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bruce johnson

Do you drill trees for strings or not?

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Well we haven't had anything controversial for at least a few days. I am posing a question/poll about something that has been discussed about as much as anything. Seems to be #3 in the "saddlemakers-meeting-for the-first-time" list of questions. It ranks right behind #1) Who's trees do you use? and #2) Who's skirting do you use? Coming in at #3) Do you drill trees for strings or not?

I was taught to be a non-driller. I have drilled some by request, and didn't feel like I was cheating or anything though. On the repairs, it has been interesting. The only really rotted out holes on a tree were on an ancient Visalia that the rest of the saddle was rotted too.

I saw a variation a while back I had not seen before. I saw the drill holes on top. When I cut the tugs, the skirts fell free. This saddle had the tree drilled, but the strings only went around the tree, not through the skirts. The rawhide was removed between the drill holes to let the latigo strings lay in a little more. First I had ever seen or heard of that. This maker builds a saddle with a good reputation for holding together and being a user. This saddle was probably ten years old, and the best care it probably gets is to lay under the gooseneck on the flatbed in the rain. From looking at the strainer liner, looks like it mostly roosts on a toprail at night otherwise. I have attached pics for clarification on the holes and rawhide removal.

I am wondering what everyone does, if you want to say why, great. If you want to describe pitfalls or disadvantages of the way you don't do it - even greater. If you just want to say "driller" or "non-driller", that's cool too. I am curious what our treemakers think about us poking rather large holes in their work as well.

Bruce Johnson

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The reason not to drill is because it lets water in and can rot out the wood where it has been drilled. I have seen a number of old trees that we have duplicated where the wood around the strings was rotted but the rest of the tree was OK. I have also seen some good quality saddles where things were put together tightly and they didn't have the problem. So I think if they are well done, they should be OK, though I prefer not. (Denise types. Rod likes being a dictate-or.)

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I drill, I feel the pros out-way the cons. I have also seen a few saddles that have been rotted from moisture, but it seems that if that is the case they usually are rotted throughout the whole bar pads, not just from the string holes. I've never been sure if the cause was neglect or climate poor rawhide or just hard use that have caused the hide to rot. Now I have seen many more saddles that have the same age and use or even much more age and use and the integrity of the tree is still there.

The reason I drill is for a couple reasons, one is the skirts are held to the bars better, and the other reason is for the integrity of the saddle strings. Over the years I have seen far to many saddles with strings that are screwed in, that the screw have been pulled out. Once the strings have been pulled out I have found no way that the strings can be screwed in again to maintain their integrity, if someone knows of a way I would be interested in learning your method. Another reason to drill is, a saddle I saw years back had screwed strings with the rope strap also screwed off the front seat jockey, the rope got hung up in the bush, the horse jumped forward, then the screw pulled out of the tree but not the seat leather, the seat was tore in half to the ear. of course this was a freak accident, but it never would have happened if the strings were drilled, it would have been a rope strap repair not a whole seat that needed replaced.

I guess I feel that saddles have been made with drilled strings for many years with a lot of success, so if it ain't broke don't fix it.

My method of drilling strings is to;

drill holes, cut rawhide between holes, have the strings going though the skirts but not the shearling, once assembled pound the strings into the recess. I have been taught this method by both Dale Harwood and Matt Eberle, both highly respect saddle makers in their own right. they both have hundreds of saddle that get cowboyed in every day without this being a problem. I am sure that some of their saddles have rotted out in the string hole area, but I but they are also rotted in other areas of the bar pads also. this is mainly due to neglect. I wonder if I was to spar varnish between the string holes if that may help as a moisture barrier?

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Non Driller

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I drill. Steve pretty much covered it for the reasons why. I do not cut the rawhide out between the holes but instead french edge some of the material out between the holes on the skirt thereby also offerring a recease releaf for the sting to be pounded in to. I went thru a phase where I was not drilling but on those saddles which were being used hard the strings tended to not stay and after your customer loses enough geag that he had tied on I got the message. Greg

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Steve,

My reason for saying I prefer not drilling is that I make the trees & it makes me squeamish (kind of like a doctor poking holes in me!), but done well as you described it I think is very good. The problem with screwing or nailing is when there is a wreck. If the string is only through the buttons then you have only pulled that out & reatachment is a challenge. If the string is through the jockeys or rear housing then the whole thing can get ripped out.

Rod

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interesting post,

Im restoring a saddle at the moment its about 110 years old maybe + or - 10 its so hard to put an exact date on them when its unmarked ..anyway this tree is solid and drilled and there are nailes all over the place,

the only thing that surprised me is that the rawhide covering has come apart in a few places because it was stitched together with hanf thread was that general practice?

or would it not have been better to lace it with rawhide?

how are they done today?

ok its done its time and wont be ridden any more and probbably hasnt been for ages but it held up cheers Don

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Yes, rawhide string is the best. We use deer hide which is a nice weight to use as is. It is extremely strong and sucks in tightly. Once it is dry, if they get cut they will not unravel. Some tree makers use calf lace, either because they can't get deer or because they prefer it. Nylon string is only on cheaper trees, and if it gets cut, it will unravel.

Rod

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I have been taught to drill, 3/8 holes in tjhe tree, no cutting rawhide, string under the sheepskin unless a repair, also french edge between the #10 holes, this needed pounding. I have since used a 1/2" oblong punch through the skirts and don't get nearly the bump under the skirts. Lee Jr.

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Aye, Lee, this brings up a question. I am not picking on you, but you brought up something that can take this thread in a bit of rabbit hunt. One of the elder gents I have been fortunate to spend a morning with told me he would come back from the grave and kick my butt if I ever ran strings through the sheepskin on a repair.

Reasons being, if this was a good way to do it, why not do it on new construction (although some do)? Reasons given not to do it on a new saddle is the strings lay flatter underneath the wool, they pound in smoother and less chance of a lump. What makes a repair saddle with mashed down wool any better to run the strings through the sheepskin? It should be worse if anything. I offered the excuse you can always cut the wool away under the string and it will lay flatter. If sheep leather was so tough they would use if for boot soles and not diplomas was the reply. You might wear a hole through the sheepskin eventually and THEN you might have some more relief from the lump. That would be right before you catch the edge of the hole in the sheepskin on the saddlerack and tear it into smithereens. At that point I knew my argument of "It is faster and easier to just poke a hole with my collar awl and pull the string up through" would have been futile. He had told me previously that unless "faster and easier" were also accompanied by "stronger and better with more quality" in the same sentence, they weren't a valid excuse for anything he knew of. (This guy was like EF Hutton...)

Now I fish piece of wire through the hole, catch it and pull it up through the other hole, pull a piece of hand thread back through and use that to tie onto the string end with a series of half hitches. I pull the thread and the string follows. My sharp collar awl is a relic.

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Bruce you can take a collar awl and grind the point off or double a coat hanger leaving a loop in the end and twist up the rest to strengthen it. Put a slight curve in either and when you do a reline or when you need to just replace one string you can drill right thru the sheepskin pull your string thru the first hole then use the curved awl to pull the sting between the skirt and sheepskin to the next hole then tread back out the top. You now have your new string back where you want it without much effort. Greg

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Hey guys, I'm new to the forum. So, I'm a little late to the discussion. However, I have a few thoughts on the subject. First off, I was tought to drill. Very traditional, and it's worked for a long time. How ever as I grow in experience, I've come across a lot of good cowboys, that are very SPECIFIC in how they want certain things built, including strings. Some want them all drilled, others want them screwed in, and many want the front drilled only with the rawhide cut out to relieve pressure. Most of these guys rope (a lot) or show stock horses at the county fair/ Ranch Rodeo. As I have traditionally spent more time around cowboys/ buckaroos than saddlemakers (except for a couple of great saddlemakers, that I was blessed to have as mentors), I have a tendancy to comply with these requests as long as they are within reason. I figure it as an experiment. I explain to them what I think, told them what might happen when their get down rope hooks the gate, and let them decide. I can definately see both sides of the issue. Most of the guys I'm talking about aren't going to bring the saddle back for me to fix anyway. They are well versed in how to strip a saddle down and put it back together the way it was. These are the guys that ride hard a push the limits of my work. And, to be honest I've learned a lot from them. They've been my best customers, as far as my education goes. So my question to you all is this...When you talk about being a driller/ non-driller when fabricating a new saddle for someone, is that your prefence or is that your Law? Would you let an order walk away because you did/didn't want to screw the strings in?

Ryan Cope

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I drill

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I use screws more than I drill . ( not set in stone) Partly becuase I make my own trees.... I hate to drill big holes in that wood!! However I agree with Greg that cutting the lacing if you do drill shouldn't hurt the tree provided it is laced with rawhide lace.

A wreck is possible, however it can go both ways. A customer can repair a screwed in string easier than fishing a string through the tree under the sheep. I am very particular how and where they are attached especilly if I am using screws. I pre drill any screws that I put in a tree. I use at least 5 bleeder strings for attaching the skirts. 2 at the front and 3 at the back.

Edited by AndyKnight

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I drill for working saddles but if I think there will be an issue of degrading wod I will use epoxy or resin to coat the holes before stringing. An old muleskinner taught me that when modifying sawbucks(to run latteral straps under crossbucks), he got the sawbuck maker to either make the relief cuts and paint them or to send him a small can of paint with the tree so he could paint the relief cuts. Things went from there as I did mor repairs using resins for reenforcments.Made sense to coat string holes too.G.Hackett

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