I was hoping to do this post in time for Father’s Day, but unfortunately (or fortunately) hand-made products take time to produce. And this would have been an ideal gift for Dad. But you know what? It really doesn’t matter when you need a belt or belt buckle. I burn through belts about every other year, probably because they just aren’t well made or I’m bored with them. Now, I have a new belt and belt buckle to wear that represents HighTechDad wherever I go, thanks to the craftspeople at FosterWeld.
FosterWeld does metal and leather work . In my mind, that is pretty primal, almost harkening back to the Wild West days. Their main focus is on making belt buckles, but they also do cuffs and home decor. When I say cuffs, I’m not talking cuff links, I’m talking about leather bracelets that have metal buckles as well. And the home decor items consist of cabinets, tables and mirrors, for example. Their site lists this as coming soon, but the examples that they have are pretty darn interesting.
Probably the best hand-crafted service that FosterWeld offers, in my opinion, is that of their belt buckles. There are a few different types of milling processes to create these buckles:
CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control and they are (obviously) computer controlled to provide much more precision than doing the milling process by hand. The CNC-created buckles are more expensive due to the complexity of the machines and the process. If you provide FosterWeld with some vector-based artwork, they can create any of the 3 types mentioned above. (They do offer an optional artwork service to convert artwork into vector art.) The Laser milling process cuts the design from stainless steel. The Stencil process essentially lays the artwork on top of the metal.
According to Chris Foster, the founder of FosterWeld, “The CNC process requires significant time in design adaptation and coding for our milling machine (which costs several $1000s), and then the buckle material sometimes is a factor in the cost difference. The laser cut buckles have a similar process that just requires quite a bit of time, design adaptation, and some heavy duty machinery. Stencil buckles are a much lower cost because the production costs are lower – our stencil machine takes less coding and management.”
While the belt buckle and belt that I received was a bit “raw” looking, that is actually the style that looked best. You can see how the rest of the belt hardware was created and how the buckle was ground down on the back for the company name an initials of the maker (I believe).
I thought that it might be interesting to learn a bit more about the people behind the company as well as the company itself, so I conducted a brief interview the owner and founder (a dad as well), Chris Foster.
HighTechDad: When was the company started?
Chris Foster: 2007, right when my first child (Phoebe) was born. I wanted to be able to work close to my family and have flexibility.
HTD: How many employees did you start with and how many of them are there now?
Chris: We started with just my wife and I; now we have 3 employees and my wife raises our two kids full time.
HTD: Why did you start it (I read the “quit our day jobs” but would love some more info)?
Chris: Well, the buckles started as a joke but became really popular really fast. I wanted to own my own business so I could have the flexibility as a dad and husband. I’ve worked and been professionally trained in welding, so I decided to put those skills into action.
HTD: You make buckles and cuffs (on the metal side), do you also make the leather belts?
Chris: We do make our own leather belts – we get the leather and then hand distress it, put the snaps in, and send it to you.
HTD: What other products do you do? I saw “Home Decor”…
Chris: As a professional welder, I can make just about anything involving metal! Commonly, I’ll do mirrors, hand rails, credenzas, liquor cabinets, shelving, etc. On the leather side, we’re working on dog collars and guitar straps as added products.
HTD: What is the process for making a buckle? I know that the stencil process is different than some of the others…
Chris: We have a variety of buckle styles, so the process is different for each one. All of them are made from either steel or copper, welded, beveled, and given a variety of color treatments. Our custom buckles can also be CNC milled (engraved) or laser cut, and those each have their own set of complexities – starting with a design, then moving to some machinery, and then onto welding and adding character to the buckle.
HTD: How long does it take to make a buckle?
Chris: Our standard buckles take a few hours to make, but then the more complex buckles (stencils, laser cut, CNC milled) take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the complexity.
HTD: What is the most unique work that you have done (do you have pictures)?
Chris: (see below)
HTD: What is your best selling product?
Chris: Our best selling product is probably either our Recession buckle + belt combo pack, or our Solid Buckle. I’m sure the recession buckle is our most popular buckle because it is the least expensive, but then our Solid Buckle is just all around a great buckle – three gouges in the corner and hand distressed with a variety of color treatments. Those products are followed very closely by our Rising Sun Buckle, our Perforated Buckle, and our Copper Buckle, and the favorite belt is our Black Distressed Belt.
HTD: What makes your work different?
Chris: Our work is different because it is all handmade right here in the USA by people who really care about the product. As a professionally trained welder, I know how to really deliver a sturdy, yet functional, fashion buckle. We want to know our customers, and know their stories – and share our story with them.
HTD: Do people mainly get custom belt buckles?
Chris: About 25% of our orders come from custom buckles, but we’d like it to be more – the custom buckles really have some interesting stories behind them.
FosterWeld’s belt buckle collection is probably the most popular. They offer a variety of pre-made designs that are quite unique, edgy, and artsy. Most of the designs employ a distressed look as you can see from the pictures of the buckle that they made for me, however, depending on the artwork or design you choose, they can be quite intricate. Their custom belt buckles are intriguing (as that is the option that they worked with me on). I supplied some vector-ready artwork which they then converted into a stenciled design.
Each of their buckles are MIG welded using a hand-bent bracket/loop that connects to the belt. It took my kids and I a few minutes to figure out how the buckle attached to the belt that they supplied but once we figured it out, it was extremely easy to use. I found my belt “hardware” (the part on the back of the buckle) to be well machined and designed and the belt definitely stays in place using the prong that fits into the belt holes. The belt buckles are painted with acrylic and then coated with an automotive-grade ploy-cote to protect the buckle and the artwork.
Oh, and guess what? They also do kid buckles as well (a smaller size) and have an Alphabet Belt too.
So, why do I like these guys? For starters, they are some parents that are trying to live the American dream by launching their own business to stay closer to their family. Second, their products are not only unique, but they are utilitarian and artistic at the same time. Third, all of their work is hand-made and done in the USA.
If you want to see some additional photos of the buckle that they made for HighTechDad, please see my Flickr set.
Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: If you are looking for a unique but useful gift for a man or a woman (yes, they have women’s styles as well), give FosterWeld a look.