Components of a Saddle Tree

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Many people know that the frame that a saddle is built on is called a “saddle tree,” but they are usually vague on exactly what a saddle tree consists of.  In this post I will discuss the components that come together to make up a saddle tree.

All quality saddle trees are made out of wood… usually a type of pine wood, but many of the high end custom tree makers have their preferred types of wood for different parts of the tree.  I am not, by any means, a tree maker so I will not get into the science behind this.  If you are interested in a very in depth look into the custom tree making world, I highly recommend visiting Rod Nikkel’s Blog.  I do not know Rod personally, and have not used any of his trees yet, but I have followed some of his work for years and thoroughly enjoy his blog for information about fitting, tree construction and much more.

What I want to discuss in this post is the basic components of the tree so that you can see wants under all that leather that makes up your saddle.  The photo above is of a tree sample we had sent to us in what we call “in the wood,” which means it hasn’t been covered with fiberglass or rawhide yet.  We had these samples sent to us for inspection on some new styles we are working on.

  • As you can see from the photo, the tree is not carved from one big chunk of wood.  Instead it is made up of five different parts:

 

  • Horn
  • Swells or Front
  • Cantle
  • Two Bars

 

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The majority of saddles today have a metal horn that is mounted to the swells using screws or bolts.  After the horn is installed the area around the horn is filled with bondo or a filler to make this area smooth and level during the covering of the tree.

The swells or the front, is cut from one piece of wood and this is the part of the tree that determines the style of the saddle.  This photo shows a TM front which would make it a competitive roping saddle.  Many custom tree makers will laminate there fronts from multiple pieces of quality woods and also using a high quality piece of cabinet grade plywood to add strength to the front.

On many trees that have a “wood post” horn, the horn and front are one piece.  This style of tree does not have a metal saddle horn bolted into the front.  The horn and front being cut from one stock of wood makes this style the strongest style available and is seen in many Wade style saddles.

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The cantle of the saddle tree is much like the front in that it can be cut from one stock of wood, or in the case of high end custom makers, will be laminated with multiple pieces for strength.  Cantles have many different styles, angles and heights.  These are usually set to the specs of the customer and can be changed to suit different needs.

The cantle is also the portion of the tree that sets the seat size.  The cantle gullet, or tunnel, is important in saddle fit as it sets the width of the space between the two bars.  Along with the hand hole gullet, gullet width and bar spread measurements, the overall fit of the final saddle can be adjusted and made to specs for a particular horse.

 

 

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Every saddle tree has two bars and this is area of a saddle that is most important when dealing with saddle fit.  There are many different styles of bars out there but the majority of quality saddles use an Arizona style bar or some variation of that.  An Arizona bar has the best rock, flare and twist of most bar styles and the bar pads are nice and large for more surface area contact.

The discussion around bars can go on for days and everyone has their own opinion of the best bars.  I will wait to dive deeper into this topic on later post.  The main take away here is the parts that make up a tree.

 

 

Although the wood that makes up a tree and the way each individual piece is assembled are important to the overall strength of a tree, the material used to cover the tree is actually what gives it its ultimate strength.  The two most popular materials used to cover trees are rawhide or fiberglass.  I will get into the pros and cons of these two materials in a future post.

If you would like to dive deeper into the tree making process, I suggest visiting Rod Nikkel’s website.  He has done a great job of breaking down the science and art behind this process.

 

 

 

 

My Antiquing Process

So your belt is tooled, dyed, painted and oiled.  Now all we have to do is antique it and we are ready to line and stitch it!  This is the point at which many craftsmen new to leatherwork will make a few mistakes.  I hope that my process helps you to clear up this step.  You certainly do not have to antique your belt but I feel like the antique really helps to make the tooling stand out and gives added tone and depth.

The first thing that most people new to leatherwork miss is that the belt must be sealed with a resist before applying the antique.  Whether you are using the paste antique or the gel, a barrier is needed so that the overall color and tone of the belt is not changed.  The antique is not meant to change the color of the leather, its main purpose is to fill any cuts, impressions, and background texture to highlight and shadow the depth of the tooling.  This is why I get the final color of the belt with oil before this step; because once the belt is sealed I can’t get oil into the leather if I want it darker.

The resist I use, or sealer, is Feibings’ Tan-Kote Finish.  This finish is not a lacquer finish like NeatLac or WyoSheen, which would lift a lot of any paint work off the belt.  If you are finishing a belt that doesn’t have any paint applied then these finishes are great to use.  But if the belt has a lot of paint then it’s best to stay away from these finishes and use the Tan-Kote.  I apply a liberal amount of Tan-Kote on the belt and work to make sure it’s even and doesn’t have streaks.  Now I let this dry really well, at least an hour or so.

Once the finish is dry, the belt is ready for the antique to be applied.  I use square pads cut from scrap sheepskin to apply all my finishes… keep a pile of these cut so they are ready for any finishing task.  I use the Feibings Antique Paste, and the color I prefer is the Dark Brown.  They make a few different colors and they are all fantastic but the dark brown is my go to color for the look I prefer on my products.  You can put a dollop of paste on a small square of plywood which allows you to wipe up as little or as much paste as you need with the sheepskin square during application.  You want to apply the paste liberally to the belt and work it into the tooling in circular motions to be sure and get it into all the cracks and crevices being sure to not leave any areas missed by the antique.  Do this to the entire belt.  It will appear to onlookers that you have gone mad and you are ruining a perfectly good belt, but stay calm and keep working it around.  Here is where differences vary, some say to leave it for a few minutes before cleaning… I say once you’re sure that it’s worked in well, then take a clean pad and begin wiping the excess paste off the belt.  The goal here is to attempt to get as much of the paste off the belt as possible.  You want to be somewhat gentle as to not burnish the grain of the leather but you want to clean it well with clean pads until you’re satisfied that you got it all.  All that should be left is what is down in bevel lines, background texture, decorative cuts, etc.

My final step is to take a magic towel (This is a towel that is used to wipe hands after oiling, antiquing, cleaning machines, wiping knives after sharpening, spilling coffee, etc.) or any soft hand towel, and gently buff the belt to further polish any residual antique and revive any lost luster from the resist coat of finish.  Don’t go crazy here, as previously mentioned, we don’t want to burnish the grain of the leather but we do want it clean of excess antique.

Now turn the belt over and look at the back… see that mess?  If you would have lined the belt before the finish steps, then your belt liner would look like that… I don’t care how clean you think you can be, antique takes no prisoners.

This post is an excerpt from out eBooklet “Custom Belt Design and Layout” we posted a couple of weeks ago.  We will soon have more of these eBooklets available walking you through the step and processes I use in the shop in creating our custom pieces.  If you are interested in purchasing this eBooklet then click the link below and download a PDF copy today!

Custom Belt eBooklet $5 Download
Custom Belt eBooklet
$5 Download

*I apologize for the lack of photos in this post… fast and furious this morning and Freddy is cracking the whip!  I will try and snag some pics during my day and post them in a followup post!  

Basic Floral Layout on a Wallet

The first thing I do is find my center of the wallet where it will fold.  To allow room for the fold I make a mark 1/2″ on each side of center.  I do that on each edge of the wallet, so you should have four marks.


Now I draw a line connecting the marks to define the fold area… I don’t usually tool the fold on my wallets.  Next I set calipers to the width that I want my border and scribe my border lines.  You should end up with two tooling windows ready for design.

 If I’m  putting initials on the wallet I draw these in first.


Here I have placed a flower next to the initials which will seperate the initials from the floral nicely.  Next I draw in some scroll guidelines roughly to determine the flow I want within the pattern.


Now I begin to define my scrolls and vine work using my previous lines as a guide for flow.


I didn’t like how the flow was layed in at first so I just simply erase the two lines I don’t like.  Using the 8B pencil allows me to erase and leaves no impression of the lines behind.

I decided to fill some space with a leaf. When you add leaves and flowers into the pattern, keep the flow in mind so that it bends and shapes accordingly.


As you can see the leaf took a lot of the open space and the gaps can easily be filled now with scroll and vine work.  For the most part, the original flow I sketched in is maintained.  The only thing I really changed was using the leaf to balance the pattern a little.

Let us know what you think about this or any other post on our site by following us on facebook, Instagram or twitter.  Thanks and keep drawing!

My Leather Floral Tooling Process

When it comes to actually stamping out the floral design, every leather tooler is different in their approach.  To me, the main thing that sets a productive tooler apart from the competition is all in their process.  As with any goal or project, the main thing to focus on is devising a plan and executing the plan with great focus and uninturupted deligence.  This is almost impossible if you are taking time to decide which tool to use next, or worse yet trying to find the tool you need next.  I am a firm believer that any task or project involves a certain set of rules and a certain workflow that, once decided upon and followed, lead to high productivity and a cleaner product when completed.  Each and every product has a certain workflow that works best for the environment and the craftsman making the product.  The following is the workflow that I use when tooling the majority of my patterns.

When I begin any floral tooling job, and once my artwork is designed and carved in, I begin with under cutting all small curves within the pattern.  I make it a point, anytime I pick up a tool, to go through the entire pattern performing that tool’s task anywhere I can before putting it down and grabbing another tool. This rule holds true no matter the size of the tooling pattern.  If you will get into this habit then your overall tooling time will decrease greatly.  A lot of time is wasted switching tools or like i said before… searching for the tool you need.  If you have it in your hand, do all you can with it before moving to the next one.  Tooling is about focus, and staying focused on the tasks lead to a completed piece of art.

With under cutting, I recommend having a small, medium and large in order to be able to take care of virtually any size tight curve.  Undercuts are great and keep you from trying to fit a square beveler into a curved line.  I work my way up from small to large when it comes to tool order when undercutting.

After all the undercutting is completed, I move to my crowners.  This is not a tool that is mandatory, but I find them to be a great time saver and they keep my scalloped rounded and clean.  These work much better than beveling around them with a tiny beveler.  These are a one tap tool for the most part and I keep a small and large, these two sizes will handle most any scallop that I need.  I will also use the large one on the tips of any vinework that has its tips exposed and not under a border or other vine.

When all this is complete, I now move on to my beveling.  I use a small, medium and large checkered beveler and I run them from large to small.  I first bevel all the long lines with my largest beveler going through the pattern to bevel as much as I can with this tool.  Don’t force this tool into spots!  If the tool is too big for the line you are trying to bevel then skip it… We will have a chance to bevel that after we are done with all the long lines.  This will be the longest spot in the tooling process depending on the pattern.  This is where time is made because you have one tool to focus on and your running through line by line without regard for what you can’t bevel with this tool… just stay focused and bevel long lines.

Now all the long lines are beveled and you are ready to grab the medium beveler and proceed to working on any lines that were too small for the large beveler.  Same rule applies here, if it won’t fit skip it and wait till you have the small beveler in your hand.  This step goes much faster as you have already beveled the majority of the lines in the last step.  After completing this, I take my small beveler and clean up any small spots I couldn’t get before with the other two bevelers.

The next tool you will use is your bargrounders or whatever background tool you choose to use.  At this point all the lines should be beveled, making the background easy to determine.

When all the backgrounding is completed, now I use my thumbprint on all my flowers, leaves, and vinework.  This is where the detail work begins within the pattern.  The tools you use here is completely up to you.  The point is that now is where your pattern will start to take shape.  I also use my leaf liner where needed at this point.

After thumbprinting, or pear shading, you are ready for any fine detail stamping.  This step depends a lot on the style of the pattern that you are tooling.  Below is an example of the accent tools I selected for this pattern but you can incorporate any tools you like for this phase.  Take your time here and have fun… this is the decorative stage.

When you are satisfied with your stamping work within the pattern, now is the time to embelish with the final decorative cuts using your swivel knife.  Again, this is decorative so have fun and use this oppurtunity to work on your swivel knife mechanics.  Decorative knife cuts are the best training for overall proficiency in using the swivel knife.

Once the decorative cuts are completed the pattern is complete.  At this point, I will sometimes go back and undercut the pattern again just to relift the petals of leaves and flowers.  This step is optional and completely up to you and the final pattern.  If it looks good, leave it.

As I mentioned before, this is my process for tooling and yours may be different.  The main point to focus on is that in order to become more efficient in your stamping while maintaining quality you must have a system that you can work from no matter the pattern.  Tooling is like a dance and as long as you can go from one tool to the next smoothly, you will become faster and faster per piece.

 

Spacing holes quickly!

When it comes to punching holes for headstalls, tie straps, billets, or any other strap good you may be making, how do you layout your hole spacing?  Most people get the tap measure out and measure and mark each hole so they will be perfectly placed appropriately.  This is a fine way to do it if complete accuracy is mandatory.  If you are more focused on productive use of your time than perfection of hole spacing, try this method for both time and accuracy!

For the first hole use three fingers as your spacing from the tip to place your first hole.  On tie straps, I usually do a full hand width.

After making the first hole, I will use one finger width as my spacing for the rest of the holes.

Place your finger just past the first hole and use your finger as a guide for placement of the next hole.  Continue this for for each hole after.  On tie straps I use four fingers as my spacing.

This is a great time saver and unless you loose a finger in the middle of this,  your holes should be perfectly spaced.

How to measure for a custom belt.

One of the biggest issues involved in making a custom belt is getting the belt blank cut to the right length.  Everyone has their own way of coming up with that measurement, but this is how I go about it.

“How do I figure out how long to cut the belt based on the belt size the customer gives me?”

First, I don’t accept a pant size or a marked size off the belt they wear.  This leaves too much to chance and more times than not will leave you remaking a belt.  The belt they are wearing may be a 36” but they may be wearing it in the tightest hole.  This would mean, depending on the hole spacing and number of holes on the belt, that they are probably closer to a 34”.

For all my customers, I make them measure the belt they wear currently.  This is important!  Not a belt they use to wear or one their husband wore in high school, but a belt they wear now.  Many a wife has been trying to surprise hubby for an anniversary and snags a belt out of his closet and brings it to me to measure and he hasn’t worn that belt in 15 years.  Now, in her eyes he is still the slim waisted stud he was then, but based on the fact that his new belt I made him didn’t fit, Mr. Stud put on a bit of post marital mass.  Keep your remakes to a minimum and demand a good measurement period.

How do we get a good measurement?  I measure, whether me doing it or letting them do it, from the bend to the hole they wear the belt in with the buckle style they will use.  Let’s define some key terms:

  • Bend: The point where the belt bends around the buckle hanger and snaps closed.  This does not include the flap that folds behind the belt.
  • “The hole they wear it in”: This doesn’t matter if it’s the tightest hole, loosest hole, or a hole they added in the belt.  Whatever hole they wear it in.
  • Buckle style: This is important because a trophy buckle will demand a shorter belt than a small ranger style buckle.  It does not have to be “the” buckle so long as it is of similar style.  All buckles are a little different but the style is the main thing here.  Trophy buckle or ranger style.

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Once you have stripped the belt blank off the blocked side in the width you want for the belt, you need to cut it for the customer’s size.  I figure this by adding 10.5” to the measurement from their belt.  So if they gave me a 34” measurement then I would cut their blank 44.5”.  The 10.5” comes from 3.5” for the flap that folds back at the bend and then 7” from the center hole to the tip.  If you want more tip to hang out past the buckle then you can make the tip measurement 8”… if you do this you would add 11.5” to their measurement instead of 10.5”.

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I have used this technique for many years and aside from a bad measurement here and there I have had very few problems and my fit is good every time.  This becomes very important when putting names in the back of belts or making tapered belts and keeping things centered and balanced.

For more information on making and designing custom belts follow the link below to purchase our new eBooklet!  This booklet touches on topics from sizing to finishing a custom belt.

Custom Belt eBooklet $5 Download
Custom Belt eBooklet
$5 Download

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Free patterns and patterns available for purchase, visit our Leather Tooling Patterns page often.  We are adding to this page as fast as we can!

Transferring a Logo To Leather

Are you having trouble transferring A logo to leather for a project?  I get a lot of request to incorporate logos and images into my artwork and it’s important that I not use any artistic license to change the image at all.  To keep from doing this and keeping the logo true to form, I just simply trace the image.

But how do you trace a photo if you don’t have a copy machine to resize the image and a light box in order to trace it for transfer?

If you have an iPad/iPhone it’s really simple.

  Pull up the image and zoom in or out till the image is the size you want it.

  Lay tracing paper over the screen and trace the image with a pencil.  An iPad makes a really nice light box… Just be careful to not touch the screen with your fingers or the image will move.

  Now you have the image traced in the size you need for your project.  Transfer this to your leather and touch up any wobbly lines and you are ready to carve and tool.

  

I hope this helps but remember…. You still have to tool it!  Thanks and if you found this helpful send me an email!  

Drawing a Flower

I have had a lot of questions lately about how I draw my flowers for my floral designs.  This is a quick example of how I go about constructing any flower I may want to incorporate into my designs.

  

 

 The first thing I do is draw a small circle for my flower center.  Once that is drawn in the area that will be the center of my flower I then decide on the number of petals this flower will have.  Here we are drawing a five petal flower which I represent with just simple rounded shapes sketched in very lightly, just to show their placement and size.

  

Now that we have the center of the flower and the basic petals sketched in, I determine what the petals will look like and draw that design within my petal guidelines.  Here we are drawing a very simple scalloped petal.

  

As you can see in the last drawing, you are not limited with this method to just the traditional scalloped petal.  Knowing the basic size and placement of the petals first allows you to design virtually any kind of petal for the design you are working on.

This method works best for me in both speed and ability to design unique flowers.  Try this method and let me know what you think by sending me an email!  

Spring is Almost Here!!!!

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It’s March and we are still dealing with cold weather and many of us across the country are experiencing a fair amount of “winter mix” weather, but the fact is that winter is almost over and sunny days are soon to come.  With that, now is a great time to take a sunday afternoon and go through your tack room.  The majority of folks are fair weather horsemen and haven’t paid much attention to your saddle since before the holidays.

This is the time of year that our repair shop gets pretty busy and, depending on the repair, your normal wait on getting something fixed could be a couple weeks or better.  Now is a great time to go through your saddles and check key areas that may need attention before your right in the middle of the season and your saddle is in the shop.

 

 

Here are a few areas we suggest you check over for signs of potential repairs needed:

  • Check the stirrup leathers and buckles- your looking for signs of severe cracking or tearing around the adjustment holes where your buckles fasten.  Also check the buckles for corrosion around the posts and rivets… this can lead to the buckle breaking or pulling out during use.
  • Check the fenders/sweat leathers for damage- fender patches are our most common repair in the shop and we can usually patch most tears or damage on fenders without having to replace them.  The most common damage is found at the leg of the fender just before where the stirrup hangs.
  • Check the riggings – Whether you have inskirt rigs, flat plate, or a standard double dee rigging, you want to give it an overall look to make sure you don’t have any dry rot or stitches coming loose.  Check any rivets for corrosion and also give the hardware a look to make sure you don’t see any worn spots that could lead to breaking.
  • If you do a lot of roping out of your saddle normally, take a minute to check your tree for any breakage or movement that you may not have noticed before the offseason.  This is accomplished by standing your saddle up on its horn on a hard concrete surface and pushing the cantle downwards towards the horn.  If you notice more movement then usual then you may have a broke tree.  If you question this I suggest getting an opinion from someone who knows what they are looking for.  We offer this at no charge and can tell if its broke in a few minutes
  • Last and equally important is to check all your small straps and connections on all your gear.  Curb straps, girth connectors, latigos, off billets, tug straps, bit hangers, headstall ties, tiedown poll straps, etc.  All these little things are just plain annoying when they break… and they always break at the most annoying time.  Just give them a quick look.

Most repairs can be caught early, aside from a wreck or accident most things don’t get weak overnight… they have been neglected or used up overtime.  Taking this small step before you get back into the busy season can keep you out of the repair shop and from possibly getting hurt.

Oh and while your killing a sunday afternoon doing this, maybe spill some oil on your tack and saddles as well.  Good luck and if you have any questions send us and email!  Happy spring folks!