• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 29: Make your own (Threepersons)

Updated: May 26

It's only within the last few years that a complete understanding of the Threepersons Style Holster has emerged, as defining the reason that we have thick leather welts inside the main seam of these holsters.

P.S. to the above pic: there is no good reason in modern times to hand stitch the welted seam in a holster!! Instead, change all the thicknesses downwards, and adjust the stitching machine upwards, until the seam can be stitched by machine! Even my own machine, which doesn't have the lift nor the needle stiffness that the old harness machines, can do that. Below is a Safariland. If you really feel you want to do handsewing, I've added a bit at the end of this post.

There are, though, shameful myths about welts that are perpetuated by self-taught makers whose experience is severely limited for lack of exposure to what the big boys know; because of the sheer depth and breadth of their experience with high volumes and lots of input therefrom. Here's an example of the kind of old wives' tales that are the reason for this blog: because it ain't so!

I've no idea why any experienced holster maker, if they also had been a designer (copying is not the same skill as originating, as I pointed out once to Karla Van Horne at Purdy Gear), would be pushing that old wive's tale. Because the two primary purposes of welts are not to (1) reinforce the holster and (2) add space inside the holster for options like sights.

But let's give that individual the benefit of the doubt and expect that he is thinking only of the holsters that are being discussed there, which are the Safariland SST models with a grooved rail running up the forward wall of the holster; a two-piece construction that Neale Perkins claims to have done first when instead, virtually all capgun holsters of the era were made in two pieces including the flat style with sewing front and back (where do you think he got the idea in the first place?).

No, the PRIMARY purpose of having a welt inside the main seam, of a holster that is folded conventionally to form the forward wall of the pocket, is to grip the pistol so that a safety strap becomes the active retention means (it must be consciously released) while the welts are the passive means (tugging the pistol free when drawing). We know now that the very first Threepersons-style holsters, which were the Sunday holsters we now think of as Brills (there were two dozen Texas makers of the Sunday holster at that time, which was very early 20th century) were always made with at least one welt that was jammed up against the frame and are still tight enough today, to swell when the revolver is inserted. This one is from Egland who is believed to have made Tom's personal holster that is in my collection (for now) and its doubled-and-skived welts are identical:

A more likely 'second' purpose of welts is as JB explained to me, early days: to protect the stitching and its knots inside the welt itself. Have a look inside any holster without a welt, even if it's the very finest gunleather you can buy that was made according to the Eastern School, and you'll see the stitches and knots slightly exposed there and showing off the tension that they're under. Don't worry though -- the welts added a lot when all gunleather was sewn with linen/flax thread even up to 5 cord, but add little when the stitching is with the equivalent (or even smaller 'cord') in nylon as Gaylord had done since the '50s; especially with a second row for clamping (the rivet is also for clamping; it was not a backup to prevent tearing):

For maximum benefit we also use GLUE inside a welted seam; something that not only wasn't used in the Heisers and Myres etc. that we see today. It's a practice that's been used by every maker since Wally Wolfram and JB (and Neale who followed on, and Gallagher at Galco -- get it, Gallagher Co.? -- who followed them). Unbelievably, another post on that forum included an instruction, by a non-maker, to avoid the use of glue in the seam when repairing it. Whatev.

Say, who knows the SECOND reason we glue all the seams in a holster? I'll answer that one in a future post; for now a free copy of Holstory to the first subscriber to get that completely right :-).

Which leads me to the point, of replying to a blog member who wanted more useful 'how to' gunleather tips and less holstory :-). I'd been thinking the same. And although all 'how to make your own holster' articles are junk, this one I kept in my files is not only very good but includes welts; with a good understanding of what they do. So I'll include it (a 1968 American Rifleman) as a sort of 'appeteazer' you know your Big Bang Theory episodes, against future expositions on the subject. Here it is:

P.S. Don't use Elmer's glue with leather; takes too long to dry. And don't use an Exacto knife to trim a welt! Great way to slash yourself; cut it away with a bandsaw if necessary then clean it up with a drum sander. I use the roller end of a Bosch belt sander for that; the wet with water not egg white, and burnish with that dowel (mine is spinning inside a drill chuck, and concave to boot).

Here's a bit about hand sewing. No, it is NOT stronger than machine sewing, which latter hides a complete knot inside the seam whereas handsewing is simply a pair of threads crossing each other in opposite directions. If you can stitch using a harness machine you'll get a far better result. The page following is from a Tandy Leather brochure:

Sewing by hand is the stuff of the early 20th century. Myres et al did this, and here is a Brill that we know to be by N.J. Rabensburg in 1961 because it was still in his stitching horse at his death, and the needles still in the holster:

Notice the ragged line of the sewing on the backside; this is caused by having to jam the very sharp hand awl through the welt stack. Want to avoid it? Don't use an awl to make the holes! For goodness sake, use a drill press with a drillbit small enough for the task. And don't let anyone tell you that removing leather for the hole vs. forcing it apart with the awl has weakened the seam . . ..


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