Friday, January 24, 2014

Silver Progress on the Goehring

A great deal of progess has occurred on the Clyde Geohring saddle, mostly of the silver persuasion!  And what a relief that is...  Start with the horn cap.  I apologize for taking pictures so late in the game; this is the only one of the horn cap by itself, and clearly it's upon completion!  Like the breastcollar conchos, this piece is of solid sterling silver, and was engraved all by hand.  Unlike those conchos, this is the first (and nearly last) time on the whole saddle when markings are placed inside the petals of the central flower.  There was space.
The horn cap is affixed with a pin (cut short) driven through the middle and into the resin tree, as well as being glued with Ambroid.
What you can't see here is the incredibly long time it took to fit this disc of metal to the non-flat surface of the horn.
Next is the cantle plate.  I had had the paper pattern for some time.  Again this pic is late in the game; the blank is already cut out and starting to be bent and fitted.  It's a complex curve, the most difficult of all to fit.
A familiar sight:  it doesn't match!!  How hard, how hard to gently tease and work and bend and twist a  very heavy piece of metal so that it fitted snugly to the tree.  I was filing down the tree too.  Hammering, tapping, using the dappling block, everything I know and all my patience, and even then it makes your hair turn gray how long it takes. 
Initially I tried to secure this huge chunk of silver, the single largest piece I've ever made yet for a model saddle, to the vise with its pegs.  Didn't work.  I had to melt all my Thermo-Loc and make a big old block instead.  Even with this it managed to unset itself twice during engraving.
Again, what you can't see is how difficult engraving a convex surface was.  Whether I'd lost my touch, whether my gravers were dull, or whether it was that outward-curved surface, it took me 3 days to do this.
I didn't have enough silver for the pommel, something I'd known from the beginning.  What I was aiming for originally was heavy-ga. aluminum [AL].  What you see here is my first try.  That stuff was as solid as concrete to work with at this scale. 
It may look O.K., but trust me, it wasn't.  I had no way to curve it further, handle it or work with it, and I couldn't close the gap of the dart.  I was completely unable to achieve the little 'bump' of the shoulders, so carefully sculpted and filed on the resin tree.  How to solve the intractability of the situation: super-heavy, unbending materials, yet poor access with limited lightweight tools?
With old technology, that's how.
Some folks might say I was cheating.  What, not solid silver or Argentium or even solid AL??  After all the rest of this saddle -- !!!
But remember the TSII tagline:  Anything goes if it looks right.  Using multiple layers of very thin AL sheet molded to the surface, allowed me the access and control I needed, and saved, used, enhanced!, those little bumps.  It retained all the work that went into them, instead of requiring that work to be done all over again.  I had extensive experience with the stuff [silver tape] and just because it hadn't performed perfectly in all the applications we greedily expected it to (it broke, it fell off) didn't mean there wasn't a place where it shone.  If there was one perfect application, this was it:  resin pommels.  "Every hoss has jus' one race in dem, honey, jus' one."  (from The Phantom Filly by George Agnew Chamberlain, 1942.)  The place where silver tape did NOT fall off was where the foundation was NOT leather (no oxygen exhange!), where things did NOT flex whatsoever, and where the tape was held down by something else.  In this case that would be the girth straps.  So I plastered several layers on, squeezing out the air and darting them to fit the curve, cutting as I went.  As the patterns show, each layer got bigger, since it had to cover more.  I couldn't tell you how I did the darting (wrinkles); each layer dictated its own, and I cut their edges with the X-Acto and smoothed everything down with the fid.
The original reference showed the pommel silver in two halves, so that's how it went.  I would pin it later, as a backup hold-down.  This application was the first time I'd put more than 2 layers down... ultimately I used 4.
And like an idiot, long ago I'd put the fenders on.  A mistake, I'm telling you.
Here is the front of the pommel silver, after engraving and pinning.  Although this material can't take engraving the same way as solid silver, one can still gain a respectable facsimile with a dull and sharp awl.  Take care! it is, in every way, a one-time-only material.  If I'd drawn wrong it would've been back to putting on a complete 'nother shoulder.
The pins had to have holes drilled for them, and that was a challenge, because of the adhesive gumming up the drill bit!!  Eventually I got past it...
Only now, after it's way too late to do anything about it, do I see that the rear view of the pommel silver shows a profound asymmetry on the tree.  That's what you get making miniatures by hand and eye.  Hopefully the seat and cinch straps will disguise it.
What's this?!!  I'm sick and tired of the skirts not being attached.  I had no real idea how to assemble this saddle until now -- believe it or not!!  Model engineering is often made up on the spot -- that's the fun of it...  Easy enough to tuck the tails of the tree into their pockets (between the skirts and conchos).  Almost impossible figuring out how to fasten the front down.  There's no skirt or flap to hold down the tree.  In the end I nailed it underneath.
This is slightly more recognizable.  The forward ends of the second skirts will be sewn over the fender straps (but only the insides).  I had to extend them twice.  Who says the master knows what they're doing...
This shows how the second skirt finally wound up.  Shaping those fenders is going to take a lot of patience, water, you-name-it!  They don't want to stay down...

Using the Pin Vise to drill a hole into the tree.  I've already holed the base plate/bottom skirt.

Oh I am really hoping it won't gouge the horse!!  I can't squeeze the pins in with pliers -- that would be to damage the pommel silver.  I can only press on these pins from one side, and push them inwards with my arm's strength.  Eh, there's always a blanket...
The reward.
Now at last I can start work on the cinch rings and straps.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Stringing Along and Concho Villa

Progress however incremental is still progress, right?!  I thought I'd share a little bit about the saddle strings and conchos, which is where we are right now on this more-than-a-year-long, ever-so-slow saddle project.  Incidentally, that horse is now mine!  I was borrowing him before, but since it was the second time I'd borrowed an Alborozo for a long saddle project (the first was the Domo Vaquera)... and since I've spent so much time staring at him, working with him...  you know, one gets awfully fond of them under such circumstances... well...  I got lucky; she was willing to sell.  Thank you, Helen.  I'm thinking of naming him SnowHammer.  New Yorkers will know why.

 To begin with, the strings I'd cut out before January 2 were of the wrong material!  Wanting to depict the texture of deerskin (I'm pretty sure that's what they are), I had thought of using strips of very thin skiver.
I was very proud of my superthin skiver --it was exactly the right color and would drape perfectly.  Why I was blind to its durability under the stress of construction is one of those embarrassing questions I'd just as soon not answer.  Suffice to say when I started drawing it through the conchos, it tore.  It broke up and ripped every inch.  I had to abandon it.
 This is a selection of the conchos I will be using.  The ones intended for the back skirts are the ones with a single hole in the center.
And now for adventures in photography of Very Small metal objects.  I wanted to show what I'm doing to refine, even more, these tiny handmade bits of Aluminum.  What is the secret?
With this first picture (above), several facets become apparent.  You are looking through my magnifying lens.  That long grey thing is my smallest rattail file (yeay Friedrich Dick!).  The concho on the right is the refined one.  I'm chamfering, that is, smoothing and rounding, the inner edge as well as the outer.  But the picture is overexposed.
This is a better shot... except it's somewhat out of focus.  No tripod.  But it best shows the refinement.
This one was shot manually (no tripod), thus too dark, lightened up with PhotoShop, and zoomed.  It shows the inner chamfering best.  (The graininess of the picture is inevitable.)  I'm using my own fingers as a vise to hold the little things; a glancing pass with the file is about all I can manage.  They're better in person.  These tiny details add up in model tackmaking.
The second time around I thought of chamfering the UNDERSIDE of the inner edge, to make things easier for the lace. 
Why is there only one hole, when real life clearly uses slotted conchos?  And I did make some slotted ones... Ahh... you can't know how incredibly difficult they were to make, and how I kept breaking them.  In about seven tries I'd made 3, and I had to give up!  I decided that a single hole would work; otherwise not enough of the 'petals of the flower' would show.  The expansion or squeeze-y capabilities of leather would hold the conchos in place.
On the face of it, this looks like progress.  I used the before-mentioned skiver to make the leather conchos.  To my amazement they looked right the first time!  once-white scallop edge-lining.
But why on earth wasn't I trying to fit the tree when I put the conchos in place??!!
WOOOPS...!!!  The tree doesn't fit between the two skirts...!!  blush...!!  I had had my eye on the reference, which (go and look) showed the conchos "two checkers down from the join!"  Blind again... 
Now what?!?  The conchos must embrace the tree and hold the skirts down around it.
PhotoShop again:  the white dashes show where I've cut and modified the tree.  I also had to move the conchos upwards and cut new slits, ungodly amount of work.  But now it fits.
This shot (above) also shows how I've connected the fender straps.  It's a bit bulky but I felt I had no other choice.
The new strings, kangaroo lace, had their grain cut off.   Contrary to my usual practice, since bevelling helps so much to reduce lace to a good-looking miniature, I'm not bevelling them.  Why?  Because the original real life ones aren't bevelled. They're chunky buckstitching strips, and one reason they look so distinctively primitive is that very square edge... a detail often lost by most folks, even miniaturists.  I've made new leather conchos; the first ones disintegrated when I took them off to move the strings/conchos (the ungodly step).  The metal conchos go on last; I know from bitter experience that one string-half at a time is the only way I'll get them on.  Lick, slick, and slowly gently ease them on and pray you don't break them... it's like trying to squeeze a camel through a pinhole...
Got em on!
This time the tree fits!!
The incredible adventures those laces have gone through (being pulled through weensy conchos twice now, waxed, licked and scraped -- I foolishly don't have my Dr Jackson's, Super 7 or any other kind of leather dressing with me this week) have made them thinner, flatter and a good bit more like what I aimed for.  I didn't plan on that, but sometimes you get lucky.
In the course of the move to NY and this saddle, I wanted to bring my dapping block, but didn't want to drag a chunk of metal weighing several pounds.  Happily I remembered this little plastic one.  I'm dreadfully sorry I don't remember where I got it --!!  Tandy's?  The Gem Show?  Worse, I probably got it as a gift and then never gave it...  errr...  tomorrow...  It is much too handy as a travelling block.  I need it to dome the conchos, and maybe for some of the silverwork still to come.
Dapping is the act of doming, or curving to the segment of a circle, a portion of flat metal.  Usually you need special tools, which look like balls on sticks.  But at our miniature scale, the tip of a paintbruch handle will do.
Also, one usually uses a hammer to dap.  But again, at this scale, simple wrist pressure does the job.
I'm aware that this is a rather unsatisfactory picture to end on, so I'm going to be daring and include another.
Remember I said I finally owned the Alborozo?  Part of that deal was a tack trade... this bridle.  It is the last piece of tack I made in 2013.  May it be a good omen for the next year.
(Charcoal etch job by yours truly.)