Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bit Blanks

It is with great pleasure I finally settle down and make some bits.  I've made my own bits for years, since the mid-1990s, chopping them out of silver sheet and filing to shape.  Since then, things have developed a bit.  (Pardon the pun.)  This picture shows the sheet and a few of my chisels.  I got most of these from my Dad, who tinkered with silverworking when he was a young man.  (The family story is he was making a concho belt for my mother.)

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.
The one I wound up leaning on most for my pattern was pleasantly asymmetrical and ornamented with tiny smooth round spots on the tips of branchlike extensions.  Nobody else, so far as I know, created such asymmetrical bit shanks.  I made my paper pattern, put tape over it and cut it out, then drew around it on my silver sheet.  If you look closely at the top picture you can see the bit shank brace bar (bit bar) pattern laid on the big silver piece.

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.

If you're good, you've remembered to place each bit shank with its best side up, one right and one left.  :)  This shows the engraving process near the beginning.  The edges have been rocker-engraved and the floral pattern is just starting to be carved.  Yes, I work with a magnifier...

Many people would be satisfied at this stage of the proceedings.  I would have been, for many years.  The stems at the bottom of the shanks have been curled around into loops.  They will accept the bit shank brace, which faces forward.

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.
They were a little thick, but this just gave me an excuse to engrave them deeply.  The first engraving pass was satisfactory enough to warrant soldering them to the bit shanks.  Although the conchos are pretty thick, they add considerably to the bits' detail and heft.  The bits have taken on a nice three-dimensional shape from subtle doming and dapping as well.  Notice, too, I solved the problem of the little silver dots in the design.
I did it with tiny bits of solder.  Soldering in miniature is an excuse to tear your hair out with frustration, and only years of tackmaking (another excuse) guide me...  These dots were the big pioneer development of this particular pair of bit shanks, "never solved before, never tried."  I was so jazzed I was running up and down the stairs.  It worked it worked!!   And think of what I could do in the future...

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.

Friday, January 11, 2013

3Ms and a Bosal

The 3 Ms stand for K. Moisan's Micro-order Mecate.  At this point in my career, I've made a lot of mecates, and the only way to distinguish them is by their owner:  the person who ordered them.  Most pieces of my tack are referred to by their original owner / orderer.  Only a few pieces make it to "name land" and have their own specific moniker.  But don't despair: in the course of 2012 I made another piece of tack I labelled HHH (Heli's Hitched Horsehair).  Living in the early 21st century makes you an expert in crafting headlines whether you like it or not.

This mecate is part of a micro-order which was started 1211.29 (that's November 29, 2012; you guys're gonna have to get used to my dating system), and finished only yesterday, 1301.10.  An earlier picture of it is on my main website.  It originally had a red-brown popper.  Learning, always learning:  the request for a different popper taught me that this area of my mecates, the 'turnover' in the center of the spin (therefore the end of the rope) is not as ignorable as I'd hoped!  I used to struggle to braid or spin it; it's less than an inch and you don't see much of it.   Then I thought I'd just ignore it.  Several mecates later, I see I should just go back to spinning or braiding.  At least this one escaped without too much damage...

The order includes a bosal.

As told on my main website, the bosal core (frame) was made in the Safelite Auto Glass foyer in Fayetteville, South Carolina.  This merely proves Sue makes tack on vacation -- it's the ultimate portable hobby!  The nosebutton foundation was begun while still in Florida.  On the way home I reached the nosebutton interweaves, having already done the sidebuttons: they were easier.  My recipe for bosals, having been tuned almost 2 dozen times, is reaching a state of stability.

The procedure is simple and organic:  start with the nosebutton (end cores, foundation, body, interweaves) and extend to the sidebuttons (ditto); then bend the frame, and tie the core to the heel knot.  Then, do the heel knot.  Last of all, finish with the end concho.  Basically I sweep downwards from top to bottom.  The end swells to the nosebutton are the exception to this general order.  They're small but must be done first.

When I think of how I used to make bosals with the frame already bent and tied, I get the shudders.  Thank you Gail Hought for opening my eyes.

I see I'm using the word 'core' to mean two different things.  'Bosal core (frame)' refers to the wire with braided sinew around it.  This core is the tennis-racquet-shaped thingy.  'Core to the heel knot' means the groundwork (in Hought's phrase) or base to a button.  Any button that is rounded and sticking out more than its own threads' thickness has got a core.   It is inside the button.   You might think I'd use the word 'foundation' to refer to this core.  Nope!  Foundation has a very specific meaning:  a braided button (here, a long tube) which forms a framework for later additions of interweaves.   Larger and longer buttons are made with more strings, not with the same string added back in...  except in models, that is, where you can get away with such a trick.
Oh yeah, I could write a book!

This bosal was a portrait of a real one.  It was relatively simple with only 2 colors, rawhide and a contrasting dark brown.  Last year I had made 3 bosals, two with multiple (3 or more) colors and one without any (pure rawhide).  This one, then, fell between.  Just make a straight rawhide one and stick in some dark brown.  As it turned out, this one has 6 nosebutton interweaves while my 2012 ones both had 5.  Five and six rings are the 'sweet spot' at Traditional scale.  Four or fewer and the eye can count them.  It looks like deliberate restraint.  Five, and the eye cannot count them; an optical illusion occurs, and it looks real (the real ones range from 11 to 15).  Over 6 and the math doesn't work for me; it gets even more difficult putting them in -- and it's hard enough as it is!

You can probably tell I'm switching over to telling more and more here, on the blog.  The main TSII website will still be home to longer essays and stories.  For instance, right now I'm planning to introduce our next saddle there.  And, as always, our latest Orders news can be found on our Tack Orders page.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Half Appaloosa

Isn't it amazing how old familiar phrases can acquire new meanings.  Take the words Half Appaloosa.  In our world, one would naturally think it meant a half bred horse: one parent an Appaloosa.  But now look at what I've been looking at for the past 3 weeks.

Over Christmas, with more pleasure than I ever thought possible, I have pursued the etching of Rinker.  He started out Mudflap Envy, it is true...  and every spot on Mudflap is here represented, to the best of my ability.  But as my skill grew (though still not anywhere near some I have seen), those Breyer spots began to conflict with my plans more and more.  I was surprised by what this horse was telling me.  Mudflap Inspiration would be a truer name.

Over and over again, I said to my travelling companion:  I have seen thousands upon thousands of model horses; I have photographed hundreds upon hundreds of them.  But I've never seen anything like this.

He actually thinks I should leave him as he is now, Half Appaloosa.

Alas, to me that's not an option.   But I surely am enjoying his uniqueness at this stage.

Why is there only half a horse?  Surely the skill of the etcher, having departed so far from Mudflap, could encompass the other half?   Look at that face, that shoulder. Some of the spots of Mudflap are too big and of the wrong orientation for what I am increasingly thinking of as realistic roaning.  But I wish to remain true to my original intent, which was to cut a copy of the Lone Star Special Run.  And ha-ha ho-ho, the only pictures I've been able to secure of Mudflap have all been of his near side.

ONLY his near side -- !!  Even the latest issue of JAH, which has a picture of Mudflap in it -- yes, I blinked!! -- shows only his near side!!

I am particularly proud of the groin area etching.  It was done early, before the shoulder.  There's no explaining these things.  They have wills of their own.  It almost looks peacock-inspired, with curls and loops and scales.  I am doing all this work with just a half-round knife.

It's the romance side of the horse, in carousel terms.

"Loud" is another word that consistently echoes in my head, whenever I look at this horse.  Loud, loud, loud.  I didn't really intend quite this level of loud!!  But what the heck.  He's a dream come true.  I probably won't be passing this way again.   I have wanted one of these, and he's grown in the making.  To make tack for him will be, again, a dream come true.

To all those people who list Mudflap as wanted on MH$P:  wouldn't a one of a kind be more fun?

Thanks, Lindy.