Saddle making

Hard to reach spots?

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Having trouble getting to the tight areas when oiling that saddle in your tack room? Here’s a trick I have learned!
Pam makes a spray olive oil that, although maybe a little pricey, works great for those spots a big fat hand won’t fit! Since we oil all our leather products with good clean olive oil, this oil in a spray can is a great complement in our shop and takes a lot of pressure and worry from the hard to reach!
Try this out and let us know what you think!

2013 Big Loop Big Money Tour Finals

This is our fourth year to build the trophy saddles for the Big Loop Big Money Tour Finals put on by Philipp Ranch and we are so excited!

Held at the Brazos County Expo Center in Bryan, TX, the weekend includes team ropings from an Open division down to a #8, kids dummy roping competition and Philipp Ranch Production Horse sale! Starting Friday July 19- Sunday July 21st dont miss this great event!

 

For more information on this event and the production sale visit Philipp Ranch!

What is up with all the skulls?

Over the last few years the leather industry has been over taken by an unlikely trend in the artwork that adorns our saddles and tack.  The days of the traditional oak leaf and acorn floral, the simple basket stamping, or the intricate Sheridan style tooling being the three main options for our selection of artwork available to us are gone.  Even though these are still the favorite for most western folks who want personalized custom leather goods, today we notice artists in the leather industry breaking out of the mold a bit and designing beautiful pieces with everything from game animals to Japanese coy fish with full color.  But in the mix of all the new art being mixed into the traditional floral, the skull has probably received the most attention… like it or not.

Custom tooling being my specialty and being the bulk of what we do in our shop, we get many folks who want to take the artwork on their custom projects to a nontraditional place. IMG_0420

We have made belts with wildlife scenes, angel wings, mermaids, bar maids, hog dogs, bull frogs, cactus, swords, naked ladies and the list goes on and on and on.  But the most popular thing we see people wanting is skulls.

We do many different kinds of skulls, from sweet happy sugar skulls to demon looking zombie skulls.  I was never really into the skull thing until we started doing more and more of them and now I really enjoy drawing them.  A belt is that small accessory item that is becoming an extension of ones individuality and personality almost like a tattoo.  For those too fearful of the pain of the needle, a belt is a good second choice and isn’t permanent!

The skull theme stuff has made its way into some of our saddles as well.  We have completed three skull themed saddles to date and they were all three the most popular of all the saddles we have built.  Not all of the feedback was good, some people have strong opinions when it comes to skulls and that’s cool. closeupsaddle

The main thing is the person who ordered it was completely satisfied with it.  As a custom shop, we have to build and design to the specs of the consumer and that has a big effect on the artwork that we do.  I really never thought that I would be tooling a topless she-devil with horns and a tail sitting atop a pile of bone chilling skulls for the artwork on a fender for a custom team roping saddle, but that’s what we did.IMG_0655

These days it seems that even the most conservative folks want a little edge in their lives.  We see skulls and the like on clothes, truck decals, belts, wallets, caps, and many other consumer products.  I don’t believe the skull trend has anything to do with death or devil worship by any means… it’s simply a fashion statement now that works for anybody who likes them.  The sugar skulls are very popular with their happy expressions and bright colors, while the more bold evil skulls say “Hi I’m Tom, glad to meet you… by the way I’m a potential bad ass!”  Whatever the statement or style one is trying to portray, the skull can be used to accent that and stay in style with the fashion sense of the masses… for whatever that’s worth.

I am eager to see what I will have to learn how to tool into leather in another 5 years just to keep up with what’s hot… feel free to comment on this blog to give me a heads up if you know what that might be!!!

Putting a binder on.

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We are putting a cantle binder on first thing this morning. The binder has been skived where needed and glue applied, after which we will soak the binder in water so that it will be pliable to shape during installation. The binder will need the better part of the day to dry before hand sewing so we want to put them on in the morning first thing or last part of the day so we don’t waist time in the shop on it drying.

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Big Loop Ground Seats

Here is a quick run down of what projects are in process within the custom saddle department of our shop (this department consisting of Jim and I, ha ha): we have four customers’ orders from our list, each different and uniquely complex, two ranch saddles for the All Around Performance Horse crew (due in two weeks), and all fourteen of the Big Loop saddles.  This is all happening at the same time that the rest of the shop is busy on multiple belts, wallets, scabbards, holsters, saddle repairs and handling customers on a daily basis.  The oppurtunity for chaos is so great that it makes for an exciting work week this time of year.

My goal this week was to finish all the ground seats for the Big Loop saddles and get horns started.  Some of the saddles

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Working hard on the Big Loop saddles

had been started already, some ground seats were done and I wanted to get them all done completely so that Jim could focus on getting the All Around saddles to a point where I could get to tooling fronts or swells (my favorite… not).  Starting Monday with that goal in mind, I made progress and got all the ground seats completed by the end of the week.  Since this is usually the part that Jim takes care of, I was sure to check with him off and on to insure that I was putting the ground seats in the way he had been doing them.  It took me a couple times and a bit of Jim giving me hell, but in the end I got them all in.

Even though Jim and I both build saddles, we each do things a little different and consistency is what we want especially with this project.  For the last couple years, our partnership on saddle making has been him building and me tooling/designing all the artwork.  He is much faster than me at building and I am much faster than him at tooling, so this arrangement works well.  Since these are all rough out, and there is fourteen of them, I have custom saddle seatsto help him with a lot of the building and keeping up with changes he has made all year is something I have to be mindful of.  Even though my name is on the sign and stamp, Jim has the lead on this project… And I think he takes a little pleasure in bossing me around.

As the week went along uneventful and productively, it didn’t start off that great.  By Monday afternoon we were met with 85 degree temperatures in the shop.  Our air conditioner was froze up and not cooling at all.  Thinking back on the last few weeks, we realized that the filters hadn’t been changed and they really needed it.  In a shop like ours the dust can get pretty bad due to the sanding from the finisher so we have to change filters every two weeks or so.  It wasn’t till Tuesday afternoon late when our AC repair guys got us back up and running… till then we just tried not to drip sweat on the leather.

As we set now: ground seats are done, all the horns are cut out and skived, no major mistakes as of yet, a few shop pranks (involving an air horn) were conducted and the new guys haven’t quit yet.  It’s still early with lots left to do…

 

What we like to call, “The Big Loop Project”

So here we are again, our third year making the saddles for the Big Loop Big Money Tour put on by the Phillip Ranch.  This is by far the biggest project that my team and I orchestrate during the year… other than getting ready for the USTRC Finals in Oklahoma City.   The product list isn’t all that complicated, 14 solid rough out saddles with 14.5″ seats.  That doesn’t sound too difficult… because you don’t work in our shop.

My team of craftsmen (and craftswoman… sorry jodi) is by far the best group of talent in any shop… the problem is there aren’t very many of us.  Not to mention our lack of space that is needed to perform such a job… cramped quarters.  All of this combined with only having one sewing machine, only three draw down stands, two head knifes, no clicker, no band knife, and only two people who actually can build a saddle from start to finish.  Every year we build these saddles within a short time frame.

The thing to remember here is that our shop is a true custom shop that produces on average 4-5 saddles a month, each completely different in design and artwork.  We work in a manner that allows us to focus on the specifics that the customer requested and do the best possible job that we can.  Then what makes us want to take on such an endeavor and how do we shift gears to get the product completed at the same quality level and deliver on time?

WE HAVE NO IDEA… BUT WE DO IT!  HA HA!

When we first took the job on, we knew that it would be challenging to say the least.  What we didn’t realize is that in complicating things a bit and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we gain very valuable skills and techniques that allow us to become more efficient throughout the rest of the year while increasing the quality.

The first year was very stressful, constant worry and running close to the deadline… but quality was maintained.  The second year we finished with time to spare and quality increased a little.  This year we started earlier, working the saddles in with our customers orders, and feel more confident than last year.  That is not to say that we are not conscious of the task before us or too comfortable and wasting time.  We still have a lot to learn about the art of project planning and execution, but we do have a couple years behind us now and feel like every year has benefited us not only on this project but on all our projects year round.

So as we have already begun the “Big Loops” this year, I thought it would be fun to give an inside look at how we handle them and the chaos that could possibly insue within our little shop in Bryan, TX.  I will do my best to not only post about the triumphs, but also post on the screw ups and mishaps (hopefully we don’t have too many of those).  I have no idea how many post there will be or if it will be worth reading at all, but I will do my best.  I’m not going to lead you on, there usually isn’t ever a ton of shop drama, fist fights, crying, or firing of employees… but this is a new year so you never know!

We want to thank the Phillip Ranch for giving us this opportunity and all the ropers that spend their hard earned money and time traveling every month trying to win one of our saddles.  We will make sure that this year’s saddles are everything that has come to be expected from the Big Loop Big Money Tour Finals!

What seat size should you ride?

The most common question we get among customers in our shop is about what seat size they should ride. In our experience most people are confused about this issue and many times they are riding too big a seat.

The most common size ridden is a 15 1/2″. This, in my opinion, is do to the used saddle market being flooded with trophy saddles and making them readily available with minimal investment. When clubs and organizations purchase saddles to give away as awards at their events, 15 1/2″ seats are a normal size to go with because they will work for most people. This does not mean that most people should ride this size, it simply means it will work. Continue reading