Process

How Our Tools Are Made

Design

Our primary goal is to make functional hand tools that will stand the test of time. Most of our garden tools follow tried and trued design patterns because hand tools have been around for a long time, during periods when people had only their own muscle to rely on for power. With the goal of making manual work as easy as possible, the most efficient designs have already been discovered. We honour that wisdom and learn from those who came before us.

We offer custom design services for customers if they have a particular design in mind, and can be emailed at info-at-reforgedironworks.com

Sourcing Materials

Our preferred source for all of our materials is old junk. Abandoned agricultural equipment, car parts from the wrecker, worn out saw blades and carpenters are a few of the places we look for steel and wood. We establish relationships with locals and businesses when we can make use of the junk that they can’t use anymore.

Steel that’s suitable for hardened edges, such as sickles, knives, and axes, is always sourced from reclaimed material. Since the exact composition of a piece of scrap steel is unknown, we discover its properties by a series of tests to determine its suitability for a particular function. We focus on reclaiming old scrap steel to get junk out of the waste stream and give it new life.

Using scrap steel actually costs more than using new steel, even if its free to acquire. There is considerable time spent testing and prototyping to ensure that the steel is right for the job.

For a more consistent appearance, and to save time forging, we often use hot rolled mild steel for many of our fire tools and ornamental ironwork. Sometimes we luck out and find some junk steel that’s consistent in dimensions but we burn through it pretty quickly in most cases.

Wood material used for handles and scabbards is sourced primarily from what we find or harvest ourselves, and secondarily from the cut-off sections that woodworkers have no use for. Old tool handles are repurposed. Nothing is off limits so long as it doesn’t impact the function of the tool.

Our packing material is primarily repurposed cardboard and packing paper. An incredible amount of waste is produced in the process of shipping and we want to minimize that.

Heating – Gas vs Charcoal

We use two types of forges for our work depending on the nature of the job. A propane gas forge is used the most and primarily for decorative ironwork and fire tools. It easily heats up lengths of steel when we need it, and gets hot enough to forge weld with. It has two access points so both of us can forge at the same time while it’s running. It’s fast and efficient.

Propane forge heating a bar

Our charcoal forge is based on a Japanese swordsmith’s forge design but is on a smaller scale. A fuigo box bellows provides the air supply, and the softwood charcoal that is made on location from wood on our homestead is the fuel. This is, by far, the more sustainable option for forging but it’s also slower than the propane forge.

The charcoal forge gets some air from the fuigo bellows.

Advantages to using charcoal are that it burns cleanly, it minimizes carbon loss in the steel, and can heat very precise locations. It’s an excellent choice for making high carbon blades and tools, and it is used as such. Softwood charcoal burns very hot and can be used for forge welding. We are learning the technique of forge welding small amounts of high carbon steel to a mild or low carbon base to make our tools. Called laminating or san-mai in Japanese (essentially “three layers”), it combines the traits of both high and low carbon steels to make very functional tools.

Finally, operating the charcoal forge with a fuigo is a meditative process. The rhythmic sound of the bellows, the breath in the fire pot and dancing of the coals adds more dimensions to the forging process. While romantic, these sensations also serve as a source of information to know precisely when the piece is ready for the next step.

Forging

Most professional blacksmith shops have at least one power hammer to arguably make production more efficient. We decided to take a different approach and rely on teamwork and human power. The two ‘smiths, Lorinda and Tim, work together with hammer and sledge to forge thicker bars into the desired shape. Having two sets of hands at the anvil helps for many other ‘smithing operations such as punching, drifting, fullering, etc.

Ever since the industrial revolution, Western culture (among others), has moved always in the direction of increasing mechanization in the name of making work easier for people. What gets lost in that trade, however, is rarely discussed: camaraderie, the satisfaction of shared labour and accomplishment, and the loss of skilled people.

Machines don’t increase the efficiency of a job, they eliminate jobs.

Wendell Barry – The Unsettling of America

Making Charcoal

The summer fire ban prevents us from making our own charcoal, however, once the ban is lifted we’ll be making our own fuel on site using a 100-gallon charcoal kiln system based on Masato Iwasaki’s design.

The charcoal kiln in its former home.

We currently live on land that has about eight acres of mature Douglas firs, pines and tamarack. A big part of managing the forest is keeping deadwood under control, and that deadwood can be a great source for making charcoal provided it hasn’t rotted too much. The great benefit to us, and to the environment, is that our fuel is created and used 100% on site.

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