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Holster 101- Explorations

Category : Cases/Scabbards/Holsters, Handguns, Self Defense

This is a pancake style from Rhome DesBiens. Stitching and finish are flawless.

Over the years I have used, reviewed and tested literally hundreds of holsters. The classic
designs such as the Milt Sparks Summer Special became classics because they work. This is
attributable to superior design and execution. Others are beautifully made of the finest material but
not worth a hoot for actual carry and use. Others are crude to look at but the get the job done. I
haven’t seen it all but I have seen a lot, and some of what I saw was disappointing. I have seen the
better makers get better with time but also saw some makers produce ever cheaper goods. A
generation ago when the police first began carrying automatic pistols as standard issue, it was very
difficult to find a good duty holster. Many were simply revolver holsters with the cylinder bulge
ironed out, at least that is how they appeared to me. I finally was able to obtain a good quality duty
holster of a good design from Don Hume Leatherwoods for my 1911 .45. I learned of a craftsman
named Lou Alessi in New York and his holsters were among the first holsters that gave this
fledging cop an idea of what first class custom leather goods could be. I learned the basics first-
how important the angle, tilt and fit of a holster can be. Next came an appreciation of design and
construction and then an appreciation for materials. Comfort differs between a high ride and a mid
ride and the differences in angle and tilt affect concealment and attaining a locked wrist on the

For illustration this model is wearing the Summer Special outside of her Daisy Dukes. The holster concealed a full size pistol well.

The holster must lock into the belt securely. You must have a good gun belt or all else is for
naught. When the holster properly locks into the gun belt then you have a secure carrier for your
handgun that will not wriggle or allow the handgun to flop around. This makes the difference
between a comfortable holster and a chafing nuisance. A proportionately heavier more effective
handgun may be worn if the holster is well designed. I keep going back to the Summer special. This
holster appears simple at first glance. It is light, with dual belt loops. But the holster also features a
strong reinforced spine, a sewn in sight track, and a reinforced holster welt. You may draw your
handgun and reholster without the holster mouth collapsing. Some cannot tolerate an IWB (Inside WaistBand) holster. I think that we should give it a good shot but if you truly cannot tolerate the inside the waistband holster you need a high rise holster that hugs the body and you still may be able to conceal the handgun beneath a pulled out sport shirt.

Here are two of the better choices going in IWB holsters—the larger holster for the GM .45 is from C5 Leather, the Colt Defender compact is carried in the Summer Special from Milt Sparks

Roy Baker popularized the pancake holster. The only real drawback is the same trade off
encountered with other holsters- the handgun lays close to the body, which results in a more
difficult draw. This is simply the tradeoff inherent in concealed carry holsters. If you practice you
will be able to effect a clan sharp draw. For those who are able to conceal a belt holster Ken Null’s
Speed Scabbard offers an excellent balance between speed and retention- just a little offset from the
body makes for great speed. Null also offers the Gibraltar, a first class pancake, but when I am able
to deploy a full size .45 in the Speed Scabbard I am as well armed as possible with a handgun.
Practice is what makes an individual formidable. When people ask what my favorite holsters are I
am readily able to quote the advantages of the ones I have used for many years, but my needs are
probably different and so is my comfort level. I cannot choose your holster but I can give you
guidelines.( Try Paladin Press, HOLSTERS FOR COMBAT AND CONCEALED CARRY, R K Campbell.)

The holster on the left is from Barber Leatherworks. The holster on the right is the remarkable Milt Sparks Axiom. From the Alligator trim from Barber to the Axiom’s innovative design these are good choices.

I think that all of us need more than one holster. If you live in a true four-season climate this
is especially true. You may wish to deploy a lightweight inside the waistband holster during the
summer months, a pancake during the spring, and a belt scabbard during the winter months. A good
set of holsters is more indespsnble than a pair of handguns, but we all probably need a large and
small handgun to meet every need. The Desbiens OWB holster is among the better choices for
carry under a light jacket or the CCW vest. I sometimes think that we may as well invest in a top
quality easy on and easy off holster rig, as they are quite handy and practically necessary when
obeying concealed carry regulations. As an example, I routinely wear my Sparks Axiom when I
know I am going to take one of the children to the doctor’s office as carry in a doctor’s office is
prohibited in my state. ( As for businesses and shopping malls, particularly restaurants that are
posted for no concealed carry I spend my hard earned money elsewhere and urge you to do the
same.) With a business that occasionally takes me into the courthouse in a non-sworn capacity, I
appreciate the eminently usable Axiom. Of course, the Axiom is a great holster if you need the ease
of on and off or if you do not. There is no compromise. In the unlikely event the snaps are
accidentally unsnapped the holster does not fall off. It simply becomes loose. These holsters
represent the strong side, IWB and easy on and off genre.

Here are a few choices on a basic belt scabbard from Rocking W (Ostrich!), DesBiens and Rick Waltner. Note the differences in cant from these custom makers.

Some of us need a cross draw holster. If you are seated most of the day, setting behind a desk
or driving or even behind a counter, the cross draw makes a lot of sense. Good quality concealed
cross draw holsters need two attributes- concealment and access. The cross draw offers access
when seated. It is very difficult to reach behind the hip when seated. Reaching across the body and
drawing the handgun from a quality cross draw such as the Haugen Handgun Leather Wedge is
another matter. The cross draw is a particular favorite of martial artists who feel that they are able
to defend the handgun from a frontal assault but who also feel that the cross draw gives them an
advantage when seated or riding a motorcycle.

These hands belong to a craftsmen in the DeSantis Leathergoods facility. These men do a credible job even though DeSantis is off the shelf—but handmade in most cases.

The covering finish of the holster is important. I appreciate a waxed edge that does not
abrade clothing, but the belt loops need to have adhesion with the belt. A slick brown holster
shows scuffing more easily. The holster is worn at belt level and is often bumped. Among the most
scuff resistant of all caring material is sharkskin. A particularly attractive finish is Ostrich skin, as
demonstrated by the Rocking W exotic holster line. If you use a lighter handgun there are more
options. I think that all of us sometimes carry light snub nose .38, and the two inch .38s have much
to recommend. When spelunking and avoiding the madding crowd the .38 snub is often carried in a
Jeffery Gun leather belt scabbard that has plenty of style but it is also a good design. This company
also offers a truly innovative holster in the BTP, or better than a paddle holster. This holster
features a strong oversized tunnel loop that fits under the belt and keeps the holster secure on the
belt. This holster is well made of good material and gets the job done. I have mentioned that the
IWB is a bit difficult for some of us to acclimate to. If you are able to purchase your pants an inch
or two larger than standard then the IWB will be more comfortable and well worth the effort as
the IWB will conceal a full size handgun in relative comfort and good concealment. If you cannot
tolerate the IWB, the BTP is the answer.These are just a few of the better designs available today- more to come in the next installment.

This is the Jeffrey Custom Leather BTP. We will let the holster speak for itself. (Colt grips are from JMB Distributing)

This is a new maker at work, from Big River Leather. BRL leather is off to a great start from the looks of things.

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Comments (1)

Did you have any trouble with the holster collapsing when the gun was drawn?

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