The things we record and why - part one
We are no longer building saddle trees. We have two saddle fit videos available on our westernsaddlefit.com website. Western Saddle Fit - The Basics, aimed at riders, is available either on DVD or streaming on Vimeo while the six hour series Well Beyond the Basics, aimed more for professionals but understandable by anyone, is available by streaming on Vimeo. (We left this website up because we have had many requests to keep the information available.)
One of the things I wrote about a while back as being a good reason for ordering a hand made tree is detailed record keeping. I figured it was time to go through what all we keep track of on every tree and why we think it is worth while recording it. Over the years we have added more and more items to our list of "things important enough to record" so we don't have all these measurements on the earlier trees. By now we have 51 columns on our computer database into which I can enter information on every tree we build.
First of, I want to explain why we keep such extensive records. It is for two main reasons: 1.) It is helpful to keep track in order to be able to give information to people in the future who may ask. It can either be a customer calling up and saying, "I need another one just like you built me in 2006" or someone calling about the specs in a tree in a saddle they may have purchased second hand. We actually get these phone calls and it is good to be able to help them out. 2.) We aren't educated enough to figure out the combinations and permutations of everything about trees mathematically, but in looking at retrospective records, we can (and have used them to) figure out a lot about how trees actually work and how changing something affects everything else. Our database has been an incredibly useful tool in this way.
Now, onto the things we record...
The first thing on the list is a serial number. We put this in the largest font size on the tag we glue on every tree. It is a pretty simple system. The first two numbers are the last number of the year in which we took the order. The next two numbers are the month in which we took the order. And the last three numbers are the order number for that year. So here you can tell that this tree was ordered in January, 2013 and it was the sixth order for the year.
We have to put the zeros in to keep the computer happy when it sorts our database according to number. Actually, we had to change our system at one stage. We used to put the month first, then the year and then the order number within the year, but the computer didn't like that method when it came to sorting, so we modified it. Keeping computers happy takes a lot of people's time these days...
Next is the name of the customer who ordered the tree. This is usually the saddle maker who will be building the saddle, but we do get orders from individuals who want a tree either to build on themselves or to take to the saddle maker of their choice.
Most of our trees are ordered by custom saddle makers for specific customers so the third item we put on the bar tag, if they want us to, is the name of the final customer. It makes it easier for us as tree makers if the saddle maker gives us their customer's name (whether we put it on the bar tag or not) as then if they ever want to refer back to a specific tree and they don't have the serial number, they can tell us the customer's name and it is easy to figure out which tree it was.
Something else we keep track of is dates - when the tree was ordered, built, rawhided, paid for and shipped. The date in our official data list is when the tree was built in the wood. Knowing that is helpful because over time we have made changes in how we do things or added more options, etc. and we often have kept track of when we made those changes. Knowing the date the tree was built tells us where in the ongoing development of our trees that tree came so we can tell some basic things without necessarily knowing the specific number.
Now, on to the actual tree. The first set of data we record is about the fork.
Is the tree a Wade, a Modified Association, a copy tree or an "insert customer's name/initials" Special? Obviously this is a pretty basic piece of information to record, but the other reason I like it in our data base is because I can then sort by fork style and learn things like "the most common swell fork style we build is a Modified Association". Is this useful information? Sometimes...
This line was one that got added later when I was trying to figure out something (I can't remember what now) and couldn't easily sort the data for what I needed. There are some differences in how things are made between Wades, other types of slick forks and most swell forks, so this line has those three options to allow me to sort our database into those groups for our own research purposes. I also list side saddles here and sometimes copy trees that just don't fit into our normal classification system.
Top cut angle
This again wasn't on our original recording sheets. There are pretty standard top cut angles that go with specific stock thicknesses or fork styles, and at first we thought we didn't need to make a separate entry for it. But then there are always the exceptions... For example, when you put extra stock thickness on a swell fork, you need to increase the top cut angle so it doesn't look too downhill, or someone just wants a different look. And since top cut angle is important in the relationship between gullet height and hand hole height, not having these exceptions recorded really confused the data when I was trying figure out the relationships more precisely. As late as last summer I updated these charts again, and having the top cut angle recorded over the last number of years was vital to knowing I had them correct.
Pretty standard measurement to record as it is one of the usual things saddle makers order. Like we keep saying, there is no place to measure a slick fork, so the "width" is more a name for a shape than a measurement but either way it tells us how wide the fork was on that tree.
The fork angle tell us how leaned ahead or stood up a fork is. We used to have only two fork angles, but in the last few years we have added an even more stood up angle for trees such as calf roping trees. (We also have built a Portuguesa style tree with the fork leaning backwards, and who knows, Aussie style backwards leaning forks may be in the future...) So this information gets recorded in this column.
I like to say that when we change the fork angle, the universe shifts on its axis. Now, while that may not be technically true (and I NEVER exaggerate), it really does affect a lot of things in how we build the tree. So having this line in the database has been very helpful in sorting data when I am figuring out stuff. The other reason to keep track is because while most fork styles go with a specific fork angle, there are some, such as a Buster Welch, that can be built either leaned ahead or stood up. Also, some people like something different and will ask us to stand up fork styles that are normally leaned ahead and vice versa. So when I am trying to find a picture of that stood up Taylor fork that looked so neat, I can check the database for a Taylor fork style with a 12 degree fork angle and come up with the serial number and customer name pretty quickly, and that information helps me find the picture. These sorts of things make recording this data worth the time and effort.
Stock thickness is how thick the fork is from front to back. While there tends to be stock thicknesses that usually go along with specific fork styles, there are always customers who want something a bit different than the norm. (That is what puts the "custom" into our "customers"...) Also, stock thickness also affects the gullet height to hand hole height relationship. So for both these reasons, keeping track of the stock thickness of every tree we build is a good idea.
Gullet height is one of the more common measurements everyone seems to know about because it gives an idea of the amount of clearance under the gullet. We record the ordered gullet height, of course. But by recording precise actual measurements, we have been able to figure out how the measured gullet height changes with different bar angles for the same fork configuration, so we now can adjust how we mark out the forks according to bar angle. (Remember that the height off the table doesn't necessarily tell us the clearance on the horse though, since that is a combination of the chosen bar specs, gullet height and hand hole height, not to mention the horse's wither conformation and the padding used. But at least it is one thing we can compare between trees...)
Hand hole height
The hand hole height is also very important in determining clearance for the horse, as we discuss in our Avoiding the Withers page. Recording measurements for hand hole height with different bar angles has helped us in the same way as recording them for gullet height. We have some customers who now order by hand hole height, as they see the benefit of using this measurement rather than gullet height in setting the clearance closer to where the wither is more likely to contact.
Arch height (or BTH in our books)
This measurement is the most important one in determining how much clearance there will actually be for a horse's withers - with the correct bar spread and angle. While some people will widen out the tree to get it to sit lower, and vice versa, this is not a wise way of setting clearance. You need to set the bar width and angle to fit the horse properly, and then set the amount of clearance by changing the height of this arch on the fork. This isn't something people order or most people even think about, but it is one of the more crucial measurements we use in fitting the horse.
What is interesting is that even among tree makers there is no name for this measurement. The best we could come up with when we originally started recording it was BTH - Bottom to Top of the Handhole. Arch height makes more sense, so that is what we have started to call it, but in all our charts and records and when we discuss things together in the shop, the terminology is still BTH...
Again, this is not something people order, but gullet thickness combined with arch height is what determines where the top of the fork is (at the back) and therefore how close the base of the horn is to the horse. For a metal horn fork, we need 2 1/8" of wood here to accommodate the length of screws needed to hold the horn on. For our Wades, the measurement is 1 1/4", a full 7/8" less, because we don't need that screw length (which is one of the critical things that makes a Wade, a Wade).
Other wood post horns have varying amounts of gullet thickness, not because they need them for strength but so that the hand hole height doesn't look stupidly high. It can end up really high with a thinner gullet because the overall height of the fork often needs to be higher than on a Wade in order to keep the shape of the fork reasonable. Too low and there isn't enough room for adequate undercut under the swells and they look "squashed". So we keep track of what we do on all the trees, just so we know...
That is what we record for forks. We still have to talk about bar specs and other things that affect the fit for the horse, fitting the rider, the cantle, the horn and a few miscellaneous things. This topic could keep me busy for a while...