Differences between Mass-production & Custom
I posted this as a response on another forum, and I'm addressing it here because the recent "Thumb-break Question" thread here got a bit off topic. The original question on that other forum went something like "All holsters are similar designs and there have been no new innovations in many years, so why would someone buy a custom holster and wait?"
Well, the main reason there have been so few new designs and there are many similarities between custom designs and mass-production is simple: there are only three ways you can wrap a piece of leather around a pistol and call it a holster. You either fold a single piece of leather over the top of the slide and stitch it up the rear (Spark's Summer special, Nelson Professional), wrap a single piece of leather around the trigger-guard and stitch up the front (original Spark's Roadrunner), or sew two pieces of leather together front and rear to form the pouch (any pancake style). Think about it; every single holster on the market is one of these three designs. The differences are in belt attachment methods, and minor design elements.
That said, the primary differences between mass production and small custom shops is the execution; little nuances and attention to detail, and specific features than can be requested. As an example most all of the mass-production firms use an acrylic paint to finish their edges, which wears off in short time leaving an edge almost as rough as if it had not been finished. Most custom makers are using a multi-step saddlemaker's edge technique that is a much more time consuming process but produces an edge that is much smoother and will remain so the life of the holster.
And obviously there is the leather - many mass production firms are using cheaper imported Mexican leather. I don't know of any custom maker that is not using the highest grade leather from the two best US tanneries available.
Most mass produced holsters are pressure molded. The wet holster with dummy gun is placed in a hydraulic press or similar under pressure and formed to the shaped og the gun. This may be the only molding procedure in mass production. This is only the first step in custom rigs, which are then detail-molded by hand with various hand-tools and often-times a real pistol. This detail molding is more than just asthetic; it provides the very snug fit that is usually only associated with the best custom pieces. Most mass produced holsters comne standard with 1 3/4 inch belt slots. With a custom holster you can specify the belt slots be cut to the exact width of your belt for a more stable fit. If your belt and slots are not the same, you are not getting optimum performance from even the best holster.
When it comes to compact versions of full-size guns, most mass production firms merely shorten their existing patterns. While this seems logical in theory at first, it does not take into account the difference in balance/weight distribution of the compacts compared to their full-size counterparts. Most custom holster guys are gun guys and know their way around a real gun. Mass production firms hire cheap unknowledgeable labor and use only dummy guns with non-moving parts. This is evidenced by the number of mass production holsters that I have modified for fellow officers over the years, because leather was depressing the mag-release or deactivating a safety. Design flaws that would have been obvious had a real gun been test-fitted.
As to stitching, in layman's terms, there are several different types of industrial sewing machines on the market which feed the thread and leather in different ways. Most custom shops are using hook-and-awl harness stitchers that were made at in the early 1900s. These old machines can be finicky, are more difficult to operate, maintain, and service than their modern counterparts; but they produce the tightest lock-stitch available with thicker thread, and equal thread on both sides of the work. Most mass production firms use more modern equipment that is easier to service, maintain, and get parts for, and easier to operate and train someone on; which translates better to assembly line work. While they do provide an adequate stitch, these more modern single needle machines often require thinner thread, or thread of two different thicknesses, with lighter thread in the bobbin (bottom) to achieve a tighter stitch.
And there are subtle differences in how something is stitched. Many custom makers will cut a stitch groove in the leather for the stitch to lay in, so it is not sitting on the surface where it can be more easily abraded. This is especially true to a stitch that is exposed on the interior of the holster, such as a sewn on rear belt tunnel or mouthband. Most customer makers wet the back side of the leather prior to stitching, so these exposed interior stitches sink into the leather so they are not resting on the surface where they ca be abraded by the pistol during the draw and re-holstering. Such features are time consuming to say the least, and I have never seen them on a mass produced holster. Corners have to be cut somewhere to speed things up, but I personally will not sacrifice quality for quantity.
many customers that come to me for a holster usually start the converstaion or e-mail with "I'm currently wearing (or considering this model of holster from this maker BUT..." (pick one or more below) :
Can you make a similar one that rides higher or lower?
Can you make it vertical? They only offer FBI cant (or vice-versa)
Can you make it with a thumb-break? They only offer open-top (" ")
Can you make it with 1 1/4 inch slots? They only offer 1 3/4?
Can you make any color i want? they only offer black and tan
Can you make it in horse-hide or an exotic? They only offer cow
As a true custom maker , my answer to all of the above is "Yes".
I hope this explains why someone would go to a small custom shop and bear the wait. I apologize for the lengthy post, and thank those of you that take the time to read it. (the mods are going to restrict me to 100 words or less in the future).