Friday, May 1, 2009

Tools of the Trade

I absolutely love tools. Hardware stores are right after tack shops and book stores on my "favorites" list. Hand tools, power tools, woodworking tools - you name it, I love 'em all. And one of the wonderful things about doing saddle fitting and repair is the tools I get to use. Admittedly, they're somewhat old-fashioned; some of them have been pretty much the same for the last two or three hundred years ... but they're cool anyway.

These are flocking irons. They're used to put flock in the panels, and to adjust and move the flock once it's in:

The top iron is a very straight, inflexible tool, whereas the two in the middle can be bent into whatever angle is needed to reach some of the more awkward spots in the panels. The bottom iron is helpful for adjusting the flock in the area of the flocking holes (harder to do with a long iron). They all have teeth on the ends to catch and hold the wool.

This is a hook for removing flock:

Like the middle two irons above, this can be bent to whatever curve is needed. Removing flock is probably my least-favorite job (unless I'm doing a strip-flock and removing all the wool). It can be tough to get just the right amount of flock out, particularly if the wool's compacted, and it's very easy to leave divots.

This is a masher:

It's used to compress the flock or help it "break in". You basically grab it by the handle and use the large, flat end to pound the bejesus out of the panels. (Ok, it's not quite that simple - but to the untrained eye, that's how it looks). Great stress relief!

These are awls:

The one on the top is a diamond-point awl; it's used for making holes or widening existing holes, or for scratching out stitch lines and the like. The bottom awl is a curved or backing awl; it can also be used to widen existing holes, and is very handy for picking up stitches and pulling thread from lines of stitching.

These are some of the wools I use for flocking.:

The top two are long-fibered rovings, which are very easy to lay in the panels and break in quickly. The bottom two are shorter-fibered batting (the one on the left is Black Country's Jacobs wool), which is tougher to lay in, but can be a bit more resilient.

Finally, this is the synthetic flock I use:

This is Passier's synthetic flock, which is (in my opinion) about the best synthetic flock available. It's long-fibered enough to be easy to work with and is very resilient; it doesn't tend to pill and bunch the way some synthetics do.

I do use other tools - groovers, bone folders, stitching spacers, skiving knives, punches, etc. - but those are more for leather repair. These are the "if I was stranded on a desert island and had to do saddle fitting" tools.


Jane said...

Cool! As a spinner (yarn, not bicycle) I've always wondered what kind of wool is used in flocking, and for what purposes - high micron count vs low micron count, staple length, etc. And what form it was used in...roving, scoured sheared, etc. Thanks for showing this stuff. Love to hear more. :-)

Anonymous said...

This was really interesting, thank you for writing about this. How did you learn to flock and repair saddles? Info for another blog!

saddlefitter said...

Anon, that's a great idea for a blog - many thanks.

Jane, I wish I were more knowledgeable about wool - sounds as though I could learn a lot from you, since I'm not sure what staple length or micron counts are! My criteria is that the wool must be clean, and long-fibered enough to lay in easily, but not so fine as to lost loft and resilience quickly.

Jane said...

I'd be happy to share any info that's useful

Micron count is how fleece is rated on the "fineness" scale. Typically Merino has a high micron count, and something like Lincoln or Navajo has a lower micron count.

This sort of roughly translates into what you've already said: too fine a wool compacts (or will friction-felt) easily, too coarse may not blend together easily when you restuff and leave lumps?

Staple length is a fancy way of saying "how long the lock wool is" after it's shorn off the sheep.

Saddle fitting is fascinating to me. I've enjoyed your posts!

Galadriel said...

Mmm, eye candy. I never met a flocking iron I didn't like!

I have a curved hemostat for picking out stitching; it's just about perfect. The tip is rounded, when closed the curve of the jaws grabs the thread well, and if it's knotted or stuck I can open the jaws and pull directly on the thread with the serrated jaws.

I also have a fabulous saddle stand; it holds a saddle upside down or upright, and holds it securely so I can work on it. I have some pics here, along with contact info for the guy who made it:

Hands down, that saddle stand is my absolute best tool.

saddlefitter said...

Galadriel, I LOVE that stand - I'm going to look into getting one. Thanks!

And Jane, thanks for the kind words and the info - much appreciated!

19showjumper said...

Where exactly do u buy these tools? i can't find them anywhere!! Can you tell the Name of the Company, the website and how much those tools altogether cost??

Anonymous said...

Hi The link has broken for the saddle stand, please could you repost it? many thanks xx

saddlefitter said...

Anon, it appears that page isn't around any more. You can try contacting Galadriel Billington directly at and she may be able to help you out.
19showjumper, you can get flocking tools from,, and from Windmill Saddlery. Prices vary; you can get an inespensive iron for about $35 ... but as with everything, you get what you pay for!