Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Making Western stirrups, part one

My life has been extra busy lately, and even though I have ideas for posts, I haven't had the time to write them up.  Fortunately, I have a back up plan...

Today's post is the first of a two part tutorial written by Niki Hertzog of Winding Creek Stables.  Niki is an accomplished tack and prop maker and was also the 2013 NAN Chairperson.  This post was originally published on her blog and is reposted with permission.  Thanks, Niki!

Making Western Stirrups 

by Niki Hertzog

A while ago I devised a new way of making western stirrups that makes them stronger.  I got tired of having to fix stirrups that had pulled apart at shows.  And anyone who shows will dolls knows that stirrups take a lot of pressure as you adjust the rider.

My method starts with a sheet of aluminum.  Because you want it to be pretty thin, I use soda cans.
I wash my cans well, but sometimes I miss one or it doesn’t rinse out as well as it should.  They’re usable either way you can just wash off any missed soda once you have the can disassembled.

Use metal shears to cut the can.  While most will cut with regular scissors it will dull the blade very quickly.  Metal shears are designed to cut this material and will hold up better in the long run.
Start by taking the top and bottom off the can and cut down one side.
It leaves you with the upright part of the can in one sheet.  Be VERY careful.  The edges will be sharp and there may be stray pointy bits that form as you cut.  If your hands are not steady, get someone with steady hands to help you.
Now you will need to tool/cut four pieces.  Two will be the outside of the stirrup and can be tooled as you wish.  The others should be plain and they’ll be the inside of the stirrup.  They should be roughly the same shape, the “insides” can be a little bit larger since we’ll trim them anyway.
Once you have them cut out from the leather, skive them to about half their regular thickness.  You don’t want them paper-thin because you want the strength, but even 1-2oz leather is a bit too heavy so thinning them down is good. 
Now you will go back to your aluminum and cut two strips that are about half the width of the outside parts of the stirrups.  They can be longer than the stirrup (it’s actually good if they are), right now we’re just concerned about how wide they are.
Punch a hole in one end of one of the strips...
and also in the matching stirrup front.
If you are adding conchos and they have holes in them (either they came that way or you added holes) get one of those out now.  
Also get out the stirrup bar materials.  Pins can be used, but they tend to be a little on the brittle side and can break easily.  My preferred material are jewelry headpins.  They’re meant to be twisted and bent so the material flexes as needed without breaking.  They have a similar strength to straight pins so you don’t sacrifice a lot of strength in exchange for the ability bend the material.  This is important later so I highly recommend them.
Thread the concho then the front and metal core of the stirrup onto the headpin.
Turn the outside of the stirrup so it’s not lined up with the metal core and coat with glue.
Glue the metal down to the front side of the stirrup and set aside for a moment.  Punch a hole in the back side of the stirrup and coat the rough side of this piece with glue.
Add the back part to the stack of pieces on the headpin.  The aluminum should now be sandwiched between the two sides of the stirrup with the rough (glue-coated) sides against it.  If extra squeezes out the sides, just wipe it away, be careful not to get it on the leather.

I will also note at this point that I did remove the concho from the front of this stack, you’ll see that later.  I decided to go a different direction with decorating these stirrups and my new direction will have decorations going on at the very end instead.
When the glue has had some time to dry (but is not 100% dry) bend the stirrup into a roughly stirrup shape.  You’ll be able to mold it at the end to make it perfect, right now we just want the basic “U” shape.
Peel back the outside layer and trim the extra metal away.
Punch one hole that goes through both the inside and the metal core.  Then peel back the inside and punch a second hole below it that goes through just the metal.
Run the headpin through the top pair of holes then bend the end of the headpin into a “U” shape that is just as wide as the holes you punched in the metal.  You will likely need to trim away a little from the end (I usually have to cut off 1/3 of an inch or so).
Push the “U” shape back through the holes, allow the inside leather to separate from the metal.  Bend the bottom of the “U” back up so that it goes between the metal and the leather.  
This locks the headpin in place and uses the leather to disguise the bent wire the holds everything together.  This is crucial because most of the strength of the stirrup comes from this one spot.
Add more glue (I generally use a little bit of super-glue here for extra hold) to both the inside and outside leather and press it back tight to the metal.  Everything is now hidden.  Set it aside to let the glue dry.
Now that the basic stirrup is built, it's time for the fun stuff.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's post which will be all detailing the stirrup!

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