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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

The shy, retiring type - expanded

Updated: May 23

That's me, shy and retired :-). An FOH I call 'Customer Number One' because he was my first Red Nichols Holsters customer a decade ago, sent along this pic of his MIB revolver in what I called a 'Jelly' from my Berns-Martin range.



It's of hand-moulded (so not in a press first as Sparks does) American horsehide and the interior backside features a cylinder cutout so that the revolver lays flatter against its gunfighter. The reason for the seemingly erratic moulding around the ejector rod housing is that the holster features a double welt that is only half length; at the frame, then tapered to zero' so the detailing around the lug appears to go off course. In a Threepersons it is the tight-fitting welt at the frame that keeps the revolvers inside their holsters (a properly constructed Donihoo can do the same for the autos) and its sewing.


The image above is of a holster of the same model, made for the 3-1/2" S&W.


That second row of sewing is well away from the first row, next to the revolver, and adds a clamping effect for the frame. Like the products of a famous violin maker, a century from now other holstorians will examine these and not be able to reproduce their performance; for lack of understanding that anything but a literal copy of materials and processes and methods they don't know about, will fall short.



The series was called 'Fighting Shells'; I also took over the Berns-Martin trademark several years ago. The belt loop itself is what forms the inner wall of the cylinder recess. Not ever done before that I know of :-).


"Not available in stores!" Nor anywhere but used; I'm so retired that my mighty Ferdinand stitcher sits in mothballs. Might be a few of mine on eBay right now? From my erstwhile agent who is nevertheless a thief. But he trades my Berns-Martin mark 'in interstate commerce' and that keeps the USPTO happy! God bless you, Evil Jason.


I mentioned that a 'properly constructed Donihoo' will retain the 1911 as well as a Threepersons does? That means with two complete rows of stitching, that are situated well apart, just as with that revolver holster above. Using horsehide, too, is the cherry on top for gripping the pistol without a strap (hard and stiff when tempered according to a secret process that I shall now reveal to you. Tell anyone you like, they won't believe you).


Browning HP above, Colt Commander below; that's Berns-Martin's unique packaging at right in the image. The tag -- horsehide that the holster was cut from. The bag -- waterproof on the outside, breathable from the inside. Give it to the bride for jewelry when you're done with it (that's what it is: for jewelry). Holster can't be scratched by it, nor can mold develop inside it; which is a real problem with plastic bags for the dealers (plus they get ratty-looking)(the bags not the dealers)(Okay, I did a tour of SoCal dealers in 2015; so them, too).


Detail molding is done with a hand tool. The 'cool' guys will claim it's done with a bone, so want to call the process 'boning'. Okay, that's partly our fault at Bianchi in the '70s; we misunderstood Chic Gaylord's list (below) when a later newspaper article revealed that by 'boning' Chic was instead smoothing the inside of his holsters -- with a plastic ball stuck into an electric drill!


I'll bet you also don't know what 'directional draw' is :-).


So a truly competent maker uses anything hard and smooth enough to 'detail mould' his holsters: plastic (I used the tip ends of house painting brushes, both ball-ended and sharp edged), Bianchi used the ball end of a motorcycle hand lever (and the other end was shaped for the fine work). You can use bone if you like, or an antler. Get what you want from a whale (I have a whalebone slicker used for bookbinding but don't use it on holsters) or from a barnyard goat. Or use a polished piece of hardwood, such as maple. Anything that can be shaped and then polished. But don't ever use steel. Wanna know why (oops, I'm going to 'forget' to tell you why)?


Above, is a Gaylord interview in 1959. Who knew?!


Anyway, the secret-that-no one-believes, to tempering your holster -- especially horsehide which comes in very limited thicknesses from too thin, to perfect, to thicker than you want but no more -- is an oven. No, not your common household oven; you put a wet holster into your home oven and close the door and 'bye bye' holster. Good way to make a prune.


Above is one of the two presses that Sparks has always used to mold its holsters. THEN they do a bit of fiddling afterwards with hand tools that in their case, is strictly cosmetic. I did mine with NO press so the hand detailing IS the moulding.


Now, whatever heat source one uses, always leave the 'doo'r OPEN. You do need heated airflow but not just heat; so a fan force oven can work. The temperature is relatively low, about 125 degrees F. The hot air swirls around the leather and pulls the moisture out and HARDENS the leather by drying out the collagen that is among the leather's fibres, that you softened with water. In an hour or even half that, your holster will leave the oven hard as a rock -- well, Kydex anyway -- and will never lose its shape again. Check it with the pistol. Too tight? You either got the air too hot, or left the holster in too long. Fix either/both, check your next holsters. OK now? The lock it in (control your process) and don't deviate from it or your customer will pay the price. Mine were guaranteed to fit for life.


This chap at Galco has a bone. Everybody has a bone. Big deal. It went into a press first, then it was slicked for 'pretty'. Which Galco does a mighty good job, regardless.


You see, that's the reason for hand detailing; that which is mis-labeled 'boning. The reason is to make the holster fit the pistol so closely that the pistol can't move around inside it. And the bluing (remember those days, which are when detailing was invented?) can't be rubbed off your pistol. Yet . . . the pistol will fit first time, every time, for the rest of its natural life. Hermann Heiser on the subject, from his 1911 catalog and repeated in Packing Iron:


Notice that there is no use of the word 'boning' nor of anything like a bone. Just the hands. Okay, so we have learned a few things about gunleather since 1911; now folks use presses to do the hard yakka, folks have realized that a hard holster is the ideal and not second best as suggested above, and that ambient drying IS second best. You deserve better than Colorado or Idaho in winter can produce!!


As long as your maker is not so dumb as to mould into the ejection port of an auto, or into the trigger guard of any pistol including revolvers. THAT'S what causes the need for break-in, that every maker today insists you need -- they are BUILDING IN the weakness in their product. And by not tempering their holsters for you -- Sparks has no drying equipment and they're in bloody ID for Chrissakes -- the collagen is not ever hardened after it was softened with water. Air drying cannot complete the task.


Above, a Nelson with the moulding into the trigger guard and into the ejection port. Below, a Sparks the same way. Dumbasses, they never did work out why the pistol grabbed inside their holsters -- because both men stopped learning in the 1970s when they started out. The rest of us didn't:



Not to worry, I told the blokes at Sparks. They don't believe me. And neither will any of your other gunleather making friends. Which is why I'm happy to share the secret. They can't bring themselves to believe that I know way more now, than they ever will, about gunleather :-). Bianchi's hot air dryer was a marvel but you don't need anything so exotic; you just have to understand the science to duplicate the effect at home with common materials. I used a fan heater that blew into a timber box through its one open wall -- and onto the holster. Hot, wet air swirls around the completed holster, the hot wet air leaves the box, the air turns to dry . . . 'ding', your holsters are done, sir :-).



The above image is from JB's own book, his 2010 title "I Am Legend" (I think that was its title) and I'll bet you all didn't even know what he was showing off. Note all the #9R-2 holsters in the center of the three racks you're facing; with #5BHLs at left and #8Ls at right.

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