Wednesday, March 18, 2020

TSII #457: Silvering the BC

It looks like I might be blogging somewhat more often for the foreseeable future.  Note that blogging is one of my relief valves (as well as a great pleasure), so at beginning, middle & end expect a bit of ranting and philosophizing, if not downright history!
Today's post covers engraving silver on TSII #457, the Clyde Goehring II Mexican Silver Parade saddle.   In particular, I took a series of shots showing the process of engraving one of the pieces flanking the central concho.  I wish I had a word for each silver piece's shape on this breastcollar, but I don't!  not even a number.  I have a hard time calling something not round a "concho."   But that's probably what they're called.
(For the curious, the word concho comes from the Spanish 'concha,' meaning shell.  In days long ago, cowrie shells were used for horse tack ornamentation.  Their pearly white smoothness looked very good against dark leather.  Think of elk teeth used on Native American costumes; contrast is king.  The word concho came to mean shell-shaped and circular pieces of silver on tack.)

As mentioned before, TSII #457 is basically a repeat of a saddle finished in 2014, #451.  This post is also something of a repeat.  In May of 2013, I was making the forerunner of this very breastcollar, and posted all about its silver:  Goehring Breastcollar Engraved
This post has even more detail.

While I'm not very happy about how slow progress has been on  #457, I might justifiably claim I was otherwise engaged!  Where are we going??  and why am I in this handbasket -- ??
While we don't know where we're going,... I am sorry indeed to see so many activities cancelled and postponed (I was supposed to judge a show this very weekend!),...  I do know there are far worse things than being encouraged to stay home and make tack.  The magic of the Web gives the hobby a connectivity it did not have when I first started in it.  The foundation of that mail-order life is with me still; I look forward to writing more letters.  In fact, I'll probably be notifying the owner of #457 about progress by snail mail, out of a personal preference for doing the solidly old-fashioned thing!  Those days had more time and less stress, something I could value.

Here is a close-up of #457's central breastcollar concho:
My gaze leaps to the mistakes.  Yet I dare think that those are not the first things seen by the casual onlooker.  I can adjust the angle of the concho by tweaking the lacing in the back.  It is considerably harder to tweak the surrounding leather, but there are some ways to 'encourage' it to lie properly in relationship to the silver.  You can see the start of one such encouragement above the left of the central concho, where I'm hoping to squeeze the leather closer to the metal.  The pre-tooled 'pockets' don't always match their pieces.  I'm considering how I might change my procedures so that they would better match.

Here's a peek at the back.  Note how the tiniest concho (curved bar shape)(bottom-most) has got a loop that is not lined up with the rest.  The leather lace's natural attempt to lie straight is causing the concho to twist.  I later solved this problem by cutting the lace between it and its neighbor above.

Every one of the conchos is entirely handmade in a multi-step process.  First they're cut out of the sheet silver (Argentium) and filed to rough shape.  (In fact first they're designed and drawn on paper.)  Then the loops on the back are soldered on.  Then they're set in Thermo-Loc, a heat-softened plastic.
It took me 45 minutes to set the 10 lumps seen here:  half of one breastcollar, 12 pieces of silver. Desperate for efficiency, I tried something new:  2 pieces per lump.  Thermo-Loc solidifies, cools, very quickly.

This nifty little vise is the smallest made by GRS.
GRS Microblock Ball Vise
Small as it is, my pieces are too small to fit between the posts intended for the holes, so I use the Thermo-Loc almost exclusively.
For this concho I used only 4 gravers (the blades to cut and engrave the silver with).  I wrote them down:
GlenSteel V-point or square   GlenSteel V-point graver
GMT HSS 37   flat       GMT gravers
Muller  8  6     flat      E C
Muller  14   4    flat
As far as handles go, I have quite the smorgasbord:  one round wooden, several rosewood ones I bought from Rio Grande, and several made from plain old hobby-grade wooden dowel by yours truly...!  Amazingly, no leather braiding on them yet... nor intend to.  Gravers need to have smooth handles, as you are always pushing on them with your bare palm.

First, rocker-engraving around the border of the piece.  This is the nearside flanking concho to the central breastcollar concho.
Next, draw the lines of the chosen design on the surface, lightly, with a dull awl.  The first actual engraving starts with a diamond-shape graver that cuts these lines.   Design-wise, the pattern 'grows from opposite corners."
Next, I start engraving with a series of tapered flat gravers, the smallest first.  Engraving silver, at least for me, is a process of gradually cutting deeper and deeper, making a v-shaped-in-cross-section channel, of which one side is wider and faces upward.  It doesn't happen all at once.  Each line is gone over many times, each time smoother and wider.  At least, that's the idea!
The ball vise rotates to whatever angle I need.  Each curve is attacked at whatever angle would best cut it.  If that means starting at the tip of the curve, that's where I start.  I can only cut half a curve at a time anyway!  You're supposed to hold the graver steady with the right and move the vise with the left.  But I use both hands, together, in a sort of combination between leather tooling and silver engraving, turning and twisting and digging all together.  The graver is always held in my right hand,... but I'm cutting both to the left and the right.
See that straight line?  Slipped blade.  When they're dull they slip.  And boy oh boy, are they hard to keep sharp ----  I'm constantly stropping and polishing ---
Tip:  use an inch of heavy tape, like gorilla tape, to protect your left hand from being stabbed.
Ask me how I know.
Deeper and deeper.  I'm using the larger gravers now.  The idea is to sweep the cutting blade along the curves like a bulldozer blade sweeping up snow.  The shiny canyon-bottom left behind is the goal, and the smoother the better, because smooth = shiny.  It really is like tooling leather.
Back to the smallest flat to add in some tiny decorative cuts in the middle of the largest plain areas left.  Here, they are along the top right and springing out of the top left corner.  This step is like decorative cuts in leather tooling.
It does seem coarse close up, but remember how small this really is.

I pop the flank concho out of the Thermo-Loc with a little pressure from the dull awl.  Next comes cutting its hole in the breastcollar, which is tricky, to say the least.
Since the most uncontrollable part of this whole process is the soldering, those loops can wind up anywhere.  Cutting the lacing hole, then, has to come afterward.  It's really very difficult to get a lock on where that hole must be.  The concho does not, of course, lie flat against the leather during this stage.
My largest Needle Chisel is perfect for this job.
Not too bad.  A later step of gluing will help hold down the flank concho, eliminating that blackshadow gap seen along its lower edge.

What interesting times we live in.  In some ways I've been here before.  Every chemo patient gets to find out what it's like living with no immune system. I learned then that wearing a mask was akin to wearing a hijab.  People suddenly don't see you.  You hide right out in public.  Behind the veil, you are both shielded and made vulnerable.
The mask itself is surprisingly comfortable and easy to get used to.  But I'd like to see ones in a different shade from light blue.  That is not my natural skin tone (much as I love Decorator horses).  I'd love an art form for these....  Colored pencils, anyone?

Gone back in time.  I feel like I'm on a ship,... with a crew of two,... and a hold full of the most magical model horses.  JAH magazine published a story of mine about that magical ship in 1983.  Today I'm buying stamps and manning the radio.
Sail on!

1 comment:

  1. Truly a labor of love and the end results are just stunning!