MULTIPLE WAYS TO WELD. Aluminum shoes or aluminum bar stock can be welded by any of the usual methods. Aluminum can also be forge welded.
If you should one day decide you’d like to carry every aluminum horseshoe on the market, you’d better plan on buying a big shoeing rig.
Once a curiosity seen occasionally at the racetrack, aluminum shoes are now available in more than 6,000 styles and varieties, according to Dan Bradley, the farrier and toolmaker from Lucedale, Miss.
During a presentation at the American Farrier’s Association (AFA) convention in Albuquerque, N.M., in late February, Bradley told his audience that farriers can choose from a multitude of aluminum shoes.
“You’d have to have a 53-foot semi as your shoeing rig to carry all of them,” he said, noting that Victory Racing Plate Co., and Thoro’Bred Inc., — two of the biggest names in aluminum shoes — each offer more than 600 varieties.
David Erb, president of Victory, said in the case of his company, the figure is actually more than 750, when taking into consideration the various sizes and styles.
”We’re working with a world market,” Erb says. “It takes some very creative scheduling and agile manufacturing.”
Victory’s Elite competition shoe, according to Erb, was the industry’s first viable aluminum shoe that could be mass-produced. It was introduced in September of 1988. Since then constant improvements in various aluminum alloys and manufacturing techniques have helped aluminum shoes take a bigger and bigger share of the market.
ALUMINUM PRIMER. Dan Bradley makes a point as he discusses working with aluminum during a presentation at the American Farrier’s Association convention during early March.
During his talk, Bradley mentioned that improved manufacturing abilities have also make it easier for more companies to get into the aluminum shoe business.
“New shoes can be added to a product line surprisingly quickly now,” he says. “Grand Circuit came out with a shoe for larger horses and three other companies had their versions online almost immediately.”
While aluminum shoers were originally introduced for the racetrack, Erb says they’ve now been moved into many other areas. Wider web aluminum shoes were first introduced with hunters and jumpers in mind, but quickly moved into other disciplines and types of competition.
“Aluminum shoes are being used in areas we don’t even know about yet,” says Erb, with a chuckle. “They’re very big in the Quarter Horse show market. We’ve even been told that they’re being used in competitive carriage racing now.”
Aluminum shoes are also used in many therapeutic situations where their ability to provide solid support with less weight than steel is often seen as an advantage. Aluminum shoes are also easier to glue-on than steels shoes, which is also an advantage in therapeutic situations.
While just how many aluminum shoes a farrier will use will be dependent on the horses in his individual book, it’s obvious that a working knowledge of using and modifying them is going to be needed by any farrier. Bradley says there are some big differences between working with steel and aluminum for hot shoeing.
When working with aluminum shoes in the forge, Bradley cautions that it’s important to be aware of certain properties of the alloy. As an example, he says the rate of temperature increase in aluminum accelerates at it gets hotter.
“Aluminum takes a comparatively long time to get to 600 degrees,” he explains. “But it takes a very short time to go from 600 to 800 degrees and even less time to go from 800 to 1,200 degrees.”
COLD OR HOT SHAPING. Aluminum shoes can be worked hot or cold. When hot shaping aluminum shoes, it’s important to take certain precautions.
And in contrast to steel, aluminum shoes don’t change color much as they get hotter.
“There are some subtle differences in the grey color, but it’s very difficult to detect,” he explains.
Bradley recommends buying a temperature stick if you’re going to be working aluminum in the forge. A temperature stick is a crayon-like marker widely used in welding and other processes in which metal is heated. The stick is used to make a mark on the surface, which melts when the metal reaches the temperature that particular stick is rated for. Bradley recommends buying a 600-degree stick.
Other things to consider are how hot your forge is and how hot your anvil is.
“If you’re firing up your forge for the first time in a day, an aluminum shoe will take some time to heat up,” Bradley explains. “But if the forge is warm, it will heat up much more quickly.”
That’s why with aluminum, you probably don’t want to try heating up a second shoe while you’re working the first one at the anvil. Many a farrier has turned away from the forge for a moment, then turned back to find an aluminum shoe going up in smoke.
Warm Up Your Heat
It’s also important to think about the temperature of your anvil because working a hot aluminum shoe on a cold anvil will result in the shoe losing the heat much more quickly.
“The temperature of steel drops 50 degrees a second when it comes out of the forge,” Bradley noted. “With aluminum, it’s even faster.”
You can slow that cooling by heating up your anvil before you start shaping aluminum on it. Bradley says he’ll pre-heat the anvil by laying a piece of hot steel on it.
Bradley says the warmer aluminum gets, the stickier it becomes.
“Aluminum moves a little differently than steel,” Bradley says. He suggests using a beeswax coating on your tools such as prtichels, tongs and creasers to cut down on the sticking problem.
Top Tool Advice
Bradley says it’s also important to be aware that aluminum will behave differently than steel if you’re punching or modifying nail holes.
“When you use punches on aluminum, strike the punch crisply and squarely against the metal,” he says. “And use pritchels with sharp edges.”
Pritchels may cut through the aluminum quickly, so Bradley likes to use old leather pads between his shoe and the anvil when he’s punching or modifying nail holes.
“That will protect both the anvil and the pritchel,” he says.
Bradley also says it’s a good idea to buy an inexpensive stainless steel brush to use on aluminum shoes. “A regular wire brush may leave marks,” he says.
If you want to pull clips on an aluminum shoe, Bradley suggests spot heating just the place where you want to pull the clips. He says he typically pulls clips at 600 degrees.
“The more care you take in the pre-work of your shoe, the easier the finishing will be,” he says.
RACKS OF RACKS. A rack of aluminum egg bar shoes in a farrier’s rig. Dan Bradley says there are now more than 6,000 styles and varieties of aluminum shoes on the market.
Saving The Tempering
While aluminum shoes can be heated up for modification, some shoe manufacturers caution against overdoing it. A lot of time and energy is put into heat- treating aluminum shoes to temper the alloy. One manufacturer at the convention said the heat-treating process could take up to 12 hours and noted heating it up and “beating” on aluminum could cause it to lose some of that temper and structure.
Victory’s Erb says there are ways to lessen that loss.
“If you heat an aluminum shoe to a high temperature and then it cools, you’re going to lose some of the tempering and the alloy will return to a softer state,” he explains. “But aluminum experts tell me that can be remedied by a second heating of the shoe, then plunging it into room-temperature water. This will reestablish the temper to a greater degree over the next 24 hours.”
Some farriers are leery of trying to weld aluminum shoes or bar stock, but Bradley says the alloy can be welded through any of the usual methods used by farriers — forge welding, oxyacetylene torches, MIG (metal inert gas) or TIG (tungsten inert gas) welders.
“If you’re going to use an oxyacetylene welder, keep your pressure low,” he cautions, “5 pounds acetylene and 10 pounds oxygen is about right.”
GOOD FOR GLUING. Aluminum shoes work well in therapeutic as well as other situations in which glue-on shoes are preferred.
If you use a belt sander to safe or modify aluminum shoes, Bradley says its important to realize that aluminum will build up on the belt. He says frequent use of a cleaning stick — of which there are many different kinds available — will prolong the life of the belt.
Grinding aluminum brings up safety issues that Bradley says you should be aware of.
He said breathing aluminum dust that’s in the air as a result of using a grinder can lead to the dust accumulating in the lungs, leading to problems that could include pulmonary fibrosis or pulmonary proteinosis, examples of what are lumped together as “white lung disease.”
“You should use a good dust and mist mask when grinding aluminum,” Bradley says. “It has to have a good seal.” He says cheap dust masks typically purchased at hardware stores for use on home projects are not sufficient.
Bradley says there is some evidence of blood disorders related to exposure to aluminum dust, as well as some evidence that inhaling very finely ground aluminum dust can lead to metal fume fever, a disease of welders and others working with volatilized metals, marked by sudden thirst, metallic taste in the mouth, high fever with chills, sweating and leukocytosis. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately.
Some other tips Bradley shared on aluminum shoes include:
- “Aluminum shoes are easy to glue-on, but you need to keep them clean.”
- “Wear patterns on aluminum shoes will be similar to those on steel shoes, but they’ll show up faster in aluminum than they will in steel.”
- “With aluminum wedge shoes, I always recommend the use of some type of sole support. In therapeutic cases, I’ll fill the sole all the way. In working horses, I’ll fill it to a little below the rim.”
- He’s cautious about aluminum heart bar shoes, not because they’re inherently dangerous, but because he thinks “99.9 percent of them will be put on just the way they come out of the box,” without being adjusted to the horse’s foot.
- Bradley says you’ll sometimes see what he calls “the fuzz monster” on aluminum. He says rubbing the shoe with a plain red candle or car wax can control this fuzzy build-up. He’s also found Keratex, beeswax and copper-sulfate powder mixes are effective for this.