The Repair Shop

Killing mold on leather!

If you live in the south where humidity is high, you will run across mold on leather or some of your gear from time to time.  This usually happens when you take a break from the horse world for a bit and keep your gear stored in a dark saddle house or in the tack compartment of your trailer when temperature and humidity are at their worst.

In my opinion, mold on leather is a good sign that your leather goods are healthy enough to support the life that is mold.  By this I mean that you have done a great job of keeping your tack and saddles oiled up.  Mold will not grow on saddles or leather that is dry rot and dead…  nothing available for the mold spores to live on. Continue reading

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!

What kind of oil should I use?

I get this question a lot both at the shop and when we are out at events and trade shows.  The most common time this question is asked is when a customer brings in a saddle for repair and the repair needed is so extensive due to the amount of dry rot.  Here the customer will usually say, “I would of oiled it but I didn’t know what kind of oil to use.”  To this I always answer, “Even the wrong oil would have helped more than what you did… which was nothing.”

I know, oiling your saddle and gear is not the most exciting thing to do on your weekends off, but neither is writing large checks for saddle repairs or worse yet visiting the ground suddenly when something finally breaks.

There are hundreds of saddle conditioners, cleaners, lubricators, creams, savs, liquids, and the like that make choosing the best product for your gear a tuff choice.  Again, ALL of these will, in some way, help your leather retain its life better than nothing at all.  And if you still don’t feel comfortable making a decision then there is always a shop like ours that would be happy to handle this for you.

For oil, we use Olive Oil.  We buy it from a local grocery supply company by the case and use it on both new and used leather items.  I have heard of many people using canola, peanut, vegetable, and other food oils and they seem to work fine.  My only issue with the other oils is that it seems to me that they would attract rats worse than the olive oil.  Neatsfoot oil is the old standby and is still widely used.  There is nothing wrong with this but it seems to me that olive oil seems to oil more evenly than neatsfoot and the main reason that we use it in the shop.

When it comes to conditioners, I recommend Skidmore’s Leather Cream above all else.  This cream is great for lubricating the fibers in the leather and restoring life to dry stiff leather.  This product is made of all natural ingredients including vegetable oils and beeswax and will also water proof the leather.  A little bit of this cream goes a long way so don’t over do it, multiple light coats is always better than one heavy coat.  This product is also amazing on boots and hunting gear.

The one thing to remember with conditioning your saddles and tack is that putting oil and conditioners on top of dirty leather can damage the leather.  In doing this over time, you create multiple layers of dirt and oil which becomes a thick film that is almost impossible to remove.  I always recomend washing leather with a mild dish soap like Dawn, Ivory, or even Murphy’s Oil Soap and rinsing thoroughly.  Scrub the saddle with a medium bristle brush to lift the dirt and grime out of the leather.  I don’t recommend saddle soap because it is suppose to be left on the saddle to dry and then the dirt stays on the leather.  If you want to lather the saddle up with saddle soap after its cleaned, then that’s okay.

Always let your saddle dry completely (could take a day or two) before oiling and conditioning.  If you oil too soon, you could get a real bad case of mold.  I will talk more about mold and controlling it in a later post.

I know its hard to remember to oil your saddle and tack, but here is my suggestion on a system that may not make it such a big deal.  Every time you worm your horses give all your tack and saddles a good look over and wipe them down with a light coat of oil.  And when it comes to doing a complete washing and oiling, I recommend this once a year.  This could be every time your coggins is due or at the end of your show season.  And if you don’t want to go through the trouble of doing it yourself you can always drop it off at the saddle shop and we will do it for you.

Continue reading

Beware of Import Saddles

These days many items are made overseas, bringing with that lower cost and bigger selections for American consumers. No matter your opinion of this issue, continued import of overseas manufactured items is here to stay and for the most part accepted by consumers. Even the saddle industry is experiencing this and when it comes to some items the quality is reasonable for the cost. When it comes to saddles, consumers should really be cautious.
For years Americans have purchased saddles that have been imported from Mexico for an inexpensive alternative to the American made counterparts. With a few exceptions, these saddles have been marked with the stigma of low quality and at times structurally unsafe. No matter the stigma, many people trying to save a buck purchase these saddles anyway and deal with frequent repairs and saddle fitting issues. With any luck they aren’t injured due to the saddles less than adequate structural integrity.
The newest addition to this “value based” saddle market is saddles imported from countries like India. In the saddle shop we have run across these on a semi frequent basis and the quality is worse than usual. Many folks are buying these saddles on the internet and eBay and although they may look decent in the photos, when they arrive it is immediately seen that they are less than functional. I have seen these saddles with no rigging dees at all, making them impossible to actually use on a horse. We have seen them with synthetic leather and trees, plastic rigging dees and a number of other issues that make these saddles dangerous to use.
The most recent experience that we have had the pleasure to work on in the repair shop was a true gem of the import saddle industry. The saddle came in for an offside front rigging dee replacement. This is a job that is very common and not very expensive to fix. When the saddle was broken down in the repair room, the repair man confronted me with an issue. He told me that the rigging couldn’t be fixed and that I should look at the tree with him. Looking at the tree bar at first I didn’t understand what the problem was. It was a fiberglass tree bar with holes in it where the original rigging screws use to be, this was nothing out of the ordinary. The saddle really didn’t appear to be a bad built saddle. It was a training saddle with rawhide mounted dees on the corners of the skirts for driving lines, rawhide trimmed horn, padded seat and good color. I asked my repair man what the issue was and he proceeded to show me the problem.
He took a screw and stuck it in one of the existing screw holes and then moved it at different angles from side to side. Yes, that’s right! The entire tree bar was a hollow fiberglass shell. It looked like a wooden bar covered with fiberglass, but in reality it was an empty fiberglass bar… no wood at all. Think of it as an empty egg! The entire saddle was like this, both bars and swells even the cantle. This was unbelievable! I have never seen anything like this before and couldn’t believe that someone had been riding this saddle and they weren’t hurt.
With further inspection we also discovered that all the rawhide holding the accessory dees on and the binding around the horn wasn’t rawhide at all. The dees were mounted with nylon webbing and masking tape was stuck over the top. The horn binding was just masking tape. Unbelievable!
At that point we called the customer and told them that we would not fix the saddle and warned them of the danger involved in using the saddle. All I can say is that I hope everyone keeps their eyes open for these types of saddles. It’s one thing to by a cheap pair of “Oakeys” or “Raye Bans”, but putting your life on the line with this inferior garbage being imported into the states from countries that have no knowledge of what these saddles go through in our country is extremely dangerous. Remember that a custom saddle has at least $1000.00 in material in it, so when you’re looking online and you find a new saddle on eBay for $300, beware.

Third post on the retree of a saddle

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The retree is almost over, at least for the hard part. Once the swell cover and cantle back are put back on the seat is installed.

This is where we see how well we did so far. If all is well, then the seat should fall right in and even match up with the old wear marks around the swell cover. The seat is pinned in place around the front so we are sure it is where it should be while we glue it in.

We glue the rear of the seat first with two coats of glue. If we are right the seat should line up with the cantle plugs at the back of the Cheyenne roll and be even. If you have a little difference here you can sand off to even it up.

Once the back of the seat is glued down then we move onto the binder. Most of the time the binder is destroyed during it’s removal, here we got lucky and were able to use the old one. I prefer this because it makes the saddle look more original when completed. The less new leather you have to use the better the job finishes out. My motto with repair is do your best to cover your tracts so that it looks like you were never there.

On this particular project we had to make some compromises in sewing the binder. I usually like to always stitch back in the old holes, but with the age on this saddle we couldn’t do that for the new stitches tearing through. My fix for this issue was to stitch through every other hole, with as close as the holes were to start it worked out well and looked fine.

Last to do here is glue down the front of the seat (with two coats). The hardest part of this job is completed now and all the parts are ready to be washed and oiled. This is done no different than a normal clean, oil, and polish. I do this to all the retrees that I do to insure that it gets a good oiling and looks great for the customer.

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Here you can see that the saddle is complete and ready to be put back to work. Aside from the new horn the saddle looks no different than when it first came to us, except being cleaner… And now the tree isn’t broke.

Let us know what your thoughts are on putting a tree in a saddle. I do probably two a year, and I credit that to me trying to talk folks out of them. But for some situations it is worth the money, and for this customer it was well worth it! He was glad to have his rig back to work out of.

Rigging and ground seat of the retree

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No matter how careful you are when taking the saddle apart, putting a new tree in a saddle can still be a very difficult process.

Here we have cleaned up the original rigging of this saddle and installed it on to the repaired tree. This is where I don’t worry so much about putting them back EXACTLY where they were to begin with. With this particular saddle, age and use has probably stretched the rigging somewhat out of alignment and proper alignment of the rigging insures the saddle rides square on the horse. For this reason, I install the riggings without paying attention to where they were and instead putting them where they should go. Sometimes you have to accept a little difference to get there but not enough that will affect the rest of the job.

Once I have the rigging installed I move on to the ground work. Luckily with this saddle we were able to utilize the ground work completely which saves some time. Each piece is installed just as it was when the saddle was first made. The great thing here is that all other parts will fit as original (seat, cantle back, plugs, and so on). On the occasion where these pieces can’t be used, you would install the groundwork as in a new saddle keeping in mind the way the old seat and such will fit with what your trying to recreate. This adds lots of time and labor.

After all this is completed, the cantle back and front should drop right in place and with the help of glue and elbow grease you are ready to put the seat in.

Occasionally when putting the front on, you will notice a difference in the horn hole thanks to the new horn cover. Everyone covers horns different and the original may have been thinker or thinner at the base. My suggestion here is to cut it bigger if it’s too tight (which is better) and if it’s too big, your only hope is that the glue will help to hold down the slack around the base.

The next post we will visit about installing the seat and binder which gets us to the point of washing and final assembly.

The work involved in a retree

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This will be the first of a few blogs on putting a new tree in a saddle. In my opinion few saddles are worth the money to put a new tree in them. The misconception among most folks is that putting a tree in a saddle is something easy to do and is cheaper than getting a new saddle. Both of which are false.

For most saddles, a broken tree should be the end of the road. The thing to remember when contemplating the retree of any saddle is the age of the saddle. When we do a retree in the shop, ALL the original parts are used (except the horn and sometimes the binder) so the customer is getting back the same old saddle minus the broke tree part… And less money in their pocket.

This brings us to the price of the job. We charge a minimum of $1000 including the tree repair but not including any parts that have to be replaced, if any. The thing to consider here is what the saddle would be worth after the repairs. A custom saddle in good condition may have merit but a $600 saddle in poor condition probably not.

In these photos we have had the original tree completely restored and fiberglass covered making it as strong or stronger than when it was new. A new horn has been applied and we begin the retree by putting the gullet cover on and working on getting the original ground seat pieces back in place. This insures that the saddle sets as close to the same as it did before it was broken. Using the old pieces is sometimes difficult and we will sometimes have to install a completely new tin strainer and ground seat because they get destroyed taking them out. This adds cost to the job.

As you will see in the next few postings, putting a new tree in a saddle is anything but simple and very labor intensive. If a saddle is built correctly, it should be tough… Saddles, when built right, are not built to be taken apart.

When to replace stirrup leathers

“if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. This seems to be the thought with most people when it comes to their saddles, but this idea could lead to having to fix some body part when it comes to stirrup leathers. Some get lucky and the stirrup leather will brake right as you put your weight in the stirrup getting on or off your horse. Unless your riding a colt, this is usually in eventful. Other unfortunate souls will be leaned out over a steer or yearling about to take that perfect shot when… Here comes the ground. Ouch!

Take a second to check your leathers every so often. Look for heavy corrosion of the Blevins buckle, this can lead to the actual buckle braking. Look at the holes, are they stretched out or have cracking around the hole. Also, try to fold the leather in a couple spots. If you see the leather crack at the fold then it is probably time for a new pair.

When you decide that you need new stirrup leathers, or after the accident, replace both sides and DO NOT patch them. Patching stirrup leathers may be cheaper, but you are only buying time till… Here comes the ground! Ouch!

Broken saddle tree?

So your tree is broke, what do you do with your saddle now? Personally I say throw it away. Most saddles out there are not worth replacing the tree in. You would never pay someone to replace the frame in your pickup after a wreck, saddles are the same.

Replacing the tree in a saddle is labor intensive and after its over you still have the same old saddle. The better option is to get a good used saddle that is in as good a shape and many times you can do this cheaper than replacing the tree.

If the saddle is something that seems impossible to replace then its worth using the broken tree as a model and getting a custom saddle built as close to it as possible. Most custom shops like us have the ability to reproduce even the most specialized trees. If that seems like too much of an investment then its not worth replacing the tree.

Most true custom saddles come with at least a ten year tree warranty if not a lifetime warranty like ours. In this case the saddle from the start is worth the trouble of tree replacement and should be of no cost to you.

When deciding what to do with that saddle with a broken tree, compare what is TRUELY worth to what it will cost to repair. Most of the time it isn’t worth the money… But it may make a great bar stool!