The process of making handmade cowboy spurs

There are many steps to making a pair of handmade cowboy spurs. There are at least three different spur manufacturing processes; welded shank spurs, one piece hand forged spurs and riveted shank spurs. This article covers the manufacturing process of a welded shank lug.

Since this is a working cowboy spur, I’ll start with the specs. 1 1/8″ heel band width, 2 ¼” shank length, and 2″ rows of 20 spikes. The best material for heel bands is 4130 aircraft alloy. It is steel that wears well and has enough hardness to withstand heavy daily use. This material has just the right stiffness and elasticity to hold its shape around the heel band of the western boot.

Next is the straight shank, this material should be ½ inch thick cold rolled or hot rolled steel. I then make a trip to the pattern cabinet to find a tin pattern from the archives. I will be using a 2½ inch shank pattern with a chap guard. The chap guard is a raised part on top of the shank to prevent jean chaps from getting caught in the spur.

The material for the spur rowel can be anything from plow disc steel, 1018 mild steel, 4130, or oil hardening 01 like the one used by cutlers to make handmade knives.

Now that we have the materials covered, we can begin the process of making spurs.

1. Form the heel bands using a heel band accessory sized for the heel of a cowboy boot.

2. Straight stems must be flamed from ½-inch-thick metal and profiled to the shape of the tin pattern.

3. Make the rows straight by grinding 2-inch circles. In this case, use 1/8-inch cold-rolled mild steel. Cold rolled steel doesn’t have a crust like hot rolled steel, but either will work for this. Next, attach the spokes by drawing the teeth or spokes on heavy cardstock. Use a leather craft knife to cut the spokes as precisely as possible. After your pattern fits you, it would be a good idea to transfer the design to a piece of 22 gauge tin and hand file the tin pattern. Then you will have a permanent pattern for many years of use.

4. With the heel and leg bands prepped and ready, it’s time to weld the legs to the heel bands. Put a heel band on the insole and use a dowel tree to drive the spurs into place. Now it’s time to join the stems at the top with a tig or mig welder, but acetylene welding can also be done successfully.

5. Blend the welds where the studs are welded using an abrasive stone (or hand file) then move to a belt sander to finish blending the welds.

6. Cut the slot in the straight tooth row with an abrasive wheel very similar to that used on a miter saw. My gouge cutting tool is a Baldor ¼ horsepower motor with a platform to set the spur while cutting the shank gouge. Drill a 3/16-inch hole in the tip of the shank for the straight pins. Chamfer it slightly with a 5/16-inch drill bit so the row pin stays in place after it’s set.

7. Now it’s time to put the slices on the legs. Use a blacksmith’s anvil and take the round end of a ball-peen hammer and with a very light tap tap the pins so they flare out enough to hold the rows in place. Do not over-rivet the row pins to the point of preventing the rows from turning freely.

8. Now it’s time to put a final polish on the outside of the spur and clean up any hammer marks. It can be done by hand with sandpaper or on a belt sander using the slack belt method. (not a platen) The inside of the heel band should also be cleaned and finished. You don’t want sharp edges on the inside of the heel band. With this process, you will have a pair of handmade cowboy spurs that will last for years.

9. Stamp a maker’s mark on each spur. It is important to mark the spurs with the manufacturer’s name and a style number or spur sequence number. This is useful for identification and record keeping.

Always wear goggles, earplugs, respirator mask for safety.

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