HGR 063 - The 9x23 and Kydex Holsters with Shan of Werkz Holsters

Hello and welcome to Handgun Radio! I’m your host Ryan Michad from the wilds of Central Maine, and this is your home for all the news, information and discussion in the handgunning world. This week, I’m joined by Shan, the proprietor of Werkz Holsters to discuss his experience with the 9x23 cartridge and his experiences making top-quality kydex holsters for handguns!

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We are going to skip the week in review this week and just head right into the main topic with Shan of Werkz Holsters!

Main Topic: The 9x23 Cartridge and Kydex Holsters with Shan of Werkz Holsters

Shan is the proprietor of Werkz Holsters in Idaho. He is an avid shooter and maker of top quality Kydex holsters. He also is a huge fan of the 9x23 cartridge that we spoke about a few episodes ago in the “Odd Calibers Redux” show. We’re gonna talk a bit about his experiences with the 9x23 and then how he got started making holsters.

Thanks for coming on Shan!

The 9x23 Cartridge:

  1. How did you get involved with the 9x23 cartridge?
    1. First, let’s start with defining 9x23.  We are NOT talking 9x23 Largo, which is a different cartridge that runs lower pressures.  We are talking 9x23mm or 9x23win or 9x23 Winchester.  This is a higher pressure cartridge than the Largo.
    2. Interestingly, it is intertwined with making holsters.  A number of years back, I wanted to get a 2011, which is a double stack 1911.  I had been shooting a lot of 45s, including my HK45.  However, I felt there would be something better out there in terms of trigger and in terms of capacity.  The HK45 is a great pistol, but in classes, it was inconvenient working the DA/SA trigger with a safety.  So, I wanted the power of a 45, with the capacity of a Glock 17, with a great trigger.  I found a pistol built by Benny Hill (http://triangleshootingsports.com/ ) on Gunbroker.  It was a 5” 2011 set up with 9x23 barrel and recoil spring assembly, and came with an extra 9x19 (“9mm”) barrel and recoil spring.  This meant that the same pistol and same magazines could be used to shoot two different calibers.  I figured I would use the 9mm barrel for training, and carry with the 9x23.
    3. For me the 9x23 is an interesting cartridge.  When I saw the pistol, I dove deeper into the ballistics, and found:
      1. 9mm 115gr JHP @ 1250fps = 399 ft-lbs muzzle energy
      2. 38 Super 130gr FMJ @ 1215fps = 426 ft-lbs muzzle energy
      3. 357 Magnum 125gr JHP @ 1450fps = 583 ft-lbs muzzle energy
      4. 9x23win (9x23mm) 125gr JHP @ 1450fps = 583 ft-lbs muzzle energy
      5. (Source:  http://38super.net/Pages/comparisons.html )
      6. In other words, the 9x23 is 357 magnum power in a semi-auto pistol with semi-auto capacities.
      7. Further, the seller advertised the pistol could shoot 38s ammunition in the same barrel as the 9x23 per the builder.  This allows me to buy and shoot factory 38s ammo instead of my more valuable 9x23mm.
      8. Here is a comparison of the 9x19 (left), 38 Super (middle), and 9x23:

      9. What advantages did you see that the cartridge offered over other more mainstream cartridges?
        1. The 9x23win offers what I believe is a great self defense cartridge.  Out of a an accurate pistol (remember: shot placement is king, caliber is queen), the cartridge delivers tremendous energy to the target.
        2. Further, it is flexible.  While I’ve not reloaded the 9x23 yet, I can reload it with a smaller powder charge (“downloading”) or I can run it hotter than factory.  The webbing in the 9x23 brass is thicker and stronger (refer to the section picture here: http://www.shootingtimes.com/ammo/cartridge-review-9x23-winchester/ ).
        3. The factory Winchester ammo should be plenty sufficient for self-defense; I don’t carry defensively with reloaded ammunition.
        4. Reloading:  The 9x23 can be reloaded at a similar cost to 9mm, perhaps with a slightly greater powder cost to ensure proper cycling with the higher recoil spring pressures.
        5. The disadvantage is in terms of availability, and perhaps cost.  I’ve bought 9x23 ammunition years ago at slightly under $20/box.  However, now a quick check of GB shows boxes at $34.50 on up.
        6. Can you retrofit existing guns to the cartridge or do you have to build them from the ground up?
          1. I’m not a gunsmith, but my understanding is you can either buy one of the rare 9x23 pistols, or have them retrofitted.  I believe Bar-Sto Precision Machine (http://www.barsto.com/ ) or Nowlin (http://www.nowlinarms.com/ ) can build the barrels for you.  I don’t see them listed on Bar-Sto’s site, but Nowlin does list it here (http://www.nowlinarms.com/product-info.php?Nowlin_1911_gun_barrel-pid187.html ).
          2. Normally, 1911s or 2011s are converted.  I do not believe any pistol designed for the shorter 9mm/40S&W will work.  The problem is the cartridge is too long.
          3. For a 1911, one would need:
            1. Barrel - see above
            2. 9mm magazine, for which one would have to remove any spacers that are used to keep the 9mm cartridge from rattling around.  38 super magazines work for those of us with a 2011.  For 1911s, I believe Colt made factory 9x23 magazines.  If I were to convert a 1911, I would probably get at least one factory 9x23 magazine to diagnose any failures.
            3. A stronger recoil spring, something in the 18 to 21 lb range.  I believe Brandon at SVI used a 21# in my 4.5” 2011.
            4. There are a number of competent gunsmiths that can do the conversion or build a pistol from the ground up for you.
            5. What guns do you use that shoot 9x23?
              1. I have two:  The Benny Hill built 5” 2011, and a SVI built (http://www.sviguns.com/ ) custom 4.5” 2011.
              2. For the most part, the SVI pistol has been in the safe.  The other pistol went with me to Boise for a Chris Costa class, and it ran nearly flawlessly, with 3 malfunctions, 1 was a dirty mag, one was a mag that was falling apart, and one was operator failing to fully insert the mag.  That pistol shot about 2k rounds in the rain and mud with those few malfunctions.  All of those were 38s, but it shows that a 2011 can be reliable.
              3. How easy is it to convert the guns?
                1. If I had a good gunsmith provide the barrel, I wouldn’t be worried about it.
                2. I have heard of a Glock 20 conversion, but I believe it is rare.  I would be concerned about magazine availability.  The 10mm cartridge is significantly larger, and probably wouldn’t feed properly, and I would be skeptical of anyone who said they could tune the feed lips properly.
                3. I would be careful about going too short in the 9x23.  Shorter pistols need stronger recoil springs to begin with, and the 9x23 will require one even stronger.  I don’t think I would go with smaller than a commander.  And I wouldn’t convert anything I couldn’t get my pinky around.
                4. Can you ONLY shoot 9x23 in the guns or is there any cartridge interchangeability?
                  1. DISCLAIMER:  This is only my experience and what I’ve been told.  Shooting different cartridges in your pistol is extremely risky if you don’t know what you’re doing.  I can only state what I have experienced and what I’ve been told.
                  2. I was told my 5” 2011 would shoot either 38s or 9x23.  The barrel is marked Kart 38 Super.  However, my understanding is that it was properly reamed for 9x23.  I’ve shot over 3k rounds of 38s out of it with a very low failure rate.  I’ve also shot 9x23 out of it reliably.
                  3. When I had the 4.5” 2011 built, Brandon told me that I could probably shoot 38s out of the 9x23 barrel, but it would likely “fire form” the brass to the slightly to any difference in the taper between 38s and 9x23.  I’ve not had any problem with 38s out of the pistol.
                  4. For my 4.5” 2011, I have two barrels, so I can change between shooting 9x23 and 9mm.  The 9mm threaded barrel is on top.
                  5. How does the recoil/muzzle blast compare to other cartridges that you've shot?
                    1. It’s hard to tell when shooting, but when I’ve stood beside someone shooting my pistol, the 38s is definitely a stronger concussion than the 9mm of others on the line, and the 9x23 is even more.
                    2. I shot this week with my father in law, and I watched him closely go from 38s to 9x23.  There was definitely more muzzle rise and the brass went further.
                    3. I will say that shooting the 9x23 requires proper form to control.  Having a proper grip is essential.  Some people say that the 45acp is like a hard shove, but the 40S&W is much snappier and harder to control.  The 9x23 is like that but even more so.  It is a strong fast recoil, and it requires a good grip on the pistol to keep it pointed straight and get back on target quickly.  I was shooting with a magazine that doesn’t lock back the slide, and for my last trigger pull, there wasn’t a cartridge in the chamber, but I didn’t know it.  When I pulled the trigger, I did a nosedive.  I can see I have some work I need to do on my own form.
                    4. What is the future of 9x23?
                      1. I think 9x23 is a cartridge that has fallen out of favor.  Race gun guys don’t need it to make “major”.  It seems that it hasn’t taken off as a defensive cartridge, perhaps due to the improvements in 9mm defensive cartridges.  I would love to see 9x23 take off and see greater availability of pistols chambered in it.  I like the idea of interchanging barrel/recoil spring to get to shoot cheap practice ammo.  Rock Island has the 22tcm interchangeability.  Seems like 9mm/9x23 interchangeability would make sense.

Werkz Holsters:

  1. What prompted you to start Werkz Holsters?
    1. Funny enough, it was because I wanted a holster to fit that Benny Hill built 2011.  I had been using Raven holsters, but when it came to ordering one for the 2011, I wasn’t sure whether, after waiting over ten weeks the holster would even fit.  So I bought the materials and began forming my own.  The first builds were pretty poor, but it didn’t take long for me to improve and get good results.  I started making them for friends, and selling on the Internet.  Things really began to take off when a local gun store picked up the products.
    2. One thing is for sure… we have always improved, and continue to improve.  I want to obsolete the way we built holsters last year, last month, by coming up with better ways to get a great feel, retention, and durability.  And cosmetics are important.
    3. Why did you go with Kydex? Cost effectiveness or better durability?
      1. I saw Kydex as the way the industry was going for tactical products.  I also had owned nylon, leather, and hybrid holsters in the past, and they failed to perform the way I expected.  I wanted something that didn’t lose shape, retained properly without external mechanisms, and lasted.  What I’ve found with Kydex is that it lasts quite well.  I’ve heard of one of our holsters breaking, but never seen it.  I recently had a magazine pouch that was made years ago come in for replacement… it was cracked down the middle.  I’ve found Kydex retains its retention quite well over the years, and stands up to the abuse when I take a class.  And when it is all over, I can take it to the sink and wash it out with lukewarm water.
      2. What did you carry for a holster before you started Werkz?
        1. I had 2 holsters for my HK45, both of which went with me to a Magpul class.
          1. Blade-Tek duty style holster
          2. Crossbreed IWB holster
          3. What makes a good kydex holster?
            1. For me, it is a combination of comfort, fit, feel, finish.
            2. Comfort:  While we are all made different, the holster should feel good to you.  For me, I like to be able to wear the holster all day, and preferably forget it my pistol is there.  This is regardless of whether it is OWB on my hip or IWB.  You want a holster that works for you, and I believe comfort is a top reason people have boxes of unused holsters.
            3. Fit:  It needs to fit YOUR pistol.  Not something that is a similar shape to yours, but YOUR pistol.  The HK VP9 came out recently, and people are wondering what holster fits it, and everyone is saying that this or that holster works even though there is this or that compromise.  My position is that it needs to fit your pistol because if it doesn’t, it won’t retain properly, won’t cover the trigger guard properly, or have other problems.
            4. Feel:  When you insert your pistol into the holster, you should feel that it is fully holstered.  In almost all cases, our holsters you can hear and feel when the pistol is fully seated in the holster.  Similarly, when you draw, you should have to tug the pistol out.  You don’t want to have to pull your belt up around your ears, but you also don’t want any small bump to unseat your pistol.  So, you want a firm grip and tug to release the pistol, and from there it should come out smoothly without a lot of dragging.
            5. Finish:  Cosmetics are important.  You shell out good money for a holster, and it shouldn’t look like crap.  There should be good pistol definition.  The belt loops should be well made (we injection mold ours in house).  The Kydex should be thick enough that the holster doesn’t collapse without the pistol in it (we went away from the common thinner Kydex on our pistol holsters because it wouldn’t retain a form, especially for the light bearing holsters).  The edges should be polished and without burrs.
            6. What sets your holsters apart from the “one size fits some” kydex holsters?
              1. There are a lot of good holsters out there, and some pretty sketchy ones.  What we do, we do well.  We build the holster to your specifications and will do so within two weeks.  For the items we build tons of (Glock 19 for instance), we build a quality product that isn’t going to break the bank.  I think our product quality is up there with anyone in the industry for a custom holster, our lead times are low, and we will guarantee all our products.
              2. I believe we do a great job on all the items above… comfort, fit, feel, finish.  There are other folks that do a good job on those items too.  For us, you can also reach the owner and resolve any problems quickly.
              3. Can you switch your holsters from OWB to IWB fairly easily?
                1. The Origin line of holsters has IWB C-hook accessories that you can do that with.  I’ve had customers very happy with this setup, but if I’m carrying IWB, I prefer our Minimalist design, which isn’t convertible.
                2. What sorts of advantages does a kydex holster offer?
                  1. I think we covered that above for the most part.  Kydex over leather typically has a more positive feel, and is cleanable.  Folks worry about pistol finishes.  However, if I go out to a range and get my holster full of dust, I can wash out Kydex with lukewarm water.  If I have leather, either I toss the holster, or the dirt will wear my finish.
                  2. What can make a holster dangerous for the user?
                    1. Good, important question.  There are a few things I think are dangerous.
                    2. Design:  I have a bias against external mechanisms, and I don’t think all of that bias is unfounded.  I’m not saying they cannot be made fast, reflexive, and safe, but I think it’s a challenge.  There are two aspects there.
                      1. Active:  There is a popular style that requires trigger finger action when drawing.  I’ve talked to a buyer evaluation person at Customs and Border Protection, and he said they collected extensive information about how many negligent discharges that were as a result of this mechanism.
                      2. Ability to use under stress:  Retention mechanisms need to be trained with so you can use it fast & safe under stress.  I would consider it a safety issue if a listener were to have to draw their defensive pistol under stress, and wasn’t able to release it in time.
                      3. I would recommend buyers who are looking for an external mechanism first to consider whether it is really required, and if so, then how such a mechanism can be made safe and fast.
                      4. Build:  The holster’s safety job is to
                        1. Protect (to the degree possible) the trigger from external manipulation.  You don’t want foreign material to enter the trigger guard area and pull the trigger.  For me, this means covering the trigger guard as much as practical.  With light bearing holsters, there will be some space around the grip where the holster is relieved, so this isn’t completely possible, but if the trigger is visible from the side, I would be concerned about the holster’s build.  Similarly, if there is some mechanism internally within the holster that can accidentially manipulate the trigger or somehow break and activate the trigger.
                        2. Make the pistol available:  The pistol should be readily accessible and available, or it is a potential safety issue.
                        3. Keep the pistol sufficiently retained:  If I were to get into a physical altercation, or have some degree of physical exertion, I would want the pistol to stay put.  I think it is a safety issue if, by simply falling down, the pistol ended up on the ground.
                        4. What is the future projections for Werkz holsters?
                          1. Keep growing gun store availability:  We are in 11 stores in a number of states.  I want to see Werkz holsters in Idaho and Oregon gun stores, and am looking to be in 20 stores, if possible, by the end of the year.
                          2. Revise our website:  Our website was created a couple years ago, and it is visually pretty nice.  However, we are working on revising our website to make it more easy to order holsters.
                          3. Improve manufacturing:  We reinvest every dollar that comes in to the business.  I want to bring some new designs to market, improve how we manufacture our designs, and continue growing.  We have a fairly large shop dedicated to the business today, and are looking forward to the day that we outgrow this space.

[Announce the Giveaway here, to be formally started probably next weeks episode]

That about wraps up the main topic, so we are going to head into the obscure gun we want segment and the wrap up segment!

Obscure Gun We Want:

Shan: Maybe not so obscure, but I want the newer 17 Hornet in a good rifle, probably a CZ.  I’m planning on restarting a yearly trip to go varmint shooting on NE Oregon, and the 17 Hornet would be a great cartridge to do so.  Perhaps even replace my 17 HMR Anschutz.  I also have a Beretta 1301 21” on my “to buy” list.

Ryan:  New Smith & Wesson .22 LR Revolvers built upon the old I-Frame (Terrier frame; smaller than a J-Frame) from the 1930’s

Wrap-Up:

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Until Next Week, Have Fun and SAFE SHOOTING!