Saturday, January 26, 2013
These days I start my bits with a drawing. This particular bit is for the Goerhing saddle, and the reference only shows that it's got a big rayed concho on the mouthpiece end and looks Mexican. Without much more than that, I searched through several High Noon catalogs. (By the way, the High Noon auction is going on this very weekend! Thanks for all the great reference...) Nothing. The closest I could get was a couple of Jesus Tapia bits; he was a bit and spur maker from the 19th C. By total and complete coincidence (I swear) one of these bits is used on the High Noon home page. We must have the same taste.
This is where the story gets personal. I took a picture of myself cutting out that bar, but then -- whoop -- it leapt from my hand and completely disappeared. I spent more than an hour looking for it. At more than an inch long, how could it have vanished?! For a radius of 5 feet around I hunted, I turned over, I stormed, I even cried. I hate to admit it. Big name artist getting all steamed up over losing parts... After 34 years, I still drop things.
In the end I made another one. As these things usually go, it was a better one.
This shows the files I use. The braided handles came later, each one individually over the years. The two paper patterns are at upper right.
Much time is taken filing the bit blanks smooth and equal, and drilling and smoothing the holes. There comes a point when I cease matching them up to the paper pattern and just go on by eye. At that point they're individuals, with their own minute flaws and asymmetries. When they're sufficiently smooth and ready for engraving, it's time to break out the Thermo-Loc.
This stuff resembles gray chewing gum. It is a heat-sensitive matrix for engraving itsy bitty teeny weeny pieces -- pieces that are too small to fit in the engraving vise. I've got the smallest vise, but still they are too small for it... Put the Thermo-Loc in the microwave and soften it up, then embed the blanks. It's a skill knowing how deep to push: too deep and you can't reach the edges, too shallow and it won't hold. When it's cool it hardens and you can put it in the vise.
What could be left to do? For one, doming. For another, don't forget there should be big rayed conchos, like stars. At first I was planning to use some cup-shaped disc blanks I had, but initial engraving revealed them to be silver-plated brass!! and thus not acceptable. So I had to make a couple of conchos myself, and what better than out of the same peice of sheet. Drafting circle template to the rescue: five-eighths inch diameter. My dapping block is another gift from my father.
Next day I reset them in Thermo-Loc and continued work on the conchos. This planed down the thick edges a bit, approaching the original reference.
And we're done.