Somerset has been sitting quietly in the corner of my room for a few months now. I’ve been cleaning and moisturising the remaining leather, in the hope that some of it might be salvageable.
Over the holidays, I finally was able to drive down to Brisbane and take Somerset in to be assessed by Wendy Tidbold, who is a professional sidesaddler. The verdict was grim.
None of the leather is salvageable, it needs to be stripped down to the tree and built back up again using new materials. The cost for this would be the same, if not more, than getting a brand new one custom-made.
Also, Somerset’s tree is the old fashioned sort so harder to ride in, and harder to fit a horse to. And it’s all too big for me, about an inch and a half too big.
However I had lots of fun checking out Wendy’s collection of saddles, and drooling over the new ones she’s made.
So I came home and decided to strip Somerset down to the tree myself. At least this way I get to learn about saddle construction, and the tree will be far easier to store without all the lumps of old leather.
Sadly I didn’t photograph me removing the rest of the leather. It was quite interesting, especially the fixed head. It was wrapped with the cream checked wool fabric and the stuffing was built up to provide the different raised areas around the embroidered part.
Cutting away the old seat webbing. The shaping for the head and seat are still present – it’s very thick, folded leather.
The tools of my trade – needle nosed pliers and a bread and butter knife.
Inside of the fixed head – compacted fluff still stuck around the nail holes
Can you see the crack at the base of the fixed head?
Oh no! A crack! Where all those nails are
But the head is still firmly in place and there’s no movement. On inspection, it seems that the whole tree is made of laminated pieces of wood, and maybe that the head was constructed separetely? The raised cantle is seperate too. The things I learn!
Each nail had to be individually prised out
Cantle, with the crupper ring. The join in the wood is visible on the bottom right
The old-fashioned roller bar stirrup assembly. And the screw for the leaping head
Light reinforcing through the gullet. Look at all those nail holes!
The underside of the gullet is also reinforced lightly.
The broken point. Here you can see what the wood looks like, without the brown paint.
The naked tree!
No cutback head, but it’s a reasonable height and reasonable width
Then I tried to work out what to do about the layer of cheesecloth, stuck down with brown… paint? I understand saddlers used to use cheesecloth and shellac to bind saddle trees, but this isn’t laquery, it’s like nasty paint.
I decided to try sanding it off. Didn’t shift my cup of tea at first.
Sanding scum, floating on my cup of tea
Sanding the top layers of brown muck off revealed more cheesecloth
The tree was bound with cheesecloth, then painted in… paint? Something dark brown and nasty, to stick it all down. I assume this was to give it more strength
Sanding got rid of the rough wooden edges, but didn’t really remove the brown paint. It just made dirty powder everywhere that was all tacky. I had to hose off the tree to get rid of it all!!!
Still damp from the wash down
Still lots of brown muck to remove
I got some of the brown paint off – solvents are up next
So I need to hit up Bunnings for some solvents. But since I have no idea what the brown gunk is, I don’t know which solvent to use!