We're back at the broadfork workbench again doing the last step in the handle making process.
I put a lot of thought into making this tool in every step of the process. I didn't want to get started with distribution and find out that I was doing something wrong, and have to rethink procedures on the fly. I am frequently reminded of the words of my first boss, Ernie Bradshaw, who told me, "Take time to do things right, because we don't have time to do them twice."
I have tried to live my life that way as much as possible and it's worked pretty well for the 35 years since I worked with Mr. Bradshaw.
When the tool handles come to me, there is a light wax coating on them that has to be applied for production purposes. When I ordered my first sample order of handles, I wasn't sure exactly how to deal with the wax. At first I thought I would have to remove it by sanding and then apply a spar varnish to seal the wood. Then I remembered another old voice from my past, the one of Nol Putnam.
Nol was my first blacksmithing instructor at the John C. Campbell folk school in Brasstown, NC in July 1986. I had signed up for a 2 week class with this amazing master smith, and for some crazy reason, they didn't cancel the class, even though there were only 2 students. It turned out to be a great break for me and for the other student, Keith Kilby, who incidentally turned out to be one of the best knife makers in the country. We had pretty much one on one instruction at the earliest point in our careers. It was like showing up to your first guitar lesson and seeing Segovia sitting in the teacher's chair. I have to say in retrospect, that I learned as much about blacksmithing in those first 2 weeks as I did in the next 10 years, and I am still drawing information from that class.
Nol suggested I shape the handles of my hammers to better fit my hand. He suggested that I scrape the varnish off my hammer handles because it would keep my sweat and natural skin oils from getting into the wood. The varnish, he said, might even cause more issues with blisters. So, I took out my knife blade and scraped all my hammers, and I have ever since on all my wood handled tools.
Another trick I learned from Nol was an old formula for a metal finish that would work well on ironwork that was to be used indoors. It was a mixture of boiled linseed oil, turpentine, and bees wax. I have used all the years since, and I am using it now on broadfork handles.
Instead of trying to remove the wax that was in place on the tool handles when they came to me, I chose to add turpentine and linseed oil to it.
The process goes like this: After the handles are fitted to their sockets (from the last post) I soak both ends of each pair for 8 hours in a can of 50/50 linseed oil and turpentine. Soaking the mix into the end grain helps to protect the handle ends from checking (cracking).When the ends are done, I rub the whole handle with the same mix with some 0000 steel wool. This mixes the oil with the wax, and takes advantage of the wax being there in the first place. The handles are then set aside to absorb the mix and dry. After that they are rubbed out, packaged, and shipped to their new home.
This is the least toxic handle finish I could come up with. Linseed oil is a product of flax seed, and turpentine is from a pine resin distillate. The combination of the two has been used for centuries as a wood finish. I also use the same stuff to finish the metal part of the broadfork. I know you don't want to take painted tines and put all that chemistry in your nice vegetable beds, so I did my homework and came up with this solution. It's old fashioned, and will need to be re-applied from time to time, but I think it's the right thing to do.
The weather is getting right to do a little 'forking, so check back in a day or two for some pictures of the broadfork in use. It's almost February and I am anxious to get something planted and under a cold frame.
Thanks for tuning in,