Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fun With Kydex Week 2

Last week, I updated the blog with some pictures and prose about my first attempt at kydex molding.  I mentioned that to finish the support side holsters, I needed some rivets and a setting tool.  All that arrived this week along with some leather and more Kydex, so today I attempted my first hybrid pocket holster for my DB9.  I also did some pretty intensive finish work on the support side holster.  Most of that was sanding and shaping.

The DB9 holster was a huge amount of work.  My press does great for sandwich holsters, but the single sided left much to be desired.  There is just no way for 1" of foam to properly conform to a pistol that's almost an inch thick.  I used my press to get a general outline, then used a heat gun and my gloved fingers to form the kydex to the pistol.  I would have given anything for access to a vacuum table this afternoon.  It would have saved me hours. 

Initially, I had planned to use a leather backer but I got these Bank of America mouse pads in an auction item I purchased and they just seemed perfect for the backer. It's rubberized on one side and super slick stiff plastic coated on the other. This is a right handed holster so the rubberized side help hold it in the pocket. Retention is fine and it sticks in the pocket on the draw. I'll be wearing this all week with an empty chamber just to be sure the trigger doesn't get actuated in my daily activities. It feels really good in the pocket.

All in all, I'm really pleased with how these turned out.  I definitely need to find a better solution for mounting the rivets.  I bought this thing off Ebay, and it did an OK job but I think a hand setter would have done a better job.

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.  

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Great .380 FMJ & JHP Ammo Test - The Results

I've mentioned this test a few times over the last couple of months.  The plan was to run 22 different types of FMJ .380 acp ammo through 3 different pistols and capture the velocity data with a chronograph.  Between bad equipment and then bad weather there were a few false starts, but I did manage to get through the testing on June 18th.  You are probably wondering what took me so long to publish the results and I'll go into those details a little later.

As suggested, I've added this listing of tested ammo at the top of the blog.  Details will be shown below.  Tested loads included:
Tested FMJ - 22
Aguila 95 Grain FMJ RN
Allegiance 100 Grain FMJ RN
Armscor Precision 95 Grain FMJ RN
Black Hills 100 Grain FMJ RN
Buffalo Bore 95 Grain FMJ FN
Buffalo Bore 95 Grain FMJ FN "+P Load"
Double Tap 95 Grain FMJ RN
Federal  American Eagle 95 Grain FMJ RN
Fiocchi  95 Grain FMJ RN
Independence 90 Grain FMH RN
Magtech 95 Grain FMJ RN
Magtech CleanRange 95 Grain FMJ FEB
Remington/UMC 95 Grain FMJ RN
Remington/UMC 95 Grain Leadless FNEB
Sellier & Bellot 92 Grain FMJ RN
Speer Lawman 95 Grain TMJ RN
Speer Blazer 95 Grain TMJ RN
Speer Blazer Brass 95 Grain FMJ RN
Tulammo 91 Grain FMJ RN
Winchester WINClean 95 Grain  BEB FP
Winchester 95 Grain FMJ FP
Winchester 95 Grain FMJ FP

Tested JHP - 10
Hornady 90 Grain Critical Defense FTX HP
Winchester 95 Grain Supreme Elite PDX1 HP
Fiocchi 95 Grain Extrema XTP HP
Remington 102 Grain Golden Saber HP
Double Tap 95 Grain JHP
Winchester 85 Grain Silvertip HP
Magtech 85 Grain Guardian Gold "+P Load"
Federal 90 Grain Hydra Shok JHP
Remington/UMC 88 Grain JHP Value Pack
Speer 90 grain Gold Dot HP

I'll start by describing the testing protocol.  5 rounds of each ammo variety was test fired through 3 different pistols and across a CED M2 chronograph positioned approx. 10 feet from the muzzle.  The testing set up looked like the photo below.  A new string of data was captured each time the load and pistol changed. 

I set up a detailed testing sheet and found this handy tackle box that allowed me to keep things as organized as possible when at the range.  Don't worry about reading the spreadsheet in the picture below.  I'll have a larger image available later in the post.

I decided to use the following guns for the testing.  Clockwise from top left they are the Diamondback DB380, Kahr P380, and a Bersa Thunder .380CC.  This gave me 3 different barrel lengths to work with.  The Kahr is shortest at 2.5".  The Diamondback comes in at 2.8".  The Bersa has the longest barrel and measures in at 3.2".  The differences in barrel length will be important when we get down to the final results.

Once I finally got over the issues with weather and a bad chronograph, the testing actually went pretty quickly.  I was able to get into a nice rhythm of loading two magazines for each gun with two different ammo types and then running 6 strings across the chronograph before taking a break and reloading the six magazines again.  I have to say that the CED M2 made this project possible.  All I needed to do was catalog the string number by gun and load so I could match my spreadsheet to the chronograph data as it was downloaded to my PC when I got back to the house.  The final results of my testing are displayed in the spreadsheet below.  I added the energy calculation column.  All other data came straight from the chronograph.

 Click on the results sheet to open a larger image you can read.

My first opportunity to test came on 6/18/2011.  You are probably wondering why the data for the Diamondback DB380 stops on the 10th test load.  Unfortunately, the DB380 broke a trigger return spring during testing and had to be shipped back to Diamondback Firearms for repair.  If you notice the last entry for the DB380, you can see the high and low velocities are the same.  I was only able to get one test round with load number 10 before taking the DB380 out of action.  I considered holding the results until the DB380 gets back so I could finish the testing, but decided not to wait.

I had a few people ask me if I was also going to test any of the hollow point ammo in addition to the FMJ.  Initially, I said no primarily due to the expense of adding them to the test.  I softened a bit and ran string 23 for a member of the Kahr Talk Forum that specifically asked about Gold Dots in the Kahr P380.  After the DB380 dropped out of the testing, I decided I would test as many varieties of HP ammo as I had on hand, but would not go out and buy additional varieties.  As it turns out, I had quite a few odds and ends on hand so while the testing may not be as comprehensive as the FMJ testing I was able to cover a good number.

I went back to the range on 7/3/2011 with 10 new .380 HPs to test.  I also wanted to run another string of load number 19 from the original testing as the numbers looked quite promising in the initial tests.  You may remember that my goal for this testing was to find a fast, heavy, and reasonably priced FMJ round that I could carry and practice with while not breaking the bank.  Load 19 from test day one was a bit of a surprise so I wanted to validate the results.  Adding the HP testing expanded my results considerably and the final spreadsheet is shown below

 Click on the results sheet to open a larger image you can read.

So now the fun part starts.  Being a numbers guy, this sheet was like opening a long anticipated and highly valued Christmas present.  I can't say enough good things about the CED M2 chronograph.  Once I got past the problem in the initial unit, and got a replacement that worked 100% it was very simple to capture the data and off load it to my Windows XP PC when I got home.  Transferring the data into a spreadsheet was a snap as the M2 comes with a data export utility that formats in Excel friendly files.  I really don't think I could have done this test if I had to manually log each string while I was at the range.  If I was doing the logging manually, I probably would have made a mistake or two and gotten frustrated with the time it was taking to keep things logged and organized during testing.

My only issue with M2 is that my Windows 7 PC will not recognize the unit when attached via USB cable.  I'll have to call CED again and ask them to help me through that issue.

So what did I learn after going through all this testing?  Some interesting things jumped out at me that were surprising.
1)  Even though the Kahr P380 had the shortest barrel, it delivered higher velocities than the longer barreled Diamondback DB380 except for load 7.  There could be a number of reasons for this, but the learning was that I would have previously assumed the DB380 would yield higher velocities due to the added barrel length.

2)  The Kahr P380 had 3 loads that it would not chamber consistently.  For some samples I was able to get one or two of the 5 test rounds to chamber, while one would not allow the gun to return to full battery.  The Bersa Thunder 380CC was a new addition that was going through it's break in period during this testing.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to run 50 rounds of Blazer Aluminum through the gun and commence testing with it.  Through the entire test the Bersa fed, fired, and extracted everything it was fed.  I'll be doing a full write up on this gem in another blog.  I've nick named the Bersa "The Pig" due to it's voracious appetite for everything it's fed. 

3)  Armscor Precision (load 3) was the slowest load of the test.  Buffalo Bore's "+p" load (load 6) was the fastest.  +P is in quotes because there are no published SAAMI standards for that designation in this cartridge.

4)  Using the NRG metric as a guide to gauge the "power" of a load, there seemed to be a sweet spot that helps you decide if a load may be better for practice or carry.  Putting it on a scatter plot showed me that the sweet spot is 160 to 175 for the Kahr and 180 to 200 for the Bersa.  The good news is that we have several choices of various FMJ and HP loads that are available for reasonable prices in this power range.  Some may want to chase the upper and lower end outliers for recoil sensitivity or to get the most ooomph from their load choice.

5)  Internet urban legend said that the Winchester White Box 100 count value pack (load 22) was a cheaper version of the similar loading in the 50 count boxes (load 21).  My samples did indeed show that the 100 count value pack rounds were slower than their 50 count box peers.  Just wanted to add a little fuel to that fire.

6)  Speer Lawman (load 15) was slower than Blazer Brass (load 17).  Shocking!!!  Lawman was my previous carry load.  I should have been using Blazer Brass!!

7)  I was really hoping to find a nice fast flat point FMJ in the testing.  While it's meplat is smaller than the Winchester and Buffalo Bore, the Remington UMC Leadless (load 19 and retested load 34) surfaced as an unexpected contender.  It sits between the Winchester and the Buffalo Bore in velocity and it's price is right.  I'm picking this one for my FMJ favorite.  The Remington UMC Value Pack 88 grain HP (load 33) isn't too bad either in the HP category.  It's reasonably priced and broadly available.

8)  If money were no object, I would probably run the Double Tap FMJ and HP loads (load 5 and load 28).  They cost roughly double the Remington/UMCs listed above, but their performance is impressive for a load that is labeled as a standard pressure loading.  You're probably thinking I'm a cheap SOB, but I love to shoot and practice so switching to Double Tap would mean I would have to cut my practice fun in half.

9)  Two loads tested are no longer available.  The first is the Fiocchi 95 grain Extrema XTP (load 26).  During the 380 ammo drought, I picked up several boxes of these for a reasonable price.  The boxes are indeed marked 95 grain.  The currently available loading from Fiocchi is a 90 grain XTP.  My boxes are either mis-marked or they changed the loading over the last 18 months.  The second loading is the Double Tap 95 grain JHP (load 28).  This load is no longer cataloged and has been replaced with a 95 grain controlled expansion JHP.

10)  You may have noticed that I really didn't get into a deep discussion about the cost of the various loads tested.  Initially, I thought I might put a cost per round column on the results sheet but since ammo is really just like any other commodity with prices that rise and fall with supply and demand there was little chance that my numbers would be accurate from one week to the next.  All I have to say is that if you ever see a super deal on Double Tap ammo, please send me an email about it.  =)

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me or add a comment below.  I hope some of you will get some value out of this body of work.  I enjoyed pulling it together and perhaps one day I'll get back out to the range with some wet newspaper filled milk jugs and see how some of these loads perform.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Over 5000 Views In The First Month

When I started this blog on May 30th 2011, I wasn't sure how many readers would stop by and read my ramblings. I'm really impressed that over 5000 visits have been made in the first month. I've even picked up a couple of followers and started following them in return.

Recently I've been quiet, but that's because I've been busy working on my next blog project. I just wrapped up my ammo testing this afternoon so you can expect the .380 FMJ test results as well as .380 HP results and some .32 auto tests too.