Holster Workshop
by John Henry
(written perhaps 1997?)  Macon, Ga.  Artifax Custom Leather

Georgia Leathercrafters' Guild

Materials Required:

Contact Cement
2 - 3/0 Harness NeedIes
Wing Dividers
Super Shears
Dot Snaps
Skiving Knife or X-acto

Two General Misconceptions .
Heavy Leather - No need for 9/1 0 oz. leather since the weight of the pistol is suspended from belt. The holster is only to make a pocket to accomplish this suspension. Using the equivalent of 6/8 oz. leather~ including the lining if one is used.
Lining Holsters - These give the holster a more finished appearance since the inside is smoother. The lining is only a cosmetic treatment. Over the years I have come to some of my own conclusions about lining leathers.
    Suede - This should be avoided because the nap of the suede that makes it feel so rich increases its surface area, so it is more susceptible to absorbing moisture from the air. This can have two basic effects:
1.) Moisture can increase possibility of rust.
2.) Moisture can trap dust and sand which will act as a fine abrasive against the pistol's metal, similar to a very fine emery cloth.
    Chrome tanned leather
- Chromium salts used in the tanning process can and do react with the bluing agents used on firearms, causing the appearance of surface rust. These should be avoided.
1.) Most garment type leathers, including suedes, are chrome tanned. These can usually be identified by a gray colored "core" area of the leather that will show in a cut area, if the leather is heavy enough for it to be easily seen.
    Vegetable Tanned Leather This is the only leather that I've found suitable for linings because it doesn't appear to have the dust retention on suedes, or the chemical reaction of chrome tanned. Vegetable tanned leather is made to accept moisture readily, but this is halted by proper sealing of the surface. I use Leather Balm or Camuba Creme for this. 

Often I don't even line the holster. If the leather that I'm using has a fine flesh side, I just use water to burnish this well, after dyeing, to give the interior a smooth, glossy look.

End Plugs These are pieces sewn into the muzzle end of a holster to close it. I don't generally
use them because they can hold debris and moisture.

Leather Selection .
A.) First decide if the holster is to be lined or not. This will determine how finely grained the flesh
side of the leather needs to be.
1.) If lined, the nap isn't too important, but be sure that the section of the piece that you wiII use
is blemish free; no slices or thin spots.
2.) If unlined~ choose a piece that has the tightest nap that you can find in addition to minimal
B.) If the holster is to be lined, choose the lining and leather at the same time so that you can be
sure to get pieces that will total the desired weight when laminated. If, for example, you want 8 oz. leather, either get a piece of 4 oz. that's twice the size you need, or a nice 6 oz. and a 2 oz. like calf. Be sure that both pieces are as blemish free as possible in the area that you'll be using.

Pattern Making
A.) The first step in pattern making, and one that should be repeated frequently during all stages of preparation and fabrication, is to carefully make sure that the pistol is unloaded and the action is clear of rounds. This part can not be over-emphasized.  Don't trust any one else during your inspection.
B.) After insuring that the weapon is not loaded, take a large piece of brown paper, either shipping paper or a grocery bag, and fold it lengthwise down the center. You need to have a clean, crisp fold. After the crease is made, open the paper flat with the crease running away from you on the table.
C.) Position the pistol with the bore pointing away from you for extra safety in such a manner so that the front sight blade is resting squarely in the crease that you made. Then you should center the notch in the rear sight and the center of the hammer (if one is exposed) on the crease as well.
From here on the directions are for a right hand holster.  For a left hand model, reverse the directions.
D.) Carefully so you don't let the pistol move, lay it over to the left. While holding the pencil perfectly perpendicular to the paper, trace around the pistol from the end of the bore nearest the crease, along the barrel and trigger guard, grip, hammer, and back to the frame at the rear sight.
1.) While at this point, mark the top of the rear sight by a horizontal line drawn parallel to the crease and another from the line marking the end of the barrel across the crease.
2.) Move the pistol off off the paper and put it in a safe place. Then, before going any further,
label the pattern RIGHT HANDED with make and model of pistol, including any
information such as barrel length, frame type, sight or trigger modifications, etc.
3.) Trace in the outline of the holster, using points 3/4" away from the trigger guard and muzzle end of the barrel as start and end points. For the top of the holster, sketch in the cut line to expose as much of the trigger as you like and coming back up over the body of the pistol to the mark that you made for the rear sight.
E.) Carefully cut out only the section that you have sketched for the holster.
F.) Fold pattern in half: then carefully draw a line 3/4" away from and parallel to the crease. Then trace around the edge of the holster from the crease near the muzzle up to the top of the trigger guard. From the point at the top of the trigger guard, extend a line straight up the paper that is parallel to the line drawn near the crease.
By now you should have the rough pattern cut out and ready to check the fit around the pistol and to set the belt loop. After checking once again that the pistol is not loaded, fit the pattern around the pistol to check fit.
1.) If satisfied with the fit, carefully hold the pistol against your hip and feed the extra paper of
the belt loop under your belt. .
2.) Adjust the holster so that the pistol is positioned where you want to carry it and at the angle you want it to hang. Once you have this, pull the paper belt loop snug against your belt and make pencil marks at the top of the fold over the belt and trace the holster pattern onto the
loop paper where ever it can be done. This should give you an idea of the hang of the loop and how much leather you need to remove to get it to hang the way that you want.
H.) Store pistol and lay pattern back on table with belt loop extended. Draw and label a line for the fold at the top of the belt, then sketch in the shape of the belt loop.

1.) I usually leave 2 1/2" to 3" for the loop. I measure this in fom the fold side of the holster, then swing a nice smooth arc from the point at the top of the trigger guard to the top of the fold over the belt.
2.) To layout the pointed end of the belt loop, I usually measure 3/4" to 1" below the bottom of the belt at the center of the loop and make a mark. Then 1 swing an arc from what would be
the bottom of my belt to this point.
3.) Once these lines are all sketched in, trim the pattern.
L. This is the point where you have to make layout marks for a safety strap. There are three different types:
    a.) Trigger Strap. Travels over the top of the trigger guard to the holster body. Is usually stitched or riveted to the back of the holster in the belt loop, fed through a slot punched above the trigger guard and fastened to a snap on the body of the holster just below the trigger guard.
    b.) Hammer Strap. Goes between the hammer and the frame to the holster. Is usually stitched or riveted on the rear of the holster inside the belt loop, just between the hammer and the frame, then runs around the front, behind the hammer, and is fastened with a snap set just below the trigger guard.
    c.) Hammer Loop A slit leather tab that loops over the hammer. I don't recommend this type from a safety standpoint, but may be required for a period type piece.

There are two different styles for the strap types: .
Solid A single unbroken strap from the area of the belt loop to the snap on the body of the holster.

Thumb Break. A two piece strap joined by a snap set between the area of the belt loop and the holster body set in such a fashion that the thumb can be used to break the snap as the hand reaches for the pistol.
Dependent upon which type of safety strap you decide, mark the areas of the pattern where these will be sewn, threaded, and. snapped.


I.) Lay pattern on top of Ieather so that the "front" of the pattern (the side that you labeled is on the flesh side of the leather. Trace around the pattern with a pencil or chalk.
a,) If you are going to line the holster. place the pattern so that the "front" of the pattern is on the grain side. You want this piece to be reversed so that the holster and liner can be cemented flesh side to flesh side.
b.) Mark any places where you will need to punch holes for hardware. I use an awl or needle to pierce these points then fit the line and holster together to be sure the spots match. If they match, punch them.
2,) Cut out the parts, being careful to stay outside of pattern marks. With luck and skill, you should have a slight amount of extra room.
  This can be trimmed off after assembly, just before burnishing the edges. By allowing this slight extra allowance then trimming it away you should be able to eliminate or minimize any holes in the edge caused by inexact fit of the edges.
3.) The filler is used to insure that the holster stays spread open in the trigger area to prevent binding and rubbing on the trigger and or guard. It also prevents the holster leather from being stretched during molding, which could weaken it in this area. If you are going to use a filler around the trigger guard, now is the time to cut one.
1.) The filler should be the same thickness as the trigger guard, or at best, just slightly thinner. It should run from the high point of the holster in this area to where the holster begins to taper toward the barrel, just forward of the trigger guard. You should cut these strips about 3/4" wide and long enough so that you will have enough of them to laminate together to have the proper thickness.

2.) The filler should be skived to a near feather edge from near the center of its length to the bottom edge where it lays under the frame.
3.) I usually add a little extra to the top of the filler (above the point of the trigger guard area) to give me room to adjust fit and trim clean after assembly.
a.) Cut strips to desired length, then scuff the grain side giving a better gripping surface
for the cement. Laminate the pieces and lay them aside to set.
4.) If holster is to be carved or stamped, do it now.  Be sure to tape the back with masking or duct tape to minimize stretching during tooling. 5.) Set hardware. If the holster is to be lined, laminate the holster to the liner, weight it down and put it aside to set.
7.) Check fit of holster around pistol.- Make any adjustments necessary now.

a.) Mark your stitching line with the wing dividers.
1.) If you used
a lining, this stitch line should be marked the whole way around the project to secure the lining.
b.) Use the thonging chisel to cut your stitching holes in the holster  and the filler.
c.) Cement in filler.

8.) Dye the project
a.) if Iined with vegetable tanned leather, dye and finish the liner.
b.) If unlined, dampen the inside of the holster and use a piece of heavy scrap that you have molded into a sanding block to burnish the flesh side. Remember, as with all burnishing it doesn't require pressure but speed to build up the required friction to burnish properly.
9.) Stitch together using saddle stitch.
a.) If lined, I start at the bottom of the front near where the holster bottom starts to run horizontal. I stitch the lining and holster together and continue around to where I start to stitch the back and front together, then continue up to the point above the trigger guard. From there I continue to stitch the lining and holster together around the front, continuing around the belt loop and closing off the stitching when I return to the point above the trigger guard.
10) After stitching, use a sharp knife to trim the edges even. If necessary, you can touch them up with sand paper to be sure that they are smooth and flush.
11.) Bevel the edges. Dress them for burnishing in the manner of your choice (ie. Edge Coat, Gum Tragacanth). I prefer water.
12.) Burnish the edges until they look hard and shiny. If trimmed and burnished propedy the seam where the pieces join should be nearly invisible,
13.) Wrap the pistol in several layers of plastic wrap, wet the holster and push the pistol in. Work the damp leather around the contours of the pistol then set it aside to dry.
14.) After completely dry, remove the pistol and condition the leather with your favorite conditioner.