Archive for the ‘Saddle Making’ Category

Hot Wax


Jean Luc Parisot in his shop. Saumur, France

Jean Luc Parisot in his shop…Saumur, France

Back in 2009, Pedro Pedrini and I spent some time with veteran saddler/leatherworker Jean Luc Parisot in France. One of the most interesting things I learned from him was the traditional method of edge finishing using beeswax and an edge iron. Jean Luc softened a cake of wax with a small propane burner, and then carefully applied it to the edges of the leather. He then used an iron that was made by the Jos. Dixon tool company (Great Britain) by heating it with the same burner to a temperature that would melt the wax, rendering it into the leather. I realized that this was different than any other edge finishing I had seen before because the wax was actually soaking into the fibers of the leather rather than just a topical treatment. As I experimented with this method back home, I began to see the advantages…the wax would seal off the edges protecting stitches and also preventing oils from escaping on the cut edge. I especially like to do this on the horn as it tends to ‘bind’ the three layers together into a smooth finish. The wax finish is not a hard finish, as it can scuff up with use, but one thing is certain: the wax will not stop doing it’s job as the years of use accumulate. The baked-in wax will remain co-mingled with the oils on the edges for the life of the saddle.

Unfortunately, the edge iron that I bought from the Jos. Dixon company is no longer being made. There are individuals that have been experimenting with different designs that could be available commercially at some point. I have three different irons that I use for different applications, two of which are one-off designs that were made for me. I will let folks know if I hear of any good irons available for sale.

Here’s a short video clip demonstrating the use of a custom made iron I have.

If you’d like a comprehensive tutorial on this process, we have a DVD that is available at along with other learning opportunities as well. Look for the discs titled Leather Shop Techniques.



Cowboys & Indians


Best Of The West 2012:

Beauty Meets Function In Cary Schwarz Saddles

© Ilona McCarty-Open View Photography

In an unassuming workshop overlooking the snowcapped mountains of central Idaho, saddler Cary Schwarz is plying a centuries-old trade that he imbues with contemporary flair. An artist attuned to the heritage of the American cowboy, Schwarz produces museum-quality saddles — prized for their carved flowers, sewn bindings, and dyed reliefs, all done by hand — that are in high demand among collectors and working cowboys alike.

“I’m trying to produce something with elegance that is for everyday use,” says Schwarz, a founding member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association (TCAA). A tall, lean man whose manner is as reserved as his saddles are expressive, Schwarz has molded, carved, and hand-stitched American tanned leather to that nexus where functional and fine arts meet.

“Cary is expressing himself artistically through his vocation as a saddler, making functional saddles in tried-and-true Western tradition,” says Don Reeves, McCasland chair of cowboy culture at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, host to the annual Cowboy Crossings exhibition and sale, which is held jointly by TCAA and the Cowboy Artists of America every October. In addition to having his work showcased at the event in 2011, Schwarz received the Academy of Western Artists Saddlemaker of the Year award in 2009 and the Idaho Governor’s Award in the Arts for Excellence in Folk and Traditional Arts in 2010.

These days he’s also focused on teaching the craft; tutoring rising saddlers from the United States, France, Germany, and Spain; and passing on his goal to “help folks see traditional forms in a new way.” Willing to abide by the dictates of an age-old art, this preeminent saddler seeks to infuse a lasting symbol of the American West with a modern twist: “I want my work to trace the complex narratives of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.”


For the Collector


Since the founding of the TCAA in 1998, I have built nearly twenty unique, collector category saddles for an average price of nearly $30,000, all of which have been collaborations with some very good silversmiths (Scott Hardy, Mark Drain, Mark Dahl, R. Schaezlein & Son) Almost all of them took over a year from the first stages of design to their completion and all of them had design features and techniques that I had never before attempted. Some had aspects that, to my knowledge, had never been executed by anyone. A few of them have been collaborations with three or four other craftsmen (silver, rawhide, hardware, tree, leather). The artistic and technical challenges this work has presented has been very gratifying to me personally. Working closely with a great silversmith has added another important measure of satisfaction as well.

Virtually every saddle I make is considered a one-of-a-kind project but if you are interested in a saddle that transcends the working class category in to the realm of fine art, I would like to invite you to attend the TCAA show opening at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City in mid-October (link!). I also produce work at this level on a commission basis. Give me call for details about museum quality saddles for the discriminating collector.