Bit & Spur Techniques
General Techniques Used To Make Antique Bits and Spurs
The methods used to make bits are spurs aren’t incredibly hard to understand by depending on whether the spurs are designed based on the Mexico /California tradition or the Texas tradition, the techniques and designs that are typical vary significantly. The techniques used to make bits and spurs, as well as other metal objects, are quite similar and include casting, forging, welding and various forms of decorative techniques. Below we discuss common techniques used in bit and spur making so that you might be able to properly describe an item you have.
Decorative Techniques for Old Spurs and Bits
Overlaid or Mounted Spurs and Bits
Overlay decorations or Mountings are most commonly associated with Texas style spurs and range to all types of motifs from animals, to card suits, to geometric patterns, to basically any design you can think of. Overlay mountings are often in silver but can also be found in copper, brass, and occasionally gold as accents or to create a multi-colored design.
Antique Inlay Spurs and Bits
Inlay is a complex process that involves hollowing metal out of the main part of a bit or spur and then inserting a piece of silver or other decorative metal. Inlay metal is often in geometric shapes and is almost always elaborately engraved. Inlaying a piece of silver is much easier to engrave than the hard iron or steel of most spurs so it allows the piece to have a solid frame but also beautiful decorations. Inlay is a technique most associated with California or Mexican style bits and spurs.
Vintage Engraved Bits and Spurs
Engraving is the process of carving or stamping decorative designs into a piece of metal. There are several techniques and styles within the category of engraving but it is most commonly seen in silver with bits and spurs. California and Mexican style pieces are generally engraved but some mountings in Texas style bits and spurs will also be engraved.
Shaped Old Spurs and Bits
While most mid to low end collectible spurs will have a uniform profile along the heel-band and shank, fancier designs such as gal-legs or many other designs require that the heel band or shank be shaped to form a three dimensional representation of a particular design. In many cases these designs are only geometric, but also create three dimensional shaping of the piece to create visual interest.
Forming and Connecting Pieces
Casted Bits and Spurs
Casting uses a mold that would be formed in the desired shape of an item and then molten metal would be poured into the mold. Once the metal is allowed to harden the mold is removed. With bit and spur making, casting is an uncommon technique and might be used for a part of the finished product but almost never is a bit or spur cast outright. Some modern or mass-produced spurs can be found as cast items but they are not going to have the kind of value or quality of a true old, hand-made bit or pair of spurs.
Antique Forged Spurs and Bits
Forging is the process of taking a piece of metal and working it into the desired shape through heat and hammer. This is the traditional technique for producing bits and spurs. The Texas tradition is typical of one-piece spur construction where a single piece of metal is used to create the entire spur. In the California tradition a two-piece construction is more common, where the heel band and shank are produced separately and then attached to each other.
Welding is a process that takes two pieces of metal and fuses them together so that they are one integral piece, through the application of enough heat or pressure to fuse the two pieces together.
Soldering is a process that uses an alloy to bond two pieces of metal together. Soldering does not fuse the pieces into an integral piece, but attaches them with what amounts to “glue”.
Welding is commonly used in more modern and mass produced spur designs, but authentically old hand made spurs would not typically have been welded. E.F. Blanchard did weld the shank of his spurs onto the heel band but this is the exception rather than the rule, and older turn of the century makers did not have this technique available. Soldering is commonly seen in repairs or lower grade workmanship.