New cover for an old saddle

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  • Some may be interested in how I the recovered a tensioned saddle. It would have been easier to buy a new one. But that wasn't the point. I have a 2009 Scott Addict carbon bike that I bought, along with a Giant TCR which I have had for 5 years. The saddle belongs to a bike I owned since the early 1970s, which was a conversion of a 3 speed lightweight racer built for my father in 1948.
    The bike is being converted again, this time to a fixed gear. I wanted to keep the original surviving elements, the frame and forks, saddle frame and headset, and use it as a training bike.
    The original saddle makers name at the back has been lost. It is the tensioned saddle although the nose tensioning mechanism uses a screw driver not a spanner to adjust.
    The saddle cover was made of rubber. If anyone can identify the brand please let me know. [now identified as a Dunlop CL7 Narrow]

  • the next step was to create a cast of the saddle. I first made an outer mold with the cover still on the frame. Modeling clay was used to support the cover during the casting.

    This was to get an accurate cast of the inside without the pressure from the plaster.

    The cover was then removed from the frame and the cover was placed in the outer shell to hold its shape. Plaster was then poured into the cover to make the shape needed.

  • Finding the leather was the hardest part. From what I can find on the net you need to have vegetable tanned leather at least 5mm thick. In Adelaide that can be found, as long as you want a whole side. That was an overkill for one saddle. After two tests with 4mm thick leather, which I considered too thin for my use, I had some sent from interstate.
    It is about 7.5mm thick, vegetable tanned, and very, very stiff.
    I made a pattern and cut roughly to shape, leaving enough around the edges for the forming process to pull to shape.
    The leather gets soaked in water until all of the tiny bubbles stop appearing. It should be very flexible. You can try warmer water (up to 60 degrees C) to stiffen the leather but shrinking can occur. My leather was stiff enough without this step.

  • From my brother-in-law I borrowed his homemade vacuum forming equipment. It is a converted fridge compressor, a filter and some gauges. The equipment needs to gradually suck the air out and then hold the pressure for about 30 min.

    A ziplock bag big enough for the saddle mold and duct tape to seal up where the hose entered the bag were also needed.

  • The soaked leather was let 'rest' for 10 min then draped over the mold, and both were placed in the zipock bag.

    The pump was started and the air started to be sucked out, with the bag pulling the leather down over the mold.

    Here I stopped the pump, removed the leather, trimmed the excess leather so it sat better on the mold and restarted the pump.

  • Very interesting. Why do you have to use air pressure to mould the leather to the shape of the saddle? Is that the technique used in the industry?

  • After 30min of the vacuum, the pump was switched off, the saddle removed, and the saddle was gently dried. I used a hooded gas BBQ on the lowest setting with a accurate thermometer. I was able to hold it to a constant 50 degrees C. Over 60 degrees C will change the composition of the leather and make it very hard and can make it brittle.(Cuir Bouilli) The leather was alternated between off the mold to maximise drying, and on the mold to minimise shrinkage. After two hours in the BBQ, it was allowed to dry naturally for a few days.
    When dry, I drilled the holes with an electric drill (yes it is that thick) and installed it on the frame ready for cutting.
    I used bolts for this stage. I will use modified countersunk bolts for the final attachment. This will suit the shiny bits on the rest of the bike and to differentiate it from a regular Brooks.

    I will post more of the trimming (inspired by Skully), and the burnishing of the edges.

  • Very interesting. Why do you have to use air pressure to mould the leather to the shape of the saddle? Is that the technique used in the industry?

    I used the vacuum forming as I do not have a massive press, metal molds. Brooks have that. They are on an industrial scale, mine is on a homemade scale. We should give due homage to traditional workers like at Brooks. I better appreciate the process having done this.

  • I used a hooded gas BBQ on the lowest setting with a accurate thermometer.

    You're not doing much to break down Australian stereotypes. ;-)

    Seriously though, I think it's great that you've taken the time to give something old a new lease of life. Sure, it'd be much easier to go out and buy a leather saddle, but homemade's got a charm all of its own, and like you say, you've learnt a lot in the process.

    Is there anything you would do differently if you were to start from scratch?

  • From what I had read of the smell of cooked leather I thought outdoors was the best, and it is very Australian.
    Everything has gone as hoped, but that came after months of searching the internet in all the obscure forums. It appears that making new leather covers is rare. The results I have seen to date on other forums were poor.
    Some of the results for googling leatherworking were enlightening, and the US leatherworkers forums were predominately about making bible covers or gun holsters. The idea for posting this was to provide a resource for others.
    Yesterday it was installing the cloth tape with whipped ends on the new handlebar. Today I start shellacing.

  • good man. really impressed with the effort!

  • One of my favourite threads of all time, and you've only been on the forum a month. Bravo, sir: you're a credit to the forum. This tale of your resourcefulness shall become legend amongst cycling men and women to the ending of the world, particularly if their saddles are sore and chafing.

  • Looking forward to more photos. :-D

  • fuckin amazing!

  • Very impressive.

  • The original frame needed some refurbishment. After a bead blast (a friend has one) it was off to get chromed.

  • final shaping with a Stanley knife and a wood rasp, then sanding of the edges using a disc sander, applying Proofide, then a coat of beeswax and hand buffing to the top.
    first shot is the drive side, because that seems to interest bike riders

    the bows of the linen thread are visible. This is temporary.

    and the full frontal

    The cut edges were burnished just by dampening with water and rubbing with bonefolder (look it up on Wiki)

    When the countersunk steel bolts are modified I will attach the cover and post the finished saddle images.

  • if you need something to close up edges and or the bottom surface try that stuff

    wiki info

    from here

  • wow, big block. a really interesting read. fair play to you sir.

  • Very nice job!

  • beautiful.

    afterwards you need to send it over so skully can chop it for you.... maybe this one doesn't need chopping, at ease skully.

    can i get a 'Big Block Rocks' badge for teddy please. preemptive :-)

  • Good job!

    Interesting - I was looking at my dad's old ( pre-war ) Brooks saddle over the weekend and deliberating on whether I could use it or not. Decided no as it ways a ton. Funnily enough he was telling me that it was bigger when he got it, and that he'd cut the sides down in the late 50's to make it better for racing. Cut down B17 anyone? Nothing new under the sun is there?!


  • thanks for the positive comments, and germanmarc I will try to source some Tragacanth for the edges.

    Skully's work is superb, particularly when you see how it was done.

    I have just been cutting some leather straps then riveting them to my old pedal buckles for an old style tool wrap. My tool wrap will be in a dark leather and I don't carry another spare tyre.

  • This really is fantastic stuff Big Block! Honestly this can be called groundbreaking, it's the first time I've seen so methodical a description of this process and it doesn't seem to be very common as you say, Where's GA2G, this deserves to be in the list of lists!!

  • Big Block

    Amazing efforts, I think all this shows a seriously practical and adventurous personality is behind the avatar... inspiring. The stumpy nose chop is right up my street!

    Feel free to borrow my chain-link binding 'trademark'. I use 12mm M2 bolts with a nylock nuts, and two bits of old chain (I bind under and over the the flap) for one binding, i.e. a hole on each flap. Or two plates (four holes in all) side by side can be done, but be careful not to foul the area where the seatpost will be, taking into account any flex downwards when ridden. Also it's quite tricky to do up the bolts, so if you can rivet them like Brooks do, so much the better.

    I can't imagine how you managed to find hide that thick. Brooks use about 5mm maximum as far as I know, for the Team Pro, which comes from the rump of the cow. Those are very tough on the gooch - so i hope your saddle (7mm thick) won't do you an irreversible mischief! I know in the past Brooks (who also made Lycett and Wrights) used much thinner stuff, even for the race saddles, then a second layer of a material I haven't really identified, almost like a glass fibre stuff, to stiffen and support the top (not sides), which was rivetted together with the molded leather.

    Good to know I can 'toast' the leather up to 50c without damaging - I have seen that brittling that heat can do and it's not pretty. I may experiment with hotter places when next I block out a sagged saddle.

    One more thing: Have you looked into using big copper rivets instead of screws? I know a couple of places where you can get some, let me know if you're interested.

    I'm SURE Andrea at Brooks would love to see your work, you should get in touch with them. They are very interested in 'heritage' stuff, often re-release older saddles and trawl through their archives for inspiration.

    BTW I have seen French (Ideale perhaps?) saddles with nose-rivets in about the same place as your old rubber one. VeLLo and Lolo (on here) might know, being our Gallic brothers on here with an interest in the vintage side of things.

    Keep in touch with your developments. Amazing work, dude.

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New cover for an old saddle

Posted by Avatar for Big_Block @Big_Block