Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weapons of Minor Destruction - Manly Sewing Projects #4 & #5

Here's two recent manly sewing projects for a couple of my favorite weapons of minor destruction.  Manly Sewing Project #4 is a belt sheath for my trusty camping hatchet.  Nothing special, just nicer than the piece of plastic it came in.  I made it before I got the Luberto Classic harness stitcher, so it's just sewed on the Juki upholstery machine, but it's functional.

Manly Sewing Project #5 is a bit more complicated and involved a lot more "firsts" for me.  Its my first gun holster, my first time making my own stainless steel belt clips and my first try at using copper rivets.

This is an inside-the-waistband holster for my Smith and Wesson Sigma.  Basically, you shove it in the back of your pants.  Kinda like in all the movies, but without the risk of it slipping down and falling out your pant leg.  I have a hip holster and an undershirt with a built-in shoulder holster, but I wanted something I could wear under a t-shirt in the sweltering Houston summer.  This first picture is the side that goes against your back.

The holster attaches to your pants/belt with a metal clip.  I couldn't find any stainless steel clips so I made my own out of heavy gauge 304 stainless steel sheet.  I cut out a long strip with a jigsaw, sanded the edges and bent it in my woodworking vise.  Next time I'll use thinner material or drill some small holes along the fold lines to make bending easier.

In this picture you can see the double bend clip a little better.  When you shove the holster in your pants the inner bend clips over the top of your pants so it can't slide down and the outer bend clips around your belt so you can't accidentally pull the holster out of your pants when you draw the pistol out.  I attached the clip to a small square of leather with two copper rivets.  Basically you put a copper rivet through a punched hole, slip a copper washer down the rivet shaft, cut the shaft close to the washer and then lovingly beat the end of the shaft until it mushrooms over, holding everything firmly in place.  Then I stitched the small piece of leather to the holster.  That way there would be no copper rivets on the inside of the holster to scratch the pistol.

I sewed everything on the Luberto Classic machine, soaked the holster, jammed the pistol down into the wet leather, and then used my trusty vacuum press to get a nice tight fit.  Maybe a little too tight, though it will loosen up with use.  I might slick the inside with a little paste floor wax as well.  Since the gun is stainless steel and plastic, there was no worry about it rusting in a wet leather holster.  If it were a blued steel gun, I would have lightly oiled it and wrapped it in shrink wrap first.

These cost at least $50 to buy from on of the brand name holster makers, and I've never seen one with a nice stainless steel clip, so I guess it would have to be custom made it would probably cost more.  I figure that I used less than $5 in materials, and about 3 or 4 hours of time.  I'm pretty sure I could make the next one faster, and I've already thought of some design improvements.

So if anyone out there wants a custom holster and is willing to leave their gun with me for a day or two, give me a shout.  I can only make so many holsters for my own guns before it gets a little silly...

Super Suction!

So a while ago I decided to try using a vacuum bag press to form leather cases.  I'd seen the vacuum bag presses used for veneering and making skateboards and figured the principle would transfer well to leather forming.  So far it seems like I was right.

I bought a vacuum press kit marketed by Roarockit for making skateboards.  It cost about $50, and it came with a hand pump, some breather mesh (helps get all the air out) and some awful sticky mastic (tar) tape for sealing up the open end of the bag.  It worked pretty well, and in fact I used it to form the magazine holster featured in Manly Sewing Project #2.  But pretty soon I learned that I hate mastic tape and manual pumping sucks.

As luck would have it, I managed to get my hands on a gently used laboratory grade two-stage rotary vane vacuum pump.  It would have cost me about $3000 new, but I got it for free since it was headed for the scrap pile merely because the lab didn't need it any longer and had no other avenue for disposing of it.  It works flawlessly and is actually way more pump than I need since it will draw a high vacuum at a rate of 12 cubic feet per minute (I only need about 2 cu.ft/min).  Since it weighs about 60 lb I'll be building a rolling cart for it eventually.

I also went to and ordered a valve kit, hose, brass valve clamp, and bag closure.  I installed a second valve on my vacuum bag and got rid of the mastic tape.  Now I can use my vacuum pump and the bag closure seals really well without the sticky mess.

Here it is:

The plywood board in the bag is for when you want to press from the top only rather than top and bottom.  The black mesh stuff is also placed in the bag either with the article inside it or else with the mesh next to the article, to help provide small passages for all the air to get sucked out.

Here's the valve I installed, and the valve stem clamp on the end of the hose.

This is the original valve that works with the hand pump (not shown).

This is the marvelous clip for the bag end.  Basically the bag gets sandwiched between the white and blue pieces.  Works great.

Obviously there's no leather in the bag in this shot, but you can see how the breather mesh works and how tightly the vinyl bag forms to the pistol.

Here the mesh is placed next to the pistol instead.  This method still allows you to get all the air out, but doesn't leave a funny mesh pattern on your leather.

I've made a few cases in this press already and it works great.  I used to have to prepare my leather (soak it and then mostly dry it until it's damp and stretchy) and stretch and form it by hand.  It took a long time and almost never looked quite right, especially for complex shapes.  Now it's just 10-20 minutes in the press and I can pull it out and let it dry.  I can also sharpen creases and lines by hand a little more if I want before drying.

Eventually I'll probably make my own bag out of polyurethane sheeting because it's stretchier and should allow the press to mold even tighter, but this works for now.  I'd also make it more squarish rather than long like a skateboard.

Heavy Metal

Apparently a lot can happen in three months.  In my last post I proudly displayed my new Singer 29K.  I spent a little time with it, sewing patches onto my Scout uniform, making a few little odds and ends, and decided I needed something capable of handling heavier thread and longer stitches.  So I posted an ad in Craigslist and Steve from Kansas offered to buy it and pay for the shipping as well.  Even luckier, I sold it for twice what I paid for it!  I built a sturdy plywood shipping crate and it made it from Texas to Kansas in 4 days without any troubles at all.  In case anyone wonders what it cost to send a 128lb package from Texas to Kansas by UPS, the answer is $112.69.  So those of you who weigh less than 150 lb, who don't suffer from claustrophobia and don't mind primitive toilet arrangements, and who enjoy non-perishable snack foods and tepid water, UPS may have a cheaper alternative to flying...

Here's the 29K in its crate, lovingly made:

A few weeks later, I made quite possibly the luckiest find yet, again on Craigslist.  Some guy in Washington was selling a gently used Luberto Classic harness stitching machine, for a ridiculously low sum.  This was my dream machine, and with a good chunk of the funding provided by the sale of the 29K, I snatched it up.  The Luberto Classic is made in the USA of quality materials, is completely manual, capable of stitching 3/4" leather, and has a needle feed jump foot for perfect stitches without marring the leather.  But since they sell for about $7000 new, and because those who buy them rarely sell them, I had long ago accepted that I would never in my life own one.  Sometimes life is full of pleasant surprises.

Since the machine weighs about 150 lb, I was nervous about it shipping here without getting damaged.  But once I walked the seller through the process of crating I felt better.  The machine was partly broken down and shipped in two separate packages to avoid outrageous shipping fees.  Everything got here fine.  I had to put it back together and replace a few siezed cap screws (thank heavens my dad taught me about impact screwdrivers for motorcycle crankcase screws!) but it all went together fine.  It also came with a VHS tape of how the adjust and maintain the machine.  I watched it twice, then burned it to DVD on my computer.  Then I went and completely stripped the machine down, cleaned it, oiled and greased it, and adjusted it to perfection.  This is by far the easiest machine I've ever worked on.  Yay!

Here it is:

As you can see in the last photo, it'll sew through nearly an inch of stiff vegetable tanned tooling leather.  It can handle thread up to size 415 and stitch length varies from 12 to 4 stitches per inch.  The needles for this thing are about 2.75" long and 3/16" thick!

I've only had the chance to do a few small projects on this so far, but it is amazing!  Watch for some extremely manly sewing projects in the future...