• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 46: Refusing to copy, forces improvement in gunleather

Updated: Jun 13

The paddle holster has been around since the 1940s, when S.D. Myres introduced the first of them that they called the Barton Special. We have a theory, because Myres was clever enough to name his holsters after famous people when he could, that Barton was the popular Buzz Barton film character of the time and played by actor William Lamoureaux.

More importantly it is the progenitor of all paddle holsters and even has the secondary ledge that we still see in the paddles of modern makers.

Next came the paddle that is from the 1960s and usually seen on holsters from the likes of Safety Speed and Tex Shoemaker and Don Hume. They are straight 'blades' of metal covered with leather and a snap-loop or 'keeper' at one side or the other to be used if a belt is also used. The era is no coincidence: the beltless slacks. These are not great without a belt to hold everything up! But it did help that such pistols were typically small frames.

Safariland then had a stab at it. I was one mighty impressed 20 year old when I saw their adjustable angle, vinyl coated metal paddle that is quite like a banana on its side. Being new I didn't realize that it carried the pistol far too high above the belt! And a rubberized coating wasn't going to keep it oriented for a consistent grasp of the pistol. Or in the pants:

JB came up with this awful thing for Bianchi, which was also a sheet metal plate with one end into the holster body then folded onto the back of the holster itself. Wouldn't stay in the pants when the pistol was drawn, and why would it? So we added a snap strap inside the fold so that could be snapped around the belt. Darned paddle still wouldn't hold its shape. (Note: it appears I couldn't even bear to have an image of it in my files, so none here):

So then I came up with this version that doesn't LOOK much different but not only is, but completely resolved the issue.

Inside the holster is a separate contoured steel plate that is tempered so it won't lose its shape; a second contoured plate of tempered steel is inside the paddle, and the'ears' of the paddle are still annealed steel so that the paddle can be shaped to the hip. We used a special curved platen press to get it right every time. A bit expensive to make but damn, it worked.

Galco and then Safariland leapfrogged us and came up with injection molded paddles with barbs in them. Cheeeeaaaap to make and worked very well. The barb in the center is an obvious improvement except the holstered pistol of course, rocked on the belt (yes, it turned out to be true: great paddle holsters need a belt and are not a solution for beltless slacks or skirts!).

While the rest of the industry was copying the old Bianchi design, it was Kamuran Aker who commissioned me to copy it for him circa 1990. He was one of my first three customers at Nichols Innovation. I don't copy, can't do it, and by then I had decided that my job as a consulting designer, was to solve problems for customers that they didn't know they have: the Bianchi design was very expensive to make in terms of materials and labor. So I came up with a Kydex paddle instead.

Worked great, even came up with a version I created around, er, for the most curvaceous agent you have ever seen in your life, then or since. And I've seen a lot of dangerous curves. A bit more laborious to make than the injection molded paddle but the design was too new to risk anyone's money on a mold. Yet.

I did an entirely different one for another client, Gene DeSantis. This one was created for the FBI's infamous 10mm Lite project. He'd have gotten the contract for the paddle holster and the pancake holster if Smith had actually been awarded the pistol contract! The FBI project was labeled a fubar and shelved. Adjustable angle, with the uppermost image for men and high on the belt; the lowermost image for female agents and not only low on the belt but also kicked outwards from their more pronounced pelvis. An interchangeable plate could be rotated to create the equivalent high/low/offset relationship.

Above is Katherine Heigl in the TV show "State of Affairs" of 2014, with an Aker paddle holster incorporating my ConTour paddle. Notice she's adding/subtracting to her costume in 'appendix' position.

So at some point I had the bright idea of investing my own money in an injection mold, because Kydex doesn't much like being cold-flexed. You know which polymer is inexpensive and dynamite strong? High impact ABS. The holster has stiffener in it, the paddle is attached with screws so it can be removed/replace/upgraded. The mold was lost in transit after a few years and the molder hadn't insured it. Kamuran made his own molds then, as did another client for the item, Shooting Systems. Can't blame 'em.

There have been many more injection molded paddles since then, some of them even sold to hobbyists. Wonder if these makers realize that all black plastics aren't the same?! Ernie Hill, another early customer who decided to fly solo, changed polymers from my spec for another part and 'snap goes the delrin' vs. black nylon. $50,000 in parts down the drain for him.

Safariland's current one is likely the benchmark because, let's face it, they own all the LEO holster contracts at the Federal level. But doggone it, why is the carry angle like, 5 degrees positive caster? And how do they get away with it? Because they're being worn 1:00 and 2:00 or they won't conceal.

Theirs, and mine even, have appeared in TV shows where the directors prefer a holster that (a) can be added and subtracted to the actors' costumes from scene to scene and (b) shifted into the camera's view. Then the pistols end up in dangerous 'appendix' or belly carries but the only ones who can be harmed by that are viewers who are easily influenced by trends on TV. And that would never happen, would it? Don't tell the advertisers . . .

Above is from Mysteries of Laura; also an Aker holster of my design called a Flatsider that is still made today and incorporating my paddle.


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