bruce johnson

About stitching horses

31 posts in this topic

There is a link to an ebay sale of a stitching horse, and it got me thinking. I have that same Tandy model they sold several years ago. I have found it to be comfortable, the angle of the head right for me, and a good purchase that has paid back several times over. Some of you have heard me talk or write of the Irish harnessman who spent an afternoon and evening with me. A thoroughly enjoyable time, and I think about it a lot. He basically took over and straightened me out. He sharpened my "points" and the ones that didn't pass muster were turned into awl darts, a rousing game to play with Bushmills at hand. He showed me tricks of handsewing and tying in your buckles on strap ends, sewn or not.

He took a horsehoeing rasp to my stitching horse's jaws to add a wee bit more taper to the top for finer stitching. He actually said it was much better to begin with than most of the pictured ones sold in America. The Tandy ones operate with the left foot. I had sat at some in other shops later that were right footers, and might as well have used some other part of my anatomy to run them after a few miles on mine. He said that traditionally the saddlers stitching horses were stood up with less cant to the jaws than mine, and were all right footers. Some had the strap to tighten the jaws, and some had a cam or other hardware on the outside of the jaws to allow deeper pieces to be sewn. The harness stitching horses had more cant, and were right or left footers, and most had the strap in the slot closure. He knew of no particular reason than that's just the way it is.

Since we are pretty international and have a lot of traditionally trained workers on board here, I'd like to hear more about stitching horses and how they are ta' home, wherever that is......

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll throw in Saddlers Clams into the mix. The jaws came in different widths. Narrowed ones were needed for making harness shaft tugs. For those not familair with them, they are held between the knees while sitting on a stool at the bench. Depending on your bench/stool height combo, you can add a bit of extra wood at the base to adjust the height. It is easy to then adjust the angle to suit the individual. Some have a hole in one side where a strap can be threaded thru. One end is attached to a staple and the other end attached to a stirrup iron for adding tension to the jaws much like the pedal on a stitching horse. I have never bothered with this though. The bend in the jaws is under tension to keep the stitching job firmly in place as you stitch.

Barra

clams.jpg

clams_2.JPG

clams.JPG

post-1669-1235712934_thumb.jpg

post-1669-1235712958_thumb.jpg

post-1669-1235713144_thumb.jpg

Edited by barra

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think I can contribute much, but I bought one from craigslist about a year ago. It was fairly rickety, but I replaced the legs to sturdy it up. Nothing fancy. The jaws were in terrible shape, so I purchased some hard maple and had a guy cut the basic profile out for me on a band saw, and I finished them up at home. (Hardest damn wood I ever cut...I thought it was concrete inside).

Anyway here are the results and I can't tell you how valuable this thing is.

DSCN0214.JPG

post-3307-1235736789_thumb.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As far as clams go, I do know that woodworkers used a variation of one in conjunction with a workbench, to hold long and odd shaped boards for hundreds of years. I don't know if one craft borrowed from the other or which used it first though. I still have not had time to build me a horse but I do have the tools I need and a plan to follow in part thanks to members here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm hoping to build a stitching horse some day. Until then, I'm using two stitching clamps I built after viewing several owned by other people.

The first one is made of 1" x 4" pine and is held shut with a large spring clamp. I guess you would call this one a stitching pony, because you put it under your legs while sitting on a chair. For a couple years this was the only stitching clamp I had, and it was a real challenge to clamp and sew saddle skirts in it!

The second one I made from some 1" x 4" hickory that my brother gave me. (He's a cabinet maker, so I get lots of excellent wood from him.) The clamp that I used as a model for this one had a swivel base, but I opted to make mine with a fixed base. I now do almost all my stitching on this clamp.

I've looked with envy at some of the stitching horses members of this forum have made. Someday...

My_Leathershop_012.jpgMy_Leathershop_011.jpg

post-8035-1235751260_thumb.jpg

post-8035-1235751400_thumb.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm hoping to build a stitching horse some day. Until then, I'm using two stitching clamps I built after viewing several owned by other people.

The first one is made of 1" x 4" pine and is held shut with a large spring clamp. I guess you would call this one a stitching pony, because you put it under your legs while sitting on a chair. For a couple years this was the only stitching clamp I had, and it was a real challenge to clamp and sew saddle skirts in it!

The second one I made from some 1" x 4" hickory that my brother gave me. (He's a cabinet maker, so I get lots of excellent wood from him.) The clamp that I used as a model for this one had a swivel base, but I opted to make mine with a fixed base. I now do almost all my stitching on this clamp.

I've looked with envy at some of the stitching horses members of this forum have made. Someday...

My_Leathershop_012.jpgMy_Leathershop_011.jpg

TrooperChuck,

That's a pretty nice clamp you made. The only thing I would change would be where the ends of the clam shells come together. It looks like it would be tough to get you hands really close to the work.

Anyhow, I assume that you're a state trooper (or were)....if so, thanks for your service! :clapping::police::thankyou:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Marlon, thanks for the advice. I've contemplated rasping down those ends for a while, but just haven't done it yet. There have been a few times, when sewing small pieces, that I've wished they were a bit more narrow.

Yep, I was an Alaska State Trooper for 22 years. During much of that time I was involved with youth groups like Boy Scouts and Civil Air Patrol Cadets. The kids always called me Trooper Chuck, so it kinda stuck with me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bruce,

To add some to your information on stitching horses. There actually was a reason for the functional designs of what initially started out as two different strains of stitching horses.

This information has been derived from hundreds of discussions with harness makers and saddlemakers as well as researching a lot of older harness books, patents, tool history and such on various types of stitching horses.. I started this research in order to determine the best design for saddlemaker stitching horses after talking with a stitching horse maker in New Mexico who made only harness maker stitching horses. He provided me with the initial information about the difference between the two

My discussions were limited to mostly older leather workers that understood why the horse was created for a certain function. Almost all of them knew the difference in the strains and why. I usually discussed other areas of interest when they didn't know the difference between the two horses or the reason for the design differences. Several different Amish leather workers and harness makers were a wealth of information as well as a bunch of saddlemakers across the United States. Almost 100% of them agreed upon the unique functions and designs on each type of stitching horse.

Saddlemaker Horses

Deeper jaws (usually full length of the jaws)

Initially locked from below.

Full length jaws and locking from below gave you maximum throat capacity.

Usually required mechanism that raised the price of the stitching horse.

Cant (angle) on the jaws was slight to zero.

Saddlemaker horses were mostly right handed but I have seen two pair that were left handed.
***

*** However we must remember that throughout history the tool world has predominately created right handed tools rather than catering to left handed users.

Harness Maker Horses

Reduced throat capacity of jaws.

Initially strapped in the jaws. Reduced cost.

More cant angle than the saddlemaker horses.

The strap in the middle to close the harness maker jaws was OK because they usually repaired or made straps, tugs, billets, etc and didn't need the increased capacity.

In fact the angled iron swivel jaws of Randall's were patterned after the harness makers. Some of the additional notes that weren't included in the Randall patent for the iron jaws was that the harness maker jaws were more conducive to this pattern than the deeper saddlemaker's jaws.

Now we have all sorts of derivatives of harness and saddlemaker horses. The lines between them have been greyed or blurred and most people have lost the history of the difference between the two. We have some that swivel, some saddlemaker horses that are slotted on the front to allow even longer projects to be held and derivatives that have no cant but have strapped jaws and other derivatives that have a swivel canted jaw that locks from below.

A couple of things need to be remembered about leatherworking tools of old (as in the case of the horses)

(1) Modifications (sharpening, shaping, etc) were generally performed on every piece of tooling as part of the apprenticeship program. This would have included the modifying of the horse jaws to accomodate the normal closed gap position (the one for the most widely used thickness of leather) as well as thinning the upper and outer edges of the jaws for finer detailed work. This process made sure that the apprentice knew the reason for the modiifcation (unfortunately in talking with many of them it was after they had spent some time doing it less than perfect - the idea was that hard learned or hard earned lessons were not fogotten that easily).

(2) Quality of tooling. In the case of the older stitching horses many of them were created with the thought that they were equivalent to a piece of fine furniture.

Regards,

Ben

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have 2 stitching horses that I use. The one at work looks to be the same as the Farm woodwork pattern. I think I paid 75.00 for it back about '81. Some of the hardware looked like it was made from stolen aluminum road signs, so I've redone the hardware.

The legs all fell apart, so I reglued them when it was new, I think after 12 years I ended up using epoxy paste on them. They're holding up well now. The jaws on mine are oak, the seat is pine and the legs are oak. Oak is too brittle for the jaws, the horse has fallen over a few times and little chunks break off the corners. I put brass strips inside the jaws so I can just lay the flat of the awl on the brass and get a good angle everytime. Oh, and the rear legs aren't placed back quite far enough, so if you get back too far she'll buck you off everytime. But we've come to work together ok over the years.

At home I have a Randall that looks like somebody left out in the weather for a while, but its all there and good enough for what I do here.

A friend of mine is a master saddler from Hungary and her horse is a totally different breed. The seat is kind of low so your thighs are horizontal. The jaws are at the same height as your elbow. I guess this is all ergonomicaly (Iknow tht's wrong) correct, but I can't see what I'm doing when my work is that far away. The final difference is that it has a wooden screw and S shaped wooden nut that you tighten the jaws with. I find it tedious and clumsy, but she is fast and thinks our stitching horses with foot controlled jaws are tedious and clumsy.

Kevin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
200Jaws1.JPG Here are snaps of my old "nag". I've had it for 40 years and I really don't know how old it would be, as it was ancient when I got it. It appears the timber may have been pretty green when it was made as the seat has a cup in it. The jaws are secured by wedges and the legs are mortised. The closing mechanism is iron which is attached to a sliding foot lever to apply pressure. The foot pedal was almost as worn when I got it so it must have had a lot of use in the heyday of horse transport. I have put a larger seat on the original as it allows me to sit farther back, I reckon the bloke it was made for may have been shorter than me. It was painted green originally. I'm certain that although it is old, it will well and truly see me out!

Jaws2.JPG

Jaws3.JPG

jaws4.JPG

Jaws5.JPG

Jaws6.JPG

Jaws.JPG

post-5242-1235889000_thumb.jpg

post-5242-1235889038_thumb.jpg

post-5242-1235889065_thumb.jpg

post-5242-1235889094_thumb.jpg

post-5242-1235889114_thumb.jpg

post-5242-1235889132_thumb.jpg

post-5242-1235889284_thumb.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for that Tony!!!!! I have never seen a jaw mechanism like that. The mechanics are very simple yet effective and very reproducible!!! That is really cool.

Tim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Barra showed images of Saddlers Clams. What would be the advantage of a clam vs. a stitching horse?

Towards the end of this video about the making of a Hermes leather bag it shows clams in use. Once you get past the sales "fluff" the video shows some really fast hand saddle stitching too by folks who look like they've done it many times before.

Vergez Blanchard shows a clamp online. http://www.vergez-blanchard.fr/boutique_us...lg_us&num=2 Likewise, Abbey Saddlery has this one. http://www.abbeysaddlery.co.uk/product_detail.cfm?id=FS025

Do you know of any other companies who make the clams or has anyone seen plans to build your own?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I get the impression that Clams are more an English/European saddlers item. Being in Australia we tended to follow the English traditions when it came to saddlers tools. I had only ever seen a stitching horse once in my life until I started to lurk here on LW. I have now made myself a (rough as guts) stitching horse just to see if I liked using it. I find that I would use the horse and Clams 50/50.

The benefits of the Clams over the horse as I see it would be that.

1. Clams generally speaking have a deeper throat and are universal for large items and strapping.

2. Also while you are seated at the bench you are withing arms reach of all your tools if you have given some thought to how you have racked them.

3. Clams are light weight and therefore easily portable.

4. It is easy to adjust the height of the jaws to suit individual tastes.

5. Clams come in different jaw sizes to accomodate items like shaft tugs that need narrow jaws. You can then just reach for the narrow jawed clams and not have to either have 2 horses or one with inter changeable jaws.

As noted, Clams can still be obtained commercially but it is relatively easy to make a functional set. You can get hold of a pair of barrel staves, add a length of timber to the bottom to suit you and then rasp the top so the jaws meet. I have also made a set by steam bending timber. I used the veggie steamer. Crude but it worked. As a general rule of thumb you steam for 1 hr per inch of timber thickness. Of course you need to use wood that lends itself to steam bending.

Barra

P.S. Have a look at the on the floor clamp model that Rawhide has made. Works for me.

Edited by barra

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Barra,

Thanks for the clam information. I'll get back to you as soon as I locate our veggie steamer!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is the Swedish Army (pre-1956) version of a stitching clam for field use. It is made of birch and has a hinged leg.

The clam rests on one leg and is held tight with the other leg on top, and it has a good function.

/Knut

P1010051.JPG

P1010049.JPG

post-5173-1236107800_thumb.jpg

post-5173-1236107953_thumb.jpg

Edited by oldtimer

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now, that is very high tech compared to the British one that is usually seen, Old Timer!

Tony.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is the Swedish Army (pre-1956) version of a stitching clam for field use. It is made of birch and has a hinged leg.

The clam rests on one leg and is held tight with the other leg on top, and it has a good function.

/Knut

I would love to have a plan for that. would you mind posting the measurements

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the one thing that I can see with 'clam vs horse' for a person like me with little to no room in the house because of all the OTHER crafts that are in here as well

and being a "hobbiest" leather worker (small stuff - only for me)

is that it takes up LESS ROOM and if I were to get one it would be a clam because of that factor.

and that fold up one is COOL

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I get the impression that Clams are more an English/European saddlers item. Being in Australia we tended to follow the English traditions when it came to saddlers tools. I had only ever seen a stitching horse once in my life until I started to lurk here on LW. I have now made myself a (rough as guts) stitching horse just to see if I liked using it. I find that I would use the horse and Clams 50/50.

The benefits of the Clams over the horse as I see it would be that.

1. Clams generally speaking have a deeper throat and are universal for large items and strapping.

2. Also while you are seated at the bench you are withing arms reach of all your tools if you have given some thought to how you have racked them.

3. Clams are light weight and therefore easily portable.

4. It is easy to adjust the height of the jaws to suit individual tastes.

5. Clams come in different jaw sizes to accomodate items like shaft tugs that need narrow jaws. You can then just reach for the narrow jawed clams and not have to either have 2 horses or one with inter changeable jaws.

As noted, Clams can still be obtained commercially but it is relatively easy to make a functional set. You can get hold of a pair of barrel staves, add a length of timber to the bottom to suit you and then rasp the top so the jaws meet. I have also made a set by steam bending timber. I used the veggie steamer. Crude but it worked. As a general rule of thumb you steam for 1 hr per inch of timber thickness. Of course you need to use wood that lends itself to steam bending.

Barra

P.S. Have a look at the on the floor clamp model that Rawhide has made. Works for me.

Hey Barra

I've got to side with you. Clams is the way that I was taught and at one stage I had a pair for every Job. Including; narrow (2") fine jaws for fine Bridle stitching, 3 1/2" for general strapping, 4 1/2" for Trace and Heavy work with a sliding Band to lock the jaws, 2 sizes in curved Jaw Tug Clams, several with Notched Jaws for Sewing Rounded work, and 2 pairs with big bows and Pig skin lined jaws for Sewing Saddle Flaps (right & left). Actually there were 16 sets.

One the other side of the coin when I ran the Factory all of my women stitchers (50 to 60) used Horses or Ponies to keep thier modesty. The Saddle Stitchers used Jaws that were chunkier and lined with Harness Leather to avoid Scratching the work these were lever cosed at the back of the Jaw, The Harness & Bridle Stitchers used angled Jaws that were finer these were clsoed by a 1 1/2" strap for leverage. Unfortunately all of my Clams dissapeared so now I'm back to 1 set and a Horse that I made out of Rosewood. The Clams are used 90% of the time as thay are easier to work with at the bench and I can keep them between my legs while doing the set-up on the bench.

To justify the speed thing a Clam sewer can sew a Barcoo bridle complete with Billet reins in 46mins, a Horse stitcher takes 5 minutes more. That was done as a time trial in the early 80's with all stopd pulled out. By the same token the Horse was superior for sewing Traces as the could sew further without changing grip.

The hinged model shown in the post is similar to that used by a Dutch Friend of mine and he was very quick with it. He sat on it and created his grip by his weight on the leg.

So suffice it to say that what ever works for the Job use it. Saddles and Strappingwould be better off sewn with Clams because of the depth that can be accomodated easily by them. Also if your Workshop is small they take up less room (Mine stand where I can get them without getting off my Stool. Holsters and most Harness are better sewn on a Horse.

Then there is the Pony, very handy and transportable. Make sure you use a long Flap of flexible Leather to hang over the wing nut dow to the leg so the Threads don't catch on. I used to carry one in the Spring Cart and sew Stirrup Leathers and Bridles while the Horse was making his way along the road. It's better than Knitting (yes I had Rubber Tyres on the Cart).

Kindest Regardas.

Jim.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You're a real character, Jim.

Tony.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jim,

Do you have any suggestions for making a general purpose clamp set? What about overall dimensions? Are they hinged at the bottom? Please tell us newbie's more. You've always have great stuff.

Cheers!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The overall length of mine are 41 inches. From the botton to where it starts to bend is 20 inches, the jaws are 20 inches and 3 inches at the widest. The extra 1 inch difference is where the 2 halves are screwed together. The timber halves are 1/2 inch thick. You can make them longer to suit the individual by adding another length of timber at the bottom and screwed in place between the 2 halves.

Barra

clams_3.JPG

clams_2.JPG

clams.jpg

post-1669-1240256064_thumb.jpg

post-1669-1240256085_thumb.jpg

post-1669-1240256111_thumb.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Barra,

Thanks for the measurements and the photos.

I did find some "steam bending wood" videos on Youtube. That seems to me the best way to build them rather than trying to cut them out with a bandsaw. Have you ever seen any clams that are hinged at the bottom?

Cheers,

Lippy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Other than the version that Oldtimer posted, no I have never seen them hinged.

Barra.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Years ago...back in the 70's, Bill Porters Sadlle Shop, here in Phoenix, purchased some stitching horses that were made of steel. They had forged clamps and all the linkage to operate the clamps was located below the seat so that the entire clamp was open to hold leather. They were extremely strong and comfortable with padded seats. Has anyone ever run across one of these or know if they are still being made?

Bob

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now