• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Pressing the flesh

Leather is 'two faced': it has one face that is the grain side and the opposite face is the flesh side. The grain side is typically what is on the outside of gunleather and the grain is where the hairs were once in the hide, and explains why cowhide and pigskin have very different 'grains': the animals have very different kinds of hairs.

The pocket holster above, an Eight Ball (in the side pocket, get it?) by Gaylord, is actually reversed and the pocket is showing a pasted flesh side, in living color.

This is not about how to i.d. pigskin. Who cares, really. This is about how to choose an unlined holster based on the condition of the flesh side. It's called the flesh side because the animal's flesh was literally on that side of the skin before it was limed (all the hair and flesh is dissolved by enzymes, then tanned for veg leather using an oak bark). The result is called rawhide and is still edible, and capable of rotting if left in that condition unless dried hard and kept that way.

A 'rough out' holster, above.

When the leather is tanned then the hide becomes inert; that is, when used and/or stored in conditions ideal for humans it will not degrade. We've all seen gunleather that is more than 100 years old that has remained inert after that century and here's another: Heiser's earliest mark that it expected to be from the turn of the last century because Hermann himself was not a gunleather maker; it was his sons who were, beginning 1906ish:

We always want a 'full grain' that is not 'corrected' in any way; so, not sanded and/or painted to hide flaws. We call the finish on full grain that is not painted, an 'aniline' finish that implies it will be completed by dyeing not painting. This is Wicket & Craig's leather, split much thinner and then lined because it HAD to be: rough as sandpaper on the flesh side:

A good example is Wicket & Craig's skirting leather: very thick, unsplit to make a thinner hide, none of the flaws on the grain side or flesh side are obsucred or 'corrected', ideally at least 'leveled' (a form of splitting that only skims off what's needed to make the entire hide uniform in thickness.

Look more carefully at this JayPee and/or Colt holster above; the interior of the leather has been corrected and painted black. Very common on cheap LEO gunleather of the period because not only is the leather less expensive, but there also is no further finishing of the holster in the factory. But it doesn't absorb water, either, for molding.

Once we've recognized a nicely grained cowhide, which is not the same as choosing a nicely 'figured' timber for a rifle stock, we're now concerned with other factors that include the flesh side. Who cares? You do, now, because typically it will be next to your pistol.

The horsehide Seventrees version of Chic's holsters has a pasted flesh that is also showing on the outside; but it is transparent pasting.

Myth number one about gunleather: roughout is not done to put the rough side out so that it won't show scarring -- what, now we're "pre-scarring" it so that it won't show actual scars? Not. The flesh side is on the outside, so that the smooth grain side will be next to the pistol. For goodness sake. And it was Andy Anderson whose products were popular in this finish:

It's also not on the outside to keep your IWB from slipping around inside your waistband. That non-shifting ability is created by the design of whatever's holding the holster to your waistband; such as a loop or a clip. Might it help on a pocket holster? Not at all; that has to be accomplished by the shape of the holster relative to the shape of the pocket; this IWB is a Heiser from the 1940s that predated Bruce Nelson's ridiculous claims (and his living mates) that he thought of it:

Okay. The subject holster is worth considering because that finish on the flesh side, is something you don't want on the inside of an unlined holster. Lots of loose fibres means abrasion on your pistol. So to combat this (all my W&C available to me here in Oz has that finish on the hides; plus they're 15 ounces thick!) that side gets a finish. Here it is again:

Typically, while still a 'wet blue' which is a raw hide but not yet dried into 'rawhide', hides will be split multiple times. This creates a 'split' that has that same roughness on both sides because there being only one grain side, only one layer can remain that is full grain. These splits will have to be chrome tanned because a veg split, tanned, will tear like cardboard; while a chrome split even very thin (Safariland used a split as thin as one ounce) will not. And a chrome split is what's used to line all Bianchi, Safariland, and Galco holsters since Neale popularized suede linings in the late 1960s.

No, chrome leathers will not harm the finish on your steel pistols; but boy, veg leather will if it's wet. Ugly in less than an hour:

This roughness, which becomes less fibrous and yet rougher and so still like sandpaper after it's been split/leveled, is eliminated by pasting and/or rolling. This is the pasted flesh that Chic Gaylord used on his horsehide holsters of the 1950s, with the white paste rubbed off in use (and more than a bit of bad luck for the nylon stitching, but I think the user cut it loose to insert a wider belt):

This is a pasted flesh on the belt loop but the paste has no color, on a Nelson from his 'First CLL' period that is late '60s:

A suede (a split, actually) lined holster:

There's more to choosing an unlined holster for its leather and we've spoken of it before. Grain, temper, barbed wire scars, neck wrinkles (I'm speaking of leather now, not your boss) and here we're looking only at the flesh side. To call it the inside, well, depends on if you're looking at a roughout holster or a smooth-side out bit of gunleather.

Roughout, by the way, is a bitch to maintain. Look again at that paddle holster: sueded leather dirties very, very easily (to restore it, use a wire brush by hand) while a smooth grained holster will slough it off. And the flesh side soaks up water better than the grain side, too; think IWB and a leather 'sponge' inside your waistband on a 95/95 day in FL. Omigod, intolerable for both you and your pistol.

These holsters above, that at Bianchi we called a 'Six' as its model number, are of a chrome split. Notice it's rough inside AND out. A very inexpensive leather for a consumer who demands a very low price.

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