IWB Hybrid Holster Care By Taurian and Steve (M1911A1)

concealedcarryThe advent of IWB hybrid holsters brought a new, and now, very popular means of concealed carry. Not only have hybrid holster taken concealed carry by storm, OWB hybrid holster are also becoming popular. This article; however, focuses in on the IWB hybrid holster. Specifically, not about what the IWB holster does for us, but what we need to do for the IWB Hybrid holster.

IWB hybrid holsters are probably the easiest holster to slap into place and begin to use on a daily basis over many other holster types and materials. But, the IWB hybrid holster is not without its considerations. We hope to address those considerations in this brief article.

Not being an expert on hybrid holsters by any means, especially in the leather care department, I enlisted the help of my good friend, Steve, who is a retired leather smith and knows his way around things leather. Steve is also known by his Gun Toters forum name of M1911A1. Steve’s contribution can be read at LEATHER BACKING CARE.

Let’s start this out with a few precautions regarding IWB hybrid holsters.

PRECAUTIONS:

When you first receive your Kydex gear it is advised to test fit it with an unloaded and safe weapon to make sure there is no contact with your trigger. If you believe there is contact between the trigger and Kydex, do not use the item and contact the manufacturer.

Kydex:

KYDEX® plastic combines the beneficial characteristics of acrylic and PVC. It has superior rigidity and formability but is also tough, chemical resistant, and resilient.

Of the few precautions associated with an IWB hybrid holster, the primary precaution could be summed up in one word – heat; more specifically, excessive heat. Kydex, the outer shell of the IWB hybrid holster, is a thermoformed plastic. If subjected to high heat, it can lose shape. It is advised not to leave your Kydex gear in a hot car on a summer day or anywhere that is subject to extreme and/or direct heat.

Leather Backing:

The backing material may be made of cowhide (10-12 ounce) or horsehide (7-9 ounce) or even of a synthetic material. The backing may be single layer or double layer. The backing may also consist of two different materials; one for the backer and one for a liner. Layers are usually glued, stitched, and/or heat bonded. Cowhide wears extremely well and horsehide is poplar for its water/sweat resistant properties, although “pressed” cowhide is becoming popular as a substitute for horsehide. Backing colors may range from natural to heavily-dyed and most are sealed and buffed in the high-wear areas.

Tan me hide when I’m dead, Fred
Tan me hide when I’m dead
So we tanned his hide when he died, Clyde
And that’s it hangin’ on the shed!!
Altogether now!

– Lyrics from: Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport,Rolf Harris

Tanning hide into leather involves a process which permanently alters the protein structure of skin. Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods. Vegetable-tanned hide is not very flexible and is used for luggage, furniture, footwear, belts, and other clothing accessories. Many gun belts and holsters have been “vegetable” tanned. Chrome tanning is faster than vegetable tanning (less than a day for this part of the process) and produces a stretchable leather which is excellent for use in handbags and garments. Chances are that a “Chrome” tanning process is used for most IWB hybrid holster products. For more information about leather tanning, see Tanning: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanning.

For care considerations for the leather backing, see LEATHER BACKING CARE (see how well that lead-in worked out!).

BREAK-IN:

Break-in of the holster will take place over a period of time depending on a few variables. Like any great baseball glove, it will get better with time. The leather will form to your exact torso contours.

Examples of Alien Gear IWB Hybrid Holsters

Examples of Alien Gear IWB Hybrid Holsters

Some IWB Hybrid holsters are better at forming to your body than others. Some manufacturers simply attach a backing to a shell (or vice-versa) and call it a day without regarding how the bending of backing material and the interaction with the Kydex shell takes place. There are some manufactures that, during manufacturing, provide a “give” area that allows the backing to form to the body without placing stress on the Kydex shell mounts. In other words, I would give “Bob’s Bargain Basement and Hybrid Holsters” a pass on without looking, thank you.

Give the IWB Hybrid holster some time to settle into your body before making adjustments for cant, height, and tension.

CANT ADJUSTMENT:

Thanks to Alien Gear Holsters for this excellent "Cant" Example

Thanks to Alien Gear Holsters for this excellent “Cant” Example

I once wrote an article on cant (Holster Cant – What You Can and Can’t Do About It: http://guntoters.com/blog/2015/06/26/holster-cant-what-you-can-and-cant-do-about-it/) and I hope that you take the time to read it at a later time.

Fortunately, there are many IWB Hybrid holsters that provide a number of ways to adjust an IWN Hybrid holster for cant. A cant adjustment range of 0-degrees to 35-degrees is not uncommon and holsters are usually shipped with a built-in 15-degree (FBI) positive cant.

The beauty of having these cant adjustments to you is that you can experiment with cant angles until you find the one that benefits you best – and you should be experimenting. You just may find that the cant that you have lived with for so long is not the best for you or for how you wish to carry the firearm.

A few minutes playing with cant adjustments just may turn your IWB hybrid holster from a hip holster to an appendix holster or even a cross-draw holster.

Anytime you remove the screws, be sure to use blue Loctite on mounting and tension screws.

HOLSTER RIDE HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT:

The ride height of a holster can be expressed two ways; how much of the firearm is above the waist or how much of the firearm is below the waist. Holster ride heights are usually expressed in terms like; high-ride, mid-ride, or low-ride.

Sometimes the holster ride height may need to be low to prevent a short barreled firearm from being pressed outward from the body at the butt, or because the operator has long arms and a mid-ride or high-ride position places too much strain on the shoulder to achieve a good draw stroke.

For me, I find that a mid-ride (with my desired cant) is suitable for short-barreled and long-barreled firearms. Feel free to experiment and find the best holster ride height for you. Fortunately, IWB Hybrid holster manufacturers usually provide adequate mounting point holes for you to experiment with.

Anytime you remove the screws, be sure to use blue Loctite on mounting and tensioning screws.

MOUNTING HARDWARE:

Mounting hardware consists of clips, screws, nuts, and spacers used to secure the Kydex shell to the backing and the backing to your belt.

It is quite common for steel clips to be used to secure the holster assembly to the belt; however, mounting variations may also be leather straps with snaps, polymer J-clips, P-clips, or other means. Although each has their advantages and disadvantage, all are subject to stress and possible failure, which means periodic inspections to ensure that failure – is not an option.

Mounting screws follow Murphy’s Law; whereas, if one can back out, one will back out. The use of blue Locktite helps to mitigate one or more from backing out. Some IWB Hybrid holster manufactures provide a couple of extra screws with the holster. Chances are you may never need them, but like carrying a firearm, it is better to have it and not need it than…

TENSION ADJUSTMENTS:

A Black Arch Holster with Two Tension Points

A Black Arch Holster with Two Tension Points

Tension points on IWB Hybrid holsters are not created equal. A manufacturer may provide four separate tension point where others my provide two tension points, or even one tension point depending on the holster.

Most IWB Hybrid holster tension is adjusted at the factory using either the actual firearm for your holster, or more likely, an exact non-firing duplicate.

If the tension needs to be adjusted you can do so by tightening or loosening the mounting hardware. Most IWB Hybrid holster manufacturers provide rubber spacers that are compressed with a tension screw to add or reduce tension. In some cases, a separate set of rubber spacers and tension screws are provided with the holster that allows you to customize tension points to your liking.

In most cases, it is better to wear the holster with the firearm for a few days to let things conform to each other before making tension adjustments. It should become common practice to check the tension of the holster to your firearm on a regular basis.

Anytime you remove the screws, be sure to use blue Loctite on mounting and tension screws.

KYDEX CARE:

As for the Kydex holster shell, and once removed from the leather backer, you can clean with dish soap and warm water. Dry with a hand towel, and then reassemble.

If the retention needs to be adjusted you can do so by tightening or loosening the mounting hardware. Anytime you remove the screws, be sure to use blue Loctite on mounting and tension screws.

When you first receive your Kydex gear it is advised to test fit it with a unloaded and safe weapon to make sure there is no contact with your trigger. If you believe there is contact between the trigger and Kydex, do not use the item and please contact the manufacturer.

In some cases, the Kydex shell and the backing cannot e separated due to stitching and or riveting of the shell to the backing. In this case, a simple wipe down with a damp rag will suffice. Prior to purchasing an IWB Hybrid holster that incorporates stitching in its design, I would highly recommend that you inquire about the material used for the stitching. For example, the Kydex shells on all Black Arch IWB Hybrid holsters are both stitched and riveted. Kevlar stitching is used and moisture is not going to affect its strength characteristics. Other manufacturers may use different stitching materials (for example; reinforced, treated nylon) and most are receptive to inquiries.

Kydex is extremely easy to care for and maintain. If your Kydex gear gets dirty, dusty, or debris in it all you have to do is wash it out with warm soapy water and let it air dry. After it is dry it is advisable to wipe the inside down with gun cleaning oil.

On gear that has user adjustable belt loops/clips, after you adjust the ride height, use blue thread locker to secure the screws.

You should check the hardware at least once a week to make sure the screws are not loose.

KYDEX (RE)FORMING:

There are times when the Kydex shell may need to be re-formed.

I had one case with a Kydex shell where the impression for inside of a trigger guard was a bit too much and affected how smoothly the firearm could be inserted and removed from the holster. I felt that the holster needed a little less tension at the trigger guard. Reforming the Kydex meant the application of heat while applying a tool at the desired area to raise the center portion of the trigger guard area of the holster.

Although Kydex is forgiving, it can also be not so forgiving when re-forming the Kydex goes completely wrong; you can end up with a useless Kydex shell unless you plan out what you are intending to do, where you are intending to do it, and how you are intending to do it. Once heated to malleable temperature, things need to happen very quickly and the heat needs to be removed just as quickly.

Just for your edification, here are some things to know about Kydex:

When forming KYDEX sheet, it is better to rely on the sheet appearance during heating than on fixed cycle times.

Forming temperatures – Guidelines – The Kydex should not exceed:

  • 204°C (400°F).
  • 165 – 177°C (330 – 350°F) for < 1.50mm (0.060”).
  • 182 – 196°C (360 – 385°F) for 1.50mm to 3.20mm (0.060” to 0.125”).
  • 196 – 204°C (385 – 400°F) for > 3.20mm (0.125”)

Ideally the core sheet temperature should be within 10°F of the surface temperature.

As KYDEX sheet is heated, the inherent stresses in the sheet will relax. The following is observed in the Kydex forming process:

  • Stage I: The heating is marked by wide undulations and softening.
  • Stage II: The material will start to form small ripples (known as oil canning).
  • Stage III: The material will start to smooth out and sag (KYDEX sheet will generally sag less than other thermoplastics due to its high melt strength).
  • Stage IV: The ripples will have smoothed out indicating that most stresses have been removed. 10 to 30 seconds afterwards the sheet is ready to form.

Heat Gun:

Don’t be tempted to borrow the wife’s 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. Obviously an 1100* heat gun is a lot hotter than a hair dryer, 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.

Of course, you can always contact the holster manufacturer and ask for an adjustment of the Kydex. Most hybrid manufacturers don’t mind making their product right for you (there are exceptions of course). However, no manufacturer will appreciate receiving a holster back for adjustment with a hole burned through the Kydex shell due to your screw-up. Plain and simple, if you don’t feel comfortable enough to perform the Kydex re-form, don’t do it even though you may have the competence and tools to do so.

LEATHER BACKING CARE:

Many thanks to M1911A1 for providing the information that follows:

Steve’s Note!
This leather-holster-care segment of the article will be useful to all users of all leather holsters, not only to those using the hybrid form.

First, are you sure that it’s leather? Some hybrid-holster makers use synthetics that look and feel a lot like leather for their holster-backing pieces. Pseudo-leather requires care that is very different from that demanded by real leather, and it’s easier too. But other than to say that Lexol works well, we won’t discuss artificial leather here.

If it is real leather, next we must look at the holster maker’s intentions, and also at your own needs. Is the leather soft? Flexible? Thick? Stiff? What purpose does the leather serve, and how well does its present condition suit that purpose, and suit you?

Holster Care Kit from White Hat Leathers

Holster Care Kit from White Hat Leathers

If it’s soft and flexible, you can’t stiffen it. You can make soft leather softer, and you can make flexible leather even more flexible, and even soft. And if it’s stiff, and instead you want it flexible or soft, you can change things. But be aware that, once changed, there’s no going back. Also be aware that almost all leather-cleaning and leather-preserving products act as softeners.

The list of leather cleaners and preservers is long, and new ones pop up now and then, so there’s no comprehensive catalog. But new preparations are usually just slightly different from older models, or merely a rebranding, so general classifications are useful enough.

Cake-wax shoe “polish,” for instance those flat cans labelled Kiwi, leads the pack. That’s closely followed by saddle soap, a fairly ordinary soap that contains a large amount of glycerin. Then there are the liquid-wax products like Lexol, containing wax and glycerin, and in some cases a soap solution. Finally, there are animal-fat-based oils, typified by neatsfoot oil. In last place, least useful, come the volatile liquids loaded with Teflon particles or Moly (molybdenum disulfide), and even powdered graphite.

Regardless of the stuff you’re going to use, you should first clean your leather by scrubbing it, inside and out, with a dry toothbrush. No water. No soap. Get all of the dust, grit, and crud off of every surface and out of every crevice. Of course, you’ll be doing this to the Kydex parts of your hybrid rig, too. Right? That’s because even dust will eventually destroy leather, Kydex, and also blued steel.

"Rough Out" side is against the body as shown in this worn IWB Hybrid holster example

“Rough Out” side is against the body as shown in this worn IWB Hybrid holster example and is the most susceptible to moisture

The only preparation among those listed that will not materially soften leather is cake shoe wax, used just as you would to polish your shoes. However, it only beautifies and preserves. It doesn’t clean. If the leather you’re working on has been wet-formed, and is now almost as stiff as wood, for instance providing a permanent dimple to immobilize your gun’s safety lever, use only cake wax on it. Don’t soften it, or you’ll lose that important wet-formed dimple. Since the leather part of a hybrid IWB holster is not out in the open, and its beauty isn’t an important issue, you can use colorless, “neutral” shoe wax on it. The bonus is that there will be no color to rub off onto your clothes.

You might be tempted to use cake furniture wax, for instance Johnson’s or Minwax, because it’s easier to apply than shoe wax, but it probably isn’t a good idea. The volatile solvent which makes this wax soft isn’t good for some leathers, and it carries the soft wax deeply into stiff leather, thereby eventually making it softer than you might want it to be.

Even a holster made of Chipmunk hide will need care

Even a holster made of Chipmunk hide will need care

An old cowboy proverb says that if you use saddle soap on your leather, it’ll last for 100 years; but if you use neatsfoot oil on it, it’ll only last for 75. There’s a lot of truth in that. A scrub with a toothbrush and an application of neatsfoot oil will remove a lot of surface dirt, and it certainly will soften and preserve the leather by quickly and deeply lubricating its interior fibers. But embedded dirt that the oil couldn’t remove will eventually tear the leather apart. Neatsfoot oil is probably the best, and quickest, leather softener available, but it will stain clothing.

On the other hand, saddle soap is, first of all, soap; and soap is better than most things at dissolving and floating out deep-down dirt. Saddle soap leaves glycerin behind. It’s a fiber lubricant and leather softener, but each application doesn’t leave very much of it. It only softens leather after a long series of applications. The short-term leather-softener part of saddle soap is the water you use to make it into leather-cleaning suds. If you apply saddle soap with a heavy hand, that water will quickly remove the safety-lever dimple that you might want to keep.

Lexol is the most-used liquid-wax preparation for cleaning, preserving, and, yes, softening leather. Lexol leather preserver is really good stuff, but it’s only for use on leather that is either already soft, or that you want to make softer. The Lexol people make a separate cleaning product, and it, too, will soften leather as a byproduct of its use. There are other liquid-wax preparations, some containing vegetable waxes and some bearing more or less beeswax. Vegetable wax, for instance carnauba, is good, but beeswax alone may end up flaking off. The liquid which carries the wax will most likely soften leather. That said, if the maker of your holster specifies, or even sells, a liquid preservative, it’s probably the right thing to use.

This Holster example can serve in IWB or OWB roles

This Holster example can serve in IWB or OWB roles

Teflon- or Moly-bearing liquids are not leather softeners because the liquid part evaporates too quickly to have an effect. These preparations slick-up the leather surface, supposedly making break-in unnecessary and the draw-stroke quicker. But be absolutely certain that this is what you really need, because the stuff is very hard to remove, and at worst it may be permanent. Instead, the best holster break-in is a long series of repeated practice presentations. The Teflon- or Moly-treated surface may become just a little too slick, which will adversely affect pistol retention and safe use.

In the old days, too-tight leather holsters could be slicked-up a little by rubbing powdered graphite onto their interior surfaces. Some people made a slurry of graphite and Vaseline, which made application a lot easier. Graphite adds less slickness than does Teflon or Moly, and thus might be helpful, but it creates a permanent mess which stains guns, hands, and clothing; and the Vaseline, if you use it, softens leather somewhat.

Choose leather cleaners and preservatives thoughtfully, according to the end result you’re looking for. Control their effects with careful application, remembering that if you go too far, you may not be able to reverse the process. And place most of your faith in the dry toothbrush, your most potent weapon against grime.

Other very informative articles by Steve (M1911A1) can be found at http://guntoters.com/blog/author/m1911a1/ But, don’t go there just yet.

MAKING THE CUT:

Cross Breed Super Tuck Deluxe w/Combat Cut

Cross Breed Super Tuck Deluxe w/Combat Cut

A sweat shield protects the firearm from body moisture. Some manufacturers allow you to decide the “cut” of the sweat shield, which may be a “Standard” cut or a “Combat” cut. In cases, the “Combat” cut may be the standard, but in other cases a “Combat” cut may cost you a little extra in cash.

Crossbreed Holsters, LLC defines a Combat Cut as such:

The Combat Cut is where we trim away some of the leather from behind part of the grip of your pistol, leaving leather coverage behind the trigger guard and slide. This allows a firmer grasp on the gun during the draw stroke. This modification will sacrifice a little bit of comfort but does increase the draw speed. This is an extra cost option because this cut is made to follow the contour of the individual firearm; the look of this cut varies from one holster to another depending on holster type, leather type, and gun choice. Approximately 20% of our customers prefer this option, while the others either have no preference or feel it sacrifices too much comfort. If you are unsure, don’t order it. We can do it later if you would like; but once it’s done, it’s done.

As a side note, I perform surgery on any IWB Hybrid holster that I use for the 1911-based pistol to prevent any negative interaction between the sweat shield and the thumb safety on the pistol.

I leave it up to the individual to decide what type of sweat shield is good for their particular purposes.

What I would consider an ill-designed IWB Hybrid holster

What I would consider an ill-designed IWB Hybrid holster

I have also seen examples of IWB Hybrid holsters that are simply a circular, rectangular, or wildly exaggerated cut of leather with a Kydex shell plopped in the middle them – and some of them are not so inexpensive. If these makers are making things on the cheap, what can be expected of the quality of backing and the Kydex shell that should be formed to your particular handgun? Please look at the functionality of the holster before purchase!

The last item on the cut list (that was a pun) that you should get into your noggin’ is that the sweat shield will bend outward. The sweat shield (standard, combat, or whatever) is leather and leather is flexible; cows and horses would not want it any other way. The sweat shield works two ways; it protects the firearm from body moisture and it protects your body from the firearm. The sweat shield bending outward is normal and the firearm prevents it from bending too far. In other words, the holster is intended to be worn with a holstered firearm. Concern yourself only if the sweat shield has attained such flexibility to the point that it flops over and interferes with you holstering the firearm; that’s a sign that you need a new holster, Binky!

REPLACEMENT PARTS:

Most IWB Hybrid holster manufacturers can provide, at a cost or not, replacement parts for your holster to include, nuts, screws, washers, and clips. Some holster manufacturers will even include some screws and washers with the product and this may also include a wrench for adjusting screws.

If you decide to forego what is offered by the manufacturer, and instead decide to opt for hardware from your local big-box hardware store, go for the stainless-steel hardware as it is less susceptible to corrosion from body sweat and other moisture.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

There are some good IWB Hybrid holsters on the market today, and bad ones. Some may come with the Kydex shell as an integral part of the holster or a Kydex shell that can be changed out for another shell that fits a different pistol or revolver as your carry needs change. This article was not intended to say that one manufacturer’s holster is better than another manufacturer’s holster – I leave that decision up to you.

Of course, there are also IWB holsters that are all Kydex or leather (sans mounting hardware), and care of Kydex and leather found in this article apply to them as well.

Do your research, select you desired IWB hybrid holster, adjust it to your needs, and then treat it with respect through proper maintenance.

RESOURCES:

The Truth About Kydex Holsters: http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2014/02/robert-farago/truth-kydex-holsters/

About Taurian

Taurian is an Oath Keeper, veteran, former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Until retirement, Taurian had over forty-seven years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer. After leaving home at the age of ten without any shoes, Taurian continues on with many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.

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