How To: Western Stirrups

Note: I'm a little rusty on the tutorial thing, guys, so if you find any parts of it are a little sticky, let me know! I'll do what I can to clarify and help out.

 Western stirrups are tricky. They have to be in scale and sturdy, bonus points if they swing freely. I've tried several different methods, from super gluing a small piece of toothpick or leather to the sides as a roller (the bar that joins the two sides) and covering pieces of aluminium can with leather. I've used the following method for a while now with great success! Like western stirrups in general, it's a little tricky but well worth the effort. You end up with a western stirrup that's properly shaped, can be easily decorated, and doesn't show any of the structure on the exterior.

Update: I tried this with Loctite Super Glue Ultra Liquid Control works, but not nearly as well as the gel formula. I still recommend that!

Super glue gel (I use Loctite brand)
Leather glue (I use Tandy Leathercraft Cement)
Toothpicks for glue application
26 gauge wire
Wire Snips
Needle nose pliers (as fine-tipped as you can)
Leather, dyed and skived.
Paint, to match leather dye or slightly darker (optional)

We'll go from the scrap of leather on the right to finished stirrup, so gather supplies and get ready!

Quick overview: we'll be sandwiching the roller structure between two pieces of leather; the interior piece will be a little shorter than the exerior.

First, figure out how big your stirrup needs to be. There's no one size fits all; compare to your saddle and your horse to figure it out. Sketching it out on a piece of index card can be really helpful. This saddle is for Seabiscuit, and the piece shown is the inner part of the stirrup. It's slightly less than 3/4 of an inch long (each little square is 1/4 inch).

The interior piece should be skived down, but not so thin that it can be easily punctured. It's about half the width of the finished stirrup in the picture above.

Punch a hole in each end of the stirrup as shown above, then we'll move on to constructing the roller.

I'm using 26 gauge wire, which is readily available in any store. I don't recommend going thinner; it's too easy to bump it out of shape.

Create a very small hook at the end (click on the picture above to enlarge and get an idea of how small this is) and clamp it closed, like so:

Then place the clamped end under the smooth part of your pliers and squeeze to flatten it.

You want this to be as flat as possible to reduce bulk - that little end is going to be sandwiched between two layers of leather.

Bend the flat end down at a right angle.

Now, thread the piece of leather over the ends, rough side out:

Dab some super glue on the back of the flattened tab and press it against the leather.

Now, use your pliers to create another 90 degree bend in the wire. This can be tricky - bend gently, then compare it to your fender to see if it will still swing freely.

Once you have the roller length right, make another tiny hook at the end and squeeze it shut once more.

You can trim the excess wire now, or after you've flattened it. If you can get your pliers under the wire, it's best to flatten it while it's at the 90 degree angle, but you can always lift up the wire for easier access and bend it back down.

Gently twist the wire until the loose flattened tab is level with it's mate, then drop a dab of glue on the underside and affix the loose end of the leather.

Great! You have the inside of the stirrup DONE. Congrats! Now to cover the outside.

I use a piece of leather a hair wider and definitely longer than the interior piece, so that I have a little bit of wiggle room as I cover the outside. If you wanted to carve the exterior, I recommend wrapping a piece of paper or index card around the outside and tracing the shape to get a pattern. I put a dab of glue on one end of the stirrup, place my strip of leather as straight as possible, and then press down gently for a moment. Once the glue is holding, I prefer to apply glue to the strip, rather than the stirrup, and wrap it around. You'll end up with something kind of shapeless:

But that's okay. We'll trim up the excess leather:

And carefully shape it. I use needlenose pliers to get a nice, flat tread and then a pair of round nose pliers to give it more curvature. This is best done while the glue is still drying, or while the piece is still damp from sealer.

If you're smart, you'll make sure that the exposed edges of your leather pieces are dyed before you start. If you're like me, you'll forget until the stirrup is done. I used a bit of paint the same color as my leather dye to clean up the edges prior to sealing, and all is well!

Affix to your saddle, and you're good to go. Thanks for playing!


  1. This has me itching to make a western saddle! So clever to flatten the ends of the roller, I never would've thought of that. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  2. This is excellent! I rather hate doing western sets, but this will definitely make life easier when I do.