Vacuum Press for Forming Holsters
If you’re looking for a way to speed up your holster forming process, you’ve probably started researching either a hydraulic press or vacuum press, maybe both. I’ve never used a hydraulic press, but have been using a vacuum press to form holsters almost since I first started making holsters. What follows is a list of components I purchased for my kit.
Here is the vacuum pump I bought from Harbor Freight (note the hose & fittings were not included with the pump – they are from the veneer kit linked next):
And here is the kit you’ll need for vacuum forming:
The bag I bought was called a Dura Max Elite Polyurethane Vacuum Bag (they’ve either changed the name, or replaced it with a newer version), and I bought the 2 x 4 (30 mil) size for around $100. The prices have crept up since I bought mine, and frankly, 2 x 4 is a waste of size unless you really need the added 4 foot length. Otherwise, I’d go with the 2 x 2 bag for half the price (I plan to buy the 2×2 when I replace my bag):
You will want two closures to help secure the bag to your table. And I’m referring to the blue & white pipe looking thing, not the two black spring clamps, which you also need, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now. The bag comes with one closure. Here’s a link to the extra closure:
I initially just used one clamp on the open end of the poly bag. I placed my clamps (like shown in the photo above) on one end, then wrapped the bag down under the edge of the table and clamped the other end. However, the poly bag is too slippery, and the clamps would quickly slip off. Thus, I started using the second bag closure on the other end, and my bag has stayed securely clamped to the table with no more slipping!
Regarding the table, as you can see, it’s a basic plywood rectangle with a simple skirt. The whole thing probably took less than an hour to build -mostly because I was figuring it out as I went along. The top’s narrow dimension should be the same dimension as the narrowest dimension of your vacuum bag. The longest dimension should be about 6″ shorter than the longest dimension of the vacuum bag. So, a 2′ x 4′ vacuum bag would result in a table size of 2′ x 3′-6″ (a 2′ x 2′ bag would need a 2′ x 1′-6″ table). The skirt is 2″ tall, so the table top floats off the bench 2″ leaving room for clamping at the ends. The skirt is also inset about 2″, which allows the clamps to reach further inward, without hitting the skirt of the table. I simply glued the mating edges of the plywood and stapled it with a pneumatic stapler.
Below, you can see the basic spring clamps I use to secure the vacuum bag to the table. I bought a big combo-bag from Lowes – the were pretty cheap and came with several sizes of clamps. I use the smallest of the included clamps to secure my hides to the bench to keep them from rolling up while I layout my patterns for cutting. They’re small enough they don’t get in the way, and weak enough they don’t damage the leather.
Platen & Breather Mesh
You’ll need to build one of these too – it helps to keep the bag from closing until the air is evacuated completely. It’s called a Platen. I made mine from MDF. I first cut it into a circle, then I drilled a hole in the middle, then used my bandsaw to cut intersecting kerfs across the top surface. Then, I cut vertical kerfs along the edge that intersect those on the top. To finish it off, I used my wood chisel to chamfer the kerfs and open up the reliefs so the air could flow more quickly/freely. Sand it all smooth.
The paracord is used as a breather mesh. Read the following for more information if you care to:
I put one end under the wood platen, then run the other end to the firearm or magazine – keep it away from the leather, as it will make an indention in your leather once the vacuum is turned on. This helps to ensure the air is pulled from the holster, even after the bag sucks up tight around the platen (which could prevent getting a very strong vacuum pull on the leather if the bag closes – the breather mesh prevents this and allows for maximum vacuum pull on the leather). Using a breather mesh will allow you to use new areas of the entire bag once small areas begin to get worn out. If you don’t use a breather mesh, you’ll be isolated to right around the platen, and your gun will need to butt up to the platen to allow air to continue being pulled from the bag as vacuum is being pulled.
Here you can see how the nose of the clamps extend past the skirt, thus the reason for the inset on all sides (or at least along the long edges).
Lastly – I added a ledge along one edge in case I ever wanted to hang the table from a wall, but ultimately ended up sliding it between the side my spare refrigerator and a file cabinet. Speaking of the file cabinet, I keep the vacuum pump, bag and platen in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet (in case you were wondering…).
Hope this helps some of you that are trying to build your vacuum press station. Many thanks to Denster on Leatherworker.net for his help sourcing the vacuum pump, hose kit and bag when I initially bought/built my vacuum station back in 2011.