Cutting Ears on Custom Saddles

One of the most difficult steps in building custom saddles is fitting the saddle seat and cutting the ears.  In this post I will show you my trick for insuring that every saddle ear you cut will be perfect.  Whether you are a beginner or you are a seasoned veteran, this tip will take the fear out of tackling this step.  There are many different ways to accomplish this, but here is my process.

Things to keep in mind during the video:

  • Saddle seat leather is cased well and completely wet
  • Cantle plugs are already in place and cut for clearance of the housings (I usually want a finger distance between bottom of plug and tree bar where cantle meets bar)
  • Saddle seat leather has been cut to fit front and tacked in place around swell
  • Seat is pulled in place with draw down strap

Video of Cutting Seat Ears on Custom Saddles

Remember to take your time and don’t cut anything till you’re sure the line you drew is where you want it.  As you are cutting the line, push the seat back and look to make sure that you are going to have enough to fold over the cantle and that your ear won’t be too low or far away from your plug at the bottom.

If you do this properly, you should end up with plenty to fold over the cantle and have plenty of leather to create a beautiful seat ear for your seat concho.  

After this is done and your seat is tacked in place I leave the draw down strap in the seat and put weighted leather bags in the seat for it to dry for a couple days.  Once the drying stage is over then you can perform the final cut stage.  I will work on a video of this step soon to show you how I go about this step.

Thank you so much and I hope you found this video helpful.  Building custom saddles is fun but this step can cause some of us to pull our hair out so hopefully this will help you maintain your hairline.  Be sure to email me if you have any questions and subscribe to our youtube channel as well as our monthly newsletter for the latest in content to help you succeed in your goals as a leatherhead!

Tooling a Leather Wallet

For many of us that start in leather work, we start by making small leathergoods such as wallets, belts, and knife sheaths.  In this video I show you my process of tooling a leather wallet.  Everyone has a different approach to tooling floral design so keep in mind there are other ways of doing this.

Leather Supplies Needed

  • leather wallet blank
  • swivel knife
  • leather stamping tools
    • undercuts
    • bevelers
    • bargrounders or backgrounders
    • leaf liner
    • mules foot
    • seeder
    • flower center
    • thumbprints
  • leather wallet tooling pattern
  • spray bottle with water in it
  • solid workbench to work on with granite top
  • mallet or maul

Tooling a Leather Wallet Video



I hope you found this video on tooling a leather wallet helpful and are able to take some information and use it in your workshop.  I will work on doing a more in-depth video and article soon on my tooling process.  Thank you for the support and if you have any questions or have any ideas for tutorials you would like for me to do in the future shoot me an email and we will work on that.

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Fitting a Saddle Seat on Custom Saddles

Putting in a saddle seat when building custom saddles is a process that can be a little challenging even for a seasoned saddle maker.  In this video I show the process I use for getting the initial fit on a saddle seat during the build process.

Fitting Process for Seat on Custom Saddles

My seat pattern is not cut to fit so each one has to be fit to work on the tree I’m using at the time.  The pattern is basically a big piece of leather that is almost square with relief cuts made to start the process of fitting it around the swells of the tree.  Since this is the biggest piece of leather that is cut during the saddle building process, mistakes made here can get pretty expensive.  After the seat is cut out there is only around one half of the side of leather left so if a mistake is made in this step then another side of leather will be needed to complete the saddle.

Before the video started I already cut the seat out and cased it with water so that the entire seat is completely wet.  This allows the leather to be shaped and any stretch removed during the pulling in process.  This also allows for ease of cutting the area around the swells and the ears as well as the shaping of the dish.

In this video we are focusing mainly on the area around the swells and in a later video I will get into my process for cutting the ears.

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Slicking Leather Edges

Everyone has a different process when it comes to slicking leather edges on their leather projects.  There are always more than a few ways to skin a cat, but this is the process that I use and it works well for me.



The supplies needed for slicking leather edgesslicking leather edges


  • small can of water
  • small wool dauber
  • a fold of canvas
  • a piece of glycerine saddle soap
  • a wood slicking stick
  • an edger
  • a sanding block

Slicking Leather Edges Process

Sanding Leather Edgesslicking leather edges

The first step is to sand the edges of your project with the sanding block until it is smooth.
If you prefer you can use different grits of sandpaper to get the smoothest edge possible for slicking leather edges.  The smoother the sanded edge the better the final slicked edge will look at the end.



Using an Edger on Your Workslicking leather edges


Next you will edge both sides of the piece with the size edger that is best for the thickness of the project you are making.  Usually the thicker the leather is the bigger the edger you will want to use.  Play with different sizes to see which work best for you.




Wetting and Applying Saddle Soapslicking leather edges


Once you have sanded and edged the piece, then I take the wool dauber and dip it into my little can of water and apply water to the edge to moisten it  well.  Just wet a section of the edge that you can slick quickly… usually for me this is 12″ or so at a time.  If you get too far ahead of yourself the edge will dry before you slick it.

After getting the edge wet, then I use the piece of glycerine bar to apply a light coat of soap to the edge.  This will help the fibers of the leather to lay down easier and will speed up the slicking process greatly.  Don’t use too much soap in this step!  Too much soap will prevent a good hard edge and could stain the border of your piece if it runs up on the face of your work.


Burnishing The Leather Edgeslicking leather edges

Now that the soap is applied, use the piece of canvas to rub the edge of your work with firm back and forth motions until slick and shiny.  On thicker projects such as saddle skirts or horns I will use a wooden rub stick before the canvas to get a good smooth surface first.

The trick here is a lot of elbow grease.  The shiny hard edge is produced in the leather from pressure and heat applied by the canvas.  The water and the soap work to soften the fibers and allow them to lay down and then the friction of the canvas causes the heat that burnishes the edge fibers.


A Finished Leather Edgeslicking leather edges

Now when the edge is completed it will be shiny and slick which will help to prevent moisture from entering the edges of the piece.  When the edge is dry you can now apply dye or edge coat to change the color o
f your edges.

I hope this was helpful and if you have any questions on slicking leather edges or have any questions you would like for us to answer in future posts, please send us an email and we will work on that.  Thanks so
much and send us some photos of your work if you get a chance!



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Real Sheepskin or Synthetic?

One of the most expensive jobs in the repair shop is replacing your saddles sheepskin lining underneath the skirts.  This is labor intensive because we have to completely disassemble the saddle and remove the skirts from the tree.  This job can easily run upwards of $400 depending on whether  you go with the synthetic wool or the genuine sheepskin.

Sheepskin has been used underneath saddles for hundreds of years and only within the last 60 years or so has synthetic wool become more common.  The purpose of the wool under a saddle is to offer some cushion between the horse and the bars of the saddle while also aiding in slight fitting adjustments.  When the fibers become packed down and flat, sometimes this can change the fit of a saddle and replacing the sheepskin can restore the original fit.

These wool skins are not the only thing used under saddles.  Some very old saddles we have worked on in the shop had actual felt, much like a felt pad, sewn in place of the wool skin.  I have also experienced saddles come in with neoprene foam sewn to the skirts… Since this seemed to be done originally when the saddle was built, I have no other choice but to assume the person who decided this was a good idea must be clinically diagnosed as crazy.

In my opinion, there are only two materials acceptable when it comes to lining the skirts on a saddle.  Whether you choose the synthetic or genuine sheepskin, I feel like you will have less problems and you will be using a material that has proved itself worthy.

Real or genuine sheepskin is my choice most of the time.  But I do think that the synthetic material has its place among the manufactured saddles being produced.  There are definitely different views and opinions on this topic and I will discuss some of my pros and cons between the two.

Pros of Real Sheepskin

When it comes to genuine sheepskin the pros are pretty clear.  The supportive nature of it is notably better than the synthetic.  Even the best synthetic material cannot compare to the thick plush stack of fibers that real natural sheep wool provides.  This attribute is defined as the “pile” of the hide.  Higher quality hides will have a thicker pile to them.  The amount of pile that I look for is at least one inch.  This is important to offer the maximum amount of cushion and to prevent the breakdown and flattening of the fibers happening too quickly.

Another advantage of real wool is that it simply just looks better.  When it comes to a custom saddle or high quality manufactured saddle, nothing takes away from the overall appearance than synthetic wool under the skirts.  Genuine sheepskin just has a look of quality and value that sets a saddle off.

Cons of Real Sheepskin

There are some draw backs to real sheepskin but to me they don’t out way the pros.  If you have ever had a saddle with real wool under the skirts that is older, you may have noticed the hair falling out in clumps.  This can be caused by moths and certain mites that consume the lanolin from the hide over time and cause the hair to fall out.  This is just something that can happen with the real wool because it’s a natural product.  We normally only see this on saddles that were not being used much and were not store properly for long periods of time.

Another drawback to real sheepskin is that it is expensive.  It takes one full sheepskin hide to reline a saddle and each hide is considerably more expensive than the synthetic material.  The labor cost between the two isn’t affected but since the labor cost is expensive on its own, cost of material can greatly affect the final repair cost depending on your choice of real or synthetic.

Pros of Synthetic Wool

Obviously, the main advantage here is that synthetic is cheaper.  In our repair business the cost difference for the entire job is around $140 compared to real wool.  When we are consulting a customer on a saddle repair and the saddle is a manufactured saddle of moderate quality, we usually suggest the synthetic to save money.  Most of the time, the saddle we are looking at originally had synthetic wool so we are not affecting the overall value.

The biggest advantage is that you don’t have to worry about the hair falling out no matter the amount of use or where you store it.  Synthetic fiber isn’t prone to the moth or mites that plague genuine natural fibers.  This is great for saddles that get used on a minimal basis and are stored in a barn where they are not as climate controlled and secure.

Cons of Synthetic Wool

The biggest disadvantage of synthetic wool is the fact that it packs down much faster than its real counterpart.  The pile is not at all comparable to the real sheepskin and the density of the fibers offers much less support and cushion.  This material will usually pack in within the first year of riding a saddle and at that point all the support of the material is lost.

Another reason I don’t like the synthetic is the off color it has.  Some of the newer materials being made are closer to real sheepskin but the color isn’t the same.  Some people can’t tell the difference between the two and if it doesn’t bother you then roll with it.  For me though, I can pick it out a mile away and it just looks cheap.


So with this information, what should you choose?  I tell all my customers not to fret too much about it when it comes to relining a saddle.  The first thing to keep in mind is that these days the skirt lining is pretty much cosmetic.  Some will argue with me on this, but the fact is that we have some great padding options on the market today to offer support and cushion on our horse’s back.

A hundred years ago, the only option riders had for pads was wool blankets.  They would use a couple wool blankets under their saddles and the wool lining on their saddle was the main thing that offered the support and cushion between the bars of the saddle and the horses back.  This is why it was so important at that time to make sure the quality of the sheepskin and the amount of pile was good enough.

Today we have high quality wool felt pads and blankets that do a much better job of protecting our horses than even the best sheepskin lining can provide.  I tell most of my customers that as long as you are using good pads then the choice between the two is completely cosmetic.  I do suggest keeping things original though.  If it’s a high end custom saddle then I wouldn’t suggest saving a few bucks by using synthetic when it had real sheepskin when it was built.  This would hurt the overall value of the saddle.  And likewise, I wouldn’t suggest wasting the extra money putting real sheepskin on a manufactured saddle, the total repair cost could be more than the saddle is worth.

Though there are many more repair issues that deserve much more attention, this seems to be one of the most common concerns among our customers.  I hope this article helps to clarify some of the concerns out there on this issue.  Take some time and go through your barn to see what type of lining your favorite saddle has.  If you are worried about its condition or if you should replace it then give us a call and we can take a look at it.  But in general, keep good pads and you should be fine.


Saddle Pads and Padding

How many different types and brands of saddle pads or blankets have you bought in the last five years?

These days we have an overwhelming selection of different styles, materials, and promises amongst saddle pads and blankets that it is hard to make a choice.  The most asked question in our shop from customers is what kind of saddle pad they should be using.  This usually gets into a lengthy conversation on my saddle padding philosophy and so we will discuss some of the key areas and hopefully this will help to answer some of you questions on the right padding for your horse.

Gimmicks Saddle Pads vs Old School Pads

It is no surprise for some of you that know about us, that we are naturalist when it comes to horse gear.  I am not a fan of synthetic anything when it comes to horses.  I enjoy keeping things simple and staying with products and materials that have worked for horseman for centuries.  This does not mean that there aren’t some good modern products out there that can help to fix some of the problems among horse owners.

The main thing I want you to stay away from is wasting large amounts of money on the next “great thing”!  Every year someone tries to reinvent the wheel… or saddle pad in this case… by coming up with some new material that is going to revolutionize the western saddle pad industry.  Almost every time they are gone within a couple years and your tack room is now cluttered even more with yet another saddle pad that is worthless.

I am not going to personally attack any particular product here, but I want you to be aware that if a saddle pad claims to do away with all your fitting issues in one fail swoop then stay away from it.  I don’t care if it has shims that you can use to adjust for fitting every horse on the planet or that you can put M&M’s in the middle of it and hit it with a hammer and not hurt the M&M’s.  Use the skeptic’s mind and remember, “If it seems to good to be true, it is.”

Since I am a naturalist by nature,  I say stick with natural products first.  100% wool material has been used for saddle pads and blankets for centuries for a reason… IT WORKS!  A hundred and twenty years ago almost all clothing was made of wool.  Why is that?  Because it breathes.  No matter the weather conditions, it breathes and either keeps heat in for warmth or holds sweat in to help cool you down.  The saddle pads and blankets made out of wool work the same way.  As a horse sweats, the wool fibers wick this moisture to the surface to be cooled by the air which in turn cools your horse’s back.  Do you think that neoprene shim saddle pad is going to do that?

Another advantage to wool is that it can be cleaned.  Wool is easy to clean and air dried for use again and again.  This cleaning restores the breathing attributes of the saddle pad and allows it to function the way it should.

Life Span of Saddle Pads

Saddle Pads and blankets do not last forever.  Depending on your riding activity, a saddle pad’s life span may only be a couple years.  A day working cowboy who rides all day everyday may only have a saddle pad last for a year, this is the cost of doing business.  A weekend warrior may make a saddle pad last two to three years if it’s taken care of.

As saddle pads get used more and more the wool fibers break down and in the bar areas they can become packed and thin.  The edges of the saddle pad may appear thick and plush but where the bars of the saddle sit, it is too packed down and hard to offer any support.  At this time we call that saddle pad making it to the “backup stage.”  This saddle pad now needs to be replaced with a new one and you can put this older saddle pad up as a backup in case you get caught in the rain and need a dry saddle pad one day.

A good quality wool saddle pad will run you around $200 and factored out over the lifespan of 2 years for the majority of us weekend warriors, that’s around $8 per month… don’t be a tightwad, buy a new one.

Blankets, for me, need to be wool as well.  Lots of people will spend hard earned cash on a good wool pad and then buy the cheapest synthetic blanket to go underneath it.  That’s a great idea!  Let’s put a cheap product that doesn’t breathe in between your horse and that quality pad that breathes.  “But I don’t want to get the pad dirty.”  Spend the extra money on a wool blanket.

Common Problems Caused by Saddle Padding

Whether your saddle pad is old and worn out, or if you got caught up in the newest pad craze, here are some of the common problems associated with saddle padding:

  • Dry spots on horses back
  • White hairs on horses back
  • Gaulding/rubbing
  • Saddle tends to roll
  • Horse experiences muscle soreness
  • Horse quitting under pressure

These are just a few of the symptoms, but I am sure you have experienced at least one of these at some point.  Seeing these does not mean it is definitely the saddle pad.  Sometimes it can be the saddle fit or other issues.

My main take away here is to be sure and check the simplest thing first if you see one or more of these issues.  When I’m consulting a customer on a fitting problem with their saddle, I look at the saddle pad first and make sure that we aren’t seeing them because of the saddle pad.

Saddle pads are cheap in the scope of the issue and can be changed out easier than changing saddles or costly vet bills.  Many times when someone comes to me with a problem, we find that the saddle pads they are using are worn out or just not of good quality and replacing the saddle pads or blankets with what I recommend helps them a great deal.  This does not mean that padding can fix an ill fitting saddle, if the saddle fits poorly enough then there is nothing that a pad can do… even an M&M protecting shim saddle pad.

What I Recommend for Saddle Padding

I have already discussed what I recommend as far as the material and that’s 100% wool.  In pads this means a 100% wool felt and there are a lot of great choices out there for this type.  The saddle pads that I recommend for most applications are Tod Slone Pads because they are made of the highest quality felt and hold up better than most I’ve seen.   Like I said these are not cheap but they aren’t super expensive either.  When we are talking about blankets, if you choose to use one, I like the 100% woven blankets either in the single weave or the double weave.  There are some great companies out there making blankets in thousands of different colors and styles.

On the saddle pads, I recommend for most horses and applications, a 3/4″ felt in a size medium.  Some horses may need a large, but for the majority of quarter horse owners this size is plenty long under saddle.  The main thing to remember here is that you don’t want the saddle to overhang the saddle pad.  If this happens then you do not have adequate padding to keep the skirts from rubbing the hips of the horse.  If you are going to use only a pad and no blanket then a 1″ felt would be good too.

My rule of thumb for most horses is 1″ worth of padding total.  That means that all blankets and saddle pad should total no more than 1″ thick.  The goal with fitting properly is to have the saddle as close to your horse back as possible without causing injury.  Where people get into trouble, especially ropers, is they think the more padding the better.  If you have a saddle that doesn’t fit quite as well as you would like and you add more padding you amplify the problem.  This can cause the rolling of the saddle that we mentioned earlier.

If your saddle fits the horse properly, you don’t need a lot of padding to protect against soreness.  That is my argument with the M&M protecting saddle pads of gel that claim “no impact.”  Your saddle should not be bouncing off the horse’s back and slamming back down causing impact.  There is increased pressure in certain riding applications, but there shouldn’t be any direct impact.  If the saddle fit is good then 1″ of padding is sufficient.

We could spend all day visiting about different saddle pads and saddle padding but I hope that this short discussion clears up some of the questions and concerns out there about this issue.  If you have any specific questions for your situation or would like to schedule a fitting session at our shop give us a call and we would be glad to help you anyway we can.

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What’s New with Us

This year has been amazing, and we want to thank all our customers who have helped to make 2015 so great.  The shop has been through many changes over the last few years and the patience of our customers is appreciated more than you will ever know.  We have come a long way and more changes are still to come over the next few years.

This year we sold our HWY 21 location and moved!  This move is a transitional move with the future plans of building our dream shop at home.  We are still a couple of years away from that, as we have to get many ducks in a row before that can happen.  Until then, our plan is to focus on the quality of our work and finding better ways to serve our customers.

The demand for our custom work, especially the belts, is overwhelming and we couldn’t be more excited about that!  We are currently completely booked on the custom work for the rest of the year and I’m working on better ways of handling the workload.  But as with anything else, we want to maintain a high level of quality over a high level of quantity.  So with that being said, we thank you so much for your patience as we work through our list.

We are developing a new side of our business as well for 2016.  This side of the business is devoted to teaching and developing resources for those interested in getting into the leather industry.  We have already put into place some small portions of this into the website.  In 2016 we will be focusing more of our time  developing these resources to expand that portion of the business.  We are planning on in-house and online course work and workshops.

As we grow this side of the business some time will be taken away from building our products, but we will do our best to slim the list down some before 2016.  We will be working hard for the rest of this year to complete as much of the current list as possible.  We will still continue to take custom orders as well as our saddle orders, but we will be focusing a certain amount of time to this new and exciting part of our business in 2016.

My hopes with the educating side of my business, is to help guide those wanting to do what we do everyday and hopefully do it better than we do.  The more artist we can help achieve their goals, the more the industry will grow and develop.  Providing more options for the demand from those who love custom leatherwork.