I have been promising Michael and Jennifer these pictures and this review for… well… a while now, and since they recently received some very useful airtime, I figure it is time for me to finally get around to it.
As regular readers know, by way of scratching my wheelgun itch, I purchased a Smith and Wesson 686 SSR a while back, and rapidly ran up against the somewhat annoying problem that holsters fabricated for the standard 686 might or might not work for the SSR version (by the by, SSR stands for “Stock Service Revolver”, a class of competition in IDPA). Thankfully, though, Michael’s Custom Holsters had someone nearby who actually owned an SSR themselves, and he has had experience making holsters for them in the past, so here we are.
My requirements were fairly simple (at least in my book) – it had to be IDPA-legal (in case I ever did want to compete with it), it had to be comfortable, it had to securely retain the gun, and it had to be distinctive enough to show that it was not your average 686 holstered within. The IDPA rules and regulations are in their handbook (*.pdf warning), so you can look those up if you are really interested, but suffice to say he managed to meet all my requirements quite well.
The holster is comprised of your standard leather, however, the inserts are actually unset carbon fiber. Unfortunately, that carbon fiber is the source of my only two complaints about the holster – it was “unset” fiber as he was stitching it into the holster, and then he applied the standard epoxy necessary to harden up the fiber and keep it in place and not breaking all over the place. Unfortunately, as you can see from the pictures, the epoxy did not properly smooth out or set into the fiber, despite his and my best efforts. Still, despite that, it looks pretty slick.
The trick to its retention and comfort, though, is behind that smooth piece of leather on the back – Michael actually takes a small piece of aluminum, forms it to the back part of the cylinder of the gun, and then stitches it into place on the holster. The end result, since the aluminum recurves back around the back of the gun, is that it holds the gun in place while it is holstered, and after you draw, the holster retains its shape. Likewise, that smoothed-out area decreases the poking-and-prodding the gun might otherwise have while strapped against your hip, because, damn, that thing is thick (the gun, not the holster).
You can see here how the aluminum helps keep everything where it should be, even against the tension of the belt. This picture, however, shows the only other gripe I had – notice how the mouth of the holster is a bit more shiny than the rest of it? It turns out that occasionally I holster the 686 not-quite-square with the actual holster itself, and due to the flat surfaces of the revolver (specifically the cylinder), I was kind of abrading at the edges of the mouth, causing the leather to fray. Five minutes with a black Sharpie and, of all things, clear nail polish, and it was good to go.
In other words, I would strongly suggest to holster fabricators to run around the mouths of their holsters with clear nail polish or something similar to provide that nice, hard, durable seal on the leather – that is likely to be your highest wear area, so you might as well protect it.
In addition to the holster, I also got Michael to make a speedloader pouch for a 5 Star Firearms 6-Shot L-Frame loader, which works perfectly, and allows me to either put it on after I am already belted up, or just thread the belt through it to begin with.
As you can see, the two-tone finish Michael hit the holster with really makes it stand out, and more than accents the curves and features of the firearm.
All said, I have been eminently satisfied with Michael’s work, and would happily suggest him to anyone looking for a new holster.
And on a feel good note, he and Erin are currently working on a program called “Holsters 4 Heroes” – stay tuned to their sites for future details, but I would guess it is going to be a Very Good Thing™.
(Obligatory middle finger to the FTC: I paid the full, requested price for the holster and pouch being reviewed in this post – piss off.)