Introduction: Leather/Kydex Holster

Making your own holster for whatever you need is an easy and forgiving process.  This instructable will show you how to make a holster out of a sheet of Kydex plastic and a piece of backing leather (usually called a hybrid holster). 

By learning this technique, you can make a holster for your replica of Han Solo's blaster, your own pistol for competitions such as IDPA, or whatever you want to have at your side at all times.  By using a combination of heat-formed kydex and leather, you end up with a holster that will grip your item well, but not need precise tensioning like an all-kydex holster.

The most innovative part of this instructable is how to do the kydex molding without a vacuum former or other difficult or expensive press.  I discovered this technique on Old Faithful Holster's website:  My holster design is different from theirs, but I learned the technique for forming from their videos.

Safety: Unload and clear any weapon.  Because you will need to use the gun as a mold and will be unable to maintain a safe direction of the muzzle, more stringent safety requirements are needed.  Remove any and all live ammunition from your work area and completely relocate ammunition to a locked drawer, safe, or other place it cannot be accidentally combined with the gun in any manner.  If possible, render the gun inert.  If there is a magazine safety, remove the magazine.  If possible, remove the firing pin.  Do not remove the barrel as it can change the gun's profile and the holster may not fit once it is replaced.

1 sheet of Kydex - either .060" or .093" thick.  The example holster is made with .093", but I have made holsters with .060" and it works just fine.

1 piece of leather - You need something fairly stiff and thick.  5-6 oz or thicker is best, and stiff leather will work better than more supple leather.  You can stiffen leather if it comes too soft by either wetting it in warm water and letting it dry in the sun, or using a leather thickener, either commercial or a 5-1 mix of water and Elmer's glue (the intarwebs describe this process well).

Eyelets or Rivets - I use Tandy Double Cap Rivets.  I have also used eyelets, but they don't have as much surface area after they are expanded and may allow the leather to pull out.

Rivet/Eyelet Setter - just get it when and where you get your rivets or eyelets so that the tool will match your attachment pieces.

Scroll Saw - You may be able to do this with other tools, but this is the one tool that seems to be a must for me.  I use a Ryobi Variable Speed Scroll Saw.  Variable speed is a must for working in Kydex.

Sharp Knife - used to cut leather

Drill - used to make the holes for the rivets.  A drill press would work even better.

Scrap wood and closed cell foam.

Heat gun or hair dryer.

Leather Beveling Tool
CNC Router, or Plunge Router, or dremel
Kydex press (from
Rivet Press (I prefer the hand set tools)

The steps to make this holster are:
1. Cut the template
2. Cut off a piece of Kydex
3. Form the kydex
4. Shape the kydex
5. Rough-cut the leather
6. Attach the leather
7. Trim the leather
8. Bend the wings
9. Cut the belt slots

If you make this holster, please take a picture and post it in the comments.

The pictured holster is a high-ride pancake design that secures the item above the belt line for easy concealment.  You can use the same techniques with just a different cut to create inside the waistband designs (see Old Faithful Holsters above for a great tutorial on how to do that).  You can also just raise the wings and belt slots to make an outside-the-waistband holster that doesn't ride as high.

Step 1: Cut the Template

Get a piece of scrap MDF or plywood, about as thick as the item you want to form, or a little less.  MDF works very well for this and 1" thick works great for most applications.

Place you object on the scrap and trace the outline with a thick-barreled pen.  Hold the pen vertical so you end up with an outline that is about 1/4" or more out from where the outline actually lies.  This is also the time to think about what might trap the item in the holster.  For a pistol, the front sight is a common item that gets hung up.  To fix this, give a more generous border to that part and continue all the way back to the mouth of the holster (see picture for front sight extra border).

Now cut out the outline of the object using your scroll saw.  It is easier if you actually trace the entire object onto the scrap, unlike what is pictured where only part of the gun is cut out.  I was trying to be economical on scrap, but it makes forming the item a little harder.  If you don't have an edge to start on with the scroll saw, remove the scroll saw blade from the top attachment point.  Drill a hole through your patter inside the outline of your item and then thread the saw back through the drill hole and re-attach.  Now you can cut out your scrap wood template.  You want to stay fairly close to the lines you drew, but you don't need to be exact for this part of the process. 

Once you are done, your object should fit inside the cutout with room to spare.

Step 2: Form the Kydex

Cutting Kydex:

You can cut very thin kydex, such as 0.060", with a pair of heavy shears.  I use a scroll saw, but it is important that however you cut it, you are cutting it rather than melting it.  Slow down the rate of your scroll saw until you are getting nice sized pieces out as waste (See picture for example waste).  If you go to fast, the kydex will re-melt together behind your blade and you will have to clean up the cut later.

Cut out a piece that is bigger than what you will need by 20-30%.  Remember that to start with, your kydex is flat, but after you form it, it will have a 3d shape and that will pull the edges in a bit, so make sure you leave some extra room.

The bottom should be below the lowest point on the object, and it should also be enough below that it forms cleanly without wrinkling, so give it a bit more overhang than you think you need.  You can always trim away a bit, but if you cut your piece too small, it will just be a useless piece and you have wasted a lot more than will by just giving a somewhat generous cut to start with.

Step 3:

Forming Kydex:

Place a piece of closed-cell foam down on the ground.  Take a piece of scrap wood, like a thin plywood square, that will completely cover your kydex, and place it near-by. 

Now you will decide if your holster will be left-handed or right handed.  Take the template and put it against your body where the holster will go.  The side that is against your body should be the side that is up when you do the mold.  Now put the template on the foam with the up side up (pic. #5).  (Note that the first picture has the template oriented for a right-handed mold, but later pictures switched this to a left-handed mold and the final holster pictured is left-handed.)

Now heat your oven to about 300 degrees.  No matter what type of oven you use, ALWAYS PREHEAT.  If you don't preheat, your plastic will warm up unevenly and before you are at forming temperature, you will get surface bubbles on your plastic and you will have to throw it out.

Once your oven is up to about 300 degrees, put the Kydex in,  In a short time, it should heat up enough that it is floppy.  There should be no hard spots and you should be just barely be able to hold it with bare hands.

The next few steps are time-sensitive, but don't rush. If your kydex cools down too much, just pop it back in the oven.  Once you have tried a few times, you will have everything sorted and ready to go.

Place the floppy kydex on the template, with the smooth side up and the patterned-side down.  Now place the object (gun) on top of the kydex lined up with the template underneath.  Place the scrap plywood on top and push the object down into the template.  You should now have a sandwich in the following order from top to bottom:

Scrap plywood

Now, stand on the scrap plywood to push the object down into the mold and force the shape.  Yes, stand on it (see pic 3).  You can pull up on a counter or something to get a little more force if necessary.  The object should sink completely into the template and the plywood should sandwich the outside edge of the kydex to the template to give a flat flange around the outside (See pic #1 for finished mold and notice the flat outside area).  The template should be thin enough to let the kydex push into the foam on the bottom side to assist in a good transfer of the shape.

Wait until the kydex is cool before relieving the pressure.  It will take longer to cool when insulated by the foam and plywood, so give it a while, about a slow count to sixty.

You should have a good, tight mold made now.  If you don't, just re-heat and re-try.  There is no limit to the numbers of times you can reheat and retry, so be picky and get it how you want it.  Make sure there is enough room for the front sight to clear the holster all the way out.  If you are having troubles, push the gun to the bottom part of the template away from the front sight as you start to apply pressure to the plywood, or you can cut out the top of the template a little more.

Step 4: Cut Out the Kydex

Take a crayon and mark out the shape you want for your holster.  I like to cut flat across the bottom, and I also try to cut at least some off of the bottom so that if any foreign objects (like sand) get in the holster, they can fall out the bottom.  The large wings in this design promote a close-riding holster because the belt will pass over the wings and pull the holster in tight.  I also cut the holster so the pistol has a slight forward cant to it to promote concealability and facilitate the draw.  I draw a line from the base of the front sight to the very top of the grip where the web of the hand holds the gun and I make this line vertical to get the correct cant.

Use the scroll saw to cut out your outline.  Be sure to slow down when you reach areas that are more vertical because you will be cutting a lot more material than when you are just cutting on the flat (see pic #2).  I reduce the speed quite a bit to make sure I am not overheating and melting the kydex. 

Once you have the rough cut done, take some sand paper and lay it flat on a table.  Run the kydex across the flat sandpaper to straighten out the edges.  Roll the corners across the sand paper to round off the corners.  Pick up the sand paper and run it along all other edges to soften them and remove any burrs.  This is the only chance to shape the kydex because once you attach the leather, it gets hard to cut it without fraying the edge of the leather.

Once you like the shape, double check the clearance between the grip and the top of the kydex.  If your hand touches the kydex as you draw, you will cut up your hand when you are moving quickly or doing it a lot.  Notice the extra clearance I cut between pictures 4 and 5 to ensure there was plenty of clearance.  Be sure the trigger is still completely enclosed when the gun is seated in the holster.

Step 5: Rough Cut the Leather

Use a sharp knife to cut a piece of leather that will overhang the kydex on all sides and also go at least slightly above the top of the gun.

Step 6: Attach the Leather

To attach the leather to the kydex, use Tandy double cap rivets.  Use a drill to make a hole all the way through the leather and kydex.  I back the leather with some scrap MDF.  I usually use the piece of MDF I removed from the template.  By backing with something, you will have a cleaner cut on the back of the leather.

Start with one hole on the outside edge.  Once the hole is drilled, snap a rivet into the whole and use the rivet setting tool to set the rivet with one good whack.  It usually takes two good whacks to set the rivet, but for now, just give it one so it won't come lose as you set the other rivets.

Now set a rivet on the far side of the holster.  For this part of the operation, I always make sure the gun is in the holster because it changes where the holes line up.  You may have to push down a bit to make sure the kydex lies flat on the leather with the gun in the holster.  Once you drill the second hole, leave the gun in the holster and set the second rivet with one whack.

Next, put two more rivets into the other two outside corners of the kydex.  Once they are all set and the gun is fitting, give them each another whack to set them fully.  Be careful to line up the setting tool carefully so you don't damage the head of the rivet.  The gun is going to still be quite loose at this point until the inner rivets are set.

Remove the gun from the holster now.  Drill the interior holes being careful to get close enough so that the leather will stay tight, but not so close you can't set the rivet flat and flush.  Make sure to set rivets high on the interior corners near the trigger guard and the chamber.  Another key place is just below the trigger guard where it meets the frame.

Set all the rivets firmly, and then tap each rivet with your finger to make sure it doesn't rattle.  If it does, smack it again.

Step 7: Trim the Leather

If you are going to get hurt following this instructable, this is the step where it is most likely to happen.  Make sure your knife is very sharp so you don't have to force it through the leather.  Don't cut towards yourself, especially towards the hand that is holding the holster.  If you are tired, take a break before this step.

It is now time to trim the leather back to the kydex.  Using the kydex as a guide for your knife, trim the excess leather off.  Be careful not to cut into the kydex, but angle the blade back into the kydex just a bit to ride along the kydex and get the leather trimmed neatly back to the kydex.

Once you get to the top opening, stop cutting.  Next, with the gun in place, lightly trace the outline of the slide and around to the back of the grip (See picture 2).  Take the gun out and now cut all the way through the traced line.  Once you get to the end of the trace, continue the cut in a gentle curve back to the base of the trigger guard.  (See picture 3)

Step 8: Bend the Wings

Place the holster on the edge of a table so the edge of the table is lined up with the joint where the kydex comes back into contact with the leather.  Using a heat gun or hair dryer, gently heat the kydex along the edge of the table moving continuously to avoid overheating the kydex and making a shiny spot.  The kydex doesn't need to be as warm as it was when you molded it, just warm enough to take a gentle bend.  Once it is warm enough, push down to give the wing a bend.  If you are larger in stature, it might not take much bend, or if you are super skinny and angular, it might take quite a bit.  Give it a bit and see how well it lines up with your hip.  Be careful of the rivets as they may get hotter than the kydex and burn you.  See the final bend in pic #2.

Do the same on the other wing.

Step 9: Cut the Belt Slots

This is the hardest step to make look right.  There are a number of ways to do it, and if you have a CNC router, you can do what I do.  Otherwise, you will have to try one of the methods that requires a steady hand.

Most belt widths are 1.5 inches or less, so you need to make the slots a bit wider than that.  One way to do this is to use Visio, Word, or similar to make a rounded rectangle 1.6 inches long and about 1/4" to 3/8" wide.  Print it out and tape it to a small piece of MDF.  Next, use the scroll saw to cut out the rectangle so you now have a template to use to trace onto the holster.  You can use double-sticky tape to fix the MDF to the holster, or C clamps.  Next, use a router bit on the dremel and follow the outline of the rectangle in the MDF while cutting through the kydex and leather.  You could also use a regular router or trimmer.

Alternatively, you can tape the printed out rectangles to the holster.  Next, drill through the center of the rectangle.  Thread the scroll saw blade up through the hole and then cut out the rectangle using the scroll saw.  If you have a steady hand and go slow, this can produce a good cut.

If you have a CNC router, use double-sticky tape to fix the holster down to the table, and use a 3/8" bit to plunge and cut a 1.6" long cut.  Then do the other one.  Remember how worth it the months of getting it to work and zillions of dollars over budget you went building it.

Once the slots are cut, use sandpaper to take the sharp edge off the kydex. If you don't do this, leather belts can get scuffed putting on and taking off the holster. (See pic #3)

Step 10: Bevel the Leather

Using a beveling tool, like the one in pic #2, bevel the leather on the back side, and on the front side where it sticks up above the kydex.  This will make the leather more comfortable up against the skin.

You should be done now.  Put the holster on and try the fit.  To put the holster on, thread the belt over the wings and behind the gun (see pic #2).  The holster will grab the gun harder once it is on your belt.  If the gun is too loose, you can use the heat gun to warm up areas, like the trigger guard or ejection port, and use a hot pad holder to push in and form the area more tightly.  If the holster is too tight, use the heat gun to loosen up those same areas to make the gun release.

You are now done!  Now, take a picture and post it in the comments to this instructable to show us all what you made.