Many tanneries have come and gone, but the one that has stood the test of time like no other is Hermann Oak Leather (St. Louis, est. 1881). Their bark tanning process uses ingredients from sources around the globe. None have been able to duplicate the look, feel, and durability of Hermann Oak Leather.
When available, I use top quality “hot-stuffed” latigo for my strings and tie-latigos. This type of latigo is a chrome tan that is then retanned using fat liquors, waxes, and tallows to produce a ‘loaded’ leather that withstands the abuse of a sweaty horse.
The size of the sides that are available nowadays dictates that we use at least 2 ½ sides per saddle and I calculate at least 20% waste on the leather I buy. This combination of starting out with plenty of leather to choose from and allowing for a high percentage of waste allows me to make good choices on the quality of leather for the respective parts to be cut. Custom saddles are expensive and my goal is to have full confidence in the leathers I choose for my customers.
An important process I added a number of years ago came with a piece of equipment I bought from the late, great Don King. It is a splitter that has a twenty-eight inch blade in it and weighs a half ton. I purchased it to level (split) skirts and other saddle parts, but I use it more as a roller. When adjusted properly, I’ve found that it will compress dampened leather by as much as twenty percent. My riggings, saddle skirts, skirt fillers, and stirrup leathers finish thinner and firmer as a result. Skirts will keep their shape longer and stirrup leathers will last longer when the fibers are compressed in this way.