Saddle & Saddle Tree Fitting

Saddle Tree Construction

Posted On 01/24/2023 By Tom Lamprey

Saddle Tree Construction 


I build all custom trees for our saddles. They are made with a combination of power tools and hand tools. There are four components of the tree. The fork which consists of a wood horn such as a wade tree or a metal horn usually used on the slickfork trees and swell fork trees. The cantle, and two bars. The picture below is a Hamley type wade. It is as close to the original wade that Tom Dorrance had made at Hamley Saddlery in Pendleton, OR. Being hand made it is my version as each tree will have subtle differences.
Hamley Wade Tree Style by Tom Lamprey


Each component is glued up made of multiple laminations of wood. This gives the tree great stability against wood movement from moisture, and strength from the alternating grain patterns in the individual pieces. For the fork of a tree I use a combination of Baltic Birch Plywood (cabinet grade) and either Hard Maple or Red Elm, there are 6-8 laminations in a 5″ fork stock thickness, the horn is capped with Red Elm which is a local wood here in Northeast Oklahoma. I can also make exposed horns out of either local woods or even exotic hardwoods. The cantle is made up of 4 laminations of Baltic Birch Plywood. Finally the bars are made from Tulip Poplar also called Yellow Poplar which is a hardwood (actually a member of the magnolia family). We use this hardwood for its lightness yet it is incredibly strong. It also has a property that when it breaks it usually breaks with the grain of the wood and not across. This gives the wood the ability to be carved down fairly narrow so that we can recess the stirrup slots on both the back of the slot and front. The other part of the process is that we cull all defects bigger than 1/4″. No knots in our trees, only high quality lumber is used.

Saddle Tree and Furniture

The saddle tree in essence is a piece of furniture. The same principles for wood moisture and movement apply to the tree. Good woodworking techniques are very important. The joints or mortises of the fork to bars and cantle to bars need to be precise in order for the tree to have the strength of rigors of roping and riding. That precision also ensures better squareness across the whole tree.  Having many years of furniture making under my belt it stands to reason i would apply that knowledge to my saddle trees.

Tree Bars


This picture shows the bottom of the bars with the recess for the stirrup slots. A lot of trees makers do not do this because they use pine instead of Yellow Poplar and the pine just does not have the strength to support the cuts.

Saddle Tree Bars

Lumber being selected for grain direction before the glue process.

The bars being glued.

The fork being glued up in our 20 ton shop press.

The Woodworking part of building a saddle tree.

Tree bars glued up with lamination and cut out to shape on the bandsaw.

Tree bar mortises cut out on a jig on my 36" 1906 Crescent Bandsaw

Finished Wood Saddle Tree

The saddle tree is finished with 3 coats of Marine varnish. Once dry it will be ready to either be rawhided or fiber/epoxied. It is important to seal the tree completely before rawhiding as this creates a moisture barrier that helps defend against seasonal changes in moisture and humidity. Once the tree is rawhided again 3 coats of shellac are applied which gives added moisture barrier to the tree. Shellac also provides a good medium for the barge cement/glue to adhere to. I use deer rawhide lace for the rawhide and stainless steel ring shank nails to secure the rawhide to the tree.

Final tree finished in Rawhide and sealed with 3 coats of shellac.

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