Elko Gallery Saddle- Part 4

GROUND SEAT AND FILLERS- We have the saddle tree out and on the drawdown stand. Many of you know that I build all of my own saddle trees, and this tree for the Elko project is not different from all the rest, in that it is a wooden form that is hand hewn, then covered in actual rawhide which we also make.

When rawhide dries tight there can be small indentations around some of the nails driven into place to force or hold the rawhide within a concave area for instance. Since this saddle will be in a gallery, and it is made of lighter leather, I felt the need to fill these low areas with leather so it could be level and smooth when done.

I will place these PLUGS or FILLERS as some folks call them in at the same time that I am laying in the groundseat. For those who know little about saddles, and saddle construction- the groundseat as we call it, gives the seat its final shape and its maybe the most important aspect of  a saddlers skills. To be able to build a seat that a person can stand to sit in all day long, that's the goal. Since this saddle will live its life in a gallery setting........only the janitor will get to sit in it as he watches Robin Williams on reruns of Night at the Museum.

I have a 12" Fortuna Bandknife- which I love since it offers so much control over the thickness of pieces to be used for plugs. I placed a total cantle back piece of 2-3oz thickness so I could totally hide the rawhide stitching on the back of the cantle. A first layer of ground work was installed under the tin seat, and over the top of my stirrup slot plugs. Following that was a second payer of ground seat that I fold heavily before installation so that it is pliable and able to form and be glued in tight without tension at the outer edges trying to lift it all loose over time. While that glue was setting, I cut a filler to be placed into the entire gullet, much like I done on the cantle back. Both these fillers were very thin, just thick enough to allow me to skive it out nice and level. I sanded the gullet out with a small drum sander attachment on my drill so it was a smooth as I can get. Its 2019- we have electricity now........don't panic you "build it by hand" folks.

Next came the skiving and leveling of the second layer of ground work in preparation for a third and final layer of leather to finish the entire ground seat. Its important that each layer is leveled and shaped to form a nice seat. The actual beginning of a nice seat starts in the shaping of the wood on the bars of the saddle tree, what we do with the leather is simply a continuation of that shape. That is just one reason that I chose to build my own saddle trees.

While the glue is setting on my third layer of the seat, I went to work on the top edge of the gullet. I wanted this edge to be sharp and crisp, not a large radius edge, but rather an acute edge. So a plug was required over the leading edge of the gullet, only a 3-4oz thickness, and it met up tightly with the layer that covered the bottom side of the gullet. Those two filler pieces came together to form a very tight sharp corner. A small amount of skiving went inot the top layer so that we could maintain that nice SCOOP shape out front of the horn, its just makes a more attractive line is all on a finished saddle.

Top layer of ground seat is pulled in tight and allowed to set under the drawdown strap for and few hours to stay shaped and be sure the glue sets. Before you can call it a night, be sure to final shape the top layer of the seat with spoke shaves and heel shaves. At this stage we are simply removing high spots since most of the seat shaping has taken place on two layers below this one.

In the morning, when the seat has dried over night I will sand it down smooth with rasp and drum sander, and then we can move on.

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