Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Building Blocks: Everything Else

This is (finally!) the last post in this little series about what I stock my studio with. Part One is about leather, Part Two is about dye and lace, and Part Three is about hardware.

For the purpose of making such small tack, there's a lot of clutter on my desk at any given time. Admittedly, a lot of this junk is stuff I only use once per project, or only have in case I need it for a specialty project (like leather paint). I do, however, have a core arsenal of regularly used tools.

First and foremost is something that I almost never put down while I'm working: my trusty tweezers. These I've had for forever, and I don't remember where they originally came from but they're perfect. I use them basically as an extension of my fingers: to hold buckles while I slip lace through, feeding tongues through buckles, holding pieces together while they dry, dabbing glue onto strap ends, you name it. Tweezers are the #1 way to avoid unnecessary suffering and frustration in the process of making mini tack.

As far as actual tools go, I've been using the same set of jewelry-making tools my entire tack making career. These originally came in some sort of fancy roll-up case (and I'm pretty sure there were more of them), but these are the ones that have stuck around:

Needle-ish nose pliers. The tips aren't needle tiny, but the round tapered ends work great for making all different sizes of jump rings out of wire (bits, especially).

Flat-jaw pliers. I don't actually know what these are called- I mentally refer to them as "D ring pliers," because that's what I primarily use them for. The tips are the perfect shape for bending wire into D rings, and the flat jaws are great for tamping on buckles to make them look less like wire and more like cast hardware.

These are my third pair of tin snips, and by now I really feel like I should have learned to just spring for the more expensive kind, but my cheap tendencies have won out. This pair is the mini version, which was a terrible decision, but now I'm determined to get my money's worth from these little suckers. If any of you are thinking about getting into tack making, go for the $15-20 ones.

Moving onto gooey substances, we have my left-hand man, Gum Tragacanth. This stuff is the bomb for taming leather fuzzies, training laced reins to lay flat, making saddle pommels smooth and seamless, and every other leather-taming activity.

Just noticed this is the French side. Whoops.
Super Shene from Tandy is the leather finish I've been using to give tack that nice "well-oiled" finish. Sometimes it also helps hold the color in and prevent staining ponies- but sometimes that just happens anyway. (I'm on the hunt for a finish or sealant that totally stops that- anybody have suggestions?)

I like working on this slightly raised glass board, not only because it's a solid work surface (with straight lines for reference) but also because it provides an edge to skive against. Win-win!

The board is also great for pouring my Tacky Glue directly onto in a little puddle in the corner, before dabbing on tiny amounts where I need them with my tweezers. This scale is just too little to try and use glue directly from the bottle. I've recently learned that I can do the exact same thing with my super glue, in a much smaller (and faster-working!) puddle on my glass board. Both glue types just pop right off when they're dry. I've only ever used Original Tacky Glue for 99% of my gluing (leather to leather) mostly because it works perfectly for me but also because it's cheap and easy to find at just about any self-respecting craft store. I don't really have any brand loyalty in super glue; any clear liquid variation does the trick. I've had a lot of luck with Loctite.

Other stuff I'm constantly using: my big ol' sewing scissors (they seem ridiculously large for this scale, but they do the job!), Xacto knife with tons of extra blades on hand to change out and keep sharp, pointy sculpting tool for marking where on straps buckles need to go, fine-tip Sharpie, mechanical pencil, thick-ish sewing needle for punching holes, double-sided tape, and various textures of fine sandpaper cut into workable little sections. I also recently purchased a little carrying caddy from Micheal's to stow all this junk in when I'm feeling tidy.

I'm sure I've said this before, but what's great about making tack this small is that you almost never have to replenish your supplies. All of this stuff is pretty much a one-time investment, assuming you're not like me and won't lose your knife/glue/snips ten times, buy new ones, then find the old ones. Even stuff like Gum Tragacanth and glue- I bought this little bottle of GT in 2011 and it's probably 75% full. Your supplies are more likely to go missing or bad than run out. Ever.

So to finish off my shopping list:

  • Tweezers -these are my exact ones, but any needle-point style will work (I had no idea mine were $15? Crazy.)
  • Jewelry/beading pliers- I think I got these at my local beading store, but Micheal's and JoAnn's have plenty of their own versions.
  • Snips -this is the pair I last killed off. I can't for the life of me find the nicer, blue-handle kind.
  • Gum Tragacanth
  • Super Shene -I lump mine in with Rio Rondo orders.
  • Cutting mat/board
And the following items from Any Old Craft Store, USA:
  • Original Tacky Glue
  • Loctite Super Glue
  • Scissors
  • Xacto knife
  • Pointy instrument
  • Sharpie
  • Mechanical pencil
  • Sewing needle
  • Double-sided tape
  • Sandpaper
And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes the tour of just about every single thing used in the making of my tack. For those of you who originally requested this series, I hope this was helpful, and to the rest of you, I hope this was somehow insightful or interesting (I don't know about you, but pictures of scissors and wire is my idea of high entertainment). 

If you guys have any tack tips, how-to's, or other "behind the scenes" type posts you'd like to see, let me know!

(By the way, new poll is up! I want to make you guys free stuff. Let me know what you want to see!)


  1. Stop making me want to try my hand at leather work! It's scary and skiving never ends well on my work bench...

  2. Thank you for sharing these tips. Needle tipped tweezers are my go-to tool when tack making. I don't go smaller than traditional sized, but I make my tack to scale, which puts the hardware at classic sized and smaller. I cannot imagine SM scale straps. I purchased the BEST tool ever years ago from a rawhide lace maker. It skives, bevals, and splits the lace almost perfectly.

  3. Very helpful post, I will be using lots of your helpful tips in my future tack making! Thank you!

  4. I just recently got a bottle of Gum Tragacanth from Tandy and I don't know how I survived without it before lol!

  5. Thank you for showing what supplies you use it is really helpful!

  6. Thank you for sharing this! It is very helpful and it makes me want to try my hand at Stablemate scale tack (I have only ever done Traditional so SM would be a fun challenge).