Intro: Kydex AR15 Pistol Holster
After purchasing my handy little Carbon 15 pistol, I began my quest to find a worthy holster/rig to comfortably carry it in. In short order I found there isn't such a thing - some nylon/velcro generic one-fits-all stuff but they are too sloppy, so I started studying up on Kydex, and decided I would try to create my own. How hard could it be, right? Follow along and see how easy it really is to use this excellent material and create unique solutions to many of life's challenges.
Step 1: Parts, Pieces, and Prep
The items I needed to produce the holster include:
- 12" x 12" Kydex sheet (allowed for two tries at it)
- Hobby sticks of various sizes and shapes
- Masking tape
- Tracing/mock-up paper and pencil
- Heat resistant foam
- Rigid boards larger than the item being made
- Safariland Drop Thigh Rig
The first thing I did was take construction paper and make a mock up of the holster to see if it was even possible, and if so, how the Kydex would need to be laid onto the pistol. This is where you have to visualize a lot if your item has a lot of protrusions/depressions. You want the Kydex to take the form as tightly as you can, but there has to be room for the item to slide out - Kydex won't flex out of the way of a trigger guard, mag release, etc.
Step 2: Prepping the Item
Patience, that's the name of the game at this point. Visualize how the item will slide in and out - what protrusions could catch, will the trigger get caught, or the mag release? Is there a deep depression that will lock the item in and prevent it from coming out at all? IS THE SAFETY CLEAR???
As I worked with the pistol I made various ramps, channels, and raised mounting points to accommodate a snug fit with several key locking points, while clearancing areas that would be "bad" to unexpectedly get pushed, pulled, or snagged.
Popsicle sticks, dowels, washers, even a carpenters pencil all worked in this instance to make the necessary shapes to allow a functional safe holster. It took two full evenings to carefully apply, check, and re-apply the tape and sticks until I could be sure it was going to work as I wanted it to.
Step 3: Molding Time!!!
Using the paper template I was able to determine that a 12" x 6" piece of Kydex would be all I need to mold the holster, so I cut the 12" x 12" in half and started the oven, set to 325 degrees. I used a nice clean non-stick baking pan (don't tell the wife) upside down on the rack to fully support the sheet when it got soft.
There is a ton of information on how to heat Kydex - I am NOT an expert with this stuff, this is my first project ever with it - but using a full size oven set to 325-350 and a flat surface to support the material seems to be the consensus, at least for hobbyist like me. I had an IR temp gun, but found that just monitoring the material closely and letting one corner hang off the side of the pan visually showed when the material was softening. I checked it with a pair of tongs until it was as pliable as I wanted, picked the sheet up with heavy leather clothes, and hand formed it around the gun, using the lines I drew as a guide to be sure the coverage was where it needed to be.
I then laid the gun and Kydex on several layers of foam on a concrete/tile floor, covered it with a couple more layers of foam and a sturdy board, and proceeded to stand on it for the next 15 minutes. The foam gives equal pressure all around to make the Kydex conform to the gun and I figured 15 minutes would be adequate cooling time for it to set up and harden. (I was a bit busy during this time, which is why no pics of the actual applying the Kydex to the pistol - sorry)
Note: I'm 200lbs and that was barely enough pressure for a project this size, when spread out over the area I was compressing. Real fabricating presses are beautiful and create much more pressure - but are costly - so think about the size of your item and how you are going to press it.
Step 4: De-Molding and Clean Up
For a first effort I was giddy when I removed the foam. The weapon slid in and out with good tension and no hangups. Decent but not fantastic definition of the contours (probably not enough pressure and/or not enough heat in the sheet). I took a Dremel and proceeded to cut away the excess material and smooth the edges. I drilled the holes and mounted the holster to the thigh rig, again without a hiccup.
I strapped it on to get a feel for how good or bad this was actually going to be. Kydex comes in different thicknesses, and I chose some in the middle of the road. It is a bit too thin to securely hold the pistol during normal activity without a thumb break, but for a weapon of this size that is to be expected. But the final position is perfect, falls right to my hand for easy removal/replacing, doesn't impeded active movement, carries the weight so well you hardly know it is there.
I should have gotten some sleep at this point but proceeded to crudely address the securing problem instead. I borrowed a strap from a bug out bag and looped it through the mounting screws on the back of the holster. I then took the Dremel and cut a "U" shape in the front side where the catch would be. Using a heat gun, I softened the Kydex up and rolled the "U" down to make the catch for the thumb break to go into. I also put a small piece of velcro for the break to stick to so it wouldn't raise up and catch on anything. It is big enough to grip and release with gloves on, and is quite elegant in function, just not in the looks department. Now the pistol is tight and secure, even when running and climbing.
Step 5: Final Thoughts
So for a first ever effort with Kydex, my homework paid off and it came out pretty darn good - good enough that I won't being worrying about making another one anytime soon. Now I can comfortably carry a decent caliber weapon and have it accessible yet secure.
Lessons learned include:
- Practice with different thicknesses of Kydex to find which works best for different situations
- Don't be too shy when heating the material, as long as it doesn't go "shiny" it is good to go. The more pliable it is when you start the better definition you will have in your finished product.
- Have fun! This is wonderfully useful stuff and I look forward to more projects with it.
As always, I welcome any and all critiques and comments - there may be better out there, but a pretty thorough search of the interwebs didn't show me anything but some cloudy pics of generic solutions that didn't fit my needs.