Get some shearling (sheepskin with the wool left on) scraps from a saddlemaker, and use a piece to apply the RIG.

    Sculpting tools, for working clay, are great for boning the leather. You can get them with precise ball tips or spatulate ends for smoothing larger curved areas.

    I've done a lot of work with hard leather, pm me if you have any questions or want to discuss.
  6. ktmhk53

    ktmhk53 Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    I copied this post by master holster maker Lou Alessi a while ago...

    Now here's how we do it:
    1. Cut the pattern
    2. Dye the pattern. We dip dye using 5 gallon
    3. Allow the dye to 'flash off', then edge bevel the inside edges that will not be stitched, like the mouth, and muzzle of the pattern.
    4. Crease the edges with a #3 creasing tool, then apply hard wax of appropriate color to edges that will not be stitched, and polish the edges on a buffing wheel.
    5. apply the name stamp, and weapon I.D.
    6. Apply cement, allow to dry, apply stitch patterns, and perform stitching.
    7. Machine trim all stitched edges, dye edges, and wax edges on a hot wax wheel to achieve a hard waxed edge. Buff edges to a gloss.
    8. By this time, the dye has lightened up, and the leather is dry. We then re-dip into dye, or (for black) HOT water, for about 20 seconds. Insert mold, or gun, and press the leather around the gun in an arbor press with
    40 durometer rubber 2" thick. (Note: 40 durometer is about the hardness of a pencil eraser.)
    9. Gun and holster remain in press for aprox 1 minute for molding. Then the holster and gun are removed, and the leather is hand boned to enhance the lines of the weapon, and to insure correct fit, along with allowing a sight track using a 3/8" wood dowel to create a 'tunnel'.
    10. holster (with gun still in place) is then buffed on horse hair brushes via machine, and once again the edges are buffed to bring up the wax shine.
    11. Gun is removed from holster, and holster is placed into a low heat oven, (aprox 110 degs). Holsters are left to dry slowly overnight.
    12. Next morning the holsters are removed from the oven and buffed again to remove any oxidation from the dye.
    13. Holster is then sprayed with an acyrillic finish to seal the leather, and provide a shine.
    14. back into the oven to dry as the finish is a water based formula. After drying for aprox two hours, they are given a final buff.
    15. Holsters are checked for flaws, and then fitted with mostly real guns to determine proper fit, and adjusted as necessary. Snaps, and hardware are applied last.
    16. Bagged, and shipped to customer!

    Whew! I'm tired

    Alessi Holsters, Inc.
    You'll never know it's there, until you need it..
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