Archive for May 2013 | Monthly archive page
I first learned how to sew on a harness stitcher in the summer of 1979 in Twin Falls, Idaho. The shop I worked for was a high quality holster production outfit owned by Chet Hillman. Chet had a contract to make the Thompson Center Contender holsters back in the day when silhouette shooting was popular. Our crew of a dozen or so had a goal of wet-blocking three hundred holsters a day! I remember sewing on either a Landis 3 or a Randall machine for eight hours each day. By the time I turned 20 years old that year, I had more hours sewing on a harness stitcher than most saddlemakers accumulate in their entire career.
Today I have a Randall that I bought from the late Don King of Sheridan, Wyoming some years ago. The Randall was my favorite machine all those years ago and it still is today, and I still use the same tried and true polished linen thread. Thankfully, tech support and parts availability is excellent on these needle-and-awl machines. Conrad “Connie” Nagle of Campbell Bosworth has an outstanding business in Yoakum, Texas that serves the folks who still run these machines.
I’m violating some of my ‘rules’ with regard to decoration on this year’s TCAA saddle. The color on the flowers is something I’ve done before, but have never been very fond of the idea. I reduced the color so that after oiling and antiquing, it should be subtle. I’ve done some experimenting on some scrap leather and am hoping for the best. The work we do for our show in the fall is an opportunity to reach as far as we can artistically and technically. There will always be a certain amount of risk that will go with this kind of stretching. It is a risk worth taking, for it is invigorating, challenging, and rewarding.
These days I look for opportunities to sew things by hand. Here’s a few nuggets I learned from Jean Luc Parisot in France four years ago…1. Fold your buckle ends around so that the grain side is against the hardware. This provides for a bit of added durability. 2. Hand sewing allows you to get your last stitch much closer than you could with your machine for a snug fit against hardware. This is another durability feature as sloppy fit always makes for more wear on the leather. 3. I extend the bag punch slot by half again as long so that the buckle tongue can travel at least 180 degrees. This helps get a better fit around the buckle with less bulge as the leather wraps around the center bar on the buckle.
‘Anyone who finds this interesting…welcome to my addiction. Some may wonder why the pursuit of refinement? It’s pretty simple…my customers/clients are served by what I can learn and accomplish in my shop. My world would get way too small if this was all for me. (besides I can only use so much of the stuff I make!).
“So why the posts?” 1. Let my customer base know the contrast between what you might get off the shelf in town and what you should expect from a custom shop. 2. Share what I’ve learned over the years with other craftsmen so that their customers will have what they want and need in their equipment. Our trades will survive and thrive when there are more folks with smiles on their faces.
In recent visits with the current CEO Shep Hermann at Hermann Oak Leather , the saddlemakers of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association have discussed recommendations on care and maintenance of saddles. Shep recommends neatsfoot oil…the best of which is available through Weaver Leather under the “Shep’s” label. (It is a coincidence that the outfit making the neatsfoot bears the same name as Shep Hermann.) I’ve heard for years about the lack of a standard formula for neatsfoot, and that it will ‘rot the stitching’, or that it darkens the leather too much. I would make the case that any thin oil that is similar to neatsfoot in its properties will exhibit very similar results as 100% neatsfoot with regard to darkening. (Olive oil or peanut oil come to mind.) Our trade is full of anecdotal information that rarely has any hard science to back it up. That’s why it is a great thing to hear this recommendation from the man whose family has tanned Hermann Oak Leather since the 1880s. Hermann Oak Leather Company is in close touch with the chemistry involved in the making of leather and how best to care for it. Incidentally, there is a laboratory in Cincinnati that specializes in the chemistry of tanning that is a regular consultant to tanneries throughout North America…Hermann Oak of course being one of them.
Good neatsfoot oil will gel at around 50 degrees, and it is recommended that it be heated to 110 degrees for maximum penetration before applying to the leather. Heating oil before application will avoid what is referred to as ‘spew’ later on. Spew is that whitish residue that sometimes appears on leather after neatsfoot has been used. Heating reduces the size of the oil molecules and therefore allows for adequate penetration. I have a single burner hot plate on my work bench that I use to heat neatsfoot oil. I turn the burner on a few minutes before I need to apply oil to leather, whether old or new. A slow cooker (Crock Pot) makes an excellent heater for oil on the work bench. Oil placed in direct sunlight on a warm day will certainly accomplish the task as well. Take care not to over heat the oil if you are using a kitchen range.
Inspiration comes from many sources. It’s getting harder to keep track of where all the ideas come from. This year’s TCAA saddle is well under way and as I’m ‘stealing’ time from other projects to get it completed by the early August deadline. I’ve had this Al Tietjen stainless steel cheek bit (that I traded Ernie Marsh for) for many years. Those of you who keep track of these great bits will know that Ernie has owned the famous Tietjen line of bits for quite awhile…count yourself lucky to have one! Anyway, the most visible image on this bit is what isn’t there. The heart is created by the negative space in the cheek design. Likewise, the hearts in my carving design are created by the negative space…’that which is not there’. I’m having fun with this and have done some experimenting with color (something I’ve not been a big fan of). Stay tuned as things progress…