After the first horseshoe project I did, I still had about 50 shoes left over and needed a project to use them for. Christmas was just around the corner so I decided to do a Christmas tree from them.
This is another fairly easy welding project, and doesn't need any materials other than the horseshoes.
DISCLAIMER: I am by no means a professional welder. If I'm doing something wrong please let me know!
Small scrap metal plate
Wire wheel (and/or sandblaster)
Angle grinder (or bandsaw)
Particle mask or respirator (strongly recommended)
Step 1: Get Yourself Some Shoes!
The first thing you're going to need is some horseshoes!
What i found effective was to call a number of the ranches around the area. Some of them don't hold onto their old shoes and some others won't have any when you contact them, but don't get discouraged! Often even if they don't have any horseshoes to give you, they can put you in touch with one of their farriers (The people who trim horse hooves and put horseshoes on), many of whom have hundreds of shoes they will happily give you, especially if you tell them a bit about what you're doing with them. One farrier offered to fill my pickup bed with horseshoes if I came to him in the spring. I might have to take him up on that offer if I keep coming up with so many ideas to use them for.
If you're just going to be making a small project like this, it should be pretty easy to find a handful of shoes. If (when) you get hooked on horseshoes and start making more from them, you'll want to get out there and build up a relationship with a few of the ranches and farriers. You might even convince them to deliver right to your door in exchange for the occasional finished product that you make. Hey, you might even make a good friend!
The only small issue with getting used shoes is that they won't all be the same size. You may have to sort through the box a little bit to find similar-sized ones depending on the project, but for this one you can use various sizes. You'll also typically have to clean them up a bit. For those who don't want to go through that effort -or don't have a ranch around-, Tractor Supply (in the U.S.) or most any farm supply store should stock new ones for $2-3 each.
You can also find new and used horseshoes on eBay and Amazon, but be careful! You want to buy solid steel shoes, not cast iron. Cast metals have many small pores that can trap gasses and cause the metal to shatter when they get heated during welding. It's worth paying a few extra dollars to be sure they won't blow up in your face.
On a side note, I found a handful of aluminum (Aluminium for you folks across the big lake) horseshoes mixed in with one batch I got. I've never welded with aluminum but I'm hoping to make something special from them.
Step 2: Clean 'Em Up
If you bought brand new shoes, you may be able to skip to the next step. Though often new horseshoes will have mill scale on them that you will want to remove before welding.
Start by removing any nails left in the shoes. Most can get pulled out with a pair of pliers, but some will need a few good whacks with a hammer. You can save the nails for other projects if you wish.
Some of the shoes from one ranch still had the rubber pads tacked on the bottoms, and I had to grind off the rivet holding them on before the pad would come off.
The next move is to get the gunk and junk out of the shoe. The easiest and most effective way I've found to do this is with a good sandblaster. This strips most of the rust off at the same time as getting the packed pasture crud out and giving the shoe a nice even finish.
I'm still hoping Santa will bring me a sandblaster for Christmas, but since I don't have it yet I have to borrow my brother's when I can. When I'm at home I typically use a wire wheel. The wheel I have is air powered, but a benchtop wheel would work just as well if not easier. It isn't quite as effective as the sandblaster, but fairly simple and a lot of hobbyists already have wire wheels. Make sure to wear respiratory protection for either method, there will be a lot of powderized dirt and crud in the air that you really don't want in your lungs.
If you don't have either of those tools, don't worry! You can always clean up your horseshoes with a steel brush and a metal pick. Just be prepared to put some elbow grease into it!
NOTE: This Christmas tree I made with some new shoes that were mixed in when I was given the old ones. I still sandblasted them to get the mill scale off.
Step 3: Cut 'Em Up
Now the fun begins!
Pick out some horseshoes to use for your tree. If you're using old shoes, you'll want 2 shoes that are close to the same size to use for the base, and 3 that can be slightly different sizes. Use the smallest one for the top "branches" and the largest for the bottom ones.
I found 6 brand new shoes mixed in with the old ones I had been given. I was curious to compare working with new shoes as opposed to old ones, but there didn't seem to be a whole lot of difference.
Cut 2 of the shoes in half at the top. Cut a third one (the small one if they're different sizes) a little off-center. The first one I made I cut a little too close to centered for my liking, so I cut off another small section later on the mark you see in the pictures. If you cut close to the top of the slots that the nails go into it should be just right (see pictures).
I ground the intersecting edges slightly concave to contour better to the shoe they'll be welded too. Completely optional but it will make the weld joints look little better in the end.
Set them out to get a glimpse of what your tree will look like! (See second photo)
Step 4: Weld 'Em!
Head to the garage/shop/barn/man cave etc. and get the welder out to tack the shoes together. Don't do a full weld yet as you might need to adjust them a little to get the tree to sit evenly.
Once you're happy with how it looks, do full welds around each joint.
I welded each side of the tree together first, then attached them together and to the "trunk" piece. I then welded the 2 shoes together for the base and tacked the upright section onto it. That was the fun part, I was reaching over my roommate's head to hold the upright section and trying to keep it vertical while looking the opposite direction so I wouldn't be blinded as he welded it. We could have used a 90° magnet or even just a few pieces of scrap to make a brace, but that would have been too simple!
If you remember from my last 'Ible with the horseshoe heart, my roommate has a TIG welder but wouldn't let anyone else touch it. I must have won his trust a little bit, because now he's letting me use it a little bit myself. Other than the joints between the base and the trunk, the rest of the welds on this tree were done by yours truly.
TIG has been working great for my horseshoe projects, but if you don't have a TIG it should work just fine with a MIG or stick welder.
Step 5: Star in the Night
Every Christmas tree needs a star!
I wasn't sure whether I would go with the traditional Christmas star or a "starry star" as my roommates kept calling it, so I cut out both. If you can't decide between them even after checking out the pictures of how they look, you can easily find an image you're happy with online and print it off.
I asked a handful of people which star they preferred, and most of them said that they liked the traditional Christmas star but that it was too small to be proportional to the tree (I agreed). So I made a bigger one (see photo 5).
Trace the star you choose onto a piece of scrap plate, then cut it out. You can use the same angle grinder wheel you used for cutting the horseshoes. I had a bandsaw and belt sander available, so I used those instead.
Weld your star to the top of your tree in whatever orientation you would like. You're almost done!
Step 6: Clean Up Again
Unless you really like how your welds look, you'll probably want to clean them up a bit. My welding doesn't look all that pretty yet, so this tree definitely needed cleanup.
You can do mass cleanup with a belt sander or a flap disk on an angle grinder if desired, but all I used were a few hand files of various shapes.
Keep in mind that horseshoes are fairly soft! Take it slow and don't take off more material than you plan too, especially if you're using power tools.
Step 7: Finish It Up
Once you're happy with how your tree looks, you can either leave it with the welds and bluing showing or finish shining it up. I personally like to sandblast it again to give it a nice clean, uniform finish, so I borrowed my brother's sandblaster for a few minutes while I was in the area.
To keep the star shiny while I blasted the rest of it I covered it with masking tape while I sprayed it with sand. Masking tape is great as it has no residue when you pull it off and leaves a nice even surface.
Before you decide to finish it, take a look at the cool colors around where you welded the horseshoes. I'd like to try out "marbling" the whole thing with a torch instead of blasting one of them. (EDIT: I tried marbling a small scrap piece with a propane torch. It took a long time to heat the metal to get even a hint of color change. I will have to try it again with a hotter source like MAPP gas)
I finished by spraying the whole thing with a clear coat sealer. I used Rustoleum Clear Gloss from a spray can. If you prefer, you can leave the tree out in the rain for a few days to rust it before you add the clear coat. This would fit nicely with a rustic homestead or Ye Olde Decor.
Step 8: Show It Off!
The ways you can display your creation are as limitless as the stars in the sky!
Stand it on the mantle, make it the centerpiece for your holiday table or put it on the window sill. The whole thing is a little under 2' tall (depending on the size of your shoes), so it won't take up too much space but is big enough to use as a good decoration.
I have been making wooden ornaments from pallet wood scraps (I'll make an 'Ible if I get around to it), so I made a couple mini ones for the tree. I bent paper clips to hang them the way that I always saw my grandma make hangers for her ornaments. I think it looks good!
Step 9: What's Next?
Other ways to modify or add to this project:
- Make it with aluminum horseshoes and used shoes
- Use roofing steel or diamond plate for the star
- Replace the star with an angel shape
- Try out coloring with heat
- Oh so many more horseshoe project ideas to come! I'm working out plans for a boot rack and some spring decorations
Feel free to check out my Facebook page J3 Design, I update it more often than I do with Instructables.
Ideas, comments and questions are always welcome!
A big thank you to everyone who voted and made this project a runner-up in the Holiday Decor Challenge!!
Runner Up in the