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How Oklahoman James Coldren makes buckles

Oklahoma man makes unique belt buckles without relying on patterns.
by Bryan Painter Published: February 24, 2013

There's a missing portion of the Watusi steer horn.

James Coldren takes a piece out of the horn for a buckle.

“I don't use patterns, I go by the eye,” Coldren said. Therefore no two buckles are alike.

Coldren takes the cut-out portion, steams it, puts it in a press for a day or two to get just the right curvature for a buckle, not too horseshoe-shaped, not too flat.

From there he cuts out the portion where the actual metal buckle goes through and connects side to side.

If a customer orders one with rawhide around the edge, he drills a series of holes. The branding of initials, or a ranch brand, is formed with wire a little smaller than baling wire. Then he inlays the silver on the brand.

He sands the buckle down “real fine” and then buffs it on the buffing wheel.

Customers can order a buckle that fits a three-quarter-inch belt or a standard size belt, an inch and a half. And while he does buff buckles, the order can specify the rough-out finish, which is not buffed.

The color, be it white, gray, black or almost a tan, is natural from the horn color.

Started in 1985

Coldren goes annually to Texas to buy the horns from a man who said he orders them from other countries.

Although the Oklahoman works with Watusi steer horns, that's not what he started with.

“There's a guy that started making these buckles when I was a kid and I always wanted one and I never had the money to buy one,” he said. “They were mostly out of Hereford horn, kind of a tan. He's still a good friend to this day and he showed me a lot about how he did it and got me started.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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