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Saddlers Clams Or Stitching Pony? A Leathercraft Breakdown

Are you unsure which to invest in? I discus everything you need to know in this comparison guide.

So let's jump right in with the basics and work our way up the stitching hierarchy!


What is a stitching pony?


The most common stitching aid is the ‘pony’. Usually clamped to a table, then opened and closed around your leatherwork via a rotating knob.


Originally a stitching pony would have been placed on the floor with the tips of the jaws poking up between the thighs.


vintage stitching pony saddlers clams saddle stitching
Vintage stitching pony from the late 1800's

The stitching pony gets its name from the much larger saddlers stitching ‘horse’. As the name suggests, it's a four legged wooden stool which is straddled for comfort during long stitching sessions with straps and belts etc.

stitching horse stitching pony saddlers clams
A stitching horse next to a pony

These days, a stitching pony either clamps onto the edge of your table, or there is a base plate that goes on top of a chair underneath your thighs.


stitching pony saddlers clams leatherwork leathercraft
Modern stitching ponies

However, stitching clams to a beginner leather crafter must seem like a very confusing contraption!


Not only are there different styles, but they are used differently to a stitching pony.


What are saddler’s clams?


Saddlers clams are normally used between the legs at an angle around 45 degrees depending on preference, personal height and length of clams.


But this brings us to the main issue for many who are new to the way of the clam. How do I see the back side of my stitches as I progress along the seam? Great question!


Unless you use a mirror, you can’t see what you are doing. Stitching is done this way by feel and muscle memory - which comes with practice.


You can absolutely stitch blind on the rear side without an awl by punching through completely with your pricking irons, but the clams and the awl go together like peanut butter and jam (US: jelly;).


The awl helps you stitch by giving you a reference point on the rear side. Care must be taken to avoid pricking your finger, but you can use the needle on the rear side to touch the awl blade. So when the blade is removed, a hole is left behind and the needle falls into it. At which point you will see the needle appear through the front face side of your seam.


french saddlers clams saddle stitched leathercraft leatherwork
French saddlers clams in use

What’s the benefit of a saddler's clam over a stitching pony?


There are several benefits. Firstly is speed of use. A clam doesn’t need screwing or unscrewing every time you place something in the jaws, or even just to move the seam up for the next row of stitches.

Secondly, you have versatility. Stitching in the base of a large bag to a side panel wouldn’t be much fun with a standard stitching pony, but most clams have a very large throat (inside of the jaws) so that large objects can be accommodated with relative ease, as well as small items too.

Below is an example of a large piece (though feel free not to watch all 3 hours!)

Lastly we have the opening. Specifically French clams. These can open wide to accommodate large items such as boxes, tubes, cases and much more.In the video below you can see the French clams easily open up for the wooden box making jig. Good luck using English clams for that!


So what types of stitching clams are there?


The main two types are English and French. They differ by the closing mechanism.


French saddlers clams leatherwork quilted lambskin
French saddlers clams stitching a delicate project. Screenshot from the video course 'Solid Leather Box Making'

French clams don’t close by themselves or apply any tension to hold your work. They must be used at an angle between your thighs so that the weight of one of your thighs presses the clams shut against your other thigh. In this way the work is held secure.

For this reason they can’t be used upright, unless you wrap resistance bands about ⅓ of the way up the jaws.

The benefit of this design however, is the wide jaws to accommodate larger projects. To remove your work only needs the lifting of your thigh.


english saddlers clams saddle stitched abbey england abbeyengland
English saddlers clams in use

English clams on the other hand, want to stay closed under tension all the time. A wing nut can reduce (but not eliminate) or increase tension depending on your project needs.

This means they can be held upright between the thighs on a high enough stool so that you can see both sides of your seam.

The downside being the reduced jaw opening which isn’t much more than your average stitching pony. So boxes are out and a briefcase handle may be all the jaws can.. handle.


Further learning:


How to set up saddlers clams and basic usage.


Clam finishing video course highlights.


English vs French clams, a breakdown.


Conclusion:

Although there is no right answer when choosing between the two (one is not better than the other) it really does come down to considering your leathercraft needs such as:

Comfort: Do you suffer with back or hip issues for example? If so, then a stitching pony may be a better fit for you in a standing position.

Style of projects: Do you prefer to create larger projects such as bags? Then a saddlers clam is definitely the more practical option.


Do you have any thoughts on stitching equipment? Tell me below what you have the most success with!


Philip

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11 Comments


ddunn68
ddunn68
Feb 26, 2022

I am thoroughly enjoying this floor mounted stitching clam. I guess it's not really mounted to the floor, but it has a base on the floor. It also has an extension arm that makes stitching floppy things like bags much easier because it holds the floppy part up and out of the way. This particular one is from Romanov Tools in Russia. You can find them on Etsy.


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There is also the option to add a stirup and strap to a clam. The stirup is used to add tension to the jaws, keeping the leather in place

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Good call! Do you have one yourself?

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LizzieMade
LizzieMade
Feb 22, 2022

Thanks Philip, very useful. I currently have a quite nice stitching pony. It doesn't have a wingnut to open & close it, but a little lever that lifts up, then is pushed down to close. Tension is set with a separate little wingnut, so it can be adjusted at the start of sewing, then left the same as I shuffle a project along/around in the pony jaws. The pony has a nice stand and good height, so I can use it by sitting on the stand, or on a table top with a high chair, or standing. You're right though, that there is limited space vertically between the jaws, so when I begin to make larger projects, I will n…

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Thanks for sharing that with us Lizzie! I'd probably say English, but both have a bit of a learning curve.

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Thank you Philip for a detailed explanation. I always find little nuggets of information from your blog posts, IG, podcast, and your courses (naturally!) that help me in my leathercraft. For example this post made me reconsider English clams since the wing nut keeps the jaws constantly under tension. I started leathercraft 2 years ago with a regular $15 garbage of a table top vice from Aliexpress. The worst part about the vice is adjusting the jaws with the rod on the side. Long story short for the last 1.5 years I've been using french clams and a Jerome David awl (can't thank you enough for this recommendation!). But tool envy is real and I've been thinking of purchasing Engli…

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Thank you Mikhail! Glad you like all the content. If you don't really have the need, French will be fine for your needs. I really like English clams for rolled handles or projects that need the extra tension (large panels of waxy leather etc)

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Thanks Philip,

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You're most welcome Michelle!

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