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

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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Scrap ready to be forged


From railroad spike to garden tool





The Resultbroadfork

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.



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

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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