Reforged Ironworks on the Road

Writing a quick heads up here to let you know that I’ll have a booth at several events this spring.

The first event, February 17th and 18th, is at the annual Organic Alberta conference in Lacombe, AB. Very much looking forward to this event and networking with some very neat people!

The second event, March 18th, is at Calgary Seedy Saturday. If you’re in the Calgary area, and you’d like to order a tool and avoid shipping, this is a great opportunity to do so. I’ll be bringing all the tools ordered to date with me to the Seedy Saturday event. I’m looking forward to meeting some of my customers in person.

Finally, I’ll be at the Edmonton Seedy Sunday on March 19th. Again, anyone in the Edmonton area who’d rather pickup an ordered tool instead of shipping it, should give this some consideration.

As for news from the forge, I’ve added a new tool to my production list: the rice knife! It’s a small, lightweight sickle that makes quick work of cutting. Have a look!

My Three Favourite Tools

This is the final part of the three part blog series. Enjoy!

I’d like to share with you my three favourite tools to use in the garden. These tools are used the most often, and get the most work done in the shortest time. Generally I prefer hand tools to powered ones because they’re quiet, they don’t emit noxious fumes and I can work up a sweat.

1. The Broadfork

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This is the workhorse of our garden. It loosens and aerates the soil without inverting or mixing the soil layers, minimizing disturbance to the soil and the microorganisms within. One pass in spring and another in fall is what we need to maintain our garden’s health. It also makes an excellent tool for digging up potatoes and other root vegetables when the soil is tight.

Clay also has a tendency to form into hardpan, an impermeable layer of subsoil that traps water above it, causing stress to plants. A broadfork can be used (and indeed is designed) to break up this layer of hardpan as the pointed tines are between 8 to 11 inches long. They reach into the subsoil to pierce the hardened layer and break it apart.

The broadforks I forge are about two feet wide, with five tines made from automotive coil spring. I forge the tines to a slightly curved shape to aid in penetrating the soil, and to break it up more readily. I prefer to use wooden ash handles because they’re lighter than metal, they’re easy to replace if they should ever break, and I find the feel of wooden handles is superior to metal in how it fits the hand and how it bends when the broadfork is used.

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The tines ready to be welded to the broadfork cross bar

 

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2. The Hoe

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This humble tool is an important addition to weed management in an organic garden. Mulch, chop and drop, intensive planting and the hoe are all used together to control weed growth. There are many hoe designs available, but my favourite is the D-hoe with a goose style neck. It’s quick, accurate and can handle weed sprouts as easily as more mature plants. The sharp corners are great for cultivating, forming furrows for seed and the neck keeps the handle clear, giving it a good working angle.

I forge the hoe’s neck from reclaimed steel found in scrap yards. I like to add a decorative touch to it where the blade meets the neck. The blade itself is also reclaimed sheet steel, cut to shape and sharpened. The handles are Canadian ash: lightweight and durable and are either made with a ferrule to insert the neck into, or a collar in which the handle is riveted secure. Either style makes repairs easy.

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3. The Hori hori

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The multipurpose sidearm of the gardener: small, lightweight yet robust enough to handle heavy clay soils. It’s designed to dig holes for bulbs, bedding out plants, and removing some of the more stubborn interlopers in the garden (thistle, I’m looking at you). It can cut roots and woody stems up to finger thickness. The original purpose of the hori hori was to manage satoyama, the edge where mountain forest met cultivated field in 13th century Japan. The design hasn’t changed much since, which speaks to its effectiveness and proven design. Applied to our context here in Alberta, it’s an ideal tool for food forests and gardens.

The hori hori I make currently are forged from abandoned railroad spikes and water quenched to achieve about the same hardness as an axe. That means it can hold an edge fairly well, and since it’s also used to dig, it won’t break when leverage is applied to the handle. I forge the blades to achieve a balance between robustness and weight. The handles are made from reclaimed wood, most commonly old hockey sticks which are light and durable. I rivet the handles to the full tang blade with copper rivets, making replacement of the handles easy if it’s ever needed.

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With these three tools, I can accomplish the majority of my work in the garden. A shovel and garden fork certainly come in handy, but they didn’t quite make my top three. Every tool I make is informed by traditional design and from the experiences of my clients and myself.

Thanks for reading this three part series on the work I do! If you’d like to commission a tool for me, use the contact page to get in touch with me.

Happy gardening!

The Tradition of Hand Tools

This is part two of a three part series of blogs I’ll be sharing with you over the coming weeks. Part three will be out next week. Enjoy!

The use of hand tools is one of the definitive characteristics of our species. We even go so far as to define our preindustrial past by ages of hand tool technology: stone, bronze and iron. Each age reflects our growth in understanding and the ability to manipulate the environment around us. We’ve reached a point now where a single person operating a machine can do the work of hundreds in a matter of hours. This increased leverage in our ability to alter our physical surroundings forms the foundation of modern civilization. That power comes with a cost, however, most commonly found in the byproducts of the industrial modes of production. In certain contexts, then, perhaps we can explore older methods of production that are no less sophisticated. Intensive organic gardening and food forestry, as examples, can be accomplished quite readily with just hand tools. I’d like to share an excellent video by Geoff Lawton that speaks to this:

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Hand tools. Appropriate little hands tools. They’re so accurate and so selective that you don’t make many mistakes. You cut it in your right hand and hold it in your left hand. It’s not like a motorized tool that’s so easy to make mistakes and as soon as you’ve been using a motorized tool for an hour or two your nervous system’s all shaky, your judgment starts getting very inaccurate. You start making mistakes, you start killing trees, you start chopping the wrong things, you start cutting the wrong things.

This is a Japanese rice knife with a serrated edge. There’s also a Japanese knife called a kama which is very traditional. All over the world there are little tiny hooks and little tiny knives that people use to selectively weed diverse systems, to work in amongst intricately placed plants. And a lot of the hand tools are actually dying out and becoming extinct as everyone modernizes.

So, it’s very important for us to realize how energy efficient they are. The energy order on a knife like that, the pollution of manufacture spread over the lifetime of the product is incredibly good. It’s way in front of anything that’s a motorized tool.

And people look at this and “oh you do a lot of work and it’s very physical.” Yeah, but the work we’re doing is aimed towards developing a sustainable and permanent system. It doesn’t matter that you do a little bit of extra work to establish permanence because it goes on forever. That little bit of work extends over the lifetime of the system so it’s a similar order to using a motorized machine or an accurate little hand tool. A little bit of extra work, a little bit of extra design, you end up with permanence that goes on forever.

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Hand tools have the advantage of vastly greater accuracy, reflecting the skill of the user, as well as efficiency of manufacture when considering the energy that goes into the tool spread over its lifetime. This is another reason why I source reclaimed materials and create tools that can last generations. Finally, there are the aesthetic qualities hand tools possess that power tools never will: they’re quiet, non-jarring on our nervous systems, they have elegance to their shape and design, and can be made to appeal to our sense of beauty. It’s wonderful to work quietly and efficiently in the garden, hearing the birds, the insects, and all the animals that call that garden home.

If you’re interested in commissioning a tool, use the contact form to get in touch with me.

Happy gardening!

Craftsmanship, Materials and Waste

This is part one of a three part series of blogs I’ll be sharing with you over the coming weeks. Part two will be out next week. Enjoy!

tim_forgingThe Smith

My name is Tim Wickstrom and I’m a blacksmith in southern Alberta. My focus is forging permaculture and garden hand tools for others who love to work with their hands. I love to be out in my garden and young food forest working with hand tools. My partner Lorinda enthusiastically agrees to test my creations and if you were to visit our home during the growing season, you’d very likely find us working away in our yard. Last October I founded Reforged Ironworks with the intent of sharing with others the tools I create and why I make them the way I do.

 

The Forge

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Charcoal fuel in the forge ready to be lit.

The magic of fire and hammer is truly transformative and I am marveled by it every day that I work at the forge. An abandoned railroad spike is reborn as a hori hori and a truck’s leaf spring becomes a heavy duty trowel. This marvelous process has been around for millenia and it still appeals to many.

My particular process, like many things in permaculture, goes back to traditional techniques. Modern blacksmiths often use forges fueled by propane or metallurgical coal or coke. All of these are non-renewable resources. I want to use something that this sustainable in the long term, a fuel source that can be replenished and managed over many generations, and so I use charcoal. This is the fuel that all blacksmiths used until fossil fuels became widely available. Since we live in a time of abundant waste (i.e. unused resources) I can make charcoal from leftover construction timber such as untreated spruce. There’s no shortage of this material, it can be found within my neighbourhood and it diverts waste from the landfill to find use in creating tools that will last many years.

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The Steel

Here again, because we live in a world with large amounts of waste, I can source automotive suspension steel, like leaf and coil springs, railroad spikes, spring harrows, plow discs and all sorts of scrap metal for free. Some of this metal is especially good for tools because it’s high carbon steel. This type of steel can be hardened, giving my tools lots of toughness and durability. There’s a bit of experimentation that goes into each piece of steel that I use since it’s all reclaimed; I never know quite exactly what the scrap metal is like until I play around with it a bit.

It does take me extra time to find, sort and experiment with the metal I find but it’s worth the effort because I can upcycle it and divert it from the waste stream. It’s important to me to minimize the ecological footprint of myself and my business.

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From railroad spike to garden tool

 

 

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It’s rare these days, but there are moments when I see a truly amazing piece of workmanship and it speaks directly to my heart. A perfect example of this is an artisan broom making shop in Crawford Bay, BC that I visited last summer. I was confident that the broom I purchased would last for many years; that confidence is the foundation of craftsmanship. Built upon that are the aesthetic details and the method of construction that combine to create something that is both memorable and wonderful to use.

I get a very positive vibe when I know exactly where my money’s going and who it’s supporting. My visit to Crawford Bay cemented in my mind the kind of experience I want my customers to have: confidence in the quality of my tools, appreciation for their aesthetics, and an understanding that they’re directly supporting a sustainable business.

We often forget that beauty is a form of yield. For the sake of efficiency, it’s often first to be sacrificed. I choose to create within the limitations of the mediums of reclaimed steel, charcoal forge and hammer and anvil, creating tools of lasting beauty and function, informed by a tradition of hand tools that’s been with us for as long as we can recall.

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If you’re interested in commissioning a tool, use the contact form to get in touch with me.

Happy gardening!

The Hori Hori Story

The Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden contracted us to forge custom hori hori tools from reclaimed railroad spikes and discarded hockey sticks to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The first batch has been completed and delivered, and more are coming out of the shop every day. These tools are our take on the long standing pattern design that originated in Japan centuries ago. The blades are water quenched to a hardness of about 50 Rockwell C, which is about equivalent to an axe head. The edges are sharpened, and one is serrated to ease cutting of woodier materials. The overall length is approximately 11″ to 12″, and the blade is roughly 6″ to 7″ of that length, enabling deep digging when necessary.

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When ordered these tools come with a handsome fold out card that provides simple instructions on usage and care as well as details on the material used, and the origin of the hori hori.

How is it used today?

The hori hori is a multipurpose hand tool, that can saw, cut, and dig. The ingenuity of Japanese farmers from as far as back as the 13th century has resulted in a garden tool that can be used for nearly all the manual work required around the yard.

Where does it come from?

The hori hori (hori is an onomatopoeia of the sound of digging) is a hand tool of Japanese design. It’s believed the design came from the need to harvest wild vegetables from the mountainous regions of the country. The flat shape of the sharpened blade allowed foragers to efficiently harvest by digging deep and slicing through plant roots and tough vegetation.

Why does it look like a weapon?

The Ashigaru, the warrior-farmer, played an important, if unscrupulous, role in Japanese warfare during its middle ages (1536 -1598). Conscripted farmers weren’t paid for their services, rather they were granted the freedom to take any valuables from the dead. There was a rise in the number of professional peasant mercenaries as a result, and feudal lords at the time perceived that as a threat. During Emperor Toyotom Hideyoshi’s rule of Japan, he implemented Katanagari (literally, sword hunt) to confiscate the weapons the ashigaru had collected during war. The hori hori, while technically not a weapon, could double as one in an emergency while also providing many useful functions for the farmer and gardener

How do I order a hori hori?

Use our Contact Page and request your order and we can get to work forging one for you!

 

Forging Demo at Fork in the Rowed

We’ll be attending the Young Agrarians Farmer Mixer event September 10 demoing the blacksmithing process. A portable forge will be brought on site so we can heat and turn scrap metal into functional works of art. The Farmer Mixer event features speakers and attendees who are interested in organic and sustainable methods of farming. If you want to know more or purchase tickets, check out the Young Agrarians website.

New Tool and New Link

The Young Agrarians, an organization dedicated to supporting the growing community of new and young farmers, have added us to their list of resources. You can see our listing here http://maps.youngagrarians.org/#/locations/54371

We’ve also finished a half-moon hoe for Trevor Aleman at Busy Bea’s Market Garden. Hoes of various shapes and sizes can be forged to fit specific needs in the garden, and the half-moon blade is great for weeding in between plants using the corners for precise cutting.

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