Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fun With Kydex - Or How I Spent My Saturday

It's been some time since my last update, but it's been pretty busy recently with travel and family obligations.  I've had my mind on a project and finally got the chance to work on it today.  Overall, I'm tickled to death with how it worked out and if these two attempts are any indication of things to come in the future, I'm really glad I decided to give Kydex molding a try.

 Kydex is a type of plastic with a fairly low melting temperature.  Do some digging on the web and you will find a bunch of information about using Kydex to make holsters, knife sheaths, magazine carriers, etc.  If you can dream it up, someone will make it for you out of Kydex.  I'm pretty good about dropping my CC pistol in my pocket, but I'm horrible about taking along the other things like a knife, flashlight, and extra magazine.  I'm not a guy that's going to be running around town in 5.11 tactical pants.  It's just not my style.  I do wear shorts that have cargo pockets about 7 months of the year so I wanted a support side Kydex holster for my light, knife, and a spare magazine that would fit well in a cargo pocket.  I inquired around and several different people would do the job, but they wanted me to send my stuff to them so they could custom mold what I wanted.  I'm too lazy to mail away my stuff so for months I've been thinking about doing my own support side holster.

3 weeks ago I had some time to do some googling and found this place that sells Kydex sheets and all of the other stuff you need to make a holsters and sheaths.  I put in a small order for 4 feet of Kydex and 2 feet of the molding foam you need to press the Kydex and form it to your gear.  This place also sells a professional steel molding press for $80 plus shipping, but the "do it on the cheap until you see how difficult or easy it is" side of me just didn't want to take the plunge until I had a few attempts under my belt.  Service from was fantastic.  My stuff arrived super quickly and it was exactly as they specified on their website.  I'll be using them again.

So this morning I went out and got a haircut and then headed over to Walmart and Lowes for some of things I knew I would need to make my Kydex press.  Initally I had planned to make a hinge for the top and bottom pieces of the press.  I spent quite a bit of time looking for the right brackets or whatever that would allow me to make an articulated hinge for the rear of the press.  As it turns out, it was added expense and complication that ended up not working well at all.  I probably wasted 2 hours of time on that aspect of the project and ended up not using it in the end.

My pressing foam was 8" x 12".  I had two sheets of it for the top and bottom of the press.  I bought a can of spray adhesive to secure the foam to the press plates.  I had some extra 3/4" plywood at the house so I cut two 12 1/2" by 11" boards for the top and bottom of the press.  I did a quick sanding on the boards and secured the foam with the spray adhesive.  Man, it felt great to get my hands busy working with my tools again.  Here are two pictures of the finished press.  The first is open and the second is closed.

Once I had the press the way I wanted it, it was time to heat the Kydex and start molding.  I'm a total sucker for digital camo.  For some strange reason, it just appeals to me.  I even bought a roll of digital camo Ducktape when I saw it on the shelf a few months ago.  When I saw that I could get digital camo Kydex, I knew I had to have it.  My first attempt was with the digital camo Kydex.  The first thing I did was cut a piece of Kydex to about the size I thought would be best for the three items and then made sure it was double that big to allow for folding back over the top of the three items.  I used our family toaster oven to heat the .08" thick Kydex to between 325 and 350 degrees F.  I was pretty amazed at how fast the stuff softened up.  Using leather gloves, I removed the Kydex and placed it in the press.  I added my stuff and folded the Kydex sheet back over top of my stuff.  I then used three clamps to press the two plates together and left it to cool for 30 minutes or so.

I could test how the Kydex was cooling by touching the ends of the stuff hanging out of the press.  The flashlight was a real heat sink and when that finally cooled down, I decided I had waited long enough.  What came out was pretty ugly so I stuck it back in the toaster oven and brought the Kydex sheet back to flat and repressed it.  I was much happier with the results the second time around.

Kydex comes in several thicknesses.  I had some .08" and some .06" thick stuff to work with.  The digital camo was the thickest .08" and the .06" stuff was just basic black.  I've purchased a couple commercial Kydex holsters in the past, and they were even thinner than what I had on hand.  So there must be some .04" and .05" Kydex available.

What comes out of the press will need some trimming and sanding work.  While I got started doing that on the digital camo holster, I decided I would try molding the black .06" Kydex on the same three items.  The thinner Kydex decided that it was really bacon and it started warping and twisting while heating.  I'm thinking that maybe I heated it up too quickly or made it too hot.  I'll have to play around with the temps on the next pass.

The trimming and sanding process gets pretty messy.  It was hotter than you know what here today so I had retreated to the shade of the garage to do my finish work.  I made a huge mess with Kydex scraps and crumbs, but it wasn't anything the ShopVac and a shower couldn't take care of.  I'm sure that heating, cutting, and sanding Kydex releases all kinds of nasty chemical agents so I made sure I was working in a very well ventilated area.

So that was my afternoon.  I ended up with two fantastic support side pocket holsters for my Fenix PD30, Benchmade mini Stryker, and a Diamondback DB9 spare magazine.  I am going to have to put in another order with Knifekits for some rivets.  The holster retention is pretty good, but a rivet or two will make things about perfect.  Once that's done, I also want to try reheating the holsters to give them a slight curve to fit more naturally against my left thigh.  Flat isn't bad, but I think the curve will feel better when sitting.  Notice the difference in the molding quality of the two.  The left was the .06" thick and the right was the .08" thick.  Maybe I can track down some digital camo Kydex in the thinner .06".  I'll have to check into that.

My next holster will be a matching custom digital camo for the Diamondback DB9.  I've been thinking about the features I want to include on the holster and also how I want to press it.  For me that's one of the best parts of making your own holster.  I'll get it exactly the way I want it.  


  1. For small adjustments you can use a heatgun or simply a hair dryer. Kydex is some great stuff.

  2. Thanks for the info. I've actually found a pencil torch at Harbor Freight that works really well for small adjustments.

  3. When I'm trying to fine-tune one small area I just use standard disposable lighter. Granted, that method is likely to gloss the surface of the Kydex and diminish the look. (But I don't care...what I make is either hidden under clothes or in a pocket, or it's World War 3 and I just don't care.) Anyway, using .080" Kydex I hold the small specific area to be adjusted around 3/4" to 1" directly above the lighter for about 5-6 seconds, and it's soft enough in that one specific area to make minor adjustments quickly without re-softening adjacent details that you already have the way you want them. And I second the motion for using a heat gun for larger areas. Many heat guns will self-stand on your bench top aiming straight up in the air and you can just let it run while you're doing your manual molding. Heat > mold > evaluate > heat a different zone > mold > evaluate > repeat. Works great. Really don't even need gloves either. I mean for those with slightly more sensitive hands you may want thin gloves, but you really don't need to get the Kydex all that hot for many projects (or for making those small adjustments during a project), and it cools quickly. I've done 3 projects with Kydex for my gun stuff so far, 95% of it didn't need gloves, and in between heat/mold steps I literally just blow on the area for 15 seconds and it's cool enough that it keeps it's shape and cool enough that you hold it comfortably (if it was particularly uncomfortable to begin with). FWIW...

    1. I picked up a pencil torch at Harbor Freight that works awesome for heating small areas, but don't get it too close or it will gloss/scorch the kydex.