I’ve been working with Kydex for a while now, and from time to time I help out a friend and make a holster, or magazine pouch, or something for them. I don’t do it as a business (filling orders sucks) however, its a lot of fun, and once you have all the tools, you can really save a lot of money on holsters if you buy new guns a lot.
Where to get it?
I used to recommend some different vendors for getting Kydex or Boltaron sheets, but these days Amazon seems to have the best prices, especially when you buy more than just a sheet or two (and you’ll want more than a sheet or two…)
What size works best?
For general all around usage, the .08 kydex works best. I’ve made holsters, mag pouches, shotgun shell caddies, and just about everything else from this thickness. It is a goid compromise of workability, and stiffness.
I find the .06 to be a little too thin for most jobs, but I do know a lot of guys like it for IWB holsters because it is so thin, but know that it does not have the stiffness of the thicker stuff, and with an OWB holster, you may find it a bit floppy, of lacking on retention, and it has a tendency to crack over time.
.093 is a nice thickness for OWB holsters, as it is very stiff, however for more intricate pieces like magazine pouches, you may find it too stiff for getting good bends.
.125 makes a great dropped and offset holster, but being that it is so thick, you will not get that nice defined look that you do with the thinner stuff. I used this for a DOH holster for my Glock 24, and it works great. This stuff is really hard to work with, and you have to get the temperature just right or you will burn the outside of the kydex before the inside is pliable.
How do I work with this stuff?
Obviously, being a thermoplastic, you have to heat the kydex up, mold it around something, and be able to keep it in place without shifting while it cools. I use a couple different tools for heating the kydex. The first is an old crusty toaster oven, and the second is a cheap heat gun. To do much with kydex, you really need both tools. I have a few others that aren’t required, but make things a lot easier.
With the toaster oven, I generally set it to just a hair over 250* and vary the time in the oven anywhere from 2 to 3 minutes. If you go hotter you run the risk of burning the kydex, making the edges get all funky, or turning the textured side of the sheet all shiny and weird looking. I’ve read online where people say they use a 300* or hotter oven, but in my experience, that is too hot. Also, if you are thinking of using the oven in your kitchen, don’t. Kydex tends to smell a little when getting hot, and it lingers in the oven. Your wife will be pissed, and it probably isn’t safe to cook food in the same oven you are melting plastic in. Check Craigslist for a cheap toaster oven.
Heat Gun. As with the oven, don’t be tempted to borrow the wifes blow dryer in place of a heat gun. Blow dryers don’t get hot enough, or move enough air to really do a good job with kydex. Find a local Harbor Freight store and grab a cheap heat gun, or order one on Amazon (I have this heat gun, and it’s been working great for casual use for several years). Obviously an 1100* heat gun is a lot hotter than a 250* oven, so exercise some caution when using it, and always, always, keep it moving. If you leave it in one spot too long, it will scorch the plastic. If you get a dual mode heat gun, the lower setting will be a lot more forgiving.
Dremel. Get one, and get the big set of sanding drums, cut off wheels, etc that go with it. I also like to use a felt wheel, and some turtle wax for polishing edges, etc.
Utility knife. The best way that I have found to cut kydex is to score it with a sharp utility knife, then bend it, and it will break along the scored line. In order to do this, you really need a utility knife, and a bunch of blades, as the tips tend to break off if you aren’t really careful.
Press. For molding the kydex around a pistol, you need some sort of press. When I first got started I built a nice press out of some plywood and a hinge. I found that I wasn’t able to get enough pressure on it they way I had it set up, and ended up standing on it. Well, now I just use some foam and a piece of 2×12 and it works great.
For the foam, I like to use a blue closed cell camping mat from Wal-Mart that I picked up for about $5. I cut it into pieces, and its worked great. Knife Kits does sell some foam specifically for molding kydex, but I don’t feel its necessary.
That’s about all you need to get started. You can get fancy and add rivets, belt attachments, and about anything you can think of.
Check out Part 2, where I walk you through the process of actually making a holster. Click here.
Great post, I have been thinking about making some kydex mag pouches and a few holsters too. As a left handed shooter it normally is more expensive to get some holsters, or just hard to get them anyway.
I had a few questions and maybe they will be in part 2. How long does the whole process normally take from start to finish?
What do you normally use for your attachment hardware (i.e. thicker kydex for a belt loop)?
Thanks for commenting, Frank. I can generally crank out a holster in about 2 hours from start to finish. Depending on the style, I either use thicker kydex for the belt loops, of I'll buy a separate belt attachment from knife-kits.
How crisp were the lines on your sheath when using the walmart foam? I’m using .08 to make a knife sheath and I want to know how well it worked before I try it myself.
Good. You can vary the amount of foam you use, with a knife sheath, I’d probably use less sheets of foam to get more definition. Let me know how it works out!
I agree with 99% of of his suggestions, except the foam. Knifekits.com sells a great foam that lasts long and isn’t that expensive. The foam was designed to work around high temperature so it’s very forgiving. I just began molding holsters and have noticed that I get the same detail as vacuum presses on some occasions but that’s another discussion. You will quickly learn that once you prep your gun properly the foam will give you the proper retention which is half the battle. Good luck and have fun. It’s very addictive.
Can I use a rivet gun instead of a rivet press/hammer?
Examples of rivet guns:
I don’t see why not. Those rivets won’t look as nice, but they should hold just fine. There’s another shooter local to me that uses pop rivets, they work fine.
I’m thinking about getting into the business on a very small local scale at first. Test the waters,if you will. I wanted to make a sheath for my cane machete which is 22 inches with handle. Was considering 17-18 inches by 6-7 inches (Two pieces) of Kydex. What would be the best way to heat that up for the press? Do they make toaster ovens that big? I don’t have a wife,so how about my gas oven (If I open some windows during the process) ?
I’m not aware of any toaster ovens that big, and I probably wouldn’t heat the stuff up in any oven that you put food in.
imho, WEAR A MASK WHEN CUTTING, GRINDING AND HEATING KYDEX, and vent toaster oven outside. When cutting or grinding, be sure and not have the dust go everywhere.
How long does the foam usually last?
I can’t say that I’ve ever had to replace it.
Thanks for this Info. I have a Gun here that is way too unpopular for the holster I need for it. makes no sense really, this revolver is awesome. I will get me some of this stuff and try this myself. I have the correct tools and and i’m pretty handy. Maybe I will start a little business for folks with this Gun. LOL
Which gun? I have the same problem. I’m making a shoulder holster for my s&w 16-2.
Same here. I have a Dan Wesson .357mag Pistol Pack with 4″, 6″, and 8″ barrels. It’s a real beast of a gun that is remarkably accurate. It looks like I might have to use some of the thicker kydex AND leather for a drop-leg rig.
How thick does the foam need to be for the best results?
Depends on the kydex thickness, temperature, etc, which is why I like using layers. Experiment a bit and you’ll find what works best for you.
I recently ordered some Olive Drab Kydex from Amazon, which I intend to use to make some minimalist wallets similar to these: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/931169951/wanderlust-minimalist-wallet/description However, the Kydex came with a mint green layer in between the olive drab, which would really ruin the appearance of the project. I contacted the seller and he said that kydex is typically like that, but I can’t imagine that to be true, or that folks would like it so much if that were true. Should I be asking for a return/refund, or is the seller telling the truth? Thanks so much for your help!
Just what I was looking for. its like you read my mind when you said “don’t use the oven, your wife will be pissed”.
Been there, done that, got yelled at.
I have just started making kydex sheaths for my karambits. I have been training in Silat fighting for about 10 years. I have compiled a very good collection of karambits from all over the world thanks after 20 years in the USN. And without a doubt this in the best article a have read on making sheaths. After following you ideas on the temp all my sheaths are coming out 100% better. Thank you.
CPO Wallace 🇺🇸.
Do you use a release agent on the gun? Or does the kydex not stick?
Nah, doesn’t stick at all.
Hi I accidentally left the kydex in the oven too long and it left some residue on the cookie sheet. My wife forgot to tell me that her oven runs hot. She is wondering if there is a way to get the kydex off or if the cookie sheet is done for. Thanks
Old post I know, but one (possible) way to remove it is to heat it up again and while still hot use a silicone scraper or firm silicone spatula to scrape it off, you could also try using one of the “chainmail” scrubbers that are designed for cast iron posts to scrub it.
Granted cookie sheets are cheap, so it may be just as easy to buy a new one for baking purposes and keep the other for kydex work (should probably have separate sets anyway)