Story by John Riley, MTN News
Located on the west end of Helena is Sting Saddlery, a business specializing in handcrafted leatherwork and repairs.
Owner Sterling “Sting” Cambell grew up outside Vaughn near Great Falls and became interested in leatherwork at the age of 16 when his brother brought home a century-old saddle.
“My brother was a guide in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness,” recalled Cambell. “He found a saddle at the base of a cliff and he brought it home and it was totally wrecked. I took it all apart, took all the patterns, rebuilt that saddle from scratch with just a scalpel to cut out my parts, two needles, some thread, and a safety beveller for skiving all the parts. “
“After that I was like, ‘Oh, I want to build saddles the rest of my life’,” said Cambell.
Sting then took the refurbished saddle to Grizzly Saddlery in Great Falls. Cambell’s attention to detail and ingenuity impressed the more experienced staff.
“They’re like, if you have that much patience to round the edges with a scalpel, this is the tool it’s done with, we’ll teach you how to use it,” said Cambell.
Grizzly Saddlery offered him an apprenticeship, and for the next 10 years Cambell honed his skills under master artisans.
Each saddle takes Cambell about 60 hours of solid work to make from start to finish.
In 2017 sting married Adilene Salcedo and the two moved to Helena to start their own business.
Cambell says it was a bit nerve-wracking to start his own saddle shop and couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife.
“A lot of people told me you’ll never make it. You know, saddle making is a dying art,” said Cambell.
But Cambell says that since they’ve opened the doors the business has been thriving in what he calls a miracle from God.
In addition to crafting saddles, belts, bags, holsters, and custom items, Cambell can make just about any type of repair needed for leather.
“Everything’s done by hand,” said Cambell. “Still using tools today that saddle makers used 200 years ago, and some of my tools are a hundred years old.”