Monday, June 18, 2012

Millwater's Farriery: Down and Dirty Bar Shoes to Git-er-Done!

    The first thing a horseshoer in this day and age might ask is  "Why would I even want to fabricate bar shoes when there are godzillion prefab bar shoes to choose from?"

   Well, it wasn't that long ago that we didn't have such a great selection.  And, the way things have been going lately, you never know how many of your favorite shoe manufacturers might go the way of the dodo, or at least be driven to streamline their offerings in times to come.

   But, even while there are prefab bar shoes available, there are some advantages to making your own.  One is simple inventory.  If you keep a supply of several different bar shoes in five or six sizes each, it adds up to a load of shoes pretty quick.  More stuff to haul around in your rig or to eat up space in your shop.

   Another advantage to making your own bar shoes is nailing.  Most horseshoers have a favorite keg shoe they use more of than anything else, and nailing this shoe becomes fast and accurate second nature.  Switching to another make of shoe, especially on a horse who may be sore (which is why he needs the bar shoes, right?) will make precise shoe placement and expedient application that much harder on the squirming, unhappy critter.  If the bar shoe were based on your favorite keg shoe, it'd be easier.

   Fitting prefabricated bar shoes can also be somewhat difficult, especially with heartbars, which are hardest to shape well with the tongue plate in the way, and tend to be needed in cases where a precise fit is even more essential than usual.

   Like a lot of horseshoers, I first started making bar shoes by selecting a keg shoe a couple sizes larger than the horse would normally wear, then turning the heels in to forge-weld them together.  This approach had some serious shortcomings.  Keg shoe stock gets thicker and wider as sizes go up, so the resulting bar shoes would be excessively heavy.  The nail holes would also be shifted too far back, and set too coarse.  And, if the horse already took the biggest size of keg shoe in the box, there were no bigger ones to make bar shoes out of.

   For a number of years, I got into the habit of forging all of my bar shoes from bar-stock.  This was quite an improvement over using an over-sized keg shoe.  But it could be a bit of work, especially in the busy season.

   One Summer evening, while I was catching up on some forge work in the shop, the wife came out and said we'd had a call from a customer whose mare was in eggbars, one of which had been lost out in the pasture, and needed us to swing-by and fix her up a few days ahead of schedule.  Knowing we'd be pushed for time the next day, and being ready to come in from the shop that evening, I decided to try a short-cut.  I grabbed two pair of my favorite keg shoes (St. Croix Rim Lites), used my V-hardie to cut off one pair right behind the toe-nails, and riveted the cut-out toes across the heels of the whole shoes to form the "O" shape.  One welding heat to just lightly tap the first joint together without buggering-up the other side.  Second welding heat to fully weld and shape the other side. A third heat to finish-up the first side.  In no time, I had a pair of eggbars ready to go.

   When I applied them, I discovered that these eggbars were easier to make final cold-fitting adjustments on than my handmades, and were all-around quicker and easier to get on the horse.  And, once the horse had polished them up a few days, the horseowner thought they were prettier than my hand-forged irons.  (Kinda' hut my feelings, that!)

   It wasn't a great leap to figure out that, by inserting the cut-out toe across the heels of the whole shoe, but facing the other way, I could whip-up straightbars just as easily for performance horses who needed a bit of extra support and stability, but would likely step-off eggbars.

(Worn shoe.)

   Of course, this left me with a bunch of partial shoe branches lying around.  Then it occurred to me that, if I crossed 'em, welded them together, hooked out the "heels" a bit, and punched rivet holes, these would make great frog plates for heartbars.  This is particularly handy, as horses in need of heartbars are often in no shape to stand around having their feet messed with for very long.  This way, I can just cold-fit a pair of keg shoes in a jiffy and let the horse go rest while I forge-weld in the pre-made frog plates.  When we go back to the horse, all I have to do is fine-tune the plate pressure and nail-on.

   They may not be as impressive as contest-winning handmades, but the horse is just going to grind the things into the mud and manure anyway.  When it comes to getting the job done, these humble bar shoes are as good as any.

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