NMTM: Gearing Up

We may not be filling pinholes and priming models to prep for NMTM, but there's still work to be done before April! 

Some of our entrants already know what they want to do, but others are still deciding. If you aren't sure yet and are new to tack making, Rio Rondo kits are a great place to start. They include  patterns, detailed instructions, and everything you need to complete your project (with the exception of tools and glue). If you already have some of the supplies and want to try something new, Keri Olgun of Keri Okie offers some very nice instruction books and patterns for making a variety of tack goods.

Once you've decided what to make, it's time to buy supplies! Though before you start making a list of all the shiny new things you need to order, it's probably a good idea to sit down and organize your stash. Claire Goss had the right idea!

"I thought I should start spring cleaning as we are into March. So I have started with all my pots of half started things, general gibbons and stuff I can't remember I had. Then I can organise it all, and it'll take up less space! I have stuff I forgot I had!! Though that's handy for next month!" 

If you're new to tack making or your project is a departure from your usual work, there's a good chance you'll need to stock up on a lot of things. The Facebook group is full of participants who have no or very limited experience, and the most asked about supplies have been leather, trees, and hardware. Here's my first bit of advice: work with the best materials you can afford. Not only will they look better, they'll be easier to work with.

Some of my stash - tooling lamb, part of a white garment hide, turkish & tooling calf scraps, and pieces I've dyed for other projects.

For most saddles, you'll want to buy 2-3 oz vegetable tanned tooling calf. This is a good thickness for Traditional and Classic pieces, but might require skiving or thinning for smaller scales. Tooling calf can be used for most things, including covering seats and strap goods. This kind of leather can be acquired from a lot of places, but if you aren't exactly sure what you're looking for the best thing to do (funds allowing) is purchase it from a hobby source. They'll be offering leather with a nice, tight grain in the appropriate thickness.

You can also source reasonable leather from old garments, purses, and craft stores. Beware the pleather purse, though, and be aware that scrap bags from the hobby store are more like 3-4 ounce scrap and are likely to be very hard to work with.

There are some other kinds of leather that can be helpful, too. You can purchase skiver, which is thinner and more flexible than tooling calf, for covering panels, swells, and seats. It usually has a larger grain, but works fairly well. You can also purchase precut lace, which is great if you plan to make strap goods in April! If you plan to make a western saddle, you might need suede for the seat. You can often find suede scrap bags in hobby stores, and with some patience they'll work okay. The best thing is to purchase garment quality suede - the fibers will be smaller and tighter than your average scrap bag suede, making your project look more finished and in scale.

My hardware collection is pretty small - because I have to make most of it!

My hardware collection is pretty small - because I have to make most of it!

Depending on what scale you plan to work in, you will probably have a plethora of hardware available. The hardest part will be picking what to use! There are hobby suppliers for everything from trees and stirrups to buckles, bits, and hooks. If funds are tight or you prefer to work in smaller scales, you'll have a bit more trouble.

Susan Bensema Young's pioneering book (which is now available as a PDF, by the way!) was written back when most things had to be done from scratch. It's a great reference for the new tack maker who may not have the funds to jump in at the deep end. If you plan to make your own hardware and trees, you'll need wire in a variety of gauges and possibly sculpting material or sheet brass - all of which can be picked up at hobby stores. A post on how to make some common kinds of hardware will be coming at a later date.

There are a variety of cast saddle trees available in several scales for both english and western tack. The two best sources are Rio Rondo and Horsing Around. If your budget is tight or you want to make a smaller-than-Classic western saddle or a specialty saddle (endurance, cavalry, etc) then you'll probably need to make your own. Leather, sculpting materials, and metal sheets (brass or sourced from aluminum cans) make great saddle trees. I'm not sure that there are any free tutorials out there for making your own tree, but I have found research into the way that real trees are made is enlightening.

To see an extensive list of online retailers that sell tack making supplies, click here.