Introduction: Shadow Box - Grandpa's Spurs

About: I have a lifetime of working on things. Jack of all trades, master of none.

I have a family heirloom that was given to me some years ago; It is my paternal Grandfather’s spurs. Grandpa John was a real American cowboy who homesteaded in Montana in the early 1900's. A German immigrant who lived the American Dream for sure. I am proud of who my Grandfather was and as such I wanted to make a fitting tribute to properly display his spurs, an important part of a cowboy's clothing.

I think that shadow boxes are interesting and one made of weathered barn-wood is a fitting material for this project.

Sidebar: If you would like to read a great (IMHO) book about how the railroads settled the West and encouraged immigration to America then check out Jonathan Raban's;Bad Land: An American Romance. Although my family is not named in this book, it surely tells the story of how they arrived on the plains of Eastern Montana from across the world in Prussia.

Back story: The spurs are from Kelly Bros. I was curious about them so I sent photos of the spurs to an appraiser from TX and here is what Bruce & Julianne Bartlett had to say: “Your grandfather had great taste in spurs! They are circa 1913-1919 KB&P era no. 20 pattern spurs. The no. 20 was one of Kelly's most popular designs and enjoyed a production run of at least 30 years. As a result, it is fairly common today. Your grandfather obviously used these spurs hard. As you suspect, they have period field replacement rowels and are missing a portion of their rowel pin covers. The spur market is off its highs from 10 years ago. In the rough condition your pair is in, they are worth $250-400 today. In mint condition they would be worth $1000.”

I have included a few photos of the KB Spurs and added a note that the engraved Bar OJ was his brand.


3D printer (Dremel Idea Builder 3D20) – A 3D printer is not necessary for this build. I only printed the horseshoes to keep the their weight down, but I could easily have used real horseshoes instead.

Shadow Box – I bought mine on Etsy or similar site. I do not recall for sure as it was several years ago that I started getting ready for this project.

Heirloom or artistic artifact.

3D printed horseshoes, Iron Powder, ModPodge (or XTC-3D as I used), Rusting Formula (to be outlined in this Instructable), and spray Urethane.

Photo of weathered stadium seat or other interesting backdrop. By coincidence the picture that I used was taken at an outdoor horse arena that my son rides at, and yes he uses spurs too. Check out Westernaires: for more information on one of the best horse drill teams in the world. (Again IMHO but arguably so)

Rusted barbed wire was used to hold the items in place and add to the effect.


This is a relatively safe project because of the way that I made it. However if you chose to make your own shadowbox then the risk of cuts or injury goes up substantially. Always use proper hand and eye protection, ventilate the area well, do not inhale dusts or printer fumes without a respirator and exercise caution with knives or hot glue. Be careful my friends.

Step 1: Chose Your Theme

In my case it is a pair of antique K.B. spurs that my Grandfather used working as a Montana cowboy. He was a homesteader, farmer and a rancher.

I wanted to make something that met the time period and was in the same theme as the spurs themselves so I chose a barn wood shadowbox. I purchased it online verses building one myself, though building one myself would have been easy do and certainly cheaper. I paid something near $40 with shipping for my box.

I chose horseshoes as one of the props, but wanted to make them lighter than real shoes. So in the next step I will show you a really cool trick on how to make 3D prints look as if they are made of metal and really old. Of course real horseshoes would work too whether rusted or not.

Another thing I wanted was rusted barbed wire to hold the items in place and add to the design. I purchased 5’ of wire online that was already rusted. This was cheaper and easier than trying to find a small piece somewhere that I could buy. The wire was around $7 delivered.

I had a photo I took of an aged arena bench stadium seat sometime back. I did not know why I took the photo, but at the time the image struck me as cool. I had Office Depot print the photo out onto large photo paper as my printer only goes up to 8.5” x 11” and I needed something closer to 11” x 14”. This cost was under $2 so not a large expense. This photo was used as the background for the box to contrast the items in the box. I think the black backplate lacked definition of the objects displayed.

Step 2: Rusting of the Shoes

What is cold casting?

Cold casting is a term used to describe the process of mixing metal powder with a translucent casting resin and applying the mixture into a mold. The finished casting gives the appearance of solid metal. The metal cold-casting process is faster and much less expensive compared with foundry casting of molten metal.

I figured out the trick that I am about to share while trying to find a means of pouring metals into molds. In researching what metals to use for casting I found the cold casting technique and was intrigued. I do not always wish to have to create a silicone mold to pour a copy of a 3D print in a cold cast so I tried Mod Podge to adhere the metal powder to the outside of 3D prints and it worked well.

For this project I found a horseshoe design on Thingiverse that met my needs and then I sized it to fit my design. The design I chose is Horseshoe by “PolygonPusher” on Thingiverse.

I printed two shoes around 10 mm high and roughly 100 mm x 100 mm. I coated them in XTC-3D ,a paint on epoxy coating, and then covered them in iron powder which I had to purchase on-line. I have successfully completed this process with Mod Podge before. Mod Podge worked fine and is cheaper and easier to find. After letting the XTC-3D set up for four hours I shook off the excess iron powder and sprayed the horseshoes with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and table salt. I let that dry fully and then sprayed it again with another coat of this rusting solution. After the second spray had fully dried I sprayed them with two coats of urethane.

The rusting solution was made with roughly 1 part white vinegar to 5 parts hydrogen peroxide, and some table salt added. My batch was small and not measured exactly. I put the solution into a small spray bottle and labeled it as "rust spray". The formula works well and rusting begins immediately upon spraying the iron. I did see somewhere a suggestion from someone to pre-spray your project with full strength vinegar and let that fully dry prior to spraying with the mentioned rusting formula. Supposedly this helps the rust spray to work even better.

This process makes a very realistic looking metal object that can even be picked up with a magnet. I plan on experimenting with this process even further to try to brandish an item with steel wool to make a metal looking item that is not fully rusted as these shoes are. If this is to be done I believe that Mod Podge may not be robust enough to hold up to the rubbing with steel wool, but I have not tried it yet.

Step 3: Finishing of the Box

I taped the photo to the backing plate of the shadow box with a few strips of two-sided tape.

Next thing I did was to test fit the parts for placement and appearance.

I used two-sided tape to adhere the horseshoes to the photo. This was easy to do as I left the bottom of the 3D printed shoes as uncoated PLA plastic. I hope that the tape will hold the shoes to the photo paper for years to come but if not I will need to glue them on eventually.

I then wired the spurs to the photo at an angle and placed the coiled and rusted barbed wire into the mix to hold everything together. The barbed wire is attached to the photo in two spots with bailing wire that passes through the back plate through small holes I drilled in the photo and backing plate.

Lastly I placed the shadow box over the top of the design and bent the holding tabs inward to hold everything in place.

The thing that I forgot to do before trying to get a photo was to clean the glass plate on both sides. Live and learn.

My best guess is that everything as shown cost me under $50 USD. That obviously can go up or down greatly depending on what you put in your shadow box and and whether you make or buy your shadow box.

Step 4: Conclusion

Obviously this project was near and dear to me as I was trying to create a proper tribute to my Grandfather. However a shadow box could be made from something less sentimental or more artistic in nature. Perhaps some flowers, a taxidermy scene, or diorama would look nice?

I am proud to be a desendant of Honyocks and honored to give you what I am sure is a new word for your vocabulary: (plural honyocks) (US, slang, derogatory) An immigrant to the United States from east-central Europe. (US, slang, derogatory) A rube or simpleton. (US, slang) A hardscrabble farm (this usage known in parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alberta and Saskatchewan).

Here is another one from a website called "Urban Dictionary": honyocker: Old north West cowboy slang for a failed homestead farmer. Almost as bad as calling a cowboy a sheep herder.Cattle people never liked homesteaders and all their barbed wire fences. 1889- This whole town is wall to wall honyockers, bankers and sheep sh*t. #sheep#cowboy#montana#barbed-wire#bohunk by Alpino September 25, 2008

Honyock was a derogatory term given the immigrants by the free-range cattle barons of the time. The German's made it an endearing term. I grew up thinking that rambunctious children everywhere where told "settle down you Honyocks", but it turned out to be a unique part of my heritage.

I wish to add that Grandpa and Grandma both where amazing, hard working individuals that appreciated every opportunity that they had in life. They lived their lives as shining examples of how to treat others and how to appreciate what you have. Family and community were first with them always throughout their entire lives. I and many others adored and respected them.

I hope that you enjoyed this project. Questions and comments always welcome.

Home Decor Contest

Participated in the
Home Decor Contest