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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Bruce Nelson had a quality problem

Updated: Nov 19

Bruce and I knew each other in the '70s because we not only both were Bianchi design alums but attended the same big pistol tournaments while Jeff's leatherslaps evolved into the SWPL's matches and then even the founding of IPSC in Missouri. Bruce of course was a stellar shooter and, well, I was a humble factory representative for Bianchi.


I bring him up now because when I went looking in my huge image collection to illustrate a commentary about stitching quality, it was only in images of his work that I was able to find 'poor'. And I have every maker of note from what I think of as the bottom -- JayPee -- and the top -- Anderson. This one is an Alfonso:




Why does it matter? Because I'm speaking of the knots showing on one side or the other, of the stitched seams, and Bruce not only still used linen thread when all other makers had switched to nylon by the 1970s, and he didn't use welts. That combination is quite weak when the sewing is not done well.


The reason we care about knots: the knot is tied by the exchange of threads by the reciprocating needle and awl in a Campbell or Randall or Landis or other machine. I expect that Bruce' was a Randall because I have only a b&w image of him at his machine and Randalls were black. And sold outright; while the Campbell in his era (blue) had to be leased and came with a stitch counter and an expectation of volume to suit that method of payment.



So in lockstitching, an exposed knot tells us that the 'lock' is not centered inside the seam. And that means, especially with linen thread, that a large part of its strength is gone; strength against stress from the pistol inside, strength against being torn open in an attack, strength against abrasion. In these machines, when one doesn't understand the machine one finds oneself fighting the position of the knot constantly because the thread is quite thick. At Bianchi, for example, we used a 5 cord linen and a 4 cord bobbin. The bigger the number, the more strands, so the thicker the thread. The bobbin size was smaller so that more would fit onto what is, admittedly, a huge bobbin capacity compared with, say, a modern Ferdinand like mine.


The above holster is a synthetic product of Safariland's so not 'bad stitching' but rather a failure around the stitching, of the materials themselves. Gives one a 'better than a birds eye view' of what saddle stitching (lockstitching) looks like inside the holster, and why an unexposed knot is very important in a holster).


This holster (below) of Bruce's, which like the rest that I'll show has no welt because he was emulating Paris Theodore's construction that I call Eastern School -- Paris was very 'hot' in Bruce's formative period 1966 onwards -- has failed at the top of the main seam:




And here's why (below): ALL the knots are showing on the backside. Yes, there was a time by 1970 when makers believed that this didn't matter as long as it was on the backside, thinking that this was a cosmetic issue only.


It's not a cosmetic issue. It's a structural issue.


This holster is from Bruce's earliest period when he called his operation CLL or Combat Leather Limited (his boss JB's earlier operation was then called Safari Limited).



Meh. One holster is simply unfortunate, right? But they're ALL this way:





Even this one that is from Bruce's later period as Bruce Nelson Combat Leather (1986ish?):






The machine he's using is the type that Sparks uses today (a Landis in their case) and is considered by makers to be the finest. And it is excellent. The trick, then, is adjusting that knot; and makers typically try to control it by a combination of bobbin tension below and upper thread-guide drag above. And when there was no welt inside to add thickness (notice in the image below there is a welt inside the main seam) and the leather itself is thin as on his IWB holsters, well . . . the knot has to pop out on one side or the other, especially if the hole that the awl has punched is too small (tight on the knot).




However -- that knot position is controlled here (below at red circle and arrow) instead, by loosening the large screw with an equally large screwdriver and then sliding the mechanism left or right (been decades since I used this old style, I forget which direction moves the knot up or down). In the tray of the machine shown here is the large, heavy shuttle that carries the large-capacity bobbin; for reasons of sheer reciprocating mass, then, the machines are relatively slow. This is great for holsters but less so when faced with a stack of 100 lined Sam Browne belts! The red item near the shuttle cover of the machine is a belt guide that swings out of the way, then back again as desired. Not bad for the 1880s when it was invented. But we can and do, do better in the 21st century. Well, some of us. JB included!



The solution to Bruce's problem, then, lay not only in using that screw adjustment; but in having the quality standard that Bianchi had: it never leaves the shop with knots in it. I had a motto while establishing Bianchi's quality standards at a very young age myself: when someone sees this in 50 years' time, no one is going to think, "well, at least it was cheap", or, "at least I got my order on time". All that's left, is the artefact itself. Forever.


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