I’m a store rat. Always have been. If I wasn’t working on my cattle or other FFA projects, I was more than likely to be found in our store. I was also a vocational student, which meant that during my last three years in high school, I spent an hour a day in the school agriculture store. This was in addition to two automobile lessons I took and a college carpentry course. Almost all of the furniture in our house has been refurbished or re-upholstered by me. I have worked on all of our cars and trucks and consider myself a competent welder. Watching YouTube videos and reading books, I learned on my own about blacksmithing, silver soldering, plastic molding, engraving and how to use a milling machine, wood and metal lathe and a key-making machine that I restored. I even took jewelry making classes which helped me make belt buckles and mend old bits and spurs. For years, I have restored items for a very high end antique store.
Having said that, I hate the household arts. I don’t have “thyme” to cook with and I couldn’t stand working at Starbucks and doing the same old “grind” every day. (Pun intended.)
By far what I love most is leatherworking and I have collected hundreds of leatherworking tools along the way. I learned on my own and it was the second hardest skill I learned. (Engraving was the most difficult.) It took me years before I was proud enough of my work to put my name on it. Now I have restored saddles for museums and leather bound French clock boxes that contained $ 25 clocks. One of my miniature saddles brought in $ 50,000 and an album I made was auctioned for $ 18,000.
But leatherworking has its drawbacks. For example, one of my best friends traded in a trade with a well-known leather goods maker for a flowery belt and I was with him when he picked it up. It was aged, fully machined, the edges were smooth and it was a nice belt which I know took at least 10 hours to complete. But on closer inspection, my friend found where the leatherworker had sewn the edge of the belt. It was a big sore and I would have given it up and started over, as I had to do several times. In short, my friend refused the belt and the leatherworker, visibly embarrassed, gave him a new one.
That’s the problem with leatherworking… it’s not that forgiving. In most other trades, if you make a mistake you can save it and redo it, or do something cosmetically to cover up your mistake. This is not the case with leatherworking. Years ago I made what I considered to be a beautiful leather binder with an ornate silver engraving on the cover. To give the leather a nice patina, I covered it with beef foot oil and put it in the sun for two days before applying the final finish. But when I went to retrieve the filing cabinet, I was shocked to find that the neighbor’s dog had turned it into a chew toy.
The worst example of a lot of wasted time was experienced by a great saddler I know as Ron Butler. He has nothing to do with my Wyoming idol, Don Butler, who passed away a few years ago. Don was the best leather designer and toolmaker I have ever seen. And Ron Butler could be in second place. He is so good. Ron had just completed hours of tooling on a saddle fender and it was beautiful. After machining it Ron and his lovely wife spent hours staining all the spaces between the flowers and leaves which in itself is an art as it is very easy to apply the stain to the flowers, leaves and scrolls. Ron’s very young grandson seems to want to follow in Ron’s footsteps because he paid close attention to everything Ron did.
The next morning Ron went to his shop to find that his grandson had taken his permanent markers and pencils and had colored all the flowers and leaves all the colors of the rainbow on the wing. finished. And he definitely didn’t stay within the lines!
I was told Ron was almost “complexion”.