Im rather fond of Milt Sparks leather myself.
This is a discussion on Differences between Mass-production & Custom within the Defensive Carry Holsters & Carry Options forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Gary, Send me one of your very highest grade(but not fancy) holsters. Right off the shelf...OR...one that has not been made up special. I'll wear ...
Gary, Send me one of your very highest grade(but not fancy) holsters. Right off the shelf...OR...one that has not been made up special. I'll wear it/use it for 6 weeks,then evaluate it on this forum.
After that I will send it back to you.
Howz that ?? ----
P.S. I carry a 3" Kimber(UC CDP II)
Im rather fond of Milt Sparks leather myself.
quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
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).
Last edited by Mark Garrity; December 30th, 2006 at 06:37 PM.
"He who makes things with his hands is a laborer, he who makes things with his hands and his head is a craftsman, he who makes things with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist."
Thanks Mark. I would have to say that about half of my personal leather gear is custom made for many of the reasons listed above. We each chose different weapons because were each different and no one holster fits all people and it is good to hear it from your perspective.
"Respect all ... Fear none!!!
Great post! I would like to add that there is now only one American tannery left in business producing premium holster leather. (I am assuming that you originally posted this while Westan was still in business).
There are literally dozens of small steps omitted by the big shops that have an effect on the finished holster's quality. Mark touched upon a few of them. I'll elaborate on few more:
Glue: Mass produced holsters are often glued with a latex based adhesive. In time, it will lose it's bond, causing the holster to squeak.
Those factories that do use a solvent/phenolic based contact cement like Barge (as ALL the custom shops do - although the brand of glue varies from maker to maker) often only paint the edges enough to hold the parts together while they are being stitched. This allows the parts to subtly shift as the wearer moves, causing an incurable squeaking problem.
Stitching: As Mark pointed out, is often done on high speed needle feed machines, rather than the slower needle-awl machines. The needle feed machines generally use a lighter weight thread and make a stitch that is more prone to unraveling if it is cut. The stitches are also usually finer, which means the holes are closer together, leaving less leather between stitches. This makes for a very weak stitch, but it is much easier for a semi-skilled machine operator to do. (There is one super humongous holster firm who's holsters were known for ripping apart under stress, until they went to a synthetic material instead of leather.)
Molding/boning: I have never seen a factory holster in which the boning showed much attention to detail, or time spent. As a result, the fit just plain sucks when compared to a custom. This is why most factory designs include a thumb-break. It keeps the gun from falling out.
Finish: Most custom shops use some form of acrylic finish process in which the holster is dipped in a liquid that seals the pores of the leather, the stitch holes and the flesh side of the hide. The result is a dry finish that will not make a mess of the customer's clothing and the holster holds it's mold many times longer as the result of this process. By contrast, factory holsters are often simply sprayed with an oil or oil/wax compound and stuck into a bag. The result is an oily mess that will stain clothing (permanently) for weeks and weeks until the excess oil wears off. If an acrylic is used, it is usually merely a surface spray. Some firms still use a lacquer based finish, which is known for checking, cracking and causing the leather's grain surface to crack as well.
Design: This is by far the most critical aspect of holstermaking. It alone determines whether a holster will function properly. As Mark pointed out, there are only a few basic construction methods used, and they LOOK similar from maker to maker, and from factory to factory, and so on. However, only a person who has spent YEARS and YEARS designing, making, testing and wearing holsters can see the subtle differences that are invisible to the average person. However, even a small change in an angle, or proportional distance in a design can make a tremendous difference in how it conceals, how it carries, how it retains, and how it draws. Just because it "looks the same", DOES NOT mean that it will work the same as another similar looking design.
What this all boils down to is that you will get exactly what you pay for. There are no "bargains" in this business. When I was young guy shopping for a helmet back in my motorcyle days, a older gentleman put it to me this way: "Son, go ahead and buy a $10 helmet if you've got a $10 head". The same is true of your concealment system. This is like a parachute, a seatbelt, an airbag - no one in their right mind would EVER hope to actually need to use a holster/handgun to save their lives. However, IF that situation does occur, and you have no other alternative - then your equipment had darn well better work or you might very well end up very dead.
This is why that I (and I'm sure this is true of other established custom holster shops as well) focus on product quality, rather than numbers. I've got to be able to sleep at night, and quite frankly I could not do that if I were turning out most of the concealment systems being commercially marketed today. Rant over. Thank you very much.
This is an amazing read! Thanks for posting.
I'm positive that this thread will answer many questions for a lot of members.
CombatCarry is getting so many members that are quite new to daily carry and this is certain to be a great informational thread for them.
Liberty Over Tyranny Μολὼν λαβέ
If, at the end of 6 weeks you don't find it superior to your "Brand X holsters", I'll make sure that they refund your money in full. (And, FWIW, Coal Creek only stocks my Service Grade stuff)
I will pit my holsters against anyone's - any time, any where, under any (equal) conditions in terms of comfort, concealment, draw characteristics, quality of design & workmanship and overall performance. (Which is why my holsters come with a lifetime guarantee - do your Galco's?)
That kind of info and insight are the kinds of things that got me on this board and are why I'll stay.
Thats a Great Read ..
Antyhing is the same a mass produced will not get the intensive labor handbuilt will
Mark is right - the Thumb-Break thread got way off topic, and I am at fault for that as much as anyone. For that reason, you'll see that I've merged parts of that thread with this one. Thanks!
Boy, Gary that was a great piece on mass produced vs custom leather.
That is one reason I've ordered from your company. Can't wait til it gets here. Thanks again.
Walk steathly - and carry a big Springfield.
My two bits worth.
I've made my living for far too long as a craftsman though not a holster maker or leather worker. One of the frustrating things has been a shift in mentality in our culture from wanting the best to wanting it now, good enough and cheap. Wallly world has hurt us in more ways than one. We will now gladly accept good enough easily if it's instant gratification and the right price point.
I have one recent aquaintance that was living firmly entrenched in this world with his carry hardware. I finally badgered him into a custom rig and despite the wait he can't stop talking about how happy he is with it. Seems all those little things he figured he had to tolerate to carry are gone.
I used to run into the same things when building boats and custom knives. I want it cheap, fast and beautiful drove me out of boats, better for my blood pressure. I also tired of hearing "why should I spend $200 on your knife when I can get a Buck knife for $50 today?" Well, why are you talking to me, bucko, if you don't know the difference. I could attempt to explain the differences in alloy and heat treating. The differences in design and edge geometry not to mention ergonomics but it will be a waste of my time, good bye.
There's a good reason why custom is custom. It takes lots of experience, talent and defies mass production. But all the little details sure add up into a big bonus for me! All my leather is custom and will probably stay there. I've tried factory leather and found it wanting in comparison.
While I've yet to sample Gary's newest wares I have an old clip on IWB of his that's still great. Maybe I'll try one of his newest products with my next gun!
Being a craftsman has probably made me a curmudgeon!
If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good. ~ Thomas J. Watson, Jr.
Thank's for the great reading Mark and Gary. That is some good intel and the very reason why ALL my holsters are custom holsters and only from a select few in fact with Gary and Mark being at the helm of those I order from.
Train and train hard, you might not get a second chance to make a first impression!
I vote for Monica Lewinsky's Ex-Boyfriend's Wife for President.....Not!