Sunday, August 8, 2010

Making Kydex Holsters

This is my first posting to come out of a request.

This is a follow-up on the Custom Pocket Holster post.

I guess the first thing I should do is start with a disclaimer.  If you are going to be forming a holster around an actual firearm, check to make sure it's unloaded three times before you start doing anything.  Be really really sure it's unloaded, and periodically check to make sure it's still unloaded.  We don't want anyone getting shot by an allegedly unloaded pistol.

If you have a blue gun, or a red gun, a resin movie prop gun, or a metal stand-in of the type typically used for making holsters, obviously use that instead of a real firearm.  However, I expect that most who read this, are just normal shooters, who aren't going to go and spend $50 for a solid plastic gun to make one or two holsters.  In case I haven't made it perfectly clear yet, if you are going to be using a real firearm to form a holster around, make sure it's completely unloaded first.

Kydex is a pretty forgiving material to work with.  If you make a mistake, you can heat it back up and reshape it.  One of the only ways you can really go wrong is to cut a piece too small, although you may be able to use that piece later for something else.  If you get too agressive with a heat gun you might manage to scorch or really melt the material.

Kydex is also a very inexpensive material.  At present, you can get a 12x24” sheet of black Kydex for about $15 shipped, which should be enough to make two dropped and offset race holsters for full-size pistols, possibly 3, 4, or maybe even more concealment holsters, depending on the design.

I bought my Kydex and Concealex from  They have expanded their line of sheath and holster supplies to include metal belt clips, snaps and setting tools, a wider selection of rivets and setting tools, leather material and supplies, new colors and camo pattern Kydex, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

.060” thick Kydex is easier to shape, but Kydex is pretty brittle, and all the holsters and belt loops I’ve ever had, made of .06” Kydex have broken or cracked.  The pocket holster for the Kahr is made of .09” thick sheet, and has been beaten pretty badly, but it's still intact.  I made belt loops for the SuperTuck from .09” sheet folded over, and they’ve been hanging in for a couple years now.  I don't have any experience with .08" Concealex or Kydex, or .125" Kydex.  The 1/8" Kydex might do the trick for belt loops, but wasn't available when I ordered material.

There are a few different ways to form Kydex.  I just use a heat gun to soften the sheet, and then I bend and form it as necessary.  You may have seen vacuum forming on Mythbusters, that works with Kydex too, but I haven't bothered with making a vacuum forming set-up myself.  I've heard of people using the oven, or a toaster oven to warm up the Kydex, and then they quickly try to form it before it cools down and sets.  I have not tried the oven method yet, but I can see how it might have some advantages.

If you use the heat gun or oven methods, you'll need some kind of "Kydex press."  You can order a nice, photo-friendly press from or elsewhere for about $85, but I made mine from some MDF I had left over from another project, and a couple layers of foam cut from a sleeping pad.
The top layer of foam is a little scorched, and the cut of the MDF isn't pretty, but it gets the job done.

You may have no choice but to hand-form sometimes.  The Kydex press doesn't really do curves, unless you make some kind of buck to insert into the press with the hot material.

You'll need something to use as a heat sheild to just work small areas of your holster.  I used a piece of aluminum flashing, but a scrap of plywood or something would work too.
I think I had cut the notch in the heat shield to rework the channel necessary for the slide lock lever.

I have used popsicle sticks taped to the pistol to form slots in the Kydex for the slide lock lever, and other controls.  If you don't have any handy, you can find them labeled as craft sticks at Michael's or maybe WalMart.  The wood slats, purchased from the hobby section of WalMart, I cut to make a stand-in belt to make belt loops.  It's not pictured here, because I threw it away, but I once use the handle of a plastic spoon at one point for forming Kydex.  Use your imagination.

Here is some hardware used to make the tension adjustment on the pocket holster for the Kahr.  On top is a tee-nut (may alse be called a t-nut).  On the bottom is a finish washer.  On the right is a rubber bushing, which goes between the layers of the holster.  On the left is a flathead Phillips 8-32 machine screw.

Except for the rubber bushing, this is the same type of hardware used to secure the belt loops to a Crossbreed SuperTuck holster.  Crossbreed seems to have used a rubber washer cut from rubber sheeting to use as a spacer between the leather backing, and the belt loop.

The finish washers I was able to find at Home Depot.  The tee-nuts and screws I ordered from MSC Direct, but they may be cheaper from McMaster Carr, although, if you need a heat gun, it's probably cheaper at MSC.  If you are buying a heat gun, try to get one with the attachments for focusing the flow of hot air.  It you can't get a heat gun with the attachments for a resonable price, you can get them from WalMart in the paint section for under $25 probably, or maybe from PepBoys.

More Holster-Making Links, in no particular order:
FreeIdaho - Scroll down the index on the left until you get to "Holster 1". Sheath Page - It's about making knife and sword sheaths, but there's some useful information that can be applied to making holsters., Vacuum Forming an IWB Holster - Alternate method of making Kydex Holsters.

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