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How to build a sawbuck pack saddle

Updated February 21, 2017

A sawbuck pack saddle is used to transport equipment and supplies on a horse. The sawbuck refers to the X-shape of the two saddle cross members. The two projections on the top of the X on each cross member are used to hang panniers. Panniers are solid-sided or canvas containers used to transport the supplies and equipment. The sawbuck pack saddle is the simplest of the pack saddles to construct. The project requires some skills in both wood and leather working, as well as equipment, but falls within the capability of most do-it-yourselfers.

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  1. Cut four cross members 20 inches long out of 1-inch by 2-inch hardwood lumber. Form these two cross members into to two Xs with about 6 inches extending above the junction and the rest below. The angle of the X is determined by the back of the horse. Measure the horse's back by bending a stiff wire across the back or bend the wire to fit the inside of a good-fitting saddle.

  2. Connect the two pieces of each cross member by creating a mortise and tenon joint. Trial fit the two pieces to the proper X and mark the intersection. Remove half the wood from each cross member in the intersecting space. The two pieces should then fit together firmly with no added width to the cross member. Fasten each cross member together using two 1/4-inch bolts at the intersection.

  3. Add two 1 inch by 4 inch bars to each side of the saddle. The bars are the supports that run the length of the saddle and the horse's back. The bars will be the wood part of the saddle that comes in contact with the horse. The bars are usually 20 inches long but they can be adjusted to fit the back of the horse. Drill holes through the bars to accommodate the 1 1/2-inch wood screw where they will attach to the cross member. Enlarge the ends of the drilled holes wide enough to accommodate the head of the screw. Countersink the 1 1/2-inch screws used to fasten the bars to the cross members.

  4. Fasten 2-inch wide latigo leather to the sawbuck pack saddle tree. Loop the leather around the X of the cross member and bring each end back to the bars and fasten to the bars with 5/8-inch wood screws. Wrap the end of latigo around a 4-inch metal ring and fasten the end back to the latigo with rivets. This creates rings hanging on each side, below the X of the cross members.

  5. Fasten the rings of each side together using a length of latigo leather and leather rivets.

  6. Use the rings as connection points for a double-rigged girth, two girths below the saddle and around the belly of the horse, a breast collar that runs around the front of the horse from ring to ring to keep the saddle from sliding backwards and a breech strap, around the rump of the horse, to keep the saddle from sliding forward. All of these straps connect to the saddle via the rings below the sawbuck cross members.

  7. Tip

    Round all of the wood pieces that come in contact with the horse. Make sure no portions of the saddle gouge the horse or create discomfort to the animal.

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Things You'll Need

  • 1 by 2 inch hardwood board (4 feet)
  • 1 by 4 inch hardwood board (8 feet)
  • Power saw
  • Power drill
  • 4 bolts and nuts, 1/4-inch
  • 1 1/2-inch wood screws
  • 2-inch wide latigo leather (6 feet)
  • Leather punch
  • 16 leather rivets 16
  • Rivet setter
  • 4 metal rings, 4-inch

About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.

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