Handles: Metal or Wood

We make broad forks, and many of them each year. Sometimes a client will ask if we can make the handles out of metal instead of wood, in the hopes that they can avoid breaking a handle if too much force is applied to the tool. Some believe that a breakable handle is a design flaw, but our decision to use wooden handles for all of our tools is a deliberate feature. Today I’m going to share our reasoning for that decision.

Wooden handles are lighter.

An average 4′ ash handle with 1.5″ diameter comes in at about 1.5 pounds in weight. The same length of schedule 40 black pipe with an outside diameter of about 1″ weighs 4.5 lbs! Two handles per broad fork means we’ve just added an extra 6 lbs of weight to a 12 lb tool, increasing its weight by 50%. Heavy tools are harder to use and bring on exhaustion that much faster.

Wooden handles are more comfortable.

Ever held a piece of metal pipe or rod in the cold? It’s not pleasant. The conductivity of heat in steel is a lot higher than compared to wood. That means cold, stiff hands when working in inclement weather. The inverse is true when working in the sun. Steel soaks up all that heat, again making the handle comfortable. Metal handles feel awful in wet, cold, sunny or hot weather which pretty much means all the time. No thanks!

Wooden handles are easily replaced.

There’s a reason why hardware stores stock wooden handles. They break with age, but more often break from misuse. Thankfully, a broken handle is not especially difficult to fix. Almost anyone with simple tools can replace a handle at home. As a matter of deliberate choice, we’ve designed our broad forks to use standard 4′ Garant brand shovel handles. These are stocked in many hardware stores and they take about ten or fifteen minutes to adapt to the fork’s steel socket.

This quality is the main argument for metal handles: they never break and never need to be replaced! But this must be weighed against the considerations above and against this last consideration which is that

Wooden handles reduce the chance of breaking the tool.

I’m not sure why it happens to be the case, and perhaps it’s always been this way, but it seems that it’s ok to push a tool to its breaking point time and time again until it finally breaks. Our modern throwaway culture certainly encourages a wasteful attitude, even when it comes to tools that could last many long years if they are treated with respect. In any case, when a tool is pushed beyond its limits a wooden handle, being the “weakest” part of the tool, means that it’s also the most likely part to break. This is a good thing.

Imagine a broad fork with metal handles. The tines are now the weakest part of the tool, and since the attitude of pushing a tool until it breaks is still firmly in place, that means it’s very likely that a tine will bend or snap off. Which is easier to repair: a wooden handle that can be picked up at the hardware store, or a piece of steel that needs welding equipment and expertise?

I hope that sharing our design considerations helps future customers, gardeners and tool enthusiasts alike realize that there are advantages when it comes to using wooden handles rather than their metal counterparts. A gentler attitude towards tool use, and perhaps work in general, may be of benefit as well. Hand tools speak to us through our use of them. It takes a sensitive “ear” to hear that communication, when we’re starting to push a tool too far. Next time you’re out in the garden or the workshop, slow down a little and see if you can “hear” what your hand tool is trying to tell you. It just might save you a trip to the hardware store.

How about a little more Viking in your life?

We’ve been a supplier for Ragnar the Trader, a traveling Viking merchant, for a few years now and we wanted to share a few pictures of what some of that product looks like.

It’s an interesting process creating large batches of items (my wife and ‘smithing partner was practically dancing when we finished the 50th horn stand) when we forge everything by hand with hammer and anvil. Creating items wholesale requires patience, diligence and being ok with a degree of monotony. There are upsides to wholesale (though my wife may disagree), however : it requires a focus on shop economics and streamlining production, and it provides plenty of practice in the fundamental skills of blacksmithing.

The first blacksmith I studied with, Ontario Artist Blacksmith David Robertson, suggests that new ‘smiths focus on wholesale production for the advantages it provides. It may also be a form of self-selection, for only those truly dedicated to the craft would be ok with cutting, forging, polishing and oiling the same thing 50 times or more.

We’re proud of our wares and happy to have Ragnar sell them across the land! Be sure to visit his website, Etsy store or see him in person if you happen to be in Lethbridge or Edmonton this December.

A selection of items custom made for Ragnar the Trader.
Penannular brooches made in the style of the ancient Celts.
Hand forged cutlery ready for a meal of mutton and dumpling stew.
Mjolnir / Thor’s Hammer pendants with handmade rings.

Our Etsy Shop

Our Etsy shop: https://reforgedironworks.etsy.com

Etsy is an online commerce website that caters specifically to customers who want to find custom, vintage or handmade items. The worldwide web is a big place and it’s easy for a small site like ours to be overlooked by search engines, so having an online presence where customers are already looking for a business like ours (small, independent, family-run and focused on the highest quality) is a boon to us.

The focus of our website, Reforged Ironworks, is the hand forged, heirloom quality hand tools that we create. This space allows to share an in depth view of our process which gives our customers an understanding of what goes into every one of our handmade tools.

Ornamental ironwork, jewelry, and fire tools are among some of the other items we make, and these are featured on our Etsy page. We invite you to have a look to see what else we create.

As always, we welcome custom requests and projects. Contact us at info-at-reforgedironworks-dot-com.

2020 in Review

It’s about time for an update from the crew here. My wife has taken on a bigger and more direct role in how we do things in the forge. I’m grateful for her presence and dedication. We fully expected the pandemic to slam our business into the ground but it had the exact opposite effect. This website, and our Etsy shop, helped make 2020 one of our best years yet. That was the impetus for my wife to devote more of her time helping me with Reforged Ironworks.

A trend we noticed last year, despite the obvious move to purchasing online, was the renewed interest in “do-it-yourself” and buying local. This phenomenon helped drive interest in our gardening tools, which has always been the main purpose of creating our business. Also, the crazy increases in material prices for things such as newly manufactured wood and steel has reaffirmed our decision to make as much of our product with old and reclaimed materials.

In a lot of ways, it seemed that we were ahead of the curve. Can we stay ahead of it in the second year of a pandemic and with all the other shifting variables and concerns out there in the world? We won’t know until it’s come and past. I can say with some certainty, however, that not chasing fads and instead staying true to our focus and reason for doing the work we do, i.e. to create heirloom quality garden and homestead tools by hand from reclaimed materials, will most likely see us through any challenges that come our way.

– Tim

The Blacksmith’s Art – A Poem

Hammer, anvil, forge and steel

 Coercing metal into a new deal

Fire hot and coals alight

 Turning metal burning bright

Pounding, shaping, heat and repeat

 Until new form and strength come neat

Once the shape appears to view

 Working on preciseness and details due

Every piece a unique work of art

 Formed and forged from hand and heart

Written by Lorinda Peel-Wickstrom, my wife, who wrote it for my birthday.

Making a Hori Hori, Part Two

Part One can be found here: http://reforgedironworks.com/2018/03/28/making-a-hori-hori-part-1/

In this video I show the steps I take to finish the forged and tempered hori hori. It’s broken down into four essential steps:

  1. Grind bevels to final shape – using files and/or a bench grinder with various grits of belts, I take the edges down on both sides of the blade to their final shape. The finished angle of the bevel is about 30 degrees, to ensure a robust edge since the knife is used primarily for digging
  2. File serrations into one edge – using a round file, I file in serrations into one edge. This helps with sawing through fibrous roots and woody stems.
  3. Wrap the handle – The handle is wrapped with brightly coloured paracord so that if the knife happens to be left in the garden, it’s easy to spot.
  4. Sharpen the edges – Finally, I use a sharpening stone to get the edges to their final sharpness. I don’t go as far as making the edges razor sharp because they would lose that edge pretty quickly digging in soil anyways. The knife is still sharp enough to cut paper, and it chops through wood readily.

Harvesting with a Kama (Japanese Sickle)

Lorinda demonstrates how the kama is an ideal tool for selective harvesting and cutting of green plants and herbs. Here she is specifically harvesting leaves and flower buds from a comfrey patch.

The kama can be used for many other applications such as harvesting garden greens, squash, and cutting grasses and weeds around trees and other sensitive perennials. To find out more about the kama and how it’s made, visit this page.

Lorinda and I love using this tool around the garden for pretty much any cutting job for herbaceous plants.

Harvesting Garlic with a Broadfork

It’s harvesting time once again, and here we’re showing you how we get our garlic out of the ground. The broadfork is an indispensable tool for harvesting because it 1) digs up the plant we want and 2) loosens and aerates the soil at the same time and thus prepping the bed for spring all in one go.

Lorinda and the hens are the stars of this video. No music this time as I wanted to highlight how quiet it is working with hand tools as opposed to machinery.

Find out more about the broadfork here.

Featuring The “Tool Trifecta”

This spring my wife and I recorded us preparing a garden bed for planting using three tools that I make: the broadfork, the russian hoe and the hori hori. Each tool has specific functions that complement one another, culminating in a garden bed that’s weed free and cultivated without putting through the equivalent of a soil blender (powered roto-tiller). We had a bit of fun with this as well!

The three tools we used:

Broadfork

Russian Hoe

Hori hori

Workshop Tour

Come have a look at the space I use to make my tools and ironwork. It’s humble but it’s worked great for me for almost three years now.

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