By Westin D. Floeter, Communications Manager for K Rounds holsters
KYDEX was the brainchild of Rohm and Haas Company, a Philadelphia-based materials manufacturer working in the aircraft interior business. In the late ’60’s, a range of industries realized that KYEDX sheets could be manipulated into almost any shape by applying heat and molding the material around forms. In 1997, KYDEX, LLC was born. Since then, “KYDEX” has become something of a generic name for plastic holsters – and not always by “mistake.” Some holster companies sell “KYDEX holsters” that aren’t made with KYDEX plastics. What’s more, even genuine KYDEX holsters vary in terms of quality. In the interests of consumer education, here’s Everything You Wanted to Know About KYDEX Holsters But Didn’t Think to Ask . . .
Why KYDEX holsters Instead of Leather?
Leather holsters have been shooting enthusiasts’ first choice for years. Leather is physically and aesthetically appealing; it even smells good. Leather holsters link shooters back to the handgun’s early history. (Little known fact: Hollywood invented the now-famous Western-style leather hip holsters.) An owner can usually holster and unholster their gun in virtual silence.
On the downside, leather holsters are sensitive to temperature, moisture and humidity. Leather doesn’t dry easily; if you leave a reholstered gun in a wet leather holster it can cause pitting. [The same holds true for Nylon holsters. Manufacturers generally use “scuba webbing” or “ballistic fabric” which also hold moisture.] Leather holsters require a break-in period and diligent maintenance. Re-holstering can be difficult. They wear out. They can be dangerous. [Click here to read about a leather holster-related negligent discharge.]
KYDEX holsters are virtually maintenance-free. If a KYDEX holster gets dirty or dusty, you wash it off and wipe it down. KYDEX holsters are ready to use right away; they don’t have a “break in”period. They will maintain the desired shape over a lifetime of use. What you see is what you get and what you get is what you’l see even after years of hard use.
While un-holstering and re-holstering a gun in a KYDEX holster is louder than clearing and returning a gun to a leather holster, KYDEX owners get a more reliable and secure re-holstering experience (some models emit an audible “click” when the handgun is replaced properly). They are not temperature or moisture sensitive. KYDEX holsters take a beating and still perform well.
There’s KYDEX and then there’s KYDEX
Much like there are different grades of leather, there are different grades of thermoplastic. KYDEX manufactures over 40 different lines of thermoplastic sheets, each with its own properties and price point. Their product lines include budget plastics made from re-grind/ recycled grades of sheet: lower-cost products with lower performance standards than higher-cost materials.
The thickness, grain, and ability to withstand temperature determine the sheet’s grade. KYDEX T and KYDEX 100 are the most popular materials used by companies making gun holsters and knife sheaths. KYDEX 100 is known in the business as “The Gold Standard for Thermoforming.” It’s super tough and durable. It arrives at the holster or sheath maker’s shop in a proprietary “alloy sheet.” It offers excellent formability, rigidity, break and chemical resistance. It also withstands high temperatures.
Consumers should ask the holster manufacture what brand name thermoplastic they use (or check the package). If it’s KYDEX, customers should ask which product. Quality manufactures will be happy and proud to discuss their production process, especially if they’re forming high-quality materials. If the manufacturer states that they use a “proprietary blend,” ask for the speciation sheet and material safety data sheet (MSDS). Otherwise the “proprietary blend” may be the scraps swept off the floor of a company using high-grade material.
Plastic holsters are all the same, right?
The holster-making processes varies considerably. Some companies use injection molding. Each holster mold is filled with molten plastic, then forced into the desired shape with heat and pressure. Injection molding is fast and produces inexpensive parts, usually made from harder plastics (i.e. including stiffening materials). As the computer guys used to say, GIGO. If an injection-molded holster is made from cheaper plastic, the material can cause rapid holster wear and remove the finish from your pistol.
There are no injection-molded holsters made with genuine KYDEX-brand plastic. That’s because KYDEX is engineered from pure polymers; their extruded sheets don’t contain blended stiffeners (such as glass). KYDEX lasts longer than cheaper plastic and it’s far less likely to damage your firearm, no matter how many times you holster and un-holster your gun.
To create a KYDEX holster, makers heat a sheet of plastic, mold it around a form, cut off the excess material and polish the finished holster. It’s a slower, more labor-intensive process that requires considerable expertise and quality control. For example, the KYDEX has to be heated to a precise temperature and cooled properly.
KYDEX and gun wear
Any holster can wear the finish of your pistol. And it’s certainly true that pistol wear is the primary issue facing owners of KYDEX holsters. To minimize the problem, holsters made of KYDEX must be manufactured to follow the EXACT shape and form of the weapon inside them. They must apply pressure on the proper areas of the firearm – and nothing more. By matching the weapon and shaping the holster correctly, quality KYDEX holsters rarely present finish wear.
I encourage you to look closely at your next holster purchase. Leather, plastic or KYDEX plastic – take the time to inspect each fold, each contact point, and the presentation the holster offers. Look at the fine details. If it’s plastic, loook for polished edges, even texture, and rounded corners. Ask the manager of your favorite gun shop if you can try it on. Listen to the gun as it goes in and out of the holster. Does it go in smoothly? Is it secure once it’s inserted? Do you have to change your grip to present your firearm?
There’s nothing wrong with buying a leather holster or a relatively inexpensive injection-molded plastic holster – provided you know what you’re getting. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you need to ask a little more, starting with the material used. Like a leather holster, a molded KYDEX holster is a hand-crafted product. It’s a difference that’s reflected in both performance and the price. In short, whether it’s leather or KYDEX, you get what you pay for.