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October 13, 2013

Holster Woes

This story begins (as many do) with the fact that a toy I once bought for next to nothing has now worn beyond it's usable limits and needs to be replaced. In this case it's a tool holster. Many years ago while walking in Home Depot (or Rona or Canadian Tire, I can't recall which) I happened to spot a leather tool holster. It had 2 pouches for holding whatever tools it was designed for and hung low. It looked like it would be a good holster for my squeegees (I believe it was Kuny's model PL 301 although the model number has long since worn off).

That holster (while not perfect) was by far the best functioning holster I had ever used. Most other holsters either hold the squeegee by the handle (so water drips almost freely onto your carpets) or are not made for a squeegee and tend to "tip" if the blade portion is inserted into the holster (causing the squeegee to fall much too often). The PL 301 was very heavy and had a double thickness of leather (3 inches wide) to stabilize it so it virtually never tipped (in spite of the squeegee's having more weight outside of the holster than in). I used that holster for more years than I can recall and it eventually gave in due to years of abuse. A few years ago I began looking for a replacement.

In the years since that holster's demise I have tried many different types and styles of tool holsters and many of them function (for a little while) until the leather wears a little bit (usually less than a month) and then they begin to tip under the weight of the squeegee. Kuny's Leather no longer makes that particular holster and I have been unable to locate a similar product. This year I gave up trying.

I decided this fall to abandon my search for a holster and considered making one of my own. In the past, I have considered having one made, but you only have to look around at the many "custom leather" sites to realize that anything with the words custom and leather in it will not be cheap (the PL 301 holster probably cost me under $20 when I originally bought it). Now, this isn't the first time I have looked to have one made or considered making one myself. On a few past occasions I have researched the cost of leather and leather working tools and decided that the only reasonable way was using scraps, but they were not large enough for the design I wanted.

This year, after having spent many dollars (a few dollars at a time) on inferior holsters I came to the decision that I would simply make one myself (regardless of cost). And so I began to search online for a place to buy the leather and supplies I needed. Eventually I came to the conclusion that leather is not cheap. That is to say, I could buy scraps (easily big enough to build a "normal" holster), but to get a piece large enough to build "my" holster would require me to purchase a side or shoulder of leather (at least). Then there's the cost of the tools (thread needles, rivets and the tools to set them). It became clear that this was going to be an expensive project. And so reality sank in. Perhaps I should just have a professional do it, since clearly it was going to be expensive to do myself and I would have "all kinds of stuff" left over. And so I began to concentrate on finding someone to make it for me.

** Addendum (Dec 1 2013).

When originally posted, this blog entry included numerous direct links to Stephen's website. However, they have been removed as I cannot (in good conscience) direct people to his site given the way this transaction ended.

** End of Addendum

I searched the internet for someone who looked like they might do a "small" job like this and who seemed comfortable with custom jobs. This led me to Green Man Leather. On September 18, I filled out the online form with a VERY general description of the holster I wanted in order to get an idea if this was something I could afford. Stephen responded two days later stating that he believed he could help and would get back to me on the weekend.

On the weekend, he replied again stating that he thought he had a general idea what I was asking for but could not visualize it and asked me if I could draft it for him. Now, I'm not sure what he meant by "draft", but I took it to mean draw it out for him with approximate measurements so he could get an accurate visualization. I tried to draw it in an editing program, but my skills using computer paint programs are virtually non-existent. My penmanship isn't much better. I opted to do it by hand (because it would be faster and easier). I soon had a very rough rendering of the holster I wanted. I scanned it and sent him a copy.

His response was that he could do it for about $160 but that the leather (for the pouch portion) would have to be thinner than I had asked (as it would be too difficult to mould the thicker leather). I noted that it would be pointless to make a mould as due to the the type of use and abuse, a mould would not hold anyway (water has a tendency to destroy leather moulding). He responded that without a mould, he could do it for about $129 ($140 all in). While I found it (still a bit) expensive, when compared to the cost of doing it myself and the fact that it would be a better job than I could do, it seemed reasonable.

I arranged to drop off a deposit and a couple of squeegees (so he could verify fit of the tools in the final product). On that trip I opted to pay in full (rather than the 60% deposit he had asked for) because (as a self employed person) I understand that life can be easier if you avoid little things like making change. When I asked for a receipt, Stephen explained that he would issue one when the work was done (come again!?!?). I noted to him that I watched too much court TV and I'd settle for anything that said I actually gave him the money. He wrote me a quick acknowledgement of receipt.

While I was there, we went over the fine points of how the holster was to be used and what the requirements were (and why they were). In retrospect, Stephen and I seem to have VERY different recollections of what the priorities were that day. I'll give you my take on it (because it's important to see that I was confident that he understood me at this point). I wanted a holster which (for the most part) matched the drawing I had sent a few days before. And the following points were important to me. The bottom of the "pockets" had to be sewn (to discourage water from dripping). The holster would consist of essentially 2 pieces (one large heavy base piece and another piece for the pockets). The opening of the pockets had to be large enough to fit 2 squeegees at the same time (so that inserting a single one would be effortless without even looking) The pockets should be at least 6 inches deep. I would like to point out at this juncture something I did not specifically point out to Stephen. Both of my original drawing and original message stated that the opening of the pockets should be 1.5 inches by .5 inches. The discussion above (about being able to fit 2 squeegees so that 1 would be effortless) was because Stephen has mentioned that at least one of the dimensions in my drawing would not work with the leather he intended to use. That discussion was to clarify my needs should he find himself needing to deviate from my dimensions.

At this point I also explained that I was trying to duplicate the look and functionality of my existing (but now battered) PL 301. I explained about the weight and demonstrated that it worked because it hung low, and that I could easily just holster my squeegee without looking (like an old time gunslinger). It seemed to me (at the time) that I had clearly stated that my goal was to reproduce the PL 301 except with the bottom of the pockets sewn instead of riveted to discourage water from dripping (which was the only real fault with that holster). When I left, I was confident that Stephen knew what I wanted and he seemed confident the he knew what I wanted. I left him with the drawing, the original PL 301 holster and 2 squeegees (and of course, my money).

That was Monday. He told me it would be ready on Thursday or Friday, but went on to explain that Thursday or Friday often would become Monday of the week following. Again (being self employed) I'm all too familiar with the concept of "plan vs reality". I told him, that wasn't a real issue as I was familiar with the way life goes.

Sure enough, Friday came and went. And Monday came and went. On Tuesday I dropped him an email to say that I was "passing by" his area later that week and wondered if I might be able to get the holster on Thursday or Friday. He said yes, it would be ready (which meant of course that it wasn't already done). I made plans to go there on Thursday. Oddly enough, not 5 minutes after we exchanged those emails, I got a call from someone actually in his area, and booked the job for Thursday (and thought what great luck to get that job after just claiming to have a job in the area). Wednesday I got an email telling me that something had gone awry with the sewing and so the holster was would not be ready. He offered to ship it when it was complete (Friday or Monday). I declined, saying I would rather pick it up.

A week later and still no word. I drop him another email explaining that it's a minor hardship to do without the two squeegees I had left with him for such an extended period and that I would need to pick those up at the end of the week regardless of whether or not the holster was complete. He assured me that the holster would be done by then and Friday was good.

Friday morning came and I got an email with a picture of the completed "holster" (or as I like to think of it, the leather envelope). I was not thrilled. It is literally a flat piece of leather sewn to another flat piece of leather with each of my 2 squeegees forced into the top slits (into which I doubt I could have dropped a razor blade without first spreading the opening manually). Not a happy camper. But, truth be told, I really do need my spare squeegees, so I prepare to drive out to his place to get them (and explain why what he's made simply won't do).

Trying to avoid rush hour, I wait around (he's expecting me around 10:30am). After wasting a half hour or so, I leave the house (expecting a quick run and early arrival at his place). Unbeknownst to me, some idiot driver had chosen that morning to run into an overhead sign on the Gardiner Expressway (closing it). Needless to say, traffic was not pretty. So there I was sitting in traffic with nothing to think about except how poorly this holster had been made. Of course he has to live on Lake Shore Blvd., so there was quite literally no alternate route. And so I sat and drove and drove and sat, the whole while contemplating how to express my disappointment.

Eventually, of course, I arrived. At this point, I am clearly frustrated (at both the traffic and my disappointment with the holster). I am (in all honesty) fully prepared to pick up my squeegees and kiss my money goodbye. Stephen, of course, wants to know what's wrong with it and it becomes clear that his recollection of our discussions on the previous visit is distinctly different than my own. I try to explain a number of things to him (he doesn't seem to be getting it). I am of course getting even more frustrated as he insists that the holster he has made matches what I have drawn. My drawing clearly shows two "pockets" in the holster, each with an opening measuring 1.5 by .5 inches. But if we pretend that my penmanship is so unbelievably bad (which wouldn't be too much of a stretch) that for whatever reason that wasn't clear, the drawing also show a profile view of the holster where the pockets very clearly extend by more than the thickness of three 4mm thicknesses of leather (which while it may not necessarily be a half inch (even if you couldn't read where it says it's a half inch again there) it is clearly not even remotely close to flush (as the one he has made is). And lets take a second to inform the viewing audience that in my very first email, I specified that one of the defining characteristics was that the openings had to be 1.5 by .5 inches (and my penmanship is not an issue in typed emails). Here is a quote from that very first email.

[...] the top opening of the pockets are as close as reasonably possible to
1.5 x .5 inches and maintain "as much of that dimension as possible" down to
the bottom where they are sewn to the Base [...]

Stephen is trying to tell me why what I am asking for does not match the drawing, and I am trying to explain that all I want is precisely what is in the drawing. I try to explain not only what is wrong with it, but how to correct it. Stephen is not getting it and I am getting more frustrated. I demonstrate with a piece of paper how to do what I need done (he will later refer to this as my cone idea). Apparently Stephen see's something a little different than what I am trying to explain. Now, if you'll recall, before walking in, I was already prepared to kiss my $140 goodbye, and all of this added frustration isn't helping. I bring my hands up to my face and bury my face in my hands (dragging my hands down my face as some people will do when they are frustrated). Stephen saw something completely different.

I'll be the first to tell you that people see what they see and not necessarily what actually happens. And I have no doubt in my mind that Stephen believes that he saw me (in his words) "hit my face". At this point he demanded that I leave. I was somewhat mystified (in addition to my frustration) and he tells me that he saw me hit my face and see's this as an act of violence and demands that I leave. Any further communication is to be by email. I have only one thing to add to the conversation, but he believes that he saw what he says he saw and is no longer listening (if he was at all). Of course, I grab my old holster and squeegees and leave. I tell him not to bother with email. I'll make it myself.

Shortly after leaving I send Stephen an email to clarify that I am no longer interested in his service and there will be no need to communicate further. Stephen sends a reply stating that he would like to fix the holster for me. That my "cone idea" will work but he won't be able to sew the bottom. My response is that he clearly still does not understand (in spite of the drawings, written specs, original holster and demonstration) and if he doesn't understand after all of that then I simply have no faith in him to do the job. I tell him I will have it done by an amateur who appreciates what the end result needs to be (I am referring to myself).

After work, I dropped by the local leather store (you didn't know we had local leather stores did you?). I explained to the nice girl that I am trying to reproduce "this" (as I show her my old beaten down holster) with the bottom sewn instead of riveted She explained that it needs to be riveted as well as sewn (and why). She then kindly helped me choose the various things I would need. This trip took about 20 minutes and cost me $117 (but I have enough supplies to make probably 6 holsters).

Early in the evening, I decide to make the holster "now". So after about 5 minutes to design the correct shape for the "pocket" piece. I take my newly purchased leather shoulder and cut 2 pieces out of it. One piece to act as the holster base/hanger and the other with which to form the pockets. This takes about 10 minutes. I then proceed to rivet and sew the pieces together. Sadly, doing this by hand is not fun and clearly my sewing skills are no match for Stephen's sewing machine. Between the sewing and watching a bit of prime time TV, the whole process took me about 2 hours.

As I sit and admire my work (be nice- I've never cut or sewn leather before), I reflect on how easy it was and can't help but be confused that Stephen seemed incapable of grasping what needed to be done. To understand my confusion you need only look around Stephen's web site to see that he had done some considerably more complex things than this (although the only thing I could find with a similar pocket had clearly been moulded). I just cannot wrap my head around the fact that someone who does this for a living (or perhaps just a very serious hobby) could not make a simple pocket sewn 3 sides with an actual opening at the top. The only thing I can come up with is that he must be stuck on the "mould" thing. If he's not creating a mould to leave that opening then he doesn't know how to do it (just a guess mind you). And no, I did not mould the leather on mine, I simply wet it to get the flexibility that was needed to sew it in place.

Before I went to bed, I decided to send a picture of the holster I made to Stephen. I'll be honest, what I was really doing was saying "If I can do this in a couple of hours, why can't you in 3 weeks?" (without actually saying it). Honestly, I was surprised by how easily I did it (albeit not as good a job as I figured he would have done if he had understood what to do) and I was also annoyed that I had basically thrown away $140 and gotten nothing in return (I had not taken that useless holster Stephen had made).

Stephen has responded saying that he'll "remake according to your image for next week" and mail it out. I won't hold my breath (but I will include a picture if he actually sends it).

So what did I take away from this? First and foremost. I can't believe that I had to actually manufacture the holster I wanted, in order for Stephen to understand what I was looking for. Honestly I don't see how anyone could look at my drawing (forget about my detailed description or demonstrations) and think that what Stephen made for me matched that drawing. In one of his emails he says "There is a clear discrepancy with what was drawn and your expectations." I look at my drawing and I look at my holster and I see almost the same thing. When I look at what he expected me to take, I see a leather envelope that hangs from a belt. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's not. You decide. Here are the pics. (click on them to see full size images)

The holster he made The Drawing to go by The holstser I made
His Holster Holster Drawing My Holster

(in the pictures above, you can't really see the belt loop portion, but it is there and adequate on both)

So if there is a lesson here, it's this. Nobody understands you, except you. If you need something custom made. Draft it out in complete detail (literally down to the pattern if you are able). Specify everything in writing and in detail. Skip nothing. Do not "change" anything from what's written. If you change it verbally, change it on the detailed draft. If you need to clarify something, do it in writing on your draft. Insist that whatever is made must match the draft. If deviations from the draft are allowed, write down what they are and be clear and concise. If it's realistic, include a prototype or model. And most importantly.... Be prepared to be disappointed. I hope you won't be, but be prepared.

Update: November 15, 2013

As Stephen had promised to make and send the updated holster the following week, I waited. It never came. After waiting 3 weeks, I dropped him an email with a pattern for the holster pockets (assuming that had been the reason that he had not made and sent the holster). Stephen made it clear that he had no intention of making the holster that he has been fully paid for. I tried to appeal to his professionalism in order to have him send a finished product, and waited a further 2 weeks in case he changed his mind. I had hoped this would be one of those stories where the product got delivered and everyone would get a chance to see how much better the professional could do. Unfortunately that won't be happening. Instead it's just a story about how I paid full price for a product that I never got.

I had considered sueing Stephen for the return of my funds (since he had no intention of delivering the product), but I decided that if he needs my charity all that much, then he's welcome to it. There's been enough time and aggravation involved with this project and the holster I made is serving it's purpose every bit as well as any that a professional would have made. In fairness to Stephen. If he ever does decide to make and send the holster, I will update this page with a picture. Otherwise, this will be the last update to this entry.