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About EdOdgers

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    Southwest Wisconsin

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    all things related to saddle making
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  1. I agree completely. I've noted that a lot of makers omit this, particularly on carved or stamped saddles. On working saddles I still do the double row of stitching 3/16" to 1/4" apart. What I'm now doing on the saddles with stamped or carved skirts is to put that extra row of stitching to hold the plug up under the edge of the jockey so that it is hidden. Since I often scribe the perimeter of the jockeys about 1 3/4" in from the skirt's edge, this usually puts the stitch row for the plug about 2 1/4" from the skirt edge. The single stitch line for the sheepskin makes for a cleaner look on fancier saddles and allows for more room on the narrow skirt margin for tooling. On skirt rigged saddles, my rig panel covers the bars behind the cantle and the same stitch line that attaches the rig panel to the skirt also goes through the plug.
  2. A final comment on plugs. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I want the combined thickness of the skirt and plug be about 21/22 ounces. Since all of your skirting is 13/15 ounce, you could end up with 26 to 30 ounce total thickness. That will be too much so you'll want to split down your plugs. Since I presume you don't have a splitter, you can use a very sharp spoke shave to thin down the rough cut pieces of skirting. I used this method for many years before I had a large splitter. It takes a little bit of time and skill but it's not that bad. Furthermore, it's a good skill to have that can be useful to even-up a piece of leather for a cantle back or fork cover that is thicker on one side than the other. I routinely use a variety of spoke shaves for leveling, skiving, and carving my ground seats. The photo below shows the spoke shave I use for leveling large areas. It's a Stanley and is the largest shave I use. It can be readily found at a good hardware or woodworking supply store. The blade has pretty good steel, which you won't find in some cheaper knock-offs.
  3. More on the skirt plug questions. Here are photos of plugs being prepared (skived and fitted) and the final product on a skirt rigged saddle. Note that the installed plugs have been trimmed using the skirt perimeter as a guide. When first glued on, they extended past the skirt edge by about 1/2". Also, because this is a skirt rig and the rig panel is attached to the skirt, no plug is needed from the rear rig forward since this area is already two layers thick. In the area where the rear rig slot will be cut (two punch holes in photo) there are three layers for strength and stiffness: skirt + rig panel + plug. If this saddle were a flat-plate or ring rigged saddle, the plugs would go from the gullet to the back of the cantle. In that case, I would make the plugs from two pieces for each skrirt and splice them under the riders leg with a lap-skive. I would also thin the plugs there for closer contact.
  4. Here's a photo to accompany the above comment on fasteners.
  5. I should add to the above comment that when stretching in a seat, I use a spreader stick to widen the pull of the draw down strap and avoid pulling the seat flaps excessively inward early in the shaping process. If that's not clear, I can take a photo in the next few days when I stretch in the seat on the pictured saddle.
  6. I use two different draw down straps. For general construction purposes I use a simple, straight one (shown on the saddle in the pic below). The other is used exclusively for stretching in seats. I'm very careful with the latter strap and don't want any nicks, glue or gouges on it. I try to keep it pristine so that it doesn't mar or scratch a smooth-out or tooled saddle seat during stretch-in. It's also wider so I can run my rub-stick over it with less risk of rubbing on the edge which could cause a hard to remove crease on the seat. The "seat strap" shown below is 8" wide at its widest, and 36" long.
  7. This is a great time to learn saddle making. There are a lot of resources available and folks are willing to help. It wasn't that way 25+ years ago. Try to find a mentor that does quality work and is willing to answer your questions, give you honest feedback, and help you work out problems. You mentioned that you watched the Watt DVD. If you don't already own it, you'll probably want to invest in it or one of the other good DVDs by Mecum, Schwarz, Harwood, etc. You'll need to review and revisit the videos many, many times as you work through your first few saddles. Plan to attend the Rocky Mountain Leather Show in Sheridan, WY next May and take all of the workshops that interest you. You'll also be able to shop for hard to find tools and materials there and meet saddle makers and leather-workers of every skill level from all over the world. Every few years TCA has a saddle workshop in Oklahoma City that shouldn't be missed. To learn about trees, study the wealth of posts on Rod and Denise Nikkel's website and buy their DVD. It's well worth your time and money. As far as tools go, that could be a long, long discussion. Buy quality tools. Invest in sharpening equipment/materials and develop the skills to keep your tools SHARP. One very important tool that is often overlooked is your draw-down stand. Spend the time to make a good one. It needs to fit a tree the way the tree fits a horse. It's also important to have the tree sit level on the stand as if it were on a horse. Choose a style of saddle that you admire most and find the best examples by master makers. Study those examples carefully and try to emulate them successfully before striking out with your own style. That will emerge soon enough. Sketch your saddle designs in detail and list out all of the specifications. Get very good at the basics and building a high quality, good looking plain saddles before investing your time in learning the decoration (tooling, stamping). You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. Use the best materials you can get, especially the trees. You'll never build a saddle better than the tree. Get in the habit of objectively evaluating your work. Make a list of things you did well and those that need improvement after each saddle. Never utter the phrase "good enough." Finally, because there are a lot of resources and folks willing to help, it doesn't mean its all good. Pick your resources and mentors carefully. You can learn from everyone but often its what not to do. You've probably already figured that out when repairing tack-store saddles. Good luck and have fun.
  8. I use a wide variety of nails and screws but no blued tacks. Anything that stays in the saddle is stainless steel or triple coated. I use GRK brand triple coated cabinet screws, mostly 1" and 1 1/4" for final assembly and screwing down conchos, breast collar attachments, etc, etc, (Menards or other large home centers). The GRKs are slender, self tapping, super strong and have a good, flat head shape that holds leather and doesn't stick up too proud. Stainless, oval head screws with cup washers for attaching riggings (Weaver or a very complete hardware store). A variety of stainless ring-shank nails for strainer plates, horn cap filler, etc, etc (Hagel's Cowboay Gear). I use a lot of very thin wire nails for temporarily attaching and fitting parts and when blocking skirts to the tree (hardware store or home center). I like the thin, wire nails for temporary holding as they don't leave a big wound in the rawhide. I prefer to use a screw over a nail for most applications. If it needs to be a nail and it's going to stay in the saddle, it's got to be ring-shank. Lastly, I have an assortment of brass and stainless steel escutcheon pins (round headed nails) for decorative applications like stirrup linings and attaching the back flap of a fork cover that goes down through the hand-hole to the gullet (Weaver and other leather supply).
  9. Time and sunlight will continue to darken saddles if you want it or not. I've found that the oil & sun method detailed above by JHayek works even better if you use olive oil. Regardless of the oil used, it may not darken as much as you want. For darker color you can add an oil soluble dye to neatsfoot or olive oil. I think I've purchased mine from Weaver. When using oil/dye mixture, start out easy and don't use any dye with the initial oiling or it's likely to be uneven. Another option is to use dyed skirting. I use Herman and Wicket and both offer a variety of colors and shades. The downside to going this route is that you have a whole lot of scraps of various colors that are hard to utilize. To minimize uneven oil and the blotchy appearance, I like to oil before the saddle completely dries after washing/cleaning and is still fairly moist. The moist leather won't suck up the oil as aggressively upon contact. It will penetrate but more slowly as the moisture evaporates. Prevents over-oiling as well. Unless I've been lucky enough to keep the saddle parts pristine, I too like to use a weak solution of oxalic acid to spruce it up before oiling. Works wonders.
  10. Great photos! I'm a western saddle guy but appreciate seeing the process and craftsmanship that goes into the other half. Thanks.
  11. I'm in agreement with Ken, Bruce and others. Superior are my go-to buckles. Most riders like them once they understand how to use them. Less mechanically minded folks might get confused and prefer the familiarity and simplicity of the Blevins. Choice is good. Another small plus is that they save a couple of ounces in weight compared to Blevins. I only use the longer post models and sometimes wish they were a bit longer (for leathers over 13 ounces, you can't add a reinforcing strip). One minor complaint is that the grooves cut in the posts for the clips are a bit sharp and tend to grab the sides of the holes punched in the leathers, sometimes making the posts hard to pull out for adjusting. To alleviate this, I soften the edges of the grooves with emery paper and also burnish the holes. Lately I've seen interest in the Farrow style buckles sold by Ron's or Sipp'n Glass. Super simple, compact, light and they don't mar or scrape your latigos. I like them but I've had some hard-riding users tell me that durability is an issue (not the hardware but the locking lace and leathers). ****An important caution to add: For Superior Buckles, I add 5/8" to the length of the stirrup leathers compared to Blevins. For the Farrow style I add 3 3/8" to the stirrup leathers and 2" to the leg of the fender.
  12. Definitely plug your skirts so they retain their shape. Plugs should extend to the bars and be skived to lap part way onto the bars to help retain the blocking or bedding. If your skirts are 13/15 ounce skirting you will want to split down your plugs. I like the total skirt/plug thickness to be 20 to 22 ounces, no more. I can't imagine wanting 30 ounce thick skirts, they would look and feel like they were cut out of plywood. Plug under the riders leg but skive it down to 1/2 thickness. Omitting the plugs there will be nice at first but turn sloppy soft after years of use. I generally don't make a saddle with heavy weight (13/15) skirting, though I like to have some around for stirrup leathers on a working saddle. Even for a hard-use saddle, I think medium (12/14) makes an ideal thickness for the fenders and seat and even lighter skirting will be fine for jockeys, cantle backs, skirt plugs, etc. With rare exceptions, my saddles are now made entirely with medium and light skirting. Remember, most of the leather's strength is in the dermal side (hair side) and doubling the thickness doesn't double the strength. That said, thicker leather retains its body or stiffness longer and some riders prefer that to lighter weight. I always order a mix of skirting thickness. When ordering 10 sides of Hermann Oak I usually get a mix of medium (12/14) and light (11/12) along with one side of heavy. For lightweight saddles I will use the 11/12 skirting sides for everything except the stirrup leathers. This makes a nice saddle that is 32 to 36 pounds and still durable enough for most folks. Six cord linen for saddles. No need to go to 5 with the exception of fine work for bridles etc. There are also some nice polys available for hand stitching. Check out Gordon Andrus for techniques and thread. I don't recommend many of the methods in the Dusty Johnson book and especially don't like the ground-seat procedure and end product. There are much better resources available for learning saddle making than the Johnson and Stohlman books. Consider the excellent videos by Mecum, Watt, Harwood, and Schwarz.
  13. Leather not metal. Metal will be noisy and wear out. Use good skirting, case it well befor folding. If this is to be a pair of rings for a breeching, screw to tree bars and have jockeys cover all but the ring and fold of leather. That way you can lift the ring up to feed in the strap. If for a crupper, incorporate ring into frog and screw the tab into the bottom of the cantle gullet.
  14. I didn't want to come right out and say it but I agree with BigSioux. Your saddle can never be any better than the tree. That and the fact that I'm going to spend up to 100 hours to finish a saddle, compels me to use the best trees I can. That said, I don't know your skill level, expectations, budget, etc. so it's your call. The information about the symmetry of the tree isn't conclusive to determine if it needs to be rejected from that standpoint. The 1/8" of rocking is about as much as I would accept, given that variations in the thickness of rawhide could cause nearly that much. As far as the square and center measurements you gave, I don't think your methods are going to accurately conclude that the tree is or is not square. I don't recommend establishing center-line and reference points by standing the tree on either end. Because the distance between the bar tips is so short (about 1/3) compared to the length of the tree, the slightest variation at the bar tip will throw the tree out of vertical in an exaggerated way. The tree maker might have sanded one bar tip a bit more or maybe the rawhide thickness as it is gathered and folded across the edge is varied. Either or both of these could make an otherwise good tree appear to be off by a fair bit. I think there are better, more accurate ways to evaluate and lay out a tree that doesn't rely on standing it on end. It's pretty difficult to describe in writing how to lay out a tree but I start with the tree laying on a flat surface (I use a piece of thick plat glass 24" X 24") then have two hardwood 3/4" X 3/4" X 24" sticks flanking the bars on each side. With two machinist's or tri-squares, one on each side and a steel ruler between, I establish center-line at the cantle, horn cap, fork. I place tape across the bar-gap and mark the center-line behind the cantle and at the stirrup leathers. At this point I use a laser to mark symmetrical locations for rigging and stirrup slots. Before the laser I used a large dividers and a carpenters square (just as accurate just slower). You might get the idea. If not, I'll take a few photos with the next tree I lay out.
  15. Its imperative to maintain clearance over the spine for both horses and mules, no exceptions. Design and construction principles won't vary between a mule and horse saddle. The spinal process (ridge of bone extending vertically) of each vertebrae is not covered by muscle and is very near the surface along the top-line, making it vulnerable to injury. That's why our saddle trees have a gullet under the fork and the bars are spaced about 3" apart. That clearance should continue under the cantle where there is another "gullet" or arched area to create clearance. Skirts should be "blocked" or "bedded" to the tree bars such that the skirts are molded away and don't apply pressure to the horses back. When blocking skirts, you'll need to mold the skirts up into the gullet under the cantle and continue that arch to rearward to the bar tips. In addition to proper blocking, the angle of the cut on the skirts where they come together behind the cantle needs to cause the joined skirts to flare upward, continuing the angle of the bar. When cinched down, you should be able to slip your hand under the skirts behind the cantle fairly easily until the bars are encountered. Beyond the bars, the skirts shouldn't apply pressure to the back, period. Thus the saying "ride the tree, not the skirts" is important for saddle makers to adhere to. If the saddle maker hasn't molded the skirts to maintain that arched tunnel under the cantle and behind it, or if the skirts aren't cut properly to angle up up away from the horse behind the cantle, there will be pressure and friction that may sore a horse or mule in the loin area. This is a fairly common but easily avoided problem. Lacing the skirts together can add to the problem by not allowing the skirts to flex away from the horse. Also, the added thickness of the lace can cause a pressure point. All this is avoidable with proper blocking and the proper angle on the skirts where they join. The problem is caused by improper construction, not just the lacing. A properly built saddle can have the skirts laced together and maintain good clearance. That said, lacing the skirts together is not essential and could be eliminated if you made other provisions to secure the skirts to the tree. My practice is to install two screws through the skirt edges and up into the gullet of the cantle. This helps secure the skirts and ensures that the arch I molded into the skirts is maintained. I normally lace the skirts together behind the cantle but haven't always. I usually don't lace past the bar tips and not so far back as to be visible from under the jockeys. Leaving the last few inches of the skirts unlaced allows the skirts to flex away from the horse if the saddle happened to be used on a horse with unusually prominent muscles on their croup. Occasionally I have laced all the way to the back of the skirts as a design feature. This shouldn't cause any pressure or problem if you have designed ample upward flare to the back of the skirts. If you don't lace the skirts together, I suggest the previously mentioned screws into the gullet of the cantle and stitching pockets onto the topside of the skirts to slip the bar tips into.
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