Small Scale Slowcraft – A Custom Hori Hori

I had the honour of hand crafting a hori hori for my neighbour to give as an anniversary gift. Since our forge is small scale, it’s agile and adaptable, and well suited to custom projects such as this one. Details such as having a heart stamped in both blade and sheath to make the knife truly unique, and making the sheath and serrations to match the needs of its owner, aren’t typically found with factory produced goods. Neither do my wife and I wish to compete against machines; it’s a losing battle every time. Instead we aim to provide an alternative: handmade, slowcrafted goods forged from reclaimed and recycled materials.

This hori hori was forged from reclaimed 1/4″ thick leaf spring, quenched in heated canola oil and tempered to approximately 50 to 55 HRC. The softer temper guards against breaking, and sharpening with a file much easier.

Detail of the matching heart stamp on blade and sheath. The heart stamp was a custom request from the customer.

Reclaimed hardwood slabs (most likely walnut) are pinned and epoxied to the tang. The tang is heat treated to prevent bending.

The serrations are hand filed with a chainsaw file, running four inches along one side of the blade. The teeth are on the top side of the blade for a right handed user, and would be on the opposite side for a left handed gardener.

The veg-tanned leather sheath is hand dyed and riveted with copper. The cross draw design of the sheath allows for easy access to the knife even when kneeling down, which is common for gardeners and foragers alike.

The Value of Learning from Others

Blacksmithing can be a lonely craft. Thankfully, I have my wife to keep me company in the shop to help with striking, designing awesome driftwood and iron pieces and generally being a great support in our endeavours. This past weekend was the first Kootenay Blacksmith Association meeting that was held since before the covid pandemic hit the world, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

Troy speaking at the spring Kootenay Blacksmith Association conference.

This spring, the KBA invited a bladesmith, Troy Flanders of Flanders Forge, to speak to the crowd. What a source of information, and he barely scratched the surface of the bladesmithing craft. Regardless, I learned much from him and also got some useful tips on improving my forging techniques from a fellow member. I’m currently finishing up a hori hori for a customer, putting what I learned into practice and I can honestly say this is the best hori I’ve made yet.

Some of Troy Flander’s work.

I’ve been a professional blacksmith for over five years now, so I figure I know quite a bit about hammering steel and all the other accompanying skills that go with it. However, in order for me to learn anything from other ‘smiths I have to do two things: swallow my pride and listen. There is a vulnerability that comes with that because I have to admit to myself that I don’t know everything, that there are others who are better at this stuff than I am, and the only way I can learn is by admitting that to myself and to others.

Thankfully, the KBA members are gracious and helpful folks (despite the stereotype of blacksmiths being ornery and secretive), and if you’re willing to be quiet and pay attention to what the older generation of craftsmen are saying, you might just learn a thing or two. If you’d like to keep up with the happenings of the Kootenay Blacksmith’s Association, go to their contact page to become a member: https://kootenay-blacksmiths.ca/contact-us/

Reflections

The past couple of years have certainly been a struggle as we made a major transition moving to a new province, searching for a suitable (and affordable) property to set up our homestead and shop, coping with the challenges that were brought forward by the pandemic, and trying to maintain our sanity in a world that seemed to be even less based on reason than before. When our family relocated to British Columbia, Tim and I had initially planned to each launch our own businesses in our town, with Tim’s focus on Reforged Ironworks and mine on creating an artistic, herbal apothecary of sorts. We completed a business course to hone our business ideas and get more established in our new environment. The class ended just at the beginning of the pandemic, and as we prepared to launch our businesses in our new community, the world went into lock down. My business folded as retail and markets were shut down yet, surprisingly to us, Reforged Ironwork’s online sales surged higher. I stepped away from my business to help Tim keep up with the demand for fire pokers and garden tools, and have been helping in the forge ever since.

We have also intentionally chosen to slow down our pace of life as we increasingly feel the pressure to speed up, make quicker decisions and take on more and more (while simultaneously being encouraged by our culture to take advantage of more and more conveniences-which in turn have us doing less and less for our own health and wellness and are arguably not sustainable ‘solutions’). Turning against the tide so to speak has been a challenge. But the more we let go of the narratives of our times, the more we realize that we had been pulled out of alignment with many of our values by those societal mantras. For example, the term sustainable is thrown around consistently these days as a measure that we need to strive for, yet it doesn’t seem that many stop to consider if their own lifestyles could be deemed as sustainable. Diversity, consent and respect are other key terms of our times, but I personally cannot say that I have seen the meaning behind these words well portrayed in the past few years.

As our sales increased, both Tim and I realized how difficult it is for those who make their work by hand to keep up with increasing demands. While our family felt an immense amount of gratitude for being able to do what we love for a living, and have it sustain us financially, we also realized the limitations that we faced (physical and mental). This has been a humbling experience in so many ways- for myself, I have had to learn a trade that requires much skill, strength and consideration to detail which I found myself fumbling to pick up as I worked alongside my husband in the shop. Luckily, Tim is a wonderful teacher, and I say with confidence that if he can train me to blacksmith, he can likely help anyone learn this craft. My skills with a hammer in the beginning were amateur at best. Tim was starting to offer lessons while we were still in Alberta and he had an increasing amount of interest, but for the past two years hasn’t been able to offer this part of our business. We have also both experienced the physical limitations that our bodies will allow with repetitive, strenuous work. And with this experience, we can understand the shift to machine-made, mass produced items that often come from other countries due to lower labor costs. But we choose not to move in that direction ourselves, as we believe that with those gains in quantity, there is significant loss in quality, workmanship, the art of the craft, sustainability, choice of materials, etc.

If you have purchased an item from us, I want to say thank you for supporting our small, slow-craft family business. And I want to say an extra thank you for those who have been our customers and been understanding of the constraints that making a product from scratch and as an art entail. This has been a difficult journey, sometimes we’ve felt as though we were taking a dive into an abyss of uncertainty, but because of people who support what we do, this art and process has been able to survive and flourish. Thank you for helping to sustain the craft of hand-forged products.

– Lorinda

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