Rod and Denise Nikkel

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Everything posted by Rod and Denise Nikkel

  1. I thought we would share our new website - https://westernsaddlefit.com/ - with the Leatherworker.nt community. We have put together a 67 minute video we call Western Saddle Fit - The Basics and have it for sale on our website. We have footage for a much longer one we will be working on called Western Saddle Fit - Well Beyond The Basics that will hopefully be finished later this year, but we'll see on that. We have a 7 minute video on YouTube called Western Saddle Fit - The Essentials. And we have also compiled and organized a lot of our blog posts about saddle fitting and have a section on our website with links to them: https://westernsaddlefit.com/articles. This is a new venture for us, since we are no longer building trees. If anyone one is inclined to share the links on their social media pages, please go ahead! Publicity is great!
  2. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Found McClellan tree maker paper

    We found this paper under the rawhide on the front of a cantle on a tree we duplicated many years ago. Unfortunately, that was before we started keeping the old trees if the saddle maker didn't want them. We didn't even ask - just shipped it back. Would love to have kept that one now...
  3. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Unusual Saddle Trees, Any Ideas?

    We were sent these pictures with the question - do you have any information about age or country of origin? They were purchased at an auction in Ontario, Canada with no history or other information given. Two trees, each appearing to be carved out of a single piece of wood. Any ideas, anyone?
  4. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Unusual Saddle Trees, Any Ideas?

    Thanks for the information. Looking at the bottom of the trees, I doubt if they ever were really finished. The top is smooth, the bottom is quite rough looking. Unless they were planning on putting panels underneath them? They sure need something to protect the horse from them anyway...
  5. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Tree Question

    We also agree that roughing up the tree is less than desirable. The varnish is the water proofing and scuffing will remove that even if the rawhide isn't damaged, which it often is. Finding varnish that glues will adhere to well these days is another story... Also agree that the back of the stirrup groove is the weakest point of the bar, and we've seen too many trees where the rawhide was scored there as well, and that removing the back stirrup groove (making the bar the Arizona type) will increase the strength there. However, so will increasing the quality of wood and rawhide used, and we will not make Arizona bars because of the negative effects on fit for the horse. Removing the back stirrup groove has more effects than just increasing strength. We have explained more in the past here: http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/of-arizona-bars-and-why-we-won-t-make-them/ (I am not trying to promote our website, but I just don't want spend a lot of time rewriting what we have said before, more than once...)
  6. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Tree Question

    Another post to respond to a few things in previous posts, just because… When you use real bullhide of good quality and thickness, you don’t want a double covered tree. Good thick hide on its own will be 1/8” thick, and ¼” of hide is real overkill… The only reason to double it is if the company uses relatively thin hide. Then it may be worth it. We would have to disagree with this. Every tree maker we know attaches forks and cantles solidly to the bars. Even if it is with nails or staples, they mean it to be solid. It doesn’t matter how close your joints are, if you don’t attach them solidly, all the stress of pressure is on the covering, and we want the wood to take some of that stress as well. The whole thing together is what makes it strong. We agree that if you drill a hole through something and attach a bolt, you have weakened the wood and it is more likely to fail, but we can’t see that using screws rather than nails or staples would make it fail catastrophically. We’d be interested in what kind of testing led to that conclusion. If the wood is so poor that it would break by screws pulling out of it and, then the nails or staples would have been long gone . Nails and staples will pull out easier than screws, but they don’t go back in again. Then you have a loose tree where the bars can move relative to the fork, and that can hurt a horse (different angles, pinching, etc.). If the idea is that something solid will break where something that is loose will withstand the strain, we have to disagree. We screw everything together with top quality screws into good quality wood. Additionally we also glue our forks & cantles, so there really is no movement possible. We have yet to have any fail catastrophically. In fact, if the bronze horn gets bent in two directions and all that happens is some cracks in the wood, nothing broken through, we figure they are plenty strong enough… http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/we-told-you-it-would-be-good/ Totally agree with you oltoot! Thanks for the referral to our website, Northmount. Just wanted to note that the way production/factory trees turned out in high numbers and the way our trees are built are quite different. Here's a few videos we have found that shows trees being made in various ways. We don't understand Spanish but we sure would be interested to understand what is being said! Especially at the beginning is where the tree construction is being shown. I believe Precision Saddle Trees builds the trees for Circle Y saddles. Here's a couple short ones that say they come from Steele Saddle Tree Co. And here's one showing Ben Swanke and K.T. Monson hand making saddle trees very similar to the way we do it.
  7. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Tree Question

    Interesting discussion, and Rod and I had a good conversation about it. For those not wanting to read a dissertation, you can skip to the end for the short form of our opinion (for whatever it is worth) on the matter. Here’s the long version. First, this isn’t the first time this has been discussed on this forum. This old thread from 2008 has some pretty good thoughts in it and is worth reading. http://leatherworker.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=3313 The picture that is now gone showed Robin doing the test he describes and the tree flexing to touch down. He describes that tree as having thin bars and lightweight rawhide. He also said he didn’t feel it was a good thing in a roping tree. None of our trees will do this, nor do we want them to, but it shows (showed) that it can be done. Second – does a rawhided tree flex? Sure. So does a fibreglass covered tree, tall buildings, steel beams and concrete. Everything flexes to some degree, though often it takes very sophisticated equipment to measure how much. To figure out what really happens on a horse may very well be impossible. However, there are other questions about this that maybe should be considered. Do we want a tree to flex and if so, how much? If the question is bend or break, then yes, we would want bend. (I’ll get back to that one.) But if the question is flex to move with the horse, our answer is no, we don’t want that. We haven’t changed our thoughts from what we wrote six years ago. How can something that flexes enough to “move with the horse” not sag under the rider’s weight, putting excess pressure in the center of the saddle? The advent of the “flex trees” has shown this is the case. Here’s a blog post with the proof of that: http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/checking-out-a-flex-tree/ Do we want a tree to flex when roping? The idea that the tree will take some of the stress and not transmit it to the horse may sound good, but you don’t want a lot of flex then either. Good bars are designed to have edge relief, etc. so there are no high pressure points on the horse. Now, if the tree gives, where and how much pressure is it putting on the horse? Something that flexes a lot when the cow hits the end of the rope could have a lot of “dig” on the edges of the bars in the direction of the pull. That is NOT when you want your horse to be reacting to pain! You want that pressure spread out as much as possible over the entire surface area of the tree. But when you hear experienced saddle makers like Pete Gorrell talking about how they see problems with the ground seats being pulled away from the fork in well used saddles, you realize that there has to have been some movement over time for that to happen. So, assuming the wood component of the trees were identical (which is an impossibility because every section of every piece of board is different), which covering would stand up to repetitive strain best? You can’t bend fibreglass very far or very often before it breaks and loses all strength at one time. However, you can bend a piece of rawhide back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, etc. etc. etc. for a long time before you see wear on it. And it loses strength gradually with repetitive strains. It takes a LOT of pressure to totally rip it, if it is good rawhide of a decent thickness. (We grant that “chicken skin” tears much more easily…) In fact, people sometimes don’t realize their tree has broken because the rawhide holds it in place. Here’s the description of what we discovered on a tree we had in to duplicate where the rawhide had held the bars together when the wood appeared to have been broken for a while: http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/things-to-see-on-a-broken-saddle-tree/ Now, do you want to be riding a tree like this? No. It will “flex” in the middle and those broken bar ends will put a lot of pressure on a horse’s back. But is that better than having the whole thing disintegrate underneath you when you are holding a bull? You better believe it. Just don’t ride it again the next day… Another example of how well rawhide on its own flexes is our experiment in driving over one of our trees early on in our tree making career. It was a tree we decided wasn’t up to snuff and we weren’t going to send it out, so we decided to see what it would take to break it. The front end of a half ton didn’t do it, but the front end of a loaded five ton moving truck driven over the center of the bars flattened them to the ground with nasty cracking sounds. After the truck drove off, those bars were back to their original shape. The stitching had given in a couple of places on each bar, and it was scuffed all along the bottom edge of the bar, but it was back to normal. And push and pull on that tree as we might, we could not make it budge. (We soaked it for a few days to get the rawhide soft enough to remove and discovered that the yellow poplar we had made the bars from had cracked longitudinally in three places on one bar, twice on the other, through the screw holes where the bar attached to the fork where the wood is thinnest. The cracks didn’t extend all the way to the back of the bars.) The rawhide had flexed down to the ground and come back to shape, and still was more than strong enough to hold its original shape. Fibreglass would have been broken and finished. So yes, in cases of extreme stress, we feel that rawhided trees will tolerate more flex than fibreglassed trees. But, can you honestly compare between trees? Not really, because every piece of wood is different, every piece of rawhide is different, and there are multiple kinds of fibreglass and other synthetics which are all different, and how they are laid up makes a difference to how they hold up as well. It honestly comes down to the quality of the materials – wood and rawhide or other covering – and those vary dramatically between makers. We believe that rawhide will hold up longer and better than the synthetics. We know that rawhide can hold up for over a 100 years (lots of old saddles with rawhided trees are still around) but it will take another few decades to know if fibreglass stands up the same… So for those who skipped to the end to read - we don’t believe good quality wood/rawhide trees should or do flex under regular riding, though rawhide does have the ability to withstand long term, repeated stress (ie. heavy roping) better than fibreglass coverings do. At least, that is our opinion on the matter, and so that is what we will continue to use.
  8. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddlemaker's Benefit Auction

    Ken, They set up a bank account for the benefit that I believe is open for a few weeks. I will PM you the contact information of the organizers and cheques made out to Saddle Maker's Benefit and sent to the organizers will be deposited and go toward them still.
  9. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddlemaker's Benefit Auction

    There will be a fundraising auction on July 13, 2013 to benefit two saddle makers who have suffered severe damage and losses due to the devastating flooding in High River Alberta in late June. Steve Mason (a member on here under his own name) and Stan Groff both live and have shops in High River. For those of you who know Steve or Stan and want to know more, or who are willing to donate goods or money, please contact us and we will give you more information. (The organizers don't want everything open on the internet but prefer information to spread more privately.)
  10. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Second Saddle

    Here are some pictures of the second saddle I have made. I have my list of critiques and things to do better next time, but all advice and suggestions are welcome.
  11. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Second Saddle

    Thanks everyone.
  12. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddlemaker's Benefit Auction

    Thanks Bob. I sent you a PM.
  13. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Second Saddle

    Rod - all Rod!! I (Denise) watched and was happy to see it happening. And no, we're not going into saddle making as a business. (Too hard to make a living that way... ) This one is for us. So was the first one - that he built ten years ago. He sold it this past fall so had the chance to build another one. I think he did a wonderful job on it.
  14. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Tree Blog

    Late 70's, early 80's - from what we understand that was the time a number of saddle makers started building their own trees because they were so unhappy with the quality of trees they could purchase. Wonder why things went so far downhill about then? While a lot of people talk about "the good ol' days" we have heard other comments to the effect that there are more good saddle makers and good tree makers around now then there probably has been at any time in history. It is interesting in looking at trees made by different makers. You can often see the "genealogy" of who taught the maker by how the tree is made and what it looks like. We've never had the chance to see one of yours. The pictures we have seen have all been fibreglassed. Do you still rawhide some? It is also interesting to see how different people go about making their trees. Some like hand tools. Some use some equipment, but each piece is individually made. Others go the duplicating route. Depends on how you like to work, your business model, how many trees you want to build, if you want to have employees, etc. etc. "Every tree maker does things differently" - but we all have our reasons for doing it!
  15. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Tree Blog

    We just wanted to let people know we have started a blog on our website about saddle trees. We have called it "From Shop and Desk" because we hope to share things we are doing and have learned, not just in the shop but also through doing research and reading. Here's the link: http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/index.php/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/
  16. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    New Rough Out Association

    Really nice job, Clyde. Clean work. Good lines. Glad you liked the tree. I knew it was rough out but had a hard time seeing that in places. How did you get it so smooth?
  17. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Patterns

    There are some really good discussions on the different saddle making DVDs and books on some threads that are pinned in the Resources section of the saddlery forum. The general consensus seems to be that you get what you pay for. Here's a couple of the links to get you started: http://leatherworker.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=7974 http://leatherworker.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=1576 If you look through the old threads in the saddlery section, particularly back to 2007/2008, there are some pretty good discussions in there by some well qualified makers about saddles. Worth your time to read it. From our perspective, we really wouldn't recommend you google "how to build a saddle tree". You tend to get inane stuff like this: http://www.ehow.com/how_6532333_can-build-saddle-tree_.html and this: http://www.ehow.com/how_10044557_make-saddle-horn.html We have a section on our website (link below) showing pictures of how we build trees, but it isn't a "how to". Building trees is a bit more complicated than taking a piece of wood and "whittling away everything that doesn't look like a tree".
  18. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    All The Saddles Built By Aurelie

    Thanks for the kind words, Aurelie. It was good meeting you at Sheridan this year! It will be fun watching the progression of your saddle making skills as this thread gets more and more saddles added to it.
  19. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Fourth Saddle

    Saddle orders are always good! Looking forward to pictures of the next one too.
  20. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Fourth Saddle

    Looks good Luke. Hope you had fun buidling it. Is this the one on our tree?
  21. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Ordering Saddle Trees?

    Joel, We ask our customers what gullet height they want as well. A lot of makers know the look they want and the clearance they want because they know our trees and how they fit on the horses they plan to use this tree on, so they have the option of choosing the gullet height they want. But some people ask us what we would suggest, especially if they are using the DL system or haven't had one of our trees before, and then we discuss with them what we would recommend and why, and make a decision with them on this measurement. You are correct that gullet height is chosen on a number of factors. The fork has to clear the horse - not just at the front of the gullet but at the hand hole too, and the gullet height and hand hole height often don't correlate between different fork types due to a number of factors. (There is a page on our website explaining why this is, in anyone is interested in the details - http://www.rodnikkel...llet-height-me/) Gullet height affects the look of the fork and sometimes it is chosen based on this factor. For example, old time looking metal horn slick forks often have really high gullet heights because that was the look back in the day when horses were thinner and had taller withers to clear. That amount of clearance isn't usually needed these days, but if you want that look, you need a tall gullet height. Your treemaker probably has a good suggestion on what would work for your order. We'd suggest you ask him what he recommends and why, and then discuss it with him. He'll help you out. PS. Not all hand made tree makers are 4 to 5 months out...
  22. thenrie, Old saddles (disclaimer - good old saddles, there were bad ones back then too, just not as many!) will still fit horses of the same body type as the horses they fit back then - but there are darn few 800 - 900 lb working cow horses these days... A book written by Francis Dwyer in 1868 said that the ideal, average cavalryman was 145 1/2 lbs. Not a lot of active, adult men in that body weight in North America these days either, though they still exist. If you look at old pictures of cowboys and see their size relative to the horses they are riding, and realize how much smaller most people were back then too, you get a feel for how large our riding horses have become. Here are some pictures to show you the difference in some trees we have hanging on our wall in the basement. Sorry for picture quality. It is rather dim down there. Here are two trees. The one on the left is probably from the age group you are asking about. The one on the right is a 25 to 30 year old hand made tree. Very narrow, very steep angle, very round crown all the way down the bars This tree is probably from the 80's - 1980's that is... It would be the "4 x 90" that fit well on most working ranch horses then (not so much now depending on the area of the country) and would probably be somewhere in the "semi-quarter horse" range of today - though you really can't compare between makers... You can see how much wider it is in bar spread and how much flatter the bar angle is, not to mention the increase in bar surface area due to increase in bar width. Horses today have that much more surface area to put bars on because, on the whole, they are that much larger an animal than they were 130 years ago. Although I hate to do it... Here is a comparison between those two and a modern "flex tree" that we duplicated (replaced the tree in the old leather) so they would have a saddle that didn't sore their horses. Anyway, this is a very wide tree, but it isn't uncommon for what is being sold out there these days. A lot of trees, we feel, are being made too wide (the pendulum swings...) but again, you can see the difference in bar spread between the flex tree and the 30 year old tree. You can tell your wife that they do make good living room ornaments though. This one had a fair amount of amateur work put into it a few years ago (25 to 30?) and was ridden, but was too small for both horses and anyone older than about 13 years old, so now it sits and I dust it on the odd occasion. Hope this helps!
  23. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Making

    This is true for production trees where the bars are replicated by duplicating machines of various sorts (though even production companies often have a longer bar length for extra long seats). This is not true for real hand made trees where the bars are made individually for each tree. Most hand made makers (ourselves included) keep the same distance in front of the fork cut and behind the cantle cut on the bar and vary the distance between them, meaning that the bar length changes depending on the seat size desired. Of course you hit a maximum length after which you interfere with the horse and then there are tricks we can play with angles cut on bars and cantle that help keep the bar length shorter while still giving room for the rider while keeping him more central on the bars, or moving the fork forward on the bars, etc.. Only when we hit the end with all our tricks do we have to resort to moving the cantle back on the bars themselves. You also have to remember that pressure (weight divided by surface area) along a time continuum are what is important. Lots of weight can push the limit on the time a large person can safely ride, even with as much surface area as possible, and they need to be aware of that. So yes, making trees and saddles for larger riders means things have to be that much more carefully built so as to not harm the horses. The market for such saddles is also a small percentage of the main market. Both reasons are proabaly why the bigger companies don't cater to it. There may very well be a niche market there that is open for someone to take advantage of, but a good understanding of how saddles work on horses and what is needed to keep them comfortable would be a must if you aren't going to have unhappy customers with sore horses. As to your question, there are a lot of saddle makers who have had no official training. There are more good resources available now than there probably ever have been. Check out the pinned topics at the top of the Saddle Trade Resources section in this forum. You sound like you have a good idea of what you want to do and why, and there's no harm in trying!
  24. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Fit Frustrations

    Just thought we would comment on this thread since it has come up again. Anne did get the DL system and sent us pictures and the measurements. The tree we have made for her is the same fit as two of our own saddles - built in the late 1980's and in 1990. It is 3 3/4" at the hand hole and 90 degree angle with moderate amount of crown to the bars. This was the "typical western Canadian ranch horse" fit 25 years ago. When Rod started building in 1996, he soon learned that 4 x 90 was better for the ranch horses around then, and now almost half the trees we build are wider and/or flatter than that. Everyone recognizes that the "average" horse has changed since the early 1900's, but it intersting to see in our stats the changes in proportions of horse shapes even in the last 16 years or so. Since large companies build for what is the most common "size" of horse, it is no wonder that most of what is available is too wide and flat for this horse. But this horse is pretty typical of what used to be a very common back shape - and a good shape of back to easily hold a saddle. By the way, since my (Denise) saddle is my engagement ring/wedding present from Rod, it isn't going anywhere, and it is pretty hard to buy a horse to fit it these days!
  25. Rod and Denise Nikkel

    Saddle Tree Blog

    Curtis, Building saddle trees is part art, part science - like doing brain surgery while tap dancing??? No, it's not that difficult. I'm sure figuring it out from scratch can be done - after all, it has been done before - but it would be a very, very long process. We are still expanding our repertoire of angles and options (and every change takes time to figure out) and we started with good teaching and a lot of information, and have added substantially to that over the years already. Have we heard of people trying it on their own? Yes. Do we know of anyone succeeding? No, but that doesn't mean they haven't (though we are currently building a tree for an engineer who gave it his best shot on his own first...) Not trying to totally discourage you (after all, this isn't rocket science) but we are being realistic. However, you asked for a logical approach, so here goes a list of things to think about and research: Function - what do you want to be able to do with these trees - rope (think about strength here), style of riding (all day riding versus specific arena events play a part in the design you choose). Basic question to answer being, "What kind of tree do I want to build, to start with anyway?" Materials - you want a wood/rawhide tree. What kind of wood will give you strength where you want it, not be overly heavy, and have the right characteristics to be able to work with the tools and equipment you have and also be available to you. Being in Texas you have close access to Tejas Industries to purchase wet rawhide and rawhide lace, so that is a plus - unless you want to make your own rawhide too. (We hear they did a segment on that on Dirty Jobs...) Looks - what style of fork shape do you like the look of? cantle? horn - wood or metal and go from there regarding shape Philosophy of fit - how do you want a tree to fit a horse? There are lots of different answers to that question - probably about as many as the number of people answering it, or more... Knowing what you are aiming for is vital if you want to make a saddle that really works on a horse's back. After you know what you are wanting to do to fit a horse, what body type of horses are you trying to fit? And how are you going to make the bars to get the shape you want? Then - how are you going to connect the fork and cantle to the bars to keep the bars in the correct place on the horse's back? The fork at the angle you want it relative to the bars? The cantle at the angle you want it relative to the bars? (I'm talking angles of cuts here, not staples versus nails versus screws - though that is worth considering too.) This is where a lot of the science comes in, though practically it has been worked out through trial and error rather than mathematics - at least up to the last few years were computers might make it feasible. This is where you may want to start and get this figured out before you put a lot of work into shaping your parts, because if this is wrong, you just made fancy shaped firewood... Like I say, I'm trying to give you a realistic, logical approach to start figuring out what doing this would entail. You check out the Building a Tree section on our website to see a bunch of pictures of how we build trees, if that will help you. http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/index.php/building-a-saddle-tree/ Have fun!