For Mark Rees, it takes an effort to form words. A lot of effort. That’s because he forms them out of old horseshoes. Each letter is heated, beaten and welded together in his snug little workshop in Columbia, Kentucky. His business is simply known as Mark’s Custom Horseshoe Art, and his creations are sold across the United States. I first came across Mark’s work when a prospective customer of ours explained that she wouldn’t be able to place her order for a handcrafted sign for her barn. The reason was sensible enough, in the meantime a good friend of hers had presented her with a sign as a gift. She was considerate enough to send us a picture, and what a unique sign it was!
I had never before seen lettering made entirely of horseshoes. Undoubtedly, it falls squarely into the category of dimensional signage, although Mark has never thought of it that way:
I never really paid much attention to the variety of signage that I see every day, I looked at your blog and seeing the variety in one place is pretty neat. I think a horseshoe sign would fit right in to the mix.
I couldn’t agree more. Hence, today’s blog post. Though more a man of action than of words, Mark took a few minutes of his time to explain, albeit with humour and wit, what made him choose this unique profession:
What started as “I want to learn to weld and I have steel horseshoes to play with” eventually led to taking my ‘creations’ to craft fairs and farmers markets and Facebook and a website. Most of the designs for my early creations were shown to me by a horseshoe artist in Florida and a retired blacksmith in Virginia and the designs used with their permission. Then I started coming up with my own designs for critters and objects that I thought would be fun or neat to make. Some things I do are fun to make but there is no way anyone would pay for the time invested, so they become gifts. When I am feeling creative, my wife, Anita, gets lots of gifts.
I do not want to be accused of stealing someone-else’s idea, so I don’t spend a lot of time looking at what others are making and selling. Anita runs the business and marketing, I do the cutting, welding, forging, bending, and finishing.
I asked Mark how he goes about cutting and bending an object as tough as a horseshoe:
I started cutting the shoes with a hand hack saw but that was hard work and I would pretty regularly end up punching the vise which is hard on knuckles. I eventually found a well-used metal cutting band saw for a very reasonable price and have been using it ever since. The easiest way to bend shoes is using a forge to heat them. I have a small propane gas forge that does a pretty good job of heating as long as I can get whatever I want to heat into the fire box. Some shoes I will bend cold if it is a small bend, but you are correct horseshoes are tough. A large hammer, big vise and heavy anvil help though.
Where do the shoes come from?
We have 3 shod horses and get additional used shoes from farriers and horse friends. Most everything I make is from used shoes, or has used shoes incorporated into it. Used horseshoes are a great deal! They are usually full of nails, horse poo and rusted pretty good by the time I get them, but they are usually free. I spend more time pulling nails and cleaning the shoes than it usually takes to weld them.
I have to pay for new shoes and they have mill slag on them and that has to be removed before I can work them, so I guess it works out.On some projects I need a bunch of shoes the same size or shape and it is easier to use new shoes than sort through piles of used ones looking for matches.
As far as how the business is going, It was crazy before Christmas, I was in the shop for a few hours pretty much every day starting in late Oct. As Christmas got closer the days got longer. I think it finally slowed down just after Christmas. I think we did almost twice the business for Christmas 2012 as we did in 2011. Right now we get 1 or 2 orders some weeks, some weeks none, but that is fine, horseshoe art is not our primary income. We make enough to pay for the website, gas for the forge, gas and wire for the welder, and all the other misc. supplies we use. As someone pointed out, my horseshoe art is a great self supporting hobby that I actually make a decent profit from. Right now most of my orders are for signs made from horseshoes.
How did the “Lynne’s Barn” order come about?
The order for the Lynne’s Barn sign came from my best customer, LeAnne, she apparently likes my work and has ordered a bunch of goodies for herself and friends from me and has the patience of a Saint. One of the signs she ordered was too long for my paint drying box and I fixed a tent with halogen lights to keep the sign warm so the paint would dry, but the weather just didn’t want to cooperate, it was cold and/or wet for 2 weeks after I got the sign made. LeAnne was patient and has continued ordering things, so I guess she understands mother nature doesn’t always work with me. Someday maybe a bigger paint drying booth… For the Lynne’s Barn sign the weather cooperated and I got it made, primed, and painted in a week or so. Letting the primer and paint cure are what drag the time out.
I have had a couple of requests for prices on signs from people in Oz, the world wide web is a great thing, but the shipping charge for 4 or 5 kg of horseshoes was a bit ridiculous and they rethought their purchase. For Lynne’s Sign We shipped the sign, I think it cost about $21 from Ky to Ca. I don’t remember the weight though.
I like customer feedback, so I can try to give people the best product I can for a fair price. I also like other people who see my creations opinions and feedback, I get some really good suggestions on doing things better, easier, or faster (Helps my ego too).