There’s nothing quite like a leather holster. They feel great, hold your pistol securely, and have a classic look that is to die for. However, leather holsters—like all leather products—can be very expensive. If you have a usual pistol, you may also struggle to find a leather holster that fits your gun well.
There’s a solution to both the cost and fit problem. You can make your own molded leather holster. No, you don’t have to be a leather smith to complete this project. There are a couple of different techniques to choose from, and, of course, you will need to assemble all required materials. But other than that, wet molding leather is not that hard.
How to Make a Leather Holster
There are two main ways to form a leather holster: vacuum forming and wet molding. We describe both below. But, before we do that, you need to know what materials you need to make a molded leather holster. These are relatively similar for both vacuum forming and wet molding, so we’ve included only one material list below.
- Leather: You will need leather when making your leather holster. The best leather will be smooth and at least 3/16 inch thick. The thickness can vary from 3/6 inch to ¼ inch, but you don’t want to go thicker than ¼ inch.
- Leatherwork needles: These are what you use to sew the holster into shape. Order quite a few, you are likely to break some.
- Waxed linen leatherwork thread: You don’t want to use regular needlework thread in leather.
- Leather glue: The rubbery ingredient in this type of glue helps the leather stick together properly.
- Awl: An awl is a tool used to puncture holes in heavy materials. This is a very functional multi-purpose tool. Use the awl to mark the location of your stitch holes.
- Fine drill bits: You will use a drill and a very fine bit to cut the holes marked by the awl.
- Leather dye: For finishing. You want your leather holster to look good.
The beginning steps of making a leather holster are the same no matter how you mold it.
- Begin by cutting two large squares of the leather.
- Make a template for the holster. You can use paper, brown paper grocery bags, foam, anything. Trace around the edges of your gun, and then add a bit of extra space to the template. You will be sewing the edges. So, you will need a little extra room. Also, do not forget to make a template for the front and back sides of the holster.
- Use the templates to cut out the correct shape in the leather. Some people mold their leather before this step. But, traditionally, the leather is cut, sewn, and then molded.
- Soak the leather in water for 30 seconds or a little longer. It will feel slimy.
- Put the piston in the holster and fold it into the correct shape.
After step 5 is complete, you will begin molding the holster. This is where the two techniques diverge slightly. The goal of molding is to harden the leather into the correct shape. You want it to be formed into the shape of your gun and to fit correctly on your hip.
Vacuum Forming a Leather Holster
The first option you have when making a molded leather holster is vacuum forming the leather sheath. To use this technique, follow these steps.
- Glue and sew up the holster. You will want to use the awl, drill bit, thread, and needle mentioned in the materials list above.
- Put the pistol back in the holster. Place the entire unit—pistol and holster—in a vacuum bag.
- Use a vacuum sealer to suck the air in close around the holster and gun. You may need to complete this process a couple of times for the leather to seal correctly.
- Some people then remove the gun and place the holster in a 125-135-degree F oven for thirty minutes to harden the leather. You can also let the leather sit in the air-sealed bag for a few days.
Wet Molding a Leather Holster
When wet molding, the process is a little bit different. Follow these steps for wet molding leather.
- When you know that the holster is the correct proportions for your pistol, remove the pistol.
- Quickly wet the inside and outside of the leather.
- Put the pistol back in the leather.
- Fold the leatherback over the pistol and secure it to a board with nails. You will want to protect the holster from the board by using paper towels.
- Let the holster sit in a cool, dry place until completely dry.
- When the holster is properly formed to your pistol, it is time to sew it up as you would in the vacuum forming technique.
Common Problems when Making a Leather Holster and Their Solutions
Working with leather is notoriously difficult for the newbie. Don’t let that intimidate you, though. There are a few common problems novices have when first wet forming leather with a vacuum sealer as described above. Here are those problems and their solutions.
Rust begins to form.
Always make sure that your leather holster is clean and dry. This is why the drying stage in the wet molding leather process is so important. Firearms made from stainless steel will probably be fine. But, you don’t want to take any chances. If you where the holster IWB, make sure to clean it regularly and let it dry out completely. You may also be able to use an acrylic sealer on your leather holster to stop it from absorbing too much liquid.
The holster doesn’t fit your pistol.
There’s nothing worse than getting finished making a beautiful leather holster only to find it doesn’t fit your gun. Unfortunately in this scenario, two things may have gone wrong. First, your template may have been off. Creating the template is one of the most crucial steps of the molded leather holster. Taking care when making the template and triple-checking it against your pistol will help solve this problem.
Second, you may have not molded the holster around your pistol. It may be tempting to use a forming rod or some other item when wet molding or vacuum sealing your leather holster. Don’t give in to that temptation. You want to mold the holster to your unique gun so that everything fits correctly.
The leather dries out too much.
Do not soak the leather in isopropyl alcohol instead of water. The alcohol will dry out the leather a lot. This will not ruin your holster, but you will need to “fix” the issue by rubbing a lot of Neatsfoot oil on the holster when it is finished. Often leather that is too dry will crack. Keeping the leather slightly damp as you work with it and not drying it too quickly will solve this problem.
It may seem that there are a lot of steps to making a molded leather holster. There are, but you should get the hang of them fairly quickly. You may even find that you love working with leather and making your unique holsters. As you perfect the art of holster making, your leather holster will get more elaborate and nicer looking.
If you would like to see a visual representation of the processes described in this article, check out this video on how to make a pancake holster with leather. You can also do a quick Google search on making a molded leather holster. It seems as if every person has their method. Find the one that works for you, and begin a fun, new DIY project. Once you have completed your DIY leather holster its time to break it in, we have a guide for that too, find it here