Friday, October 10, 2008

Tack Tips--punching holes

In-scale working tongue buckles are a hallmark of most high quality model horse tack. However, when it comes making holes for those buckle tongues to go into, the tackmaker confronts the problem--how to punch holes on straps as small as one sixteenth of an inch. If you go to a leather store and ask for a hole punch, this is what you will get:
While the smallest setting on this punch will work OK for wider straps like Western saddle billets, it still isn't ideal. For a long time, I simply poked holes in my straps with an awl. That worked in a sense, but the holes didn't stay open very well and made adjusting the buckles really, really frustrating. I'd heard of people fashioning hole punches out of hypodermic needles, but didn't feel that enterprising.

And then one day it came to me--Mechanical pencils!
I bought this set of mechanical pencils some five years ago and have punched untold thousands of holes with them. I found them at Office Depot and spent about $15 for the pair. It's important that the tip be metal--the cheapie plastic tips won't work. I use the bigger one (size .07) for 1/8 inch and larger straps. The smaller one (.05) is perfect for 3/32" straps and works fine on 1/16" straps too, provided you punch your hole in the exact center of the strap. There simply isn't enough width to be off to one side or the other. There are some days, even after all this time, that I just can't punch a line of holes on 1/16" lace without breaking the the strap.

Here's how you do it. Ryan has centered the pencil over the prepared strap which is placed on a plastic cutting mat (I found mine at the Leather Factory). He lifts the mallet a couple inches over the top of the pencil...
...and brings the mallet down with a sharp tap. If Ryan was a serious tack maker he would hold the pencil straight up and down rather than off at this angle. However, Ryan is far more interested in science and technology than horses and tack so he doesn't care if his holes are less than perfect!Here's a picture of the finished product--a nice, neat line of in scale holes on your leather strap.Please let me know if you found this tutorial to be helpful. If the response is positive, I will post some more Tack Tips in the future.

14 comments:

  1. IMMENSELY helpful! I've been wondering how you do those teeny little holes, what a great tip!

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  2. I agree! What a neat tip, thanks!

    I would love to see more tips like this, you explained everything well and the pictures are great! : )

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  3. OMG! This is SO helpful - I have been really wondering how those tiny holes were made! I've been using a darning needle to just poke them, but that is difficult since it just tears a hole, it doesn't actually *remove* a circle of leather!

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  4. WOW! This is an awesome tip! Perfect solution for this problem.

    ~ Chris Nandell

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  5. Holy smokes... that's GREAT! Thanks for sharing, I am gearing up for a Mameluk costume which will mean MUCH more leather working than I am used to doing. YOU ROCK!

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  6. Just an update to this post--I've discovered that Hobby Lobby carries Staedtler mechanical pencils in their drafting section. They are sold individually for about $7 each and they come in four sizes. The smallest is .03 which is *tiny*. It makes the most perfect little holes and is ideal for 1/16" straps. Woo hoo!

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  7. Thanks again for sharing this info, Jennifer... I remember staring at you in awe when I came to visit you last year! You should really consider doing a site dedicated to tack tutorials!

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  8. Oh thank you so much! You have helped me so much! I have always wanted to make tack etc.. for my one breyer horse, but I don't have the hardware. You have just given me so many more ideas to make up for what I don't have. :)

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  9. amazing!! sooooo helpful! i have just been using a pin to stab a hole!

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  10. *face-palm* Of course! They've been staring at me for years! Thanks Jennifer!

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  11. I know this is an old post, but this so incredibly brilliant I just can't thank you enough. i have tried needles from the vet, awls, etc... all with disastrous effects. oh thank you so much. Can I ask for another tip? What do you use for a stitch mark maker? All of the ones you can purchase are way to big. I do know of somebody with a wheel that is 20 holes to an inch, but she was gifted it and can not find another one. I have also heard of watch gears being used. I would love to know how you have solved this problem. thanks so much!!
    JO

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  12. Hi Jo--Almost a decade ago, I bought a three piece pounce wheel set from MicroMark and I've been using the two smaller sizes ever since! The smallest is the most useful by far. I use it for all my stitchmarking. The medium is useful to mark holes when I actually want to stitch something. I don't know what happened the largest. I haven't seen it in years, and honestly, I don't miss it. It was much too big for my purposes!

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  13. This was EXTREMELY helpful, I am new to the hobby and have been looking for something like this for a while, thanks!

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  14. This was SUPER helpful! Every once in a while, I make a saddle for my tiny collection of breyer classics, but I can never make a girth! Now I know how to make the little holes! Thank you so much! I will be making much more tack now! Bridles, Saddles, Halters, Boots, and more! Thank you again!

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