With a handful of horseshoes, a free afternoon and a little bit of of welding, you can make a nameplate for your door to make everybody jealous! Or, you know, give it to someone special for Christmas.
After getting a free box full of used horseshoes from the local ranches and making a Heart and a Christmas tree from them, I still had a bunch left over. I figured I could try to make words from them, and who better to start with than my wonderful girlfriend? She is often my inspiration. That or my guinea pig.... We all know which she would rather be called.
If you've checked out my other two horseshoe 'Ibles, some of the steps of this one might seem repetitive, but I'll go through the process again in this one for folks who haven't read the others.
I am by no means a professional welder. If I'm doing something wrong please let me know!
I've made a couple different names so far, for this Instructable I'll be walking through how I made the Victoria one, since that's the one I have the best documentation on. Let's get started!
Horseshoes (number needed varies, 1-2 per letter)
Wire wheel (and/or sandblaster)
Angle grinder (or bandsaw with metal blade)
Particle mask or respirator
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Step 1: Get Some Shoes!
The first thing you'll have to do is find some horseshoes. This can be either the easiest or the hardest part of the project, depending on where you live. If you plan to just buy new shoes, skip to the end of this step.
The easiest way to find a whole bunch of used ones is to ask around with local ranches, who I found will usually direct you to their farriers (the people who put horseshoes on). The farriers often have plenty and some will gladly give them to you to play with. One of them that I called laughed and asked how big my truck was... He said he could get me 5,000 in the spring if I could wait til then!
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've been using the same batch of shoes for quite a few projects.
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 horseshoe art 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 case of root beer. Heck, you might even make a friend.
The only thing with getting used shoes is that they won't all be the same size, and you may have to sort through the box a little to find similar-sized ones for some projects. You'll also 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 around on eBay and Amazon, but be careful! You want to buy solid steel shoes, not cast iron. Cast iron shoes are typically cheaper and made for decoration, but have many small pores that can trap gasses and cause the metal to shatter when heated. Exploding horseshoes are not good!
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.
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.
Since I don't have a sandblaster (yet), I typically use an air powered wire wheel. A benchtop wheel might be easier since you'll have less trouble with the wheel jumping around. It's not quite as effective as the sandblaster, but fairly simple and usually not too expensive if you need to buy a new tool. Make sure to wear respiratory protection for either method, they'll both throw around a lot of crud that you really don't want to get 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: Make a Plan Stan
I know you're chomping at the bit (I wrote that without realizing the pun) to start chopping up horseshoes and welding them together, but take a moment to sit down and draw up a cutting guide so you don't waste too many shoes.
Keep in mind the rounded shape of horseshoes, and plan to make all your letters with gentle curves. Getting straight lines from rounded horseshoes takes bending or hammering them straight, which ain't so easy to do.
I drew out a quick cutting pattern and marked out each section on a few shoes, checking off each letter after I found the right shoes to use for it. I labelled the sections for ease of reference.
Step 4: Cut 'Em Up!
Cut your horseshoes on each of your marks. I clamped each shoe to the workbench and used an angle grinder with a cutoff wheel. Clean up the cut edges with a few strokes from a hand file, it helps the shoes sit flush together when welding.
Be sure to use eye and ear protection as well as protective body wear. Good gloves and a leather jacket are highly recommended. Don't take shortcuts when there's going to be molten metal bits flying around you.
And don't take pictures with one hand while you're grinding with the other.
Step 5: Set It Out
Before you start welding, I'd recommend laying out the whole thing and marking each intersection that you plan to weld. I use a marker to put a line across from one piece to the next, which lets me line them up as well as keep the angle between them close to what it should be.
I considered adding a length of rebar beneath the name, but decided not to. It would help tie the letters together by connecting them at the bottom, but I thought it would look better without (In my opinion).
In the pictures, I still need to clean up the C and the base of the T. If you leave the pasture gunk on while you weld it smells Horrible. Don't ask me how I know.
Step 6: Tack It Up!
It's finally time to break out the welder!
First tack together each of your letters at each joint. Before doing full welds, be sure that your letter is oriented the way you want it and sits flat. If each letter is just a little crooked, your whole word can end up very warped. I set the letters on the cement floor to check if they wobbled, and if they did I pressed down on the sides until they sat better.
Once you're happy with it, do full welds around each joint on the letter. Some of my welds could have been better, but weren't too bad after I cleaned them up later.
I used a TIG welder for this whole project as it makes some nice clean welds, but you could probably do the same with a MIG/stick as well.
Sadly, my roommate with the TIG welder is moving out, so I'll have to put further horseshoe projects on hold until I can find one for myself.
Step 7: Put It Together
After you've got each letter together, set them all out and check again how it looks. Make sure to get the bottom edge lined up, then mark the intersections between letters that will be your weld points.
When you're welding it all together, make sure to support the whole piece as you weld. Because of how my workspace is set up I had to hang part of the name off the side of my workbench, so I used multiple clamps to ensure it didn't tip as I was working.
Again, tack each joint and make sure it looks good and sits level before doing full welds.
Step 8: One Last Cleanup
After you get it all welded together, clean up your welds and any sharp edges with hand files. Horseshoes are pretty soft, so it only takes a few minutes to get it looking and feeling good.
I like to sandblast the whole thing one last time to remove any welding discoloration and remaining dirt, but you could skip that to leave it "rustic".
Step 9: Give It a Coat
You have a couple different finishing options for these horseshoes. I clear coat everything right after sandblasting it to keep the grey color and texture, but you could also leave it out in the rain to purposely make it rust before clear coating. You know, for that "old timey homestead" look.
I use Rustoleum Clear Gloss from a spray can, and put on two or three coats depending how much it seems to need.
Step 10: Show It Off!
That's all there is to it!
I was finishing an American flag concealment case (It opens and you can hide stuff inside it) at the same time as the Victoria, so obviously I had to take the time for a photo op with them together. The flag was a Thin Blue Line design in honor of police officers.
You can see that there's a slight arch to it, I could have done a better job of keeping the letters aligned while welding. But I kinda like the arch better than having it straight across.
I made the Victoria to give to my girlfriend for Christmas. She loved it! The only slight problem was that she's not supposed to drive nails into the walls of her college house, but she can still prop it up on top of her dresser.
The Brave I made for my pastor, who gave it as a gift to his infant grandson. The kid loves it, look at the smile on his face!
Step 11: What's Next?
Other ways to modify or continue this project:
- Make a "couples" one with two names and a heart
- Make a last name one to put over a door
- Make one for a wedding with 2 names and a date
- Sooooo many other horseshoe projects
But first I gotta find a different welder...
Ideas, comments and questions are always welcome!
I've entered this 'Ible into the Metal Contest, if you liked it don't forget to vote!
Participated in the