Inside the Shop – Natural Holsters

So this is the first post of this sort, and I thought guys are always curious about things in the shop and how things work. I’ve had allot of guys want to come in the shop and see how things are built and it’s sort of like watching the show “how it’s made” but allot slower and by hand rather than some amazing mechanical wonder.

So Natural holsters, the arch nemesis of virtually every holster maker that I know. Likely the same in saddle makers, and all other leather crafts. Very likely the same also when dealing with natural wood finishes as well. The reason is that every single defect, mark or anything else will show in the finished holster. Did the cow get a bug bite when it was still a calf? Did she get too close to the barbed wire fence? Did someone with a slightly unclean hand touch the leather at the tannery or in your shop? All of that will or can show up in the finished holster.

Minor scar causing discoloration, this wasn’t visible until it was oiled at the last few steps.

Often times small things like not washing your hands between working on a non-natural holsters or wiping down your boning tools will transfer a little bit of dye which will show on a natural holster. I’ve had the presser foot on my sewing machine transfer dye because I happened to stitch a black holster before a natural.

So in essence making a good or as perfect as you can get natural holster you pretty much have to turn your work space into a clean room. Wipe your tools and equipment down to make sure there isn’t any dye on anything. Hope and cross your fingers no grease or oil from your sewing machine finds its way into the process, or god forbid gets on your hands while working on it, since next step will be a nice clean black fingerprint that you can’t remove.

jim-h-set

Crazy as it may seem, sometimes a complicated order like this will actually be easier to build, than a simple natural holster.

So the whole process there are countless times to make a minor mistake, and ruin the holster to the point that you’re going to have to rebuild it. Then dye that one you screwed up black or some other darker color. There are also things with the hide that just aren’t visible until you start working with it. Sometimes parts of the hide are firmer, or more dense. They will absorb water and oil at a different rate. That’s going to leave an uneven finish on the leather. Ever wonder why some cheap holsters often import rigs get that brown/orange color and doesn’t look natural or like a dye. Well that is actually more like a paint, it goes on smooth and hides a lot of things with the grain of the leather that you can’t hide with dye. When dealing with wood I’d say it’s paint vs. stain. Stain you will see the grain and any issues with it, paint will cover it up. And I should say that’s not a complaint or even an issue, just something to be aware of.

I also would like to say that doesn’t mean holster makers as a whole are using worse leather on black or dark brown holsters compared to natural. Pretty much all the issues with natural rigs are aesthetic not functional issues, they are minor things that won’t affect the function of the rig. If the cow has a tiny scar the width of a hair and the rig is black you’ll never see it and it won’t affect the function of the rig at all. But on a natural rig often that will show as a line of darker or lighter leather where oil won’t penetrate as well and looks off.

So just an oddity of holster making that I wanted to mention and write about since I don’t often see it talked about outside of the industry itself. Inside the industry it’s often talked about in my experience all the way up to the top level professionals, we all hate natural holsters.

A good clean example of a natural holster, which also happened to replace the one in the image above.

But now I’m going to throw out the last bit. We all hate them but there is a fine line between love and hate. We hate making them, we may complain and swear through the whole process. But at the end, if we managed to avoid all the pitfalls the finished product is often the best representation of our work. It’s a piece that doesn’t have anything to hide behind. It’s a model from television without their makeup and hair done. It’s either good or bad based on how well it’s built and how well the holster maker went through the whole process. That isn’t to say it’s better than a black rig it’s not, and honestly I prefer the look of black or brown to natural. But it does show every single little mistake you made and that is when you can really tell the difference between makers. Take a close look at a Matt DelFatti’s natural holsters and you’ll see how close to perfect some holster makers can get.

Luke Adams

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