I hate sitting through a 30-minute video when I could just read something, but I made an exception in those two cases, and I am very thankful I did; PHLster is a very accomplished kydex-smith, and he is not at all bashful about sharing all of the various tricks and secrets he has learned along the way.
However, for those folks who really do not want to watch a video, here is the brief rundown:
- A press. Any kind of "book press" will work just fine; the general premise is you have to have a working area at least as large as the biggest gun/holster combination you want to make, and you want to apply pressure evenly across the full surface of the press. PHLster shows a home-made version in his videos that would not be too hard to kitbash together, but I wussed out and went store-bought. Be advised that the presses with hinges require care to ensure the pieces stay lined up as you close it. ($0 – $85) - Bar clamps. If your press does not have a way of clamping it down, you will obviously need clamps… and, no, that silly little chain on the press I linked to above plus your body weight is not going to be enough. You will be putting a fair bit of pressure on things, so do not skimp here; I got 3 of those exact ones. ($45) - An oven. Kydex needs to be heated to around 320 degrees Fahrenheit to be malleable (at least from what I have read / experienced), so you need to get it there. I use my kitchen oven; pros use purpose-bought kitchen toaster ovens. ($0 – $40) - A ruler. Preferably something long, wide, and clear. I use something like the linked one, but I paid a lot less for it locally. ($5 – $15) - Eyelet flaring dies. I use 1/4" eyelets, so I got the #8 / 1/4" dies. Simple. ($25) - A brad point drill bit. Make sure you get the same size as the eyelets you intend to use. I find the brad-and-lip design makes for cleaner holes through the plastic… most of the time. ($5) - A coping saw. Once you get the plastic formed to the gun, you will want to cut off the extra (and you did initially cut big, right?); this can suffice. ($7) - A utility knife. Score the kydex once or twice along the ruler with one of these, bend it along the score, and, presto, two pieces. I am sure you have one laying around. - A hammer. You have one. Trust me. - Sandpaper. For finishing the edges; you probably have it. - A flathead screwdriver. For any Chicago screws you use; you should have it. - A permanent marker. As long as you only mark on the inside of the holster, no one will know or care.
Nice to Have:
- Cutting mat. All those straight lines make it easy (well, easier) to get things lined up, plus it protects whatever you are cutting your kydex on. ($30) - Eyelet flaring die guides. The quickest way to screw up an eyelet is to try to flare it off-center. This fixes that. ($13) - Arbor press. Even with the guide, trying to set eyelets with a hammer is… challenging. Thankfully, I liberated a press from Dragon Leatherworks‘ trash bin, so it was free for me, and Harbor Freight has them cheap. ($90) - A scroll saw. I discovered that trying to cut kydex using a coping saw or, worse, a little teeny dremel circular saw attachment was… dangerous. $90 for a used Rigid off Craigslist seemed a small price to pay for intact fingers. These can get expensive, though. ($90 – $200) - A belt sander. Finishing/shaping/polishing edges is a lot easier with power behind it. I raided my local Harbor Freight with a 20% off coupon in hand. ($50 – $150) - A heat gun. Some people refuse to use them. I find it easier to go back and touch up molding with one, and it is essential for how I make belt loops. ($13) - Greenie meanies. You probably have these hiding under your kitchen sink, but the scouring pads really help with giving that nice, finished appearance on the cut edges of the kydex. - A bench buffer. I do not have one of these yet, but supposedly, when combined with a sisal buffing wheel, they produce beautiful finished edges. ($60) - China markers. Find the kind that wash off; mine do not.
Those are all the tools. Now for…
- Thermomold plastic. A square foot of name-brand Kydex goes for $5 for 0.06" thickness, $6 for 0.08" thickness, $7 for 0.093" thickness, and $9 for 0.125" thickness. I use the first for holsters and the last for belt loops, and have found a little over a square foot is necessary for compact gun holsters, and almost a full two square feet necessary for large guns. One square foot of the thick stuff makes… a lot of belt loops, depending on how you do it. There are alternatives like Boltaron and Holstex, but I do not know anything about those. - Eyelets. Go ahead and get the #8-10 (or #6-10) variants; they will work on any plastic thickness you will come across, and are downwards compatible. They run $0.17 a piece, and you will use between two and 10 a holster, if not sometimes more. - Chicago screws. You will use these to attach belt loops to your holsters, and thickness matters. I have found that #8 – (0.1875 x 0.250) is just enough to attach one 0.125" belt loop to two sheets of 0.006" kydex eyelet’d together. Figure four a holster, at $0.48 apiece. - Foam. Just like holsters, you will not like to think of it as a consumable, but it is. The press I linked to above comes with some low-density stuff, but if you want really strong definition in your holsters (and I do), you want the "Xtreme Form". $17 equips the above press, but I have no idea how many sheaths you can make before you have to replace it.
Note that most of the consumables get cheaper the more you buy; it all depends on how much stuff you plan on making.
So if my math is right and I did not miss anything, you can fabricate your first holster for anywhere between $106 and $578, depending on how much stuff you already have on-hand and how cheaply you buy or how good you are at used markets. On the flip side, 10 holsters will only cost you about $725, and the price per holster will only decrease the more you make (asymptotically, of course). I figure I have somewhere around $450 invested in the process myself at the moment, and am less than halfway through the materials I have, so it should pay itself off by the time I am done (remember, kydex is useful for more than just holsters).
Ouch, startup costs are higher than I anticipated. I’m not overly “handy” so I’m pretty tool poor and I’d need to buy a bunch of that, especially the expensive stuff. I’ll keep an eye out for used tools, but I’m going to hold off investing in the specialized Kydex stuff in the meantime.
I went into this with something of an ulterior motive, since I needed left-handed holsters on short notice, and since people do not make any kind of handed holsters for guns I was thinking about carrying, or very few holsters for guns I already carry – TT33s and Webleys for the first, Walther PPSes and Baby Eagles for the second. If I was going to spend $100-$150 for a custom holster anywise, I might as well learn something in the process.
Plus it gave me the chance to do / make something, of which I have been lacking of late.
Interesting… It’s actually a lot less complicated than I thought it would be.
Question though, those bubbles around the trigger that actually show the trigger in the kydex, that can’t be safe can it? To get the definition of the trigger in the material it would require the kydex to wrap around the trigger. I know it lifts out a little bit when you put the gun away, but it still seems like a risk that’s kind of too risky to be allowed to be there, even if the definition is awesome.
Really, once you get going with kydex, it is kind of astonishing how easy it is… especially when you remember you can undo whatever you did by putting it on a flat surface in the oven. I must have molded my last batch of belt loops four times, trying to get it right.
Cutting, though… same problem as any other material ;).
As for the trigger indents, you have to remember the kydex is molding around the gun at the gun’s furthest insertion into the holster – IOW, you will never be able to push the gun past the point where you molded it. In that case, given that the trigger is in its rest state when you are molding, there is no danger at all.
Phlster’s videos got me into it as well. My thing was the necessity for a holster for bespoke airsoft gun that no one makes holsters for. I make them for my friends as well.
Also, Index fasteners has teamed up with PHLster to offer $200 all in one kits. Comes with all the hardware and kydex to get you started.
Saw that. Cannot really decide if it is a good deal or not, but it gets people into the craft, and that can only be a good thing.
Yeah, its a little cheaper, a good amount cheaper than buying from Knifekits. Especially considering you get a dozen of the soft loops. Similar loops are $20 a pair from Raven Concealment.
Ouchie. Good to know if I get into making IWB holsters, but, honestly, I do not see that working well with kydex, just from a comfort standpoint. Each to their own, though.