Learning from experience

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A broken tine is an awful thing.

Right up until today, I made broadforks. I stopped because I’ve had too many instances (four out of dozens of forks made over the years) where tines snapped when they shouldn’t have. It’s one of the risks that comes with using reclaimed steel. The tines can break prematurely due to stress fractures in the steel already present before I touched them. Even with proper heat treatment of the spring steel, it can still have these hidden cracks in the metal.

The first solution that comes to my mind is to use new steel instead of reclaimed for the broadfork tines. That could work but it goes against the spirit of turning old, scrap items into useful ones. There is an ongoing internal debate where I weigh the pros and cons of new vs old. In situations like this, where it’s clear the risk of using old steel is too high, then new steel wins out. However, what are the costs to the environment, to me and to others for using new specialized steel for the tools I make? Can those costs be justified if they enable me to make a broadfork that will last generations to come?

Stress crack in the reclaimed steel caused this tine to fail.

These are the questions I ask myself, and I need to give them consideration before I move ahead. In the mean time, since I will no longer be making broadforks for the foreseeable future I can take that time and focus it on other gardening tools I want to design and create. At the top of the list are a wooden handled hori hori, a bill hook and a one-handed Asian style hoe that I spotted in an interesting Youtube video about cooking with ubiquitous amounts of garlic.

Thankfully the broadfork pictured above belongs to a neighbour and I can personally observe the failure and repair it for him. My customers have often been understanding when things break, but I don’t want my tools to do that when they’re being used appropriately. My goal is to create tools that will last a lifetime.