At New Belgium we take our soft-goods and swag pretty seriously. From kites to garden-markers we have sold some pretty memorable merchandise. But these new belt buckles we're getting might be the coolest thing yet. They're made in Loveland, Colorado at Western Heritage. A couple days ago some of us were lucky enough to go down the road and see the place for ourselves.
Western Heritage makes belt buckles, and small sculptures, and lots of other (awesome) stuff cast in bronze, silver alloy, sterling, and even gold. They're pretty famous for making these:
That is the official uniformed buckle of the U.S. Forest Service. On one's first day as a Ranger one gets their pants and hat and other uniform-based equipment. Included in that is one's very own belt buckle. Western Heritage makes these buckles for the government, and they are super sweet. I asked (very nicely), and they still wouldn't give me one.
But, back to the tour. Walking in the door to this fantastic old building your eyes are greeted with the original hardwoods and exposed brick, and some of the finest stamped-tin ceiling I have ever seen (and no, I didn't get any pictures). This was followed by a sweet coffee mug (to take home), some doughnuts (to eat there), and smiling faces. Everyone I met at Western Heritage was really excited to be at work. This is common around NBB too, so it was something I could relate to. After getting the nickel tour of the offices (highlights: 3-D printer, kegerator, and a pewter platypus), we headed into the shop.
To cast a belt buckle you have to make a mold. These molds (at Western Heritage) are circles of rubber, each with 6 molds in them. These folks have been in business over 30 years, they have a lot of molds:
When the mold is made, you spin wax into it, in order make a wax version of the upcoming buckle. Here's our's:
In that photo you can also see a sweet mustache mold. This is not part of our buckle, but I wish it was...
Then, about six of those wax buckles are put into a small bucket and plaster is poured in around them. The plaster forms around the wax, it hardens, and then the wax is melted out. This leaves behind reliefs of the buckles in a material (plaster) that can take the heat of pouring molten bronze into it. It's at this point the metal goes in. I took no pictures during this step because it was dark and hot and not that photogenic. The bronze goes in about 1800°, it pours in liquid. After a few minutes it hardens up and the mold gets taken out back for cooling and plaster removal. Really, it's just dipped into barrel of weird looking water water:
See those buckles? So cool...
After the cool down the buckles get a lot of finish work. Cutting, polishing (like 12 kinds of buffing), and then drilled for the bail (that's the wire on the back that holds it to your belt), and then it's ready (I also took no pictures of this part because there was just too many steps, I lost track, got confused, and then gave up...). Making belt buckles is a mind-bogglingly labor intensive process. The folks at Western Heitage are really good at it too. When all is said and done our buckle looks like this:
Pretty good, right?
So, if you want one (and I bet you do) you'll have to come to the brewery. They're $50, but the craftsmanship... totally worth it. Or, give it a few weeks and they should show up at our on-line store.
Otherwise, follow the link to Western Heritage, check out their stuff, and have a nice weekend.