Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fancy II: Bosal

Miniature bosals are quite hard to make.  In this fourth and last chapter on Fancy's Hackamore II, I'll show how I make 4B nose button ones.  As I've said in all the previous chapters, I can't show every step; but this is still an amazingly deep plunge into insider detail.  After this, Fancy can rest in peace!

My methods have evolved considerably since I made the first braided-leather-lace bosals in the 1970s.  I've used nylon sinew (miniature rawhide) since the early 1980s.  In 1996 I first used thread for nose button interweaves [IWs].  By 2005, when Fancy's was built, I had perfected the use of 4B buttons for the bosal and was tinkering with 3Bs.  (Someday I'll have to post on my bosal evolution... and my logo evolution... and my...)  Yes, this whole Fancy episode features 10-year-old technology!  I have since moved on, to using 3Bs.  And those are even harder.

One aspect hasn't changed: the core.  Since the early 1980s I have used 20 ga. wire as the core for my bosals.  This shot shows braiding the sinew cover of a bosal core; the wire is hooked to the anvil braiding anchor.
Full scale bosals use rawhide for a core; wire gives models the right heft and strength.  I use Tandy's 30# Fine sinew, brand name Tejas.  Oh how I love that stuff!!  Fancy's has my standard six-strand round braid in what I call "alternate" method, O2 U1 on one side and O1 U2 on the other.  Using the Fine sure beats splitting and peeling the usual heavy sinew -- and the color is lovely.

The next step is the foundation for the nose button.  Note the scotch tape on the left, holding down the dead end (standing end) of the heavy cotton/polyester thread.  It's a 4B long button.  The number of passes (parts) is determined by length.  I haven't counted but it's probably around 13.
The advantage of the 4Bs was I found them easy to do.  Tom Hall refers to this family of knots as the Casa -- the home button.  With this thread they are almost perfect for Trad scale.  There is a slightly squarish cross-section to them, which sits nicely on the horse's nose.  Notice how this long button is spread out:  it's open in the middle and closer together at the ends.  This spreading allows room for what's to come.
Starting the central IWs:
They are spaced both by eye and by using the ruler.  Fancy's bosal had 8 IWs, about the maximum for this gauge of thread.  At Trad scale, 5 to 7 is the sweet spot; 4 is too few and doesn't look good, to my eye.  Below: just about finished with the nosebutton IWs.
In this shot, the central IWs are done, and the doubling of the sides has begun.  Merely doubling these parts of the nose button, instead of raising or expanding them, was easier... and the texture had good contrast.
The scariest step in making a miniature bosal this way is the tightening.  To have to go all the way through each button again!  hoping against hope there are no pierces or snags... 
If there are -- and there usually are!!  the longer the button the more there'll be -- you hope they're small.  You hope your scissors are super small-pointed and sharp.  They must slip into tiny places and snip off the offending fibres, releasing the threads.  A few cut fibres are nothing to worry about:  'lost in the noise.'  It's when you've pierced right through the middle of a thread that you're in trouble.  (Then you have to decide whether to go on with a dangling fraction or to withdraw and start over.)  This why I try to braid loosely the first time around, and why I use a blunt needle.  With blunts I can feel so much more easily whether it's snagged. 
A proper tightening will pull out an inch or more of extra thread.  The button is now half as long as when it started.
The ends are hidden by piercing through and then cut flush, a process I call finishing the button.  Oh yes, use a sharp needle for this step.

Now for the side buttons.  At the 2005 stage of my skill, I was adding side buttons on separately.  Intregrating them into the central nose button, like the grand old masters of the full scale bosals, took me another few years!!
Four-bight (4B) side buttons are relatively simple.  I use a few half-hitches of thin-gauge waxed thread for their cores (or groundwork, in Hought's phrase); this helps puff up the button into shape and helps prevent sliding.
 5P4B with a single IW.  The turquoise color perfectly balances the dark brown nosebutton IWs.  The side buttons are spaced to hold the headstall (bosal hanger), so test them with the horse's head.  No straps in eyes please!!
Notice the bend:  I've started to shape the bosal.  Can ye believe it:  back in the original Fancy's day, up to only a few years ago, I did all the braiding on my bosals AFTER the heel knot core had been tied!!!!  AFTER the thing was the shape of a tennis racket -- !!!  Yeah, shake one's head in wonder, thanks to Gail Hought for setting me straight, and we'll put down such behaviour to the mysteries of adolescent singlemindedness... 

The nose button and side buttons are done, and treated with Fray Chek.  It isn't a perfect job, this one:  I don't like the dark spot just to the side of the central IWs, and the matching of the doubling to the center ends was haphazard at best.  But it'll do.  Handmade tack is like that:  each piece is an experiment.  The day I stop experimenting is the day I stop making tack...
The next step is the heel knot.  I mentioned singlemindedness above.  What I think I had in mind then was strength, sheer strength.  I loved overbuilding tack.  For years I wound the two wire ends together for my heel knot cores.  The problem there was I could never disguise the resulting lumps.  I tried and tried but things always resulted in a wiggly, misshapen core.  When the revelation that bosals were braided while straight occurred, it also dawned on me that I didn't need to try quite so hard to make a strong frame.  I experimented with mere wiring, and was satisfied.  (This seems to be the pattern with me:  a slow surrender of ridiculously hard methods of construction.  We'll see where I wind up.) 
So for Fancy's, the heel knot begins with wiring the two halves together with 24 ga. stainless steel.  I tried it for sizing on her and on Coconino (Smart Chic Olena).  It's very important for the bosal to be symmetrical at this point. 
Next is the heel knot core.  I use crochet thread (hand-waxed a little to grip well), a material which is relatively easily shaped, takes thread pierces well, is cheap and obtainable and will age well.
The perfect Trad heel knot core for me is 5mm x 6mm.
The shape and density of the core matters: upon this the heel knot will be braided, and its power of hiding mistakes is always much smaller than I keep hoping for.  I am still learning that the core must have edges, or shoulders, up and down, to anchor the button ends.  Now is the time to make it oval or apple-shaped or tear-drop-shaped, whatever is desired.  These heel shapes are dictated by fashion, not necessarily by use.
I have learned not to tie knots on the outside of this core.  They make lumps.  Half hitches are the only knots tied, and their ends are fed through (pierced) and cut off.  Coating of any sort, such as glue or Fray Chek, is controversial for me: I think it makes the core too slippery, and glue flakes sometimes work their way out.  Heel knot cores challenge me.
Fancy's heel knot was a 7P6B with 2 x 2 rings of IW.
The foundation was then doubled.  I used dyed thread -- it is more yellow and matches the rawhide sinew.  This picture shows the tightening phase (Sales bosal).
 Below:  the heel knot done (my own bosal).  A finishing touch is to braid a little many-B 3P collar around the two sides just above the heel knot (see below).  This helps the bosal stay in shape, and strengthens it a little.
Right before cutting the tails:
 Cutting off the tail ends is done with the wire cutters, with scissors to help trim any sinew.  Naturally the hard part is not to nip the braiding.  Slow and easy does it, one side at a time.  I use a file to smoothe down the wire ends.

Around about now I start drilling a hole in a domed Rio Rondo concho.  Putting conchos on the ends of heel knots is an idea I got from the real guys:  Ray Huffman to be precise.  Of course, pinning on a concho also means you've got to find room for the pin shank!  There is just about no space between the two wires inside the core.  I shoulda put a pin in there when I was wiring the halves!! (to hold the space.)  Hindsight is wonderful... The Sales bosal's pin winds up a little off center.  It's nervewracking to be squeezing things with all your might while trying not to squish the braidwork.
I press down from above with my fingernails on the heel knot, trying to get that pin in as far as possible.  I've also glued the concho with Ambroid.  When the pin was cut to fit, the resulting mini-barbed-hook at its tip is useful for keeping it in place... but means it's a one-time insertion. (I can put the pin in only once.)  A refinement would be to file down the underside of its head, but this risks weakening.  I decide it's OK as is.
And the bosal is done.
The only difference between the two Fancy's II bosals is a slight variation in the shape of heel knot; my own is more pointed.
And I didn't notice mine was asymmetrical, until my husband told me.
Good thing that's the one I'm keeping!!!  Although this pic makes it (the left) look bad, it conforms very well to the horse's face, proving I tested it on her.  I put it on my headstall and tie on my mecate using the instructions on page 114 of the Guide.

I do still find myself looking for that lost hackamore... but the hole in my collection is filled.  The debt is paid.  It's been great refreshing my bosal techniques -- I love braidwork.  I look forward to further refinements!


  1. How, amazing work! :)

  2. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. The construction of the bosal is fascinating. I had no idea how they are constructed and this photo mantage is very helpful to understand the process. Thank you for taking the time to share. It really helps me appreciate each piece of tack that much more.