Harness Repair
Harness Repair
Fig. 1 Diagram of team harness parts.

Harness Repair

The bulk of this information comes to you in edited form from an older Cornell Agriculture Bulletin. The names of the harness parts (and supplies) may be different from what you are used to. That doesn’t make them right or wrong, just different.

Please keep in mind that good, well-cared for harness is cheap insurance for those unexpected moments when excitement, quick moves and heavy strain try to make shredded garbage of your harness. Weak, dry, brittle, and raggy leather will tear and break and may result in injury to your horses, yourselves and bystanders. IT JUST ISN’T WORTH THE RISK! Thanks. LRM

Good Harness Necessary — Harness is an important part of the equipment of many farms. Although buggies and carriages so common a generation ago drawn by high stepping horses with harness elaborately equipped with shining nickel and celluloid mountings have now largely passed from the American scene, and although trucks and tractors are now doing much of the work formerly done by horses both on the farm and in the city, there are certain areas where farms may have from one to several sets of harness in daily use during the farming season. The efficiency of horse labor depends to large extent upon the serviceability of the harness. To get the best possible service from both the horse and its harness is an important factor in the profitable operation of a farm. A broken trace or hame during the rush season may cause an expensive loss of time, besides much inconvenience. Improper adjustment of collars and other parts may soon put the horse out of service with sore neck and shoulders. A rotted and weakened line or hame string may result in a serious accident and injury to both horse and driver. Also, because clean well-kept harness adds a great deal to the attractiveness of a team, the farmer should take pride in keeping his outfit in first class condition.

Proper Care Essential — Good leather harness will give many years of service if properly taken care of. The leather will soon dry out and get hard and brittle, thus breaking easily, if no steps are taken to keep it in good condition. Harness should be washed occasionally and a good quality of harness oil applied in order to keep it soft and pliable. Manure and sweat if allowed to accumulate cause the leather to dry out and crack. Repairs should be made before breaks occur, all harness should be thoroughly overhauled, cleaned and repaired before the busy season starts. The farmer should take advantage of rainy days during the working season to inspect his harness, making necessary repairs and taking all possible precautions to prevent further breakdowns in the field. A few stitches in time will often save much inconvenience and expense.

Harness Repair
Fig. 2 Harness repair parts: (1) Cockeye, (2) Hame clip end, (3) Repair squares,
(4) Concord clip, (5) Conway loop, (6) Hame staple, (7) Hame clip,
(8) Concord clip and cockeye, (9) Buckle repair clip.

Equipment Needed — The equipment necessary for making ordinary harness repairs is not extensive or expensive.

A clamp is needed to hold the work for sewing. This can be made very simply at home. (See Fig. 8) A vise may be used as well.

Sewing is done with No. 10 linen shoe thread which is then waxed by hand and used with ordinary harness needles through holes made with an awl in the leather. A patented sewing awl using prepared thread is sometimes used. It is more convenient to use, but the stitching is not usually so durable as when done by hand. A waxing pad is made by melting some of the wax and placing it on a piece of soft leather or canvas which can easily be held in the hand and rubbed along the thread giving it an even coating of wax.

A small riveting outfit can be used to good advantage. Different types of rivets are used. Riveting is discussed in greater detail later.

The following equipment and supplies will be sufficient for most repair jobs:

  • 1 ball of No. 10 linen shoe thread
  • 1 ball of shoemaker’s black wax
  • 1 ball of beeswax
  • 2 awl handles
  • 3 two-inch awls
  • 1 paper of assorted harness needles
  • 1 pair of dividers
  • 1 four-tube revolving harness punch
  • 1 riveter and rivets
  • 1 knife
  • Necessary repair parts as: leather, straps, snaps, buckles, rings, hame staples, conway loops, concord clips, etc.
Harness Repair
Fig. 3 Untwisting the thread preparatory to tearing.

Preparing Thread for Sewing — An important step in harness repair is the preparation of the sewing thread or “waxed end,” as it is commonly called. A waxed end consists of three or more linen threads waxed tightly together to form one strong, uniform, durable thread with a sewing needle attached to each end. The following steps should be followed carefully.

1. Measure off a suitable length of thread for sewing. The length needed for a particular piece of work can be estimated only after practice. A thread five to six feet in length is about as long as can be handled conveniently. Do not cut or break the thread.

Harness Repair
Fig. 4 Tearing the thread.

2. Tear the Thread — The thread should not be cut or broken off squarely, but it should be untwisted and the fibers torn off in such a way as to make a long tapering end. To do this, lay the thread across the right thigh, grasping the thread tightly with the thumb and fingers of the left hand. With the palm of the right hand roll the thread against the thigh in such a way that the fibers become loose and untwisted at that point. When completely untwisted, the thread may be pulled in two, making ends that are long and tapering, suitable for waxing together. Repeat this procedure until three or four threads of the same length with tapered ends have been torn off. Three threads are usually sufficient for light work. For heavy pieces, such as traces, five or six threads should be used in making a waxed end.

Harness Repair
Fig. 5 Assembling linen threads. Each succeeding thread should project slightly beyond the one before.

3. Place the threads together — The torn threads should be of the same length but should be placed together unevenly, that is, one end of the first thread should extend about an inch or so beyond the end of the second, the third should extend beyond the second, etc., so that when twisted together the combined ends will be long and tapering to a fine point which can be threaded into the needle readily.

4. Wax the ends — Place the middle of the assembled threads over a hook, holding both ends together with the left hand. Holding the waxed pad in the right hand, draw each of the tapering ends through the pad until each is slightly coated and sealed together with the wax.

5. Twist and wax the threads — Still holding the ends with the left hand, twist each end by rolling on the thigh with the palm of the right hand to twist the assembled threads together uniformly. Move the thread back and forth on the hook to equalize the twist. Keep the thread drawn fairly tight to prevent snarling. Do not release the ends or the twist will be lost. Apply the wax by pinching the thread between the folds of the wax pad and rubbing the pad briskly up and down the thread. The friction melts the wax and causes it to be distributed evenly into the thread. Work all parts of the thread to get it smooth and uniform. The thread when finished should be round and hard and black. After sufficient wax has been applied the thread may be smoothed by drawing it between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. To give the thread a hard finish making it slip through the leather more readily, rub with beeswax. Do not get beeswax on the ends of the thread or the needles cannot be fastened on securely.

6. Thread the needles — If the ends of the original threads have been properly torn and placed and waxed, the waxed ends should be long and finely tapered so that they may readily be threaded through the eye of the sewing needle. Draw the fine end of the thread through the eye for at least two inches. Double the end back along the thread and hold it with left hand. With the thumb and forefinger of the right hand twist the needle so that the short end of the thread wraps itself closely around the thread. The end should twist down into the wax so as to make a smooth round wrap that will hold securely and is no larger than the main part of the thread. Attach a needle to the other end of the thread in the same manner; the thread is now ready to be used for stitching.

Harness Repair
Fig. 6 Starting a stitched splice.

Making a Stitched Splice — The most satisfactory method of splicing a strap is by stitching with a waxed thread. A stitched splice is stronger than one made with rivets and is smoother and neater in appearance. More time is required to make it.

1. Prepare the ends to be spliced — The ends to be sewed should be lapped 2 to 4 inches. For most of this distance they should be “skived” or shaved off to a long bevel edge so that when lapped together the sewed ends will fit down together smoothly. Skiving may be done with a sharp knife or a block plane, and should be done on the rough or flesh side of the strap. Square the strap ends and trim off the sharp corners.

2. Mark guide lines for stitching — Place the beveled ends together in the position to be spliced, lapping them sufficiently. Make sure that the smooth or hair side of each strap is uppermost. As a guide to keep the stitches straight, mark off a crease in straight line along each edge of the top strap about 1/8” from each edge. A pair of dividers is very useful for this. Set the points about 1/8” apart and guiding one point against the edge of the strap, draw them along the length of the splice, applying pressure so that the other point makes a crease. Do not cut the leather. By “walking” the dividers along in this crease, marks can be made for the awl holes which will result in evenly spaced stitches. The splice may be held in place temporarily with small tacks while marking and sewing.

3. Place in stitching clamp with the top strap to the right and nearest you. The marked side should be to the right. Clamp firmly with the upper guide line just above the edge of the clamp.

Harness Repair
Fig. 7 Stitching a splice, showing position of awl and cross-stitching the splice ends.

4. Sew the splice — The sewing should start at the middle of the splice, following the creased guide line toward the end of the top strap, passing the needles through holes made with the awl. Keep the awl handle at right angles to the face of the strap when pushing the awl through the leather. The long side of the awl blade should be slanted away from you, cutting across the guide crease at about 45 degree angles. (Fig. 7).

Make the first hole at about the middle of the top edge of the splice. Push one needle through and draw about half of the thread through, leaving an equal length with the other needle on the opposite side. Make the next hole. Pass the right hand needle through the same hole in the opposite direction and draw that end of the thread through. Draw both threads up tight.

Continue in the same manner, making one stitch at a time, passing both needles through each hole in opposite directions, drawing each stitch tight until the end of the splice is reached.

Fig. 7 illustrates an excellent method of stitching down and across the ends of the splice. It is important that this thin edge be securely fastened to prevent it curling up and catching in fly nets, rings, etc. The long cross-stitch frequently used across the end leaves a large amount of thread exposed which soon becomes frayed and broken.

Turn the strap over, end for end, to stitch down the other edge and across the other end. Reverse again to bring the stitching back to the starting point.

Harness Repair
Fig. 8 Tying the knot.

5. Tie the ends of the thread — When the sewing has been finished, the ends of the thread should be tied securely, as follows, to prevent loosening. Push the left hand needle and thread through the last hole, and draw as usual; then push the right hand needle half-way through the hole and while in this position wind the left hand thread once or twice around the needle. Draw both threads up tight as usual. The winding draws down into the hole, forming an overhand knot which prevents the ends from loosening. For additional security another knot may be tied in similar manner through a second hole placed below the last one.

Harness Repair
Fig. 9 A finished stitched splice.

6. Smooth the splice — Cut off the sewing thread close to the strap. Trim off the edges of the straps if necessary to give neater appearance. With the round end of the awl handle or similar smooth instrument rub the stitching until it lies down flat and smooth. If a fairly deep crease has been made as a guiding line, the threads will lie in it practically flush with the face of the strap. Tapping the splice lightly with a hammer on a flat surface will flatten and smooth it. A finishing wheel or marking wheel is sometimes run over the stitches to press the threads down smoothly. (See Fig. 9)

Harness Repair
Fig. 10 Top: riveter. Bottom: hole punch.

Making a Riveted Splice — A broken strap may be quickly and easily spliced by riveting. Such a splice ordinarily is not so serviceable as a well made stitched splice, but is quite commonly used, especially as a temporary fastening. The strap ends are squared, slightly skived or beveled off and lapped together in the same manner as for making the stitched splice. Three rivets should ordinarily be enough for each splice. The method of riveting will depend upon the type of rivet used.

1. Solid copper rivets with burrs require holes to be punched through the leather to accommodate the rivets. A revolving type harness punch, the sharpened shank of a three-cornered file used with a brace, a hollow punch or drive punch may be used satisfactorily for making the holes. Place the rivet through the hole with the head on the smooth side of the strap. The end of the rivet should extend through the splice about 1/8”. Put on a burr or washer and rivet it down by hammering with light blows around the edge of the rivet.

2. Tubular rivets require the use of a specially constructed but inexpensive riveter. The rivet cuts its own hole as it is forced through the leather and clinched on the opposite side by the riveting machine. The rivet head should be on the smooth side of the strap.

3. Split rivets are placed by driving the rivets through the splice and clinching the ends on the opposite side. They are very convenient to use for a temporary splice but should be replaced with stitched splices at the first opportunity.

Harness Repair
Fig. 11 Attaching a buckle to a strap by riveting.

Attaching Snaps or Buckles — To attach a snap or buckle to a new strap or to repair a strap from which a buckle or snap has been torn out, any one of four methods may be used satisfactorily.

1. By a riveted loop (Fig. 11) — Trim off the corners of the strap, and skive or bevel the end for a distance of about an inch. If a buckle is to be attached, a slot must be cut for the buckle tongue. This is done as follows: Punch two holes with a punch about an inch apart, the first one about 2-1/2” from the end of the strap; cut out between the holes, making a slot an inch long large enough for the buckle tongue to move freely. Place the buckle in position and rivet with two rivets, one close to the buckle, the other near the end of the strap. A slide loop may be attached just back of the buckle.

2. By a stitched loop — The end of the strap is prepared in the same manner as described above and fastened by stitching in the usual manner.

Harness Repair
Fig. 12 Splicing a strap by use of a Conway loop.

3. By a Conway loop (Fig. 12) — Square the end of the strap. On the center line punch two holes large enough for the tongue of a Conway loop; the first hole from 1/2” to 7/8” from the end of the strap; the second from 3-1/2” to 5” from the first, depending upon the size of the loop needed. If a buckle is to be attached, cut a slot as described above to fit the buckle tongue. Place the strap through the branches of the Conway loop, around the snap or buckle, and bring the end back underneath itself into the first branch of the Conway loop. Insert the tongue of the Conway loop first into the hole at the end of the strap and then into the other hole. Draw up tight.

4. By a buckle repair clip — This clip may be used when a strap is too short to spare the extra length necessary for making the other types of loop attachments. Square the strap end. Place the buckle in position in the repair clip and fit the clip over the end of the strap. Mark the places for the holes. Remove the clip and punch the holes. Replace the parts and rivet the clip securely to the strap.

Harness Repair
Fig. 13 Repairing a trace, using two hame clips and a link.

Replacing Hame Staples and Clips — Due to heavy wear the hame staple and clip (Fig. 13) by which the trace is fastened to the hame often cut out and need to be replaced. The farmer should notice these parts occasionally, and, if they are wearing thin, replace them before they break under a heavy pull which may result in a serious accident or costly delay.

Hame Staples — With a file or hack saw or cold chisel cut off the riveted ends of the old staple and drive it out of the hame. If the riveted ends are sunken in the hame, the staple should be cut in two at the worn place; then by fastening one-half of the staple in a vise and twisting on the hame, the half staple will break off below the shoulder and the remaining end can ordinarily be driven out with a punch. The new staple is then driven tightly in place, and the ends are cut off to fit the hame. Place a washer over each end of the staple and rivet it solidly.

Hame Clips — Remove the old rivets and the old dip from the trace. If the old rivet holes are badly worn, it may be necessary to cut off a piece of the trace. (Make sure that both traces are of the same length when repaired.) Place the new clip on the trace, mark and punch new rivet holes if necessary. Run the clip through the hame staple and rivet securely to the trace.

Bottom hame loops and clips should be replaced if badly worn.

Repairing Traces — Traces should be inspected frequently and kept in good repair. A broken trace puts a horse out of service and it frequently requires considerable time to repair the trace properly.

The prong of each clip on the side of the trace next to the horse may be inserted in the trace before riveting, especially if the trace is thick.

Restitching — Any broken stitching should be restitched without delay.

When once started to break, the old threads cut out rapidly, the plies of leather separate, and the trace becomes greatly weakened.

Cockeyes which have torn out of their loops may be reattached by means of a concord clip riveted to the end of the trace.

Splicing — A broken trace may be spliced by any one of several methods.

1. By a stitched or riveted splice, as previously described. The ends should be squared and beveled for five or six inches. The old stitching should be taken out so that when the ends are placed together, the plies on one end can be pushed between and lapped upon the layers from the other end. This shortens the trace considerably.

2. With two concord clips riveted securely to the squared ends of the trace and joined together with a trace square.

3. With two hame clips riveted securely to the squared ends of the trace and joined by a link. (Fig. 13)

4. With a trace splicer. The ends to be spliced should be squared and fitted together. Place the splicer, which is a flat strip of metal with holes for rivets, in position, on top of the trace, mark and punch the holes. Insert the end splicer into the center of the trace ends and rivet securely.

Harness Repair
Fig. 14 Cleaning a harness. Each part of the harness is scrubbed after it has soaked in warm water containing a little sal soda. A homemade scrubbing board is shown.

Cleaning and Overhauling Harness — Overhauling, cleaning and oiling harness should be regarded as one of the necessary jobs of operating a farm and should be attended to frequently. Not only will the appearance of the team and harness be greatly improved but the length of life and serviceability of the harness will be greatly increased as well. Proceed as follows:

1. Take the harness apart. Remove all buckles, snaps, and other parts or fittings that can be taken off without cutting rivets or stitches.

2. Make all needed repairs, such as restitching, splicing, replacing broken parts, etc.

3. Fill a tub about three-fourths full of warm water. Dissolve in it a cake of good castile soap or a handful of sal soda.

4. Place the harness in the tub until it is fairly well soaked and the crusted dirt softened.

5. Take out one piece at a time on a drain board and scrub thoroughly with a stiff brush until clean. A dull knife may be used to scrape off the caked material.

6. Lay in clean place in the shade until dry or ready to apply oil.

Oiling the Harness — A good grade of harness oil should be used. It may be applied while the harness is still wet as the oil will penetrate the leather as the water evaporates. Use a sponge or rag, rubbing the oil into the leather. Allow the oil to dry overnight. If necessary to soften the leather, put on another coat. Warm oil may be used. Wipe off surplus oil with burlap. Assemble the harness when dry.