Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blogidays Day Four: Epiphanies

Today's post is a trip down the memory lane of the various epiphanies I've had in my tackmaking adventures. These are those moments when I realize a much easier way to do something, or discover something that improves the final product noticeably.

Some of them probably sound pretty obvious, but I hope some new tackmaker out there finds this helpful!

1. Skiving

Good skiving and leather preparation is probably the biggest factor in separating good tack from great tack. I know, it's not very exciting and it can be really time-consuming, but its effect on the tack is absolutely worth it in the end. Mini tack is also great because you really don't use very much leather, so there isn't that much skiving to do compared to big tack. Power through!

Skiving is basically the process of making your leather thinner. Every tackmaker has their own style and way of going about it, and I'm sure you might have to make adjustments if you're making Traditional tack and need to work with thick tooling leather, but here's my process with skiver:

With a very, very sharp Xacto knife (right out of the package is great), slice almost horizontally along the rough side of the the skiver.

The chances of just slicing right through the leather are high, and that's okay. I like to just skive 1 in. square pieces of leather at a time, which is plenty of real estate to cut pattern pieces out of and allows for some messing up in the skiving.

The more fuzzies and shavings, the better!
Some people would then take a fine-grit sandpaper and gently sand the rough side to try and get it to a more even thickness, but in my personal experience, leather this thin is more likely to just tear when you sand it. I'm usually going for paper thin here (tissue paper thin for panel wrapping pieces).

When your piece is just about an even thickness throughout and can easily be folded over on itself and lay flat, break out your Gum Tragacanth (you don't have Gum Tragacanth? When you first get some, it'll be another tack epiphany. Your life will be different.) and smear a generous amount over where you just skived. Make sure your piece is smoothed flat on your work surface, and let the GT soak in. Especially at this thickness, the GT really helps hold the leather together and keep it smooth.


...and after! (With a differently dyed piece)
And you have some nice thin leather! Proceed to wrap your knee rolls or panels, or cut out your skirts.

2. The Skirts are Just Glued Right On to the Tree

It took an embarrassingly long time for me to figure out how the skirts/pommel area of the saddle worked- is it one piece of leather covering the seat and the skirts? Are they separate? I didn't know!

Turns out, you can just cut skirt pieces out of your very thin leather and stick them right on where they need to go. That's it. I don't know why I struggled so much with this one.

3. Tweezers

I honestly don't know how I made mini tack before I tried using tweezers- now they're like an extension of my hand. I use my needle-nose tweezers for everything from holding bitty straps to bending bitty bridle buckles to dabbing glue right where it needs to go. I use them to poke slots open to make it easier to thread straps through, I use them to hold things together while they dry, I basically never put them down.

4. Cutting the Ends of Straps Into Little Points

This is the only way to get straps through those itty bitty buckles. Another one that I struggled with for an embarrassingly long time.

5. Cutting Lace from Skiver

Anna Kirby is who originally inspired me to make mini tack, and remains my tackmaking idol to this day. Her tutorial on using double-sided tape to cut lace from skived skiver has been completely life-changing for my tackmaking- I previously used 1/16" kangaroo lace, split more and more narrow for whatever I needed.

While some people can dye lace to match their skiver and don't have any problems with it, I could just never get strap goods made from lace to match the saddles in the same set. Rio Rondo's lace comes with an almost glossy finish on the grain side that rarely matched the finish on my skiver- all that plus the need to constantly split it by hand anyway drove me to look for another way. And now I constantly have a supply of pre-cut lace all ready to go, waiting in Dixie cups labeled with the dye color of those pieces, waiting to be snatched up for a bridle!

6. Cheating on Bridles

Another trick absolutely ripped off from Anna Kirby. This post of hers is pretty much exactly how I make my English bridles. The split browband trick in particular was eye-opening.

7. Using Soda Can in Panels

Panels are tricky. Really tricky.

For the longest time, I struggled with trying to come up with a method of making panels that made them nice and squishy, but also gave them the "panel shape" instead of just shapeless tubes. At some point in 2011 it struck me- soda can! Now my method includes cutting out the above pattern from soda can, and lining the bottom side (the side not attached to the saddle) with felt or chamois before wrapping the whole thing in super thin leather. The soda can also lets you shape the panel into the exact shape to sit nicely along the bottom of the saddle, and even help the flaps keep their shape. Win-win!

For those of you who make tack, what were your tackmaking epiphanies?


  1. Wow! This post was fascinating and super helpful. I don't make tack yet but its something I'd love to learn in the future.

  2. Love this! That panels tip is going to make a huge difference for me on my next saddle!

    I don't know if I've had any tack making epiphanies per say, but I do think that realizing good leather is worth it was really important. I love to save money, but once you're putting this many hours into a project it's worth starting with high quality materials.

    For me, skiving became less of a nuisance when I purchased a Super Skiver from Tandy Leather. It had a bit of a learning curve, but I find it helpful for getting larger areas of leather more uniformly thinned. As long as I remember to replace the blade, of course!