September 18, 2020
By James Tarr
At the most recent SHOT Show, I got a look at 1791’s Gunleather (1791gunleather.com) “consumer customizable holster.” Now, historically, I have found multi-use, adjustable and/or adaptable holsters disappointing at best, but as the inventor demonstrated the company’s Ultra Custom holster, I got excited—to the point I thought this holster was the neatest and most innovative product I saw at the whole show. I’m pretty sure it has created a new category of holsters.
This is an inside-the-waistband holster, offered in sizes to fit everything from tiny pocket guns to large full-size pistols. The Ultra Custom holster looks like leather because it is. It is American cowhide leather on the outside, with a nice suede lining on the inside.
However, unlike traditional leather holsters, in between those two layers of leather is a secret thermoplastic material the inventor has dubbed Memory-Lok. Thermoplastic means a material that becomes pliable upon heating but hardens when cooled. Upon heating this holster, you form-fit it to your pistol. I don’t mean fit it to your type of pistol. I mean fit it to your specific handgun.
This isn’t a one-and-done proposition. If you buy this holster and mold it to, say, a Glock 19 and then buy a Smith & Wesson M&P Compact and decide you want to carry that, you can reheat your Ultra Custom holster and form it to your new Smith.
You don’t have to guess which size holster fits your gun because 1791 Gunleather will send you the right one based on the gun you’re ordering it for. When you receive it, the Ultra Custom appears to be a generic black flat pancake leather holster and might seem a tad small for your pistol. Do not despair. During the fitting process the holster will stretch to conform to your gun’s dimensions.
The fitting process is relatively simple and quick. All it requires from you is a gallon of water, a cooking pot and a cooking thermometer. Everything else is included.
Heat the water to between 145 and 175 degrees on the stove, with 165 being ideal. You don’t want it boiling, so getting your pot of water to the correct temperature–and keeping it there–is why you need a cooking thermometer. 1791 Gunleather provides a thick plastic bag for you.
Put the holster in the bag along with some weights, which can be small rocks from your garden or a bunch of pocket change. These weights will help keep the holster submerged in the water.
When the water is at the right temperature, put the plastic bag containing the holster in the water, making sure the holster is fully submerged, but keep the mouth of the bag above the water. You are trying to get the holster hot; you are not trying to get it wet.
Pro tip: Find a tall pot if you can, as the bag will want to stand upright with the weights on the bottom. If you use a low pot, you’ll have to lay the holster sideways and keep it submerged with tongs while trying to keep the mouth of the bag from submerging.
And don’t get aggressive with those tongs, as pressing the bag against the bottom of the pot might melt a hole in it—which will get the holster wet and force you to let it dry for a few days before trying again. (Ask me how I know.)
Leave the holster submerged for five minutes, then remove it. If the holster is soft and malleable, you’re good to go. If not, put the holster back in the hot water for a couple more minutes.
When you pull it out, the leather-wrapped polymer body of the holster will be warm, it will not be hot, and you’ll be able to touch it with bare hands. The metal screws holding the plastic belt clip to the holster body, on the other hand, will be substantially hotter and can hurt you if you touch them accidentally. (Ask me how I know.)
The holster won’t be harmed if it gets wet, but you’ll want to dry it out before trying again. Once the holster is malleable, take the unloaded gun and insert it into the holster. Once the pistol is at the desired depth inside the holster—the desired depth is up to you—grab one of the manipulation tools provided with the holster.
These tools are polymer and have a wedge tip on one end. They are designed to slide into the holster along the top of the gun to create a channel for your front sight—so it does not scrape the suede every time you draw or holster—and assist in molding the holster.
With one tool acting as a sight-channel wedge in place along the top of the pistol, proceed to work the material of the holster body using your fingertips and the wedge tip of the other tool. Press the holster up against the nooks and crannies of your handgun, including the frame and ejection port but especially around the trigger guard. This should take a couple of minutes.
Allow the holster to cool for five to seven minutes with both the gun and the sight channel tool in place. When the holster no longer feels warm to the touch, test the retention of the holster by drawing the gun a few times. If it’s a little too tight or too loose, just throw the holster back in the bag and the bag back in the water.
The end result will be a holster that is fit to your specific handgun. It is not as hard or rigid as a traditional Kydex/polymer holster, but when it’s properly formed you’ll feel your trigger guard popping and locking as you draw and holster, something you don’t get with purely leather holsters.
The mouth of this IWB holster is not reinforced, so depending on how tight you’ve got your belt, the holster may collapse when you draw the gun—perhaps so much so you won’t be able to holster one-handed.
That’s what I found when carrying on my hip, where the holster presses against bone. However, when carrying appendix I was able to holster without issue because there is more give in my gut.
This is the only imperfection in what is truly a unique product, the first in what I suspect will be a long line. Currently all sizes of the Ultra Custom holster have a suggested retail price of $110.