Guns and Gear

How to Make a Kydex Holster

There is satisfaction in creating a project or completing a job. Whether it is re-plumbing a bathroom, installing an engine or tending a garden, something is innately human about putting our minds and hands to a task. I made a custom holster for my Springfield Armory Hellcat and it was a thoroughly pleasing project.

If you’ve ever wanted to make your own holster, the process has never been easier than right now. Kydex is a relatively easy material to work with, and the author shows us how its done.

My avocation has been making knives. But you can’t just build a knife; the blade has to have a sheath for its safe carry. I tried my hand at leatherwork. I’m not so good there, but still working at it. A material I did learn to apprentice with is thermoplastic sheet. Known as Kydex, Boltaron, Holstex, or other trade names, these are plastics that can be easily heat-formed into sheaths or holsters.

Getting Started with Kydex

Since I had never made a gun holster before, and I love a challenge, my mission was to make an Armory Life-themed custom holster for my Hellcat. I received permission from my esteemed editors (somewhere in an Ivory Tower mired in the clay of an outdoor firearms range, I suppose) to use The Armory Life logo for my project. I opened a freeware graphics program and went to work on the design.

In this photo, the author shows us all of the parts he used to make a Kydex CCW rig for his Springfield Armory Hellcat 9mm pistol. He shows the various screws and attachment hardware, belt clips and Kydex sheeting. If you want to learn how to make your own holster, be sure to take your time to get it right. The finished product will definitely be worth it. The first step is to make sure you have all of your parts.
To start the process to make your own Kydex holster, start with a clean workbench and check to make sure you have everything you need: Kydex sheets, mold, belt clip and fasteners.

Thermoplastics can be purchased in many colors, patterns, and textures. They may also be infused with custom images. After shopping a few companies, I eagerly collaborated with Dan Wichers at Dan was very helpful in assisting me with the resolution of my graphics and the color of the base Kydex sheet that would complement the lighter parts of the logo. Once I completed the designs, I emailed them to Tactical Infusions.

In this photo, the author shows how he used painters blue tape to attach a wooden dowel to the top of the Hellcat blue gun. When the Kydex is folded over the top of the gun, the dowel will ensure that there will be room to spare for the front sight to enter and exit the rig smoothly. With the dowel in place, you can use a heat gun to warm the Kydex to achieve a precise fit. 
A key aspect to forming the Kydex is to use a good mold. The author used a Ring’s Manufacturing Blue Gun. On the top, he taped a wooden dowel to ensure it would make a properly sized sight channel.

I ordered four sheets, in two different designs, and several additional holster-making parts. When the custom sheets arrived, I was thrilled with how they turned out. The details of TAL logo were crisp and the hues perfect. Dan’s customer service was outstanding, and I will use him for future projects, whether gun or knife related. A single-color 12” x 12” sheet of Kydex in .080” thickness cost $6.25. I paid about 11 bucks for each custom sheet of Kydex from Tactical Infusions. This was friendly to my wallet.

Ready to Make a Kydex Holster

Making a holster begins with preparation. I could have used my Hellcat to make the holster. The heat of thermoforming is much less than that generated when firing the gun. But I had previously purchased a Ring’s Blue Gun Hellcat replica for tactical practice, so I used that instead. I taped a dowel rod on the top of the pistol’s slide. This created a channel so the front sight does not hang up on the plastic when drawing the gun.

In this photo, the author is using a Skil brand band saw in his garage workshop to trim the Kydex to size. Before you stick the Kydex in the over, it is helpful to trim it to size for an easier fitting process. Be sure to leave a little extra space around your holster in case your measurements are not precise. This extra material will be easy to remove once the rig is molded around the handgun.
Prior to heating the Kydex, the author trimmed the material down. First mark where you want to cut the Kydex with a pencil then carefully make your cuts. Make sure that you leave a little extra space. 

Next, I sketched an initial layout of the holster on the inside of the Kydex. I was making what’s called a “taco sheath” for the Hellcat. This is a single piece of thermoplastic folded over like your favorite South-of-the-Border handheld snack. The preliminary outline was very rough since I would be trimming off the unneeded portions later.

In this photo, the author is using his Blue Gun mold to test fit the pistol on the Kydex sheets as he want to make sure the size — height and width — appears correct. It doesn't need to be perfect — if there is some overlap of extra material — that's fine. Use a pencil to trace in where you want things to be, but you can use a sander later to remove the excess material.
Prior to heating the material in the oven, the author did some dry-fitting to make sure his measurements were correct. 

These thermoplastics can be heated in a full-sized oven or smaller toaster oven. I used the latter with the Kydex placed on a small baking sheet. Aluminum foil sat between the Kydex and the baking sheet because I don’t want the missus getting annoyed with me again. The oven should be set between 330 and 400 degrees, but not any higher. Thermoplastics will burn when too hot.

In this photo, the author is carefully placing the polymer material in an oven to heat it. Heating it makes it pliable so it can be shaped around your gun. Make sure that you don't leave it in too long or at too high a heat. These can burn the material which is bad. Use low temperatures when possible. Also, I recommend that use scrap material to get a feel for how much heat is needed. Also I like to use an old toaster oven to keep everything out of where I cook. Plus, I find that a toaster oven is just the right size for handgun holsters.
When it is time to heat the Kydex in the oven, take care to stay within the temperature and time guidelines. Kydex can scorch and burn if you aren’t careful.

To get an even forming over the gun, I have two pieces of closed cell foam intended for this purpose. While you may use a handheld infrared thermometer to check the degrees, I manually judged the temperature of the Kydex. It becomes very pliable when manipulated with tongs so you will know when it is ready to go. If you see the edges begin to curl, it is on the verge of burning. Get it out of there!

In this image, the author demonstrates folding the heated Kydex over the gun mold. He used gloves to protect his hand and closed cell foam as a spacer to protect the pistol. When molding the Kydex, be sure it fully covers the trigger for best retention and safety. Thicker material may require applying heat with a heat gun to the side of the holster and around the gun for an optimal fit. 
When shaping the hot Kydex to the pistol mold, you may wish to use gloves to avoid burning your hands.

When the Kydex has reached the necessary temperature, place it on one piece of the foam, land the gun where you want it, fold the Kydex tightly over, and sandwich the other foam on top. Gloves help. Time is of the essence, so get them pressed together quickly. You need a decent amount of pressure to get the right impressions of the gun’s surface into the Kydex. I used two thick wooden cutting boards and clamps. The Kydex will stay hot inside the foam halves, so let the entire affair stay compressed for at least fifteen minutes to cool.

There are commercial presses available for holster-forming. Some are very nice indeed. Other DIY folks make their jigs by gluing the foam to boards and building their hinges and clamps. I do not make many sheathes and so my low-tech methods are sufficient for me. The most important point is to buy foam made to withstand the high heat used in this procedure.

The author trims the extra material from the formed holster. This will leave rough edges, but don't worry. Follow the guide step by step and you will have the chance to clean those up to make them look and feel better. 
Once the Kydex is molded around the gun, trim the outline of the holster to the correct shape. Don’t worry about the rough edges as you’ll take care of those in the next step.

When the blank has been formed and is room temp, the shape of the holster can be outlined and the excess trimmed away. I used a tabletop bandsaw for this. To keep the sides even, I employed a bench grinder on the edges before taking out sandpaper for finishing. I started hand sanding at 220 grit and ended with 400 grit. Nothing fancy here in the deburring and shaping. At the very least, and I’m sorry I have to say this, make sure your homemade holster covers the entire trigger guard of the firearm. 

In this photo, the author is evening the sides of the holster using a bench sander. This took less than 10 minutes to shape things the way he wanted them. He followed on with hand sanding to get the right shape and feel to the edges. By now, the holster should be cool and rigid. If it is not, allow it to cool completely before sanding.
You can use a variety of methods to clean up the edges of your holster. Here, the author demonstrates using a bench sander to even the sides. He followed with hand sanding for the perfect beveled edge.

My Armory Life holster was made with inside-the-waistband (IWB) carry in mind. I left enough Kydex material in front of the trigger guard to drill holes for a carry clip. The clip was also thermoplastic. I mounted it using blackened hardware and color-matched brown washers. With the two holes in the holster body, I can also bolt a small upward-facing plastic hook so the rig can do double duty as a pocket carry holster. I like the versatility.

In this photo, the author is preparing to attach the belt clip to his home made holster. There are different attachment methods, but one of the most popular is with Chicago screws. In the pic you can see the eyelets that are pressed into the holes. The screws then go through them to secure the rear of the holster. Some people choose to use rivets instead of screws. These can work, but you loose the ability to adjust the tension and gun retention. If you rivet it too tight, you have no viable way to loosen it. Screws can be had in different colors to match the Kydex material you have selected.
Once the shell of the holster is complete, you will need to add a belt attachment so it can be used to carry your defensive handgun. 

In addition to the taco design, a two-piece Kydex sandwiched holster is also infinitely useful. These are best utilized for outside-the-belt carry because they result in plastic on either side of the gun to mount clips or loops. The Kydex can also be radiused to fit your torso.

Final Thoughts on Making Your Own Carry Rig

This process can be repeated to make knife sheaths and holsters for pens, flashlights, and all manner of tools. You can construct carriers for your “toys” that match your homemade pistol holster. There is a dizzying array of colors and designs from which you to choose. Let the internet catalogs fuel your creative fire. 

In this photo, we see the author's completed holster. It is an appendix inside-the-waistband rig that he made specifically for his Hellcat. The rig has several things that make it unique including the incorporation of The Armory Life logo. It beats having to buy a holster that would cost extra for the customization. Follow this tutorial and you can do the same for your Springfield, Glock or M&P. It can be made for pistols with and without an accessory rail.
The author’s completed AIWB holster is shown with The Armory Life logo. Making your own is a viable alternative to paying for a custom carry rig.

I am thrilled to carry my Springfield Armory Hellcat in the custom The Armory Life holster that I conceived and built with my ingenuity. It is handmade and one-of-a-kind. While my skill level in the workshop might be average, my pride of ownership is well above that!

In this photo, the author shows the holster in use with his Springfield Armory Hellcat micro compact 9mm pistol. He was able to make the holster with relative ease. Many of the tools he used could be replaced by a single Dremel kit, though full size shop tools are likely easier to work with. a homemade Kydex holster
The author demonstrates wearing his new holster. He thinks it works as well as any holster purchased in a store, and it offers the satisfaction of knowing you made it yourself.

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