Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Saddle Fitting Central

Time for a little bit more about the nuts-and-bolts aspect of saddle fitting and repair.  Longkaiduan asked me about my tools and work space, so I thought I'd give you a short photographic tour of my little workshop and show you more of my tools and how they're used.  (NOTE:  While I'm giving a very basic overview of the tools and their uses, I do NOT recommend getting ahold of them and using them without some training and supervision unless you start on junk saddles and tack and scrap leather.  You can do an amazing amount of damage with these tools, so if you ignore this caveat and start practicing on your good stuff, don't say you weren't warned.)

First, the space.  There's not much of it (it used to be the "close-out sale room" back when we had walk-in business for apparel, supplements, grooming tools, etc. and measures about 6'x10'), so getting photos was a bit of a challenge, but here they are.

My desk.  Mission Control for blogging, answering e-mails, photo manipulation, saddle research and keeping an eye on activity in the barn/parking area and paddocks.  (Not that I spend time staring out the window or anything.) 

As you can see, I use the wall as a bulletin board for to-do lists, memos, blog ideas, wool samples, correspondence, price lists ... basically as a back-up brain.

To the left:  my barn call receipt and saddle work order (completed) boxes, a list of tools and supplies for barn calls, appointment book, UPS delivery zone maps, templates and customer files, a couple statements of personal philosophy and my Big Box O' Hardware.

Interior of the Big Box O' Hardware:  

Dee rings, saddle nails, spare blades for groovers, awls, knives and other sharp things, screws, tacks, keepers; conway, girth, stirrup leather and halter buckles and falldown staples, oh my.

A statement of personal philosophy:

If you turn one hundred and eighty degrees, there's the bench and tools.  The bench was specially made for me by Dennis St. John of Wudsmitten Cabinetry; it's gorgeous - sort of a giant butcher-block affair - and it was honestly a crime to cover the top of it with foam and leather.  Tools above in racks made from wooden slats, an old rein, an old stirrup leather and some brass escutcheon pins.


Closer shot of the tools, and a couple saddle work orders.  Tools, from left:  tweezers, oblong punch, hole spacer, 3 screwdrivers, strap end punch, skiving knife, groover, hole spacer, edger, screwdriver, scratch awl and calipers, nail cutters, short awl, rotary hole punch, lasting pincers, slicker and edger. 

On the right end of the bench, more tools. From left: pry bar, skiving knife, craft knife, sewing awl, 3 backing awls, 3 diamond point awls, staple puller, long handled needle-nose pliers, two pairs needle nose saddler's pliers, leather scissors, assorted flocking irons. Bone folder and exacto knife on rack behind tools, hammers and squares and level above.


Above the bench, storage for cement, thinner, clamps, long needles, supply catalogs, spare thread and so on. Rack below holds spools of woven poly thread for hand sewing.

Above the bench, storage for cement, thinner, clamps, long needles, supply catalogs, spare thread and so on.  Rack below holds spools of woven poly thread for hand sewing.

Now, on to a little about some of the tools and their uses.  First, the oblong punch:

This is used when you're installing a buckle; this is size 1 and makes a pretty small hole, the sort for lighter-gauge buckles (think a fairly dainty halter crown buckle or even smaller).

The oval punch, used for adding holes to stirrup leathers and billets:

The English strap-end punch.  Handy for shortening billets, stirrup leathers and misc. strap ends (gee ... you think?).

 All the punchs are used by positioning them (carefully!) on the leather and using a hammer on the other end.

The skiving knife, used to thin down the end of a piece of leather (usually a strap - stirrup leather, halter crown piece or billet) before sewing to reduce bulk and avoid a squared edge.

Edgers are used to bevel the square edge of a piece of leather and give is a smoother, rounder finish.  This is a safety edger:

 When you're removing the gullet cover to check a trees or deconstructing a saddle, one of these staple / tack pullers comes in really handy:

You stick one of the pointy parts under the crown of a staple and wiggle it loose.  If you're working on an older saddle with tacks, jimmy the "V" under the head of the tack and wiggle it loose.

The next few tools are often used in concert when you're doing hand-sewing.  The groover is used to mark the line you want to stitch; it also serves the purpose of "counter sinking" the stitching and giving it a bit of protection from wear:

Next you use your hole spacer to mark your stitching holes along the groove. 

Spacers come in varying sizes; each will give you a different number of holes per inch.  Alternatively, you can use a stitch mark iron, but the wheeled spacer is nice if you're doing curved stitch lines.

Next, you can use the diamond point awl to pierce the leather for stitching:

Or, if your stitches are going to be larger, or if you're using a thicker thread, you can make bigger holes.  This is a home-made tool; I ground down the blade of a little screwdriver to make a chisel-point awl.  Works really well for billets, double-thickness halters, etc.:

The backing awl is great for enlarging existing holes, as when you're stitching up a pommel or cantle:

It has a curved blade and a rounded point, so you can wiggle it into an amazing number of places without catching the point and tearing leather.  It's also useful for picking up individual stitches if you need to cut thread or tighten up a line of stitching:

Finally, here's one tool I can't do without:

This is Mr. Squishy.  He sits on my computer tower.  He was a Holiday Fairy gift to one of my kids, but I appropriated him after I found him abandoned on the lawn.  Mr. Squishy is my Stress Management Advisor.

Mr. Squishy's eyeballs used to bug out in a most satisfying way when I did this, but time, age and a lot of Stress Management Advice have compromised his rubber skin and left him rather leaky, so now it's just his brains that pop out.  I'm very fond of him, in light of the help he's given me, and I feel a deep kinship with him, especially since he, like I, no longer bounces back quite the way he used to:


Val said...

Really interesting behind the scenes. Mr. Squishy is menacingly wonderful.

Longkaiduan said...

I think I just saw heaven!!! Tools, and leather and TOOLS and Mr. Squishy. AND TOOLS. I need to learn this trade! Know anyone in PA that takes on apprentices, Or how I can get started in the trade??? I'd really like to learn how to do my own saddle work!

Barefoot Basics said...

Really great post, I am amazed how tidy your workspace is and how you have your office and work bench in such a small space, it looks great.

Would there be any chance of you doing a post on dropping a panel and then stitching it back up again? That would be very much appreciated, I have an old saddle here ready to practice on but can't find anything on the web to follow.

Many thanks.

saddlefitter said...

Thanks, Val - Mr. Squishy's my buddy. He says "thanks," too.

Longkaiduan, there are a couple fitters in PA - if you can let me know where exactly you are, I'll see if I can give you some names. Alternately, Mike Scott's school or the Cumbria School of Saddlery would be good choices.

Barefoot, my space is like my kids: cleaned up for company, but the it doesn't last long! And you'll notice I did NOT include photos of the floor or the area under or beside my bench ...

saddlefitter said...

Barefoot - sorry, forgot to add - I'd be happy to do something on dropping and re-lacing the panels. Just need to get another saddle in that needs it!

Longkaiduan said...

Chester county Unuionville area

Unknown said...

I just read your post and looked at the photo's of your tools. I have tool envy. I am just starting out and in the beginning stages of buying tools. My question is how you organize them all and second I will be working at barns alot so any suggestion on the best way to haul the tools around would be great.

Kyle said...

In leu of finding someone to apprentice from, I went to my local tack shop and asked that whenever they get a complete junker saddle to call me and I'll take it. These get "donated" alot So i've taken apart and put together four saddles. All of which I was able to put together again without any problems. And I decided to tackle my own saddle which I had completely reflocked six months ago and which required some follow up work ASAP, my saddler was unavailable for 6 weeks. so I attempted the changes after much reading of saddlery books and other resources. It was a success, no lumps and my horse is happy again, but I am still watching for any signs of discomfort.