I recently found out that ranches will often give away their used horseshoes left and right, so of course I wanted to get some! Soon the creative juices were flowing and I had more ideas than time (A pretty common occurrence).
I wanted to start with something simple before I got into the huge animal sculptures that I've seen pictures of. For those that don't know what I mean, just Google Horseshoe Sculptures and see some of the crazy stuff people make with them.
If you've welded before (Or know someone who can) it's a fairly easy project and shouldn't take too long.
DISCLAIMER: I am by no means a professional welder. If I'm doing something wrong please let me know!
Wire wheel (and/or sandblaster)
Angle grinder (or bandsaw with metal blade)
Particle mask or respirator
Step 1: Git Some Shoes!
The first step is to find a source for your horseshoes. This can be either the easiest or the hardest part of the project, depending on where you live.
The best way to acquire a whole bunch of used ones is to ask around with local ranches, who will often direct you to their farriers (the people who put horseshoes on). The farriers usually have plenty that they will gladly give to you. The first one I asked laughed and asked how big my truck was... He said he could get me 5,000 in the spring if I wanted them!
I was hoping to start on this project sooner than that, so I went to Facebook (A great reliable resource for everything, especially opinions) and found about 2 dozen ranches and stables around the area. I took about 20 minutes to call and message them to ask if they had any old horseshoes they would be willing to contribute to my experiments. Of the 23 that I contacted, 4 didn't answer the phone after calling a few times throughout the week, 1 had the wrong number listed on their site, 8 of them said they didn't keep their horseshoes around, 3 said they had just given big piles of them to someone else that welds with them, 2 said that they sold their old shoes for $3 each (new ones are typically around $2.50 around here..), and 1 of them was visiting Argentina for 3 months!
Don't get discouraged if you get turned down a few times. Of the 4 places that did have some shoes around that they were willing to give out, 2 of them only had a few horseshoes, BUT the 2 other ones each gave me more than 20 shoes each and were only a few miles away, and one of the ranches that only had a couple gave me contact info for their farrier. I called him and he said he had just recently given away most of his shoes, but had a few left that he could just about drop on my doorstep as he was driving past later in the week. "A few left" turned out to be almost 40 shoes! He also said he could bring me plenty more once I was through with these ones. I see a few more horseshoe projects coming in the near future!
If you're just going to be making one small project from horseshoes, it should be pretty easy to find a handful of shoes. If (when) you get hooked on horseshoes and start making more from them, you'll want to build up a relationship with your shoe supplier. You might even convince them to deliver to you in exchange for the occasional finished product that you make. Hey, you might even make a good friend.
The only thing with getting used shoes is that they won't all be the same size, and you have to sort through the box a little to find similar-sized ones for some projects. You'll also typically have to clean them up a bit. For those who don't want to go through that effort -or don't have a ranch around-, Tractor Supply (in the U.S.) or most any farm supply store should stock new ones for a few dollars each.
You can also find new and used horseshoes on eBay and Amazon, but be careful! You want to buy solid steel shoes, not cast iron. Cast metals have many small pores that can trap gasses and cause the metal to shatter when heated. Don't use those!
Step 2: Get Your Clean On
If you bought new shoes, you can probably skip this step. Though sometimes new horseshoes will have rough mill scale on them that you will want to remove before welding.
For everyone like me who wanted to reuse old ones, you'll want to clean them up before getting started.
Start by removing any nails left in the shoes. Most can get pulled out with a pair of pliers, but some will need a few good whacks with a hammer. You can save the nails for other projects if you want.
Some of the shoes from one ranch still had the rubber pads (what's the official name of them?) tacked on the bottoms, and I had to cut off the rivet holding them on.
The next move is to get the gunk and junk out of the shoe. The easiest and most effective way I've seen this done is with a good sandblaster. This strips most of the rust off at the same time as getting the packed pasture crud out and giving the shoe a nice matte finish.
The second powered method that I typically use is a wire wheel. I use an air powered one, but a benchtop wheel would work as well. It's not quite as effective as the sandblaster, but fairly simple and a lot of shops already have wire wheels. Make sure to wear respiratory protection for either method, there will be a lot of dirt and crud thrown around that you really don't want in your lungs.
If you don't have either of the above tools, don't worry! You can always clean up your horseshoes with some steel wool or steel brush and a pick tool. Just be prepared to put some elbow grease into it!
Step 3: Do a Little Cuttin'
Now we can get started really making the heart. Or as I like to say, "get to the heart of it"
Out of your nice clean shoes, pick 2 that are roughly the same size and shape. Put a cutoff disk on your angle grinder and cut a third shoe in half. A bandsaw with a blade for cutting metal works equally as well.
In order to get closer to a nice heart shape, set out the 4 parts on the table overlapping to make a heart, then mark and cut at the intersection points. (See photos)
Grind down the cut edges so they sit flush. This isn't necessary but it helps later to not have gaps when welding.
I didn't take pictures of this step for the first heart that I made, so these are from the second one. My first one I cut both top pieces to a flat edge instead of just the one (See photo 3).
Set out your shoe bits to check how they sit together. If necessary, trim and grind until you're happy with the shape.
If any of your horseshoes have hoof clips on them, it's best to cut them off now. The first one I made I left them on and it made welding more difficult because the shoes wouldn't sit very flat.
Step 4: Weld 'em!
Get out your welder, set the shoe bits in place and tack them together. Don't do a full weld yet as you might need to adjust them slightly.
Once you're happy with how it looks, do a full weld around each joint.
My roommate has a TIG welder that works great for these. I would be using it every day if I could, but he just got it a few months ago and still won't let anyone else touch it. Instead, I "hire" him to do welding for me, and he accepts the experience he gets as payment. A.K.A. he does it for free as long as I keep getting him material to practice on.
UPDATE: My roommate now lets me use the welder myself. Either he trusts me enough not to break anything or he finally got sick of me asking him to weld so many things.
MIG or stick welding should work almost as well as TIG, but may leave a big more slag to clean off afterwards. You could probably use a welding rod held in an alligator clamp connected to a car battery if you don't have a standard welder (please don't though).
The heat discoloration makes some cool colors in the steel. I might have to take a torch to one of these to bring out the colors in it.
Step 5: Clean Up Round 2
Unless you make some very nice welds, you'll want to clean them up a bit before finishing the heart. I took a belt sander to it with 60 grit sandpaper. I also ran the back face of the shoes across the sander, just to clean up some of the roughness.
The inside edges and the point of the heart are pretty tough to get at with a belt sander, so I went at those with hand files. Horseshoes are surprisingly soft! It only took a few minutes to soften the point and slightly round the inside edges.
Step 6: Finish It Up
Once you have the welds cleaned up, you can choose to leave it as is with the partially sanded surface or finish shining up the rest. I like to sandblast the whole thing again to give it a nice uniform finish.
Then it's time to display it!
Step 7: Display
There's a bunch of ways to display these things. You can mount it on a couple tack nails through the holes, larger nails below the arches, a lark's head knot for it to hang from a string, weld it to a few more horseshoes as a stand, or just set it on the mantle and look at it.
I was making some SCRABBLE type tiles for a friend's wedding, and when I set the heart down next to them I had a brilliant idea... Why not combine them?
However you do it, display that heart with pride, cause you made it!
Or, you know, give it as a gift to someone you love. Valentines Day present anyone?
UPDATE: Someone wanted to buy this before I was even finished with it! I was working on other projects with the horseshoe heart sitting in a box near me, and the janitor of the building offered to buy it right then and there. I told him I would finish it first and get it to him the next week. Sounds like I need to make a few more!
Step 8: What's Next?
Other ways to modify or add to this project:
- There were a lot of comments from folks that the tails on the bottom of the heart were uneven. I'll fix that on the next ones
- I have many more ideas for horseshoe projects now! Currently working on making a small Christmas tree.
- I have a list of about 150 different things that I want to do. These include a boot holder, a cross, an American flag and a toothbrush holder. You know, when I get a lot of free time.
Feel free to check out my Facebook page J3 Design, I tend to update it more often than I do with Instructables.
Ideas, comments and questions are always welcome!