There are many steps that go into making a pair of handmade cowboy spurs. There are at least three different spur making processes; welded shank spurs, one piece hand forged spurs, and riveted shank spurs. This article covers the process of making a welded shank spur.
Since this is a working cowboy spur, I will start off with the specifications. Heel band width 1 1/8 inches, shank length 2 ¼ inches, and 2 inch 20 point rowels. The best material for the heel bands is 4130 aircraft alloy. It is steel that wears well and has enough toughness to withstand hard daily use. This material has just the right hardness and spring to maintain its shape around the heel band of the cowboy boot.
Next is the spur shank, this material needs to be ½ inch thick hot rolled or cold rolled steel is fine. 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 up portion on top of the shank to keep the cowboys chaps from getting caught in the spur rowel.
The material for the spur rowel can be anything from plow disc steel, 1018 mild steel, 4130, or oil hardening 01 like knife makers use to make handmade knives.
Now that we have the materials covered we can start the spur making process.
1. Form the heel bands by using a heel band fixture the size of the cowboy boot heel.
2. The spur shanks need to be torched out of the ½ inch thick metal and profiled to the shape of the tin pattern.
3. Make the spur rowels by grinding 2 inch circles. In this case, use 1/8 inch mild steel cold rolled. Cold rolled steel doesn’t have a crust on it like hot rolled steel but either one will work for this. Next, lay out the spokes by drawing the teeth or spokes on to a thick piece of poster board. Use a leather craft knife to cut the spokes out in the most precise manner you possibly can. After your pattern suits 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 heel bands and shanks prepared and ready, it is time to weld the shanks on to the heel bands. Put one heel band in the jig and using a shank tree to set the spur shanks in place. Now it is time to tack the shanks on the top side by using a tig or mig welder – but acetylene welding can also be done successfully.
5. Blend the welds where the shanks are welded on by using a grinding rock (or hand file) and then go to a belt sander to finish up the blending of the welds.
6. Cut the spur rowel slot with an abrasive wheel much like a cutoff saw uses. My slot cutting tool is a ¼ horse Baldor motor with a platform to set the spur on while the shank slot is being cut. Drill a 3/16 inch hole in the tip of the shank for the spur rowel pins. Bevel it slightly with a 5/16 inch drill bit so that the rowel pin will stay in place after it has been pinned.
7. Now it is time to put the rowels in the shanks. Use a blacksmith anvil and take the round end of a ball peen hammer and with a very light touch tap the pins so that they flare enough to hold the rowels in place. Do not over rivet the rowel pins to the point that it restricts the rowels from spinning freely.
8. It is now 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 grinder using the slack belt method. (not a platen) The inside of the heel band also needs to clean and finished. You don’t want any sharp edges on the inside of the heel band. Using this process you will have a pair of handmade cowboy spurs that will last for years to come.
9. Stamp a makers mark on each spur. It is important to brand the spurs with the maker’s name and a style number or spur sequence number. This is helpful for identification and recordkeeping.
Always use protective glasses, ear plugs, breathing mask for safety.