Holsters Toughened with Thermoplastic-Core Composites

March 15, 2011
Holsters for military, law-enforcement, and recreational use are thermoformed from a laminated thermoplastic-core composite that resists temperature extremes, fires, and impacts.
BAE Systems plc, www.baesystems.com
Boltaron Performance Products LLC, www.boltaron.com
Safariland LLC, www.safariland.com

Traditional leather gun holsters have become the stuff of spaghetti westerns. Today, 80% of holsters used by law enforcement worldwide are formed composites.

Safariland LLC, Ontario, Calif., makes these engineered-material holsters for military and law-enforcement personnel, competitive shooters, and firearms enthusiasts. The company, a business unit of BAE Systems plc, Arlington, Va., turned to a laminated thermoplastic composite to overcome leather’s limitations.

To form the composite, Safariland laminates textiles onto custom-formulated thermoplastic sheets ranging in thickness from 0.028 to 0.125-in.-thick from Boltaron Performance Products LLC, Newcomerstown, Ohio. A proprietary adhesion process prevents delamination.

Holsters get their color and texture from the thermoplastic sheets, or an optional outer material layer — nylon or urethane fabric — gives them a basketweave, carbon-fiber, leather, or plain appearance. The inner material layer is suede.

The thermoplastic is rated to UL 94 V for fire resistance, and its impact resistance is 20 ft-lb/in. It also resists cold cracking and won’t deform under the heat holsters must withstand in military service in the Middle East — temperatures up to 125°F and as much as 220°F inside closed vehicles.

After lamination, the composites form on CAD-designed, CNC-routed aluminum molds, often with deep recesses. The sheets do not shrink much and go through minimal thin-out in these deep draws. After forming, the holster edges are burnished and smoothed.

“Using digital manufacturing is the only way we can meet the tight tolerances that ensure guns can be securely held in the holsters,” says Vice President of Category Marketing, Equipment Div., Scott Carnahan.

Most holsters are gun-specific, and Safariland works with firearm manufacturers to ensure changes in gun design don’t dramatically affect holster fit and function. Technicians also physically check each holster with a pistol.

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

About the Author

Jessica Shapiro

Jessica serves as Associate Editor - 3 years service, M.S. Mechanical Engineering, Drexel University.

Work experience: Materials engineer, The Boeing Company; Primary editor for mechanical and fastening & joining.

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