Introduction: MAKE a LASER CUT LEATHER HOLSTER FOR YOUR PISTOL

Picture of MAKE a LASER CUT LEATHER HOLSTER FOR YOUR PISTOL

In this instructable, I'll show you how I made a nice leather holster and formed it to fit my pistol perfectly. This holster was designed for a Glock 17, but the patterns I created will make a holster that works nicely for a variety of semiauto pistols including 9mm and .40 S&W Glock pistols, 1911s, Beretta 92s and other pistols of similar size. Feel free to use my patterns. For larger framed pistols like M&Ps, .45 Auto Glocks, and H&K USPs you will need to make adjustments to the pattern. Also note that the pattern I made is for a right-handed holster. If you want a left handed holster, you will need to reverse it.

Equipment you will need:
1. A graphics workstation with Corel Draw*
2. A laser cutter*
3. Sewing needles for leather**
4. A microwave oven*
5. A large microwave-safe bowl
6. A thermometer (either a candy thermometer or a infrared thermometer should do nicely)
7. A toothbrush
8. A pistol or pistol form (you can use an actual pistol, a "blue gun" or even an airsoft pistol for this. (NOTE: Not pictured. Do not bring real guns to TechShop).
9. A short section of square acrylic rod approximately 0.25" thick cut to just fit between the front and rear sights of your pistol.
10. Some burnishing tools -- I use a spoon, a sharpie, and the handle of a leather punch but you could use any number of items for this.
11. A brush to apply contact cement

Supplies you will need:
1. A piece of heavy (8oz or more) vegetable tanned tooling leather at least 8" x 12"**
2. Some waxed thread**
3. Contact cement**
4. Fast Orange or similar hand cleaner
5. Paper towels

* Items available at TechShop
** Items available from Tandy Leather Factory

I made this at TechShop San Jose, so I was able to use one of their computers with Corel Draw and one of their 60W Epilog lasers. All TechShop members have access to the computer workstations, but you will need to take the Laser Cutter SBU (LAS101) class before you can use a laser at TechShop.

Note: If you don't have access to a laser cutter, I have pre-cut leather kits available in my etsy store.

Step 1: PREPARE FILE FOR LASER CUTTING

Picture of PREPARE FILE FOR LASER CUTTING

Prepare your pattern for cutting. If your holster is for a 1911, a Beretta 92, a 9mm or .40 S&W Glock, or similarly sized pistol, you should be able to use the Corel Draw file I've included in this instructable.

If you want to make a holster for a larger pistol, you will likely need to make significant adjustments to the pattern (holster pattern-making is beyond the scope of this instructable) and some trial and error will likely be involved.

Step 2: TEST THE LASER SETTINGS

Picture of TEST THE LASER SETTINGS

Since leather is an organic material, it can vary significantly from one piece to the next. It is a good idea to test the laser settings on a small area of your leather prior to cutting. You can use the test file included if you like. It will use an area about 2" high x 2" wide.

To test your settings:
1. Load the test pattern in Corel Draw (test_pattern.cdr)
2. Lay your leather as flat as possible (smooth-side up) on the bed of the laser -- it may be necessary to place weights on the outer edges of the piece to keep it flat, but make sure that these weights will not be in the cutting area and will not interfere with the movement of the laser.
3. Set the focus on the upper surface of the leather
4. Set the laser's "zero" (origin point)
5. Load the test file in Corel Draw
6. Print to the laser and in the print properties dialog, set the vector cutting settings for your laser. A good starting point for cutting heavy vegetable tanned leather on a 60W Epilog is 15/90/1000 (Speed/Power/Frequency), but you may need to adjust up or down depending on your leather and your laser.
7. Press "GO" on the laser and watch as it cuts the test pattern.

When the laser is finished, the leather should be cut cleanly all the way through (no stringy fibers holding the pieces together. You should be able to push the centers out of the holes in the test pattern easily with your awl. The leather should not be too severely dried out. If the laser didn't cut all the way through or if you see other problems you should make adjustments and repeat the test process until you are satisfied with the results.

NOTE: Lasers can start fires! It is your responsibility to know the safety procedures for your laser. As always, when operating a cutting laser, you must monitor the work as it progresses. If you observe a fire or other potentially unsafe condition, follow the established procedures.

Make a note of your successful settings, as you will use them again in the next step.

Step 3: CUT THE LEATHER

Picture of CUT THE LEATHER

Now it's time to cut the two halves of the holster from the leather. Please note that the included pattern makes a holster for a right-handed shooter. If you want a left-handed holster, you will need to flip the pattern horizontally.

1. Load the holster pattern in Corel Draw*.
2. Lay your leather as flat as possible (smooth-side up) on the bed of the laser -- it may be necessary to place weights on the outer edges of the piece to keep it flat, but make sure that these weights will not be in the cutting area and will not interfere with the movement of the laser.
3. Set the focus on the upper surface of the leather
4. Set the laser's "zero" (origin point)
5. Load the test file in Corel Draw*
6. Print to the laser and in the print properties dialog, set the vector cutting settings for your laser. Use the settings that you came up with in the previous step.
7. Press "GO" on the laser and watch as it cuts out your holster.
8. When the laser is finished check the leather carefully before moving it. You can do this by holding it down firmly with one hand while inspecting the cuts to make sure they went all the way through. If the cut didn't go all the way through, close the lid on the laser, and press "Reset", the "GO". The laser will make a second pass, which should finish off the cuts.

If the cuts look good, go ahead and remove the leather from the laser and follow the established protocols for cleaning your laser.

NOTE: Lasers can start fires! It is your responsibility to know the safety procedures for your laser. As always, when operating a cutting laser, you must monitor the work as it progresses. If you observe a fire or other potentially unsafe condition, follow the established procedures.

ALSO NOTE: Do not look directly into laser with remaining eye.

*YET ANOTHER NOTE: As some folks were having trouble with the Corel Draw drawing, I've uploaded Illustrator AI and PDF files as well as an SVG (v 1.1). The original file was created in Corel Draw X6. The other files are from Adobe Illustrator CS5. Regardless of what software you use, I hope you can get one of these to work. If you are using Illustrator and the Epilog driver software make sure that anything you want cut has its stroke weight set to 0.01pt.

Step 4: CLEAN THE CUT LEATHER PIECES

Picture of CLEAN THE CUT LEATHER PIECES

Laser cutting can leave quite a bit of sooty residue on the leather (and the smell of burnt cow can be a little bit unpleasant too).

A good way to clean up the leather and give it a more pleasant odor is to scrub it gently with Fast Orange or a similar non-abrasive hand cleaner. Apply the hand cleaner liberally to a small area of the leather and then scrub in small circles with a toothbrush. Wipe the excess off with a paper towel and then repeat the process on the next area. When you are satisified, you may quickly rinse the piece in cold water, but this isn't absolutely necessary. Avoid letting the leather soak up water.

Allow the leather to air dry before proceeding to the next step.

Step 5: GLUE AND STITCH THE HOLSTER

Picture of GLUE AND STITCH THE HOLSTER

Now you are ready to assemble your holster.

Because the holster halves will be curved when finished, we must glue and stitch one side first, and then the other.

We'll start by gluing the leading edge. Place the leather smooth-side down on your work area. Apply a small amount of contact cement to each half of the holster in the areas indicated in blue. Use just a little cement and spread it with a brush, taking care not to get it outside of the indicated areas -- its important not to have cement between the stitching holes and the edge of the piece. Allow the cement to dry until it is just tacky, then press the two sides together firmly.

Now its time to stitch together the area you just cemented, using your waxed thread. Hand-sewing leather is a craft unto itself, and is beyond the scope of this instructable, however the basic techniques should not be daunting. This 5 minute YouTube video from Tandy shows you everything you need to know for this project.

Once the leading edge is finished, you can do the trailing edge. Repeat the gluing and stitching process this time applying glue to the areas indicated in red.

Your holster is starting to take shape, all that's left is to form it to your pistol.

Step 6: WET FORM THE HOLSTER

Picture of WET FORM THE HOLSTER

In this step we are going to wet-form the leather to fit the pistol. If you are using an airsoft gun or a blue gun to mold the holster you can do this at TechShop, but if you are going to use a real pistol, this step is best completed at home.

BEFORE YOU PROCEED: If you are using a real pistol, make sure that it is not loaded, and remove any ammunition from your work area.

Start by cutting a piece of square acrylic rod so that it just fits between the front and rear sights of your pistol. This rod will be used to form a sight channel in the holster, so go ahead and secure it in place with some waterproof tape. If you do not want to get your pistol wet, you can wrap it in cling wrap, but I didn't bother.

Test-fit your pistol in the holster and get a feel for how far into the holster the pistol should sit. It should be pretty loose at this stage. It will tighten up as you work.

Fill your bowl with enough water that you can completely submerge the holster. Use the microwave to heat the water to boiling, then remove it and place the candy thermometer in the water. Let the temperature drop to just below 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the water reaches the target temperature, submerge the holster completely and keep it below the surface for forty-five seconds, then withdraw it.

Holding the acrylic rod in place between the sights of the pistol, push the pistol all the way into the holster. This may take significant effort as the leather will have started to shrink.

Once the pistol is situated where you want it in the holster, use your burnishing tools (sharpy, spoon, etc.) to burnish the surface of the leather around the pistol. I start by using my thumb to push some leather into the trigger guard slightly (not enough that it will contact the trigger) and get good definition around the trigger guard and the overall shape of the pistol on both sides of the holster. Then I use the tools to push all of the leather as flat as possible against the pistol, paying special attention to getting creases along the bottom edge of the slide, the ejection port, and the acrylic rod forming the sight channel. I focus most of my attention on the outside of the holster, leaving a general shape on the inside, but trying to get some detail on the outside. As the leather cools and dries it will hold these details, which will help it to hold onto the pistol more effectively. This also helps give the finished holster a nice look. You need to work fast, as the leather is cooling, so get as much detail as you can in five minutes or so.

Insert a stiff belt through the slots of the holster as shown to give some shape to the belt slots and help maintain the holster's curvature.

Let the holster cool for forty minutes with the pistol and belt in place, then remove them and set the holster aside to air dry for twenty-four hours. Avoid the urge to handle it before it is completely dry.

Once the holster is dry you will be surprised at how hard and strong the leather has become.

You're finished. Enjoy your new holster! Once the holster is dry you can use it as is or you can try any number of finishing techniques, buffing with some bees wax and neet's foot oil will give it a really nice shine. I decided to stain mine with a little Fiebings Light Brown. A single light coat gave the holster a really attractive mottled look that you can see in the cover picture.

I hope you've found this instructable informative. If you'd like to see some of the things I make, check out my Etsy store at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/HandmadeByDroids

Comments

jwitt111 (author)2017-06-21

Thanks a lot for this great project. It is my first project on a new 100w Nova35, and turned out pretty much perfect!

It would great to get some instruction on how you did the stitch hole lines in CoralDraw.

Keeleon (author)2016-07-16

What settings did you use for the laser? I have a 45w Full Spectrum, and any setting I use that makes it all the way through the leather leaves it looking like I threw it in a fireplace....

XaqFixx (author)Keeleon2017-02-21

I did the one pictured above on a 40W FullSpectrum, I've since upgraded to the 45W tube. I did multiple passes and used painters tape. Additionally, I stained it black - it wasn't completely necessary but did help.

HandmadeByDroids (author)Keeleon2016-10-16

These pieces were done on a 60 Watt Epilog, and I have since done some on a 90w Full Spectrum. settings are going to be pretty different on a lower power laser, but I am sure it can be done. If possible, try to make a single pass.

I would start with maximum power and lower the speed until you get acceptable results. Leather will shrink when exposed to heat and if it gets or stays too hot it can warp badly.

If you must make multiple passes to cut through, try using some strong magnets to hold the leather down against the bed and prevent it from moving between passes.

XaqFixx (author)2014-12-10

Made one for my dad's Glock 36 using my 19 as a model. How to make one for a friend's Springfield XDs once he 3D prints a blue gun

HandmadeByDroids (author)XaqFixx2016-10-16

Looks great. I found the pattern would not work for a XD, but I bet you can tweak it a little, to make it fit just about anything.

sokamiwohali (author)2016-08-08

If I dye my holster, how well does the leather hold the color? Will it bleed off the leather a little bit kinda like diy garment fabric dye?

This all depends on the kind of dye you choose, and whether you seal the leather after dying. I get good results from Tandy's leather dying products and also from common wood stains (e.g. MinWax) from the hardware store. Anything that is going to be worn against clothing may bleed when it gets wet or sweaty if it isn't sealed, so I always seal (at minimum the outside of the leather but usually all exposed surfaces) with a product like Tandy's Eco-Flo Satin Shene (sic) or Super Shene. This will give the finished piece a controlled level of shine and prevent the dye from bleeding.

funvill (author)2016-01-20

Please don't spam instructables with your referral links.

HandmadeByDroids (author)2014-05-14

I've added versions of the pattern file in other formats. Hope that helps.

Jural (author)2014-05-12

I can't open your pattern file. Can you verify that it is not corrupted? Excellent write up. Very east to follow. Thanks for submitting.

HandmadeByDroids (author)Jural2014-05-14

Hi Jural

I am able to download and open the file in Corel Draw X6. For some reason, if I try to open it directly from the browser it fails, but if I save it and then drag and drop it into Corel it works fine.

Jural (author)HandmadeByDroids2014-05-14

I downloaded the trial of version 7 and it worked perfectly. I was able to save it as a PDF and print it out. I will let you know the results. Thanks again.

Jural (author)HandmadeByDroids2014-05-14

I have the exact gun and really wanted the patterns for mine. I have the leather and I am anxious to get started. I can use a PDF as well. If you get a chance to upload one it would be much appreciated. Thanks again for the great walkthrough.

Lisajoh (author)2014-05-06

I have a 50 Watt Epilog laser and I downloaded the files, but the they are unusable when I bring them up in Corel Draw X4. Any suggestions? Thanks, Lisa

HandmadeByDroids (author)Lisajoh2014-05-14

Hi Lisa,

The files work in Corel Draw X6 ... not sure about X4. I will post an Illustrator PDF later today.

Lisajoh (author)HandmadeByDroids2014-05-14

Thanks, Lisa

dustinandrews (author)2012-12-16

I did this step exactly as you describe, but my leather did not shrink at all that I could detect. Do you know if there are differences in leather that would cause this? I tried soaking the leather in the 160f water again for longer, but still no shrinkage. Any ideas?

Hey Dustin,

There are definitely different grades of leather. I have run into some that will not work, because of how they are cured / tanned. For good results you must use a vegetable tanned cow hide.

SgBriggs (author)2013-01-09

This is beautiful.

UrbanSurvival (author)2012-12-14

I had trouble getting Inkscape to load the CDR file you have kindly provided. Any chance you could upload a PDF or SVG? I usually do kydex/leather combos, but I want to give an all leather holster a try.

cordavidesigns (author)2012-09-08

I am a jewelry designer and I have been wanting to start a line using laser cut leather. However I dont have the equipment, and I hear it is very expensive. Where can I find a laser cutter that I can set up in my craft room? Can you advise?

Dutch56 (author)2012-09-04

Are you set up or willing to cut pieces for resale? I checked you Esty site but didn't see anything. I could use a couple of sets.

HandmadeByDroids (author)Dutch562012-09-05

Hi Dutch56,

Thanks for the interest!

I was just setting up the Etsy store. I have kits (really just pre-cut leather pieces) available on Etsy now. If you are interested in reselling, feel free to contact me and we can talk about pricing and white-labeling.

Dutch56 (author)HandmadeByDroids2012-09-05

Nice Esty site HBD- I have a couple of Springfield Armory XD 9's (3 in Subcompact and 4 inch model and the Bride has her own XD Sub compact so I was mainly interested in a couple of kits for our own use. Kydex and nylon has it's place but nothing feels as nice as good leather.

Are you planning on doing anything in the future with Mag cases for single and double stack magazines?

HandmadeByDroids (author)Dutch562012-09-05

Mag carriers are definitely in the works. I'm playing with a couple of different designs right now, trying to get them just right. They should show up on the Etsy store in a few days.

Dutch56 (author)Dutch562012-09-05

Nice Esty site HBD- I have a couple of Springfield Armory XD 9's (3 in Subcompact and 4 inch model and the Bride has her own XD Sub compact so I was mainly interested in a couple of kits for our own use. Kydex and nylon has it's place but nothing feels as nice as good leather.

Are you planning on doing anything in the future with Mag cases for single and double stack magazines?

steveofthenw (author)2012-09-03

How 'bout a thumb break...

A holster fitted this way has much better retention than you might imagine. I can literally shake the holster upside down and the pistol will not fall out, no matter how hard I try.

That said, I like a good retention holster too, and I'm thinking about some more complex designs with steel reinforced thumb breaks and adjustable tensioning. For now trying to keep things simple, though.

arthurkanzler (author)2012-09-03

Two of my favorite activities: pistol sport and tech! I love the TechShop logo on the inside of the holster, a subtle details that do not go unappreciated. Have you seen the story circulating about someone who used a 3d printer to build an AR lower receiver?

The 3D printed lower receiver is very interesting. Interesting to see how technology effects government regulation, too. We live in a time when the boundary between knowledge (information) and material goods is starting to blur. It's much harder to control data than goods.

L.L.Cool (author)2012-09-02

I too wish I had a laser cutter for this very purpose. Very nicely done!!!!!

smokeandlights (author)2012-09-01

This turned out really nicely. Makes me wish I had access to a laser cutter. Alas, no Tech Shop in GA yet. still, I might take a trip to the local Tandy and see what I can do.

Thanks for the comment. The laser cutter speeds things up, but there is no reason you can't cut the leather by hand using a swivel knife and punch the stitch holes with an awl. Doing things the "old-fashioned" way takes a little longer (but then I spent a lot of time on the computer getting the files right, so it might well balance out.

Working with leather is a lot of fun, and I suggest giving it a try.

dafonso (author)2012-09-02

Fantastic. I've been wanting to get something for my shockingly unpopular pistol and didn't realize that it really only takes a little time and pew-pew from the laser cutter to make something custom. Thanks!

Mrballeng (author)2012-09-01

Five stars. Great work!

Reesol (author)2012-08-31

wow looks great :)
nice job!

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