Elko Gallery Saddle- Part 3

Making sterling silver nail heads, maybe not the funnest job on the docket but one that has to be done.

There are several ways to make silver nail heads, and I chose the shot plate method since I have more than a few on hand from friends like Jerry Tucker of Tucker Tool, and Lyndon Tosotie of House of Stamps in Gallup. I could have simply cut small discs and domes them up in my doming block, that would be a very common "western" way of doing it. But the shot plate allows for a little more ornate nail head than a simple silver dome.

I cut silver discs so that I could control the amount of silver going into each nail head. But before you can cut a disc- you have to chose the shape and size nail head within the shot plate. After that a little experimenting to figure out how much silver that chosen bead requires. Once that is figured out, start knocking out discs of the same size till you have more than enough to do the job because you are a COWBOY you know you will have some failures along the way.

With a small pile of discs at hand, sit down to the solder board and make a small indentation in the surface- think of a hemispherical indentation, as seat for the melted silver ball to form within. You will be laying a silver disc over that new hole you just made, turn the torch up, and melt the silver disc into a red hot ball and allow it to settle into the depression and cool a little before moving it out.

Now please know that I have tried what I am about to describe, in two different manners. Here is the traditional method, place a cooled silver BALL into the shot plate depression you have chosen. Using a heavy hammer of 2 pound size of even a little bigger, take a shortened grip on the hammer handle. The left hand in my case will be holding what is known as a FORCER, which is a length of hefty steel rod whose face end is just slightly crowned and smooth, better if it is not a high polish. A somewhat textured face will drive the metal down deeper into the shot plate cavity. The next step is a little awkward and causes some serious cussing if you a cowboy.........I am not sure what you do if your an Indian since they use shot plates as well. So, everyone says to use a small nailset, such as 1/32 size, lightly drive that into the silver shot plate bead and it will stick to the nail set and come out.......and it does mind you. What I do is a little different and has worked very well for me. IT goes like this, I spray my shot plate with a silicone mold release, then strike my silver ball as we talked about above, once that is done I turn my shot plate over and the little bugger bead falls right out without the need of a nail set.

Once all the nail heads are struck, we begin the process of filing all the edges since there is a little flash around the bead edges, and then sand and file the bead bottom nice and flat. Once they are all prepared to this stage, we can return to the solder bench and silver solder a steel nail to the back of each bead. Remember, you can put silver and STEEL into a acid pickle pot. So place your freshly soldered nail heads in plain old hot water will work just fine. Allow them to sit in the warm water for a while to remove the flux residue.

Its time to polish the nails and this is a stage that if you are not careful can be akin to picking up a Porky-Pine. I have a pair of handmade wooden pliers that were made for exactly this job. They have wide wooden jaws that allow me to hold the smooth nail shank very well, and expose just the silver nail head out the top of the jaws so it can be polished. Barring having a nice pair of handmade wooden pliers, head to the local store and buy a pair of total crap pliers from some far flung place like Iowa or Burma. Since they are made of total crap, it will be easy to drill a hole thru the jaws that is just smaller than the nail shank, grip the nail shank with this small indentation so you can hold it all securely for polishing. If one of these nails is pulled out of you fingers by a buff going three thousand four hundred and fifty revolutions per minute at the end of a simple 6" diameter buff..........it will come back around and hit you before you can even say OUCH. So just be safe and pay attention.

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