DIY Kydex Holster via Vacuum Forming  
   

Introduction:

          At first is might seem easier and cheaper to just buy the holster you want and save the trouble. This is true in many circumstances, but not in all. With the Steyr handguns it is hard if not impossible to find the exact holster you want to fit the gun. 

          In wanting an Inside the Waist Band (IWB) holster for my new M9 I went on a search. I found I really liked the Galco Skyops (www.usgalco.com) and the CrossBreed (www.crossbreedholsters.com) holsters. In looking at these holsters I felt that I could make one myself exactly as I wanted it and custom fit to me for a less money than trying to order one, if available. 

       

   I started out researching thermoforming plastics. I found several DIY sites with people using them to mold styrene model and craft parts. Also in my search I found the material Kydex was the predominate plastic used in holsters and other tactical equipment. I now had knowledge of how to vacuum form and the materials I would use.

The Vacuum Molding Process: 

          In a nut shell you heat the plastic and suck it down over a mold or plug. In actuality it is a bit more complicated, but not much. The first thing I needed was a mold of my gun. 

To make the mold I wrapped my Steyr in plastic wrap and then forced it down inside some modeling clay on its side. Then I pulled the gun out and the plastic wrap that was trapped in the mold. I now had a perfect shaped cavity to pour plaster of paris in. I mixed up the plaster as the box indicated and poured it into the clay mold. Once it was dry I popped out a nice plug in the shape of my gun.


After getting a nice shape of the gun I was off to create a vacuum table. The table would be made of a plywood bottom with a hole in the center for a shop-vac to attach too. In top of this platform there is a bent aluminum pan that is 1/8th of an inch thick and stands about 1 inch high. I then drilled a grid of holes at ½ inch centers.

 Here are a few photos to help illustrate:

 
 

Now that I have a vacuum table I need a frame to hold the plastic sheets of Kydex and heat it in the oven (don’t tell my wife). I looked at using a picture frame or any other type of frame that would hold the plastic on the edges, but allow the center to freely hang down once heated and soft.  

          Again going back to my plywood supply I made a cheap but effective double sided picture frame. You can see in the bottom right photo above the frame sitting on top of the vacuum table. It clamps down on the plastic by 8 screws and t-nuts that are mounted around the perimeter. 

OK now I have my plastic support frame, a vacuum table and the plugs to mold my plastic on. I start by preheating the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit. Next I cut a 12” square piece of .060” Kydex and clamp it in the frame. The vacuum table is set up on my kitchen counter and the shop vac connected. I place the plaster plugs on the table so that the holes are visible all around the edges so it will get a good vacuum seal around the plug. 

Now it is time to heat up the plastic. I place 2 bricks in the oven to support the frame. Like the pillars of a bridge I place them 12” apart and then place the Kydex load frame as a span between them so the plastic can heat up and sag down. 

I won’t go into the details of how long to heat the plastic because there is a great article on the Kydex website about this. It is located in the Technical Briefs Section and is the one on Thermoforming.  

http://www.kydex.com/Technical/ShowArticle.asp?ArticleID=520 

Now that the plastic is hot it is time to pull some plastic! Once the plastic is hot and soft, drape it down on the table slowly and get it centered. You will see the plastic start to fall and form around the plugs. Now you must turn on the vacuum and let it run till it pulls the entire sheet tight down on the table and plugs.

 Here are some photos of the process:

       Well that is it for the plastic forming, and really now the hard part starts, in terms of the holster. This plastic forming technique can be used for just about anything. I bought all my plastics and other holster specific hardware from www.knifekits.com. They are great to work with and I highly recommend them. I bought the Kydex, rivets, Chicago screws and other assorted bits for this and other projects. 

          Ok, So I have now made it through the unknown and successfully made a Kydex form of my gun. Now the work begins in making it into the holster I want and need. Again this is to be an IWB and so small and light is important. The first thing I did was begin trimming the forms from the sheet and checking the fit and finish.


Building the Holster:

 

Since my holster design calls for a Kydex and Leather combination I only need a right side Kydex and left side leather. Since Kydex isn’t the easiest material to sew I pre-drilled holes for attaching the leather left or back and also the thin trim leather that will cover the outside of the Kydex.

Also to attach the holster to my belt I looked long and hard at all the designs out there and the answer was on my side all along. I found a very tough cell phone clip holster. I took it apart and mounted the clip to my holster. It works great and is very secure. The key is to get a very well made one. The one I have is for a Motorola RAZR. It is attached with a Chicago screw and is offset slightly with a rubber washer for clearance and acts as a shock absorber. ( Note: I have since used a "real" clip from www.KnifeKits.com  and have gotten much better reliability and rugged wear. )

Now it is time to attach the leather and wrap this build up. I used 1/8th inch thick leather for the back and the thinnest trim piece I could find for the Kydex cover. I know that I didn’t have to cover the Kydex, but I wanted the look of a full leather holster. 

First I trimmed the back to fit the Kydex form and cover the side of the gun so as to keep it from contacting the skin and getting sweaty or cutting into your side.

Now that it is cut to shape I put a bit of super glue on it to tack it in place. I also added 2 rivets at the corner to help reinforce the joint (Thanks Lon!). The Blue tape is in place to prevent glue from getting inside the holster.

Now the back is partly attached I begin covering the front with the thin leather. Spraying the leather with 3M Super 77 adhesive I then place the leather on the holster and stretch it to fit. This is a slow process and it takes a lot out of your fingers to get the leather to snug down. This will eventually be stitched in place as well.

Now the real fun begins. Stitching the entire unit was a royal pain. I had to use pliers and a curved needle to make the stitches. I used a basic locking stitch and reinforced it with a small leather cord on the back. Here are some photos of that.

Here is the entire holster covered in leather. I covered the tail section in leather as well to provide more padding for my side against the frame of the gun. I also think it adds a more finished look. Next up is the belt clip.

I hope you get the chance to build one of these yourself. It was a great project and one I am likely to repeat in the future as the need arises. The total cost for this holster was around 18 dollars. The setup was a one time expense, not counting the shop vac, of about 30 dollars. I can already see tons of things I can do with my new found technology

Well here she is already to go into service. It fits the gun and the owner really well. I am pleased to say my Steyr can now be hidden and ready to go at a moments notice. After a few weeks of wear I feel is should only get more comfortable as the leather stretches and wears a bit.


References and Resources:   DIY Disclaimer Applies
www.tk560.com More thermoforming details
www.kydex.com Plastic data
www.usgalco.com Holster manufacturer
www.crossbreedholsters.com Holster manufacturer
www.knifekits.com Assembly supplies and tools
www.steyrclub.com Greatest Steyr site on the planet