Hidemechanic

Thoughts on fiberglass trees.

49 posts in this topic

I'd like to hear opinions and experiences with fiberglass and trees.

My opinion(one of them) is that they are too rigid with little flex. I am of the opinion that trees need flex to compensate for the horse's movement.

As with other ideas I have had with things I have heard differing opinions that make sense. Enough to make me change my mind? Maybe, time will tell. For instance I made the comment on another post that I didn't care for large lace holes in rawhide caused from stretching dry. The counter commment was that lace holes often do that but it doesn't effect the strenth of the tree and therefore may not necessarily be considered a quality issue(Thanks Bruce). Things like that have helped me to re-assess why I think what I think and ask myself if I really have a good reason for some of my opinions.

So lets hear it folks, besides the flex issue what are other ideas out there about fibeglass as a material for trees.

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GH,

I think a lot of this is going back to the quality and type of materials that are used. Obviously the fiberglass material and resins are better now than the 20 year old trees we see for repairs. I am not crazy about the dipped trees, but those southern guys seem to use them a lot, and their thick clubby bars. I see a fair amount of barrel saddles with the fiberglass trees. Most of the oldies are loose. The fiberglass has delaminated, and the forks and cantles are loose. Usually stapled construction to start with. They were price point saddles then, and so it is to be expected. The trees were made by one of the big production companies then, and still are.

I am one that feels if your tree is flexing much with the movement of the horse, there is an issue. Even the cutting trees I had, thin narrow bars, high thin forks and 4" horns were pretty solid. I couldn't lay against them and make them flex. I could on the used ones after the bars were broken. Granted there is movement with a jerk, but that is where the inherent elasticity and return to memory shape of rawhide plays into it. The old fiberglass microfractured and the fibers separated from the resin, much like breaking an old fiberglass whip or fishing pole. I had a warranty replacement tree brought to me. It was a triple epoxy dipped. The maker proudly told me that it would take 5000# pounds of pressure with no deforming. The horse might deform before that, horseshoe nails pop, tendons tear, etc. They just warranted the tree.

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BJ

When people started using composites as a structure enhancing material to saddle trees, I doubt if a lot of thought was given to the materials used and the method to which it was applied. Basic fiberglassing, using a wet hand layup method is relatively easy to do, and Bondo brand cloth and resin is as close as you nearest hardware store. Even using these products can yield a very structurally sound unit but the study and practice with commercial materials and high tech layup methods will set a product apart in a totally different category. Apart from the chopper gun method (of which I had not considered in the first place) or the autoclave method which is used in aerospace and aircraft industries, I have experimented and been successful with vacuum infusion and laying up prepreg materials. Both methods facilitate good to excellent resin to cloth ratios of which is of extreme importance. This will result in a very thin, strong composite.

Bruce, you mentioned a tree being triple epoxy dipped. If in fact an epoxy resin was used minus the cloth matrix, that covering would be totally useless.

Interesting facts:

The B-2 Stealth bomber frame and skin are carbon fiber.

Twenty-six percent of the F-22 airframe is made of composite material

Lockheed L-1011 uses 1,300 lbs of woven fabric in the vertical stabilizer, wings, and other components

I could go on and on...catch my drift?

Jon

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Jon,

The old fiberglass ones I see are usually Circle Y Connie Combs barrel racers. The trees were mostly made by Hadlock & Fox. The glass on those were not much more than painted cheesecloth. Still a rough texture, pretty much all over the tree. Many of those are 15-20 years and have had the use. They are usually not worth it to do any repairs now. They paid $500 for them and got their money's worth. The rawhided tress from the same vintage (some customers have a tack room full of them) are usually sound, unless they were in a wreck.

The newer triple dipped epoxy replacement tree was also from H&F. Whole different cat here. It was a heavy smooth finish. Glassed in seat, and heavy coat of resin (triple dipped, so they say). It will turn a nail or chip out the coating, and instructions were that either predrill holes or use drywall screws in a gun. Since a lot the guys that build on these have yet to block many skirts up the way I do, the nail deal must not be an issue for them. I opted out of that job. I see the Dale Martins and Tod Slones for repairs, along with some of the others of that genre (Texas origin trophy saddles). The trend is more to the glassed trees. Obviously they are working for the guys using them. I get the flyers from some of the treemakers down there. Some guys talk about Lewis, Oxbow, and some of the others. Seems like most all of them are touting their glass trees, and guys are using them. The trees must be holding up.

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As I mentioned in another thread, I just finished building on a Ray Lewis fiberglass encased tree. This was a nice tree, and smooth. I had no real issues driving a nail, except in a real tight spot, where I would start a small hole with a spike. No problem using nails blocking skirts, etc. I did pre drill holes where ever I put a screw. The strainer is glassed in on these trees, but I found no draw back with that either, as the strainer has a good basic shape to it, and I put my ground work on it just as you would with a tin strainer. These Lewis trees are not cheapies, nor extreme high end cost either...........around $300 delivered. I have 2 more of these trees to build on, and frankly, I like them........both from the vantage point as a builder and horseman. I don't have any experience with other maker's glassed trees.

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Jon, I get the concept of the vacuum infusion, prepreg, and cloth to resin ratios(not as you do) which is what has been missing from the whole equation until late. (I agree you can't just take a wood tree and slap some cloth and resin on it and expect it to be superior to rawhide.)

I'd like to see the results of such a product if it can be produced within a reasonable price range.

As to Bruces referrences, I've been out of things for a few years(old info) but the last time I delt with H&F, their fiberglass tree was more of a shell. The top half of the tree was layed up into a form (upside down) wood blocks were placed in the typical nailing areas and then the bottom which had been layed up in the same manner is applied to the top. Now I missed any other details as to whether those were the tripple dips or whatever, but I held the trees in my hand and they seemed quite solid to me but I also as Bruce mentioned had an issue with skirt blocking.

Bruce, my reasoning on the flex issue(not unchangeable) is especially after talking with Pete Gorel and his reasoning for going to a flexable strainer plate. You may recall his story of a saddle with a flex strainer that he tore down after a short time of use and it was obvious that there was a good amount of flex evident and this was built on a high quaity tree. ( I wecome responces)

In this case the subject of flex may have hit me at a time when I was dealing with resolving a lot of soring issues customers were having, so in my mind at the time it made sence that if the tree didn't flex it could lend to the soring issue.(Let's presume all the other saddle fit issues were taken into consideration).

It may sound like a senseable idea, that trees should have some flex to accomodate the movment of the horse and though we are talking about minimal movemnet of the tree, maybe not enough to detect on a finished saddle (as you would test for a broken tree), But I have to ask myself, we are still dealing with a couple slabs of wood (with little give) intended to carry waight on a surface that is fluid.

Are we looking at an 'every little bit helps' point of view, or a 'there's only so much you can expect to do' way of thinking?

I guess when it comes down to it and I think about the saddle fit issues I have delt with, the fit issue has usually come down to two major factors.

One, the conformation of the horse was such that you would have to take extra measures to build a tree to fit(such a tree then would not likely fit another horse).

Two, the owner had it stuck in there head that this or that brand name was the only saddle for their horse and their fit problem must be able to be solved with a different high tech pad, and had nothing to with them using the breast collar to hold the saddle forward where they though it had to be, and the horse gets to suffer.

I personally don't have a problem with new ideas and materials after they have proved themselves. GH

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Interesting topic. Fiberglass has never been my favorite material for anything. It's heavy, ugly, and nasty stuff to work with. Proper application (and longevity) depends on controlling a fair number of variables, something that is best done - but often isn't - in an industrial setting under monitored, controlled conditions, and is usually pretty haphazard elsewhere. The stuff ages, the resins are light sensitive, the layup is moisture sensitive, and has to be protected from chemical attack and abrasion. Encasing wood is a situation where you have to be particularly careful with it to avoid moisture retention and delamination problems. Epoxy is better than polyester resins, but there goes your cost advantage.

It has virtues, too, including considerable strength when properly applied, repairability, and low cost relative to many alternatives. the last two strike me as most relevant when the article is large and the fiberglass surfaces are accessible. A glassed saddle tree has neither quality.

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GH,

I have had that same talk with Pete, and sat in a few of his roundtables at the shows. I agree there is flex there in the fork relative to the bars. Even the thinner forked barrel saddels that have never had a calf hit the end of a rope may have a little gap between the back of the swell and the groundwork. It also stands to reason that the higher on the swells the ground work is attached, the more there is the gap. I have seen that for sure. We/ve all seen the loose nails there, or if it is screwed there, then the nail lumps in the cantle dish or along the bar channel where those nails have lifted a little due to flex. The fiberglass strainer stapled or tacked are just floating. The attachments pulled through long ago. The two piece strainer seats or all leather ground work are going to alow that slight movement more than a solid seat.

I am more going to the notion of flex with the horse's movement concept in trees. I had a great revelation putting some bare cutting trees on my cutting bred horses a while back. Let's just say it wasn't pretty, some here have seen the pics. I have a bit of a background there. I was thinking along the lines of what I had accepted as "made sense". The higher thin forks and horns allowed flex in the tree (they don't to any degree). The thin bars will allow some degree of movement in the back. More tree flex in the bars comes from the 200# guy hanging in the stirrups than the movement of the horse. A little gap is a good thing under the middle of the bars to give the horse a place to "round up into when they drop their rear end and lift". One member here advised to me put a belly band around the tree and then turn my horse tightly. Therapists focus on arena performance horses for a reason. Arizona bars are a mixed thing - stirrup leather rub on the back edge of the leather, and an unsupported area behind that. These are some pretty widely held beliefs by some pretty acknowledged horsepeople. I have seriously questioned a lot of what I thought I knew in the last year, and the last 6 months especially. These forums havbe been pretty enlightening.

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Well said Bruce, I've come to the exact same conclusionsdam

Edited by daviD A Morris

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"Perspective use it or loose it."

The reality in the production world is that the fiberglass trees ( the cheap ones) have a smaller breakage rate than rawhide trees. I'm not sure that really tells us anything because the rawhide ones are being used in ropers so the likely hood is greater that they will break.

Which brings me to my point. For the vast majority of the saddle market many of the trees are over engineered. I have made thousands of mid range saddles on fiberglass trees and the only one that came back was horse that repeatly slammed the horn in to a beam while it was tied in cross ties. For most of the market shape is the most important element. The customer for most of the saddle markets could give a rip how strong the tree is.

I did a search to see what is being said about a line I did on fiberglass covered trees here is what I found:

Dreamspirit -

Where are you located? I'd love to let you try my saddle on your horse. I have a Black Rhino in a #14.5 seat with a #2 tree. These saddles have the best fit with the MOST room in the shoulders. Many saddles, even ones that are designed for barrel racing, do not offer enough room in the shoulders. At work (Equine Sports Therapy), we see many, many injurues from poorly designed or poorly fitting barrel saddles. When your horse jams into the ground to make that turm, the scapula rotates WAY up and most saddles don't leave the room to allow for that and we see a lot of sore shoulders and sore withers because of it.

I also compete mainly at gymkhana and I find this saddle to be incredibly balanced, whether we are jumping fences or turning a barrel.

monsterhorse I'm located in Amesbury MA, just north of the NH seacoast. We have already had a little problem with a sore shoulder at the end of the season this year. I have a massage therapist working with her, but as she's almost 9 months pregnant I have to take it slow. The saddle you're talking about sound like what I might be looking for. If you want to e-mail me directly with your asking price and pic, my address is I know I'm going to miss my old Crates terribly though.

Oh - no, no, no. I wouldn't SELL my Black Rhino for all the tea in China. Just thought you might want to try one out and see how you like the fit. So much nicer when you can test-ride before you drop the $$$. They're great saddles! But we're down in Northeastern CT, so probably not worth it for you and a very pregnant mare to go for the ride just to take it for a test-drive!

The Rhinos are hard to find used and when you do find one, you need to be prepared to buy right away. When people get them, they hang onto them.

I spent more money on my Rhino than I spent on my horse! But she feels so good in it that it was worth every penny. It is a great fit and as long as I am riding the QH types, I'll never need to spend another dime on a saddle. In the long run, its worth it. Its an investment. My first western saddle was a $400- deal. It ended up causing major problems with her back.

Delilah -

They are definitely still made but the waiting list is, from what I have heard, like 6 months. That's why so many people want to find them used, which is why the prices are so steep on them. You can find them used and in great condition for about $1500- but you need to scoop them up RIGHT AWAY. My aunt just found one online for about $1200-, which was a STEAL. I see them a lot for $1600- and $1700-.

Keep in mind these saddles were built on cheap Steele trees but they were made to my specs in terms of shape. They retailed for around a thousand dollars. Now ten years later they have nearly doubled in value and as I have said I have not had a single broken tree. I will honestly state the fiberglass was poorly done on those trees but it doesn't seem to have made a difference. To the consumer the shape and the performance of the horse is what is important.

Would I use that kind of tree on a roper? No way in BLEEP. I don't think I would hesitate to use one that was properly done with fiberglass or carbon fiber. Although there is a tradition with the rawhide that makes you fight the market perception of the fiberglass. Kinda like asking a cowboy to wear a helmet.

David Genadek

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"JUST IN!!

THE BIGGEST THING IN EQUINE SAFETY!

THE NEW BUCKAROO HELMET, FOR ALL YOU SAFTY CONSCIOUS COWBOYS.

WHAT WE LACK IN WESTERN FASION WE MAKE UP IN INSURENCE PREMIUMS.

OSHA APPROVED, RHINESONE COWBOY TESTED.

GET YOURS TODAY!! Western theme stickers not encluded

All rights reserved, no animals were killed or injured in the testing of this product,,,, except for that one."

All seriousness aside, I did mean to mention earlier that I think this issue of enginereing strength into trees that we need to take into consideration how the saddle is going to be used.

As Dave and Bruce and others have said, arena work and real buckaroo work is way more demanding on a tree then most pleasure riders.

So I agree that myself anyway, I do over think the crud out of some issues hoping to find a middle ground.

And you notice how most things of this nature usually keep coming back to what has been successful in the past?

Good coments all. GH

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Jon,

You've obviously done your research. A question just from curiosity: How long does it take you to fiberglass a tree, and how long does it need to sit before you can ship it out?

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Rod,

It takes about 2 1/2 hours to lay up the prepreg I'm using. This is done with no secondary lay-ups, meaning all layers of cloth are layed up before any curing takes place. I believe this provides optimal performance, although most use secondary lay-ups with no problems. Most resin systems take a full 24 hrs for total curing. I'm currently experimenting with a U.V. cured resin that will obtain full cure in less that 5 min. using the proper light source.

Jon

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Jon, I have no experience with fiberglassing. But I mentioned your post

to a friend who did some work with the West system. Are you familiar

with the West system? If so is it similar to the method you're working

with? Thanks, Yonatan

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Jon, I have no experience with fiberglassing. But I mentioned your post

to a friend who did some work with the West system. Are you familiar

with the West system? If so is it similar to the method you're working

with? Thanks, Yonatan

If I may...West System is a laminating resin, so different then a pre-preg setup. Pre-preg comes with the epoxy added already, at about the best ratio of resin to fabric available. Laminating resins are added to fabric afterwards, meaning that you end up with more resin for a given mass of fabric, and thus a heavier product. Resin doesn't add strength, and thus the trick is to use enough to bond the fabric, but not so much so as to add excess weight or "float" the fabric.

West System resin is decent, and I've personally used it quite a bit on aviation projects, but there are better alternatives (MGS, for example).

I tend to use West for plugs or anything not needing much heat resistance.

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Yonatan,

West System epoxy is pretty good stuff. I use it as an occasional filler and also to glue my tree parts together but I don't use it exclusively because of the cost and the high viscosity. The reason I mention viscosity is because I've come full circle in my application method and have settled on the vacuum infusion process which requires a very low viscosity resin system. Pre-preg materials are great, but to do it right it takes much more than I'm willing to invest.

Jon

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Thanks for your replies, Jon and Adam.

Jon, when you say you use the West System to glue the tree parts

together, are you talking about lamination as well as the fork and

cantle mortises?

Thanks,

Y

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Yonatan,

I glue all laminations with Titebond II. All my parts are laminated including the bars. I use epoxy only to join the bars, front, and cantle.

Jon

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Thanks, Jon. I was wondering, because when I googled the West System

I noticed that there are ways to use the stuff to join parts together, like

bolts. Years ago I bought a tree covered in "Tuff Cote". My impression was

that it was nowhere close to being as strong as traditional rawhide. The tree

was light weight and sealed well against moisture. But I wouldn't want to

rope off one of them. Again, that's just my impression, completely untested.

Y

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I do believe there is a place for fiberglass in the tree industry, just not in working saddles.

By working saddles I meen one going on colts or where someone will dally a rope on the horn.

The best test I've ever watched of a tree was a movie crew. They strapped a camera on a brand new fiberglass bronc tree and stuck it on a horse first. It survived that ok but got a good ding in the stripping chute. We glassed that ding back up and it got a trip on a bull next. The bull swelled up with air on the first jump and broke the fork and cantle and the fiberglass strainer down the middle.

We pulled a old rawhide tree outta the attic, a old Hamley assn. that had been used a bunch but someone had brought it in with the leather removed. This was a tree covered in steerhide not bullhide. Dan Luft told me he never used bullhide at Hamleys.

Long story short. The rig made 4 more trips on a bull that I watched and the movie crew took it with them. We never got a requst for another old tree so I assum it did the job.

I'm all for progress, and beleive someone will come up with a new mousetrap someday.

I just think, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I'll leave the new mousetrap to the younger generation, I'm to old to learn new tricks:^)

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Yonatan,

West System epoxy is pretty good stuff. I use it as an occasional filler and also to glue my tree parts together but I don't use it exclusively because of the cost and the high viscosity. The reason I mention viscosity is because I've come full circle in my application method and have settled on the vacuum infusion process which requires a very low viscosity resin system. Pre-preg materials are great, but to do it right it takes much more than I'm willing to invest.

Jon

Hi Jon,

You can thin West if that would be helpful...I think I've used xylene in the past, or even pure alcohol in a pinch (just don't use a plastic mixing container...tends to melt <sigh>).

When you say vacuum infusion, do you mean that you're adding/drawing the resin under vaccum, or using a vacuum bagging system to hold the cloth against the tree?

Cheers,

Adam

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Adam,

Thanks for the tip on thinning the resin! I was wondering, would this would effect the cure rates and final strength of the epoxy?

The typical vacuum infusion process is what I'm using by drawing resin into the bagging mold after sufficient vacuum has been achieved.

Jon

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I have spent the better part of this evening reading the various posts on strength of trees, and the use of various synthetic products in the production of trees.

I have a couple of comments:

First, if we had a history of good rawhide covered wood trees breaking I would say that investigation into the weaknesses would be warranted, but from what I have seen, this does not seem to be a problem. I'm not sure that there is any better test than the thousands of saddles that have lasted 30+ years. The twin towers were engineered to withstand the stress of a plane crashing into them, they were not built to withstand the heat of the fires that ensued after the crash.

Second, I agree that synthetic materials are often cheaper and more efficient to produce but what are the long term costs. What are the effects of production on the health of the planet? Does it preserve or reduce ecosystem integrity? What are its effects on the land? What are its effects on wildlife? How much and what kind of waste does it generate?

Then again the trees we build from wood today are not as strong as those built 100 years ago. Our forests are less dense and the increased light creates faster growth and less dense wood, so we may need to look to synthetics to strengthen the wood that our insatiable needs have weakened.

Although I am a data analyst and IT tech, I come from an Amish community and often question if are we advancing or retarding society through technology. I can say that most of my amish friends have homes and 10+ acres of land by the time they are 20, the wives stay home with their children and the community takes care of each other. Then again I couldn't be communicating with you if I didn't have electricity and my computer.

I think I'll stick to the rawhide wrapped wood tree, but take my plastic bottle of water along on the trail.

Jennifer

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Jennifer,

interesting comments on how the production of synthetic materials affects the environment and is there an actual reason to produce trees made from these materials.

I don't agree with your statement about wood trees not being as strong today as they used to. I won't comment on the use of factory made wood trees because I don't use them... If you are talking about handmade trees, the way they are built today is every bit as good as they used to be and in many cases better. The trees I use are stronger and lighter than many of the old trees because the wood working methods have improved with the use of laminations of different woods in the forks and use of different woods for the bars and cantles which provide a great combination of strength, flexibility, and light weight. A good portion of a tree's strength comes from the rawhide and as long as treemaker's pick decent hides, the strength and integrity of the tree will always be top notch.

Darc

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