Thursday, January 23, 2014

I'd Like a Vowel, Please

SLT BF is shorthand for 'Select Broadfork'. Mike the Handleman packages these beautiful handles and ships them to me a hundred pairs at a time. Select grade wood handles are the best that money can buy. In select grain wood, the grain is straight for the entire 4 feet of length with no runouts. What that means is that I get only about 8 handles for every 100 he makes. When he told me that it was going to be expensive to buy the select grade wood, I told him that I don't care what it costs, I just want the best. This is an heirloom tool.

This is a bird's eye view of a box of handles showing the end grain of the wood. I don't randomly ship the handles as they come out of the box. I set the bar high and I go to the trouble of finding matched pairs of handles to go on your broadfork.

Look at the growth rings on these two handles. The ones on the left are fine grained and tight; on the right, much farther apart.

This is an even more radical difference. The wide grain handles have a bit stiffer feel and the tighter grain gives a more supple touch, a bit more dynamic feel. To make a broadfork with these two handles would mean that one would feel quite a bit different from the other in use.

This is a matched pair; I select mirror image grain pairs and number them in the fitting process. Many times your handles will look like they came off the same plank at Mike's HandleWorld. I drill a pilot hole for the heavy duty 3/8" stainless steel lag screw that holds everything together and it is in line with the grain in the wood, making the handle as strong as it can possibly be.

After matching and sizing the handles to whisper perfectly into the handle sockets, the bottom end is soaked for a couple of days in a 50/50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine. The wood actually drinks this mixture about a foot up the handle, gets saturated and it starts seeping out. The result is that it stabilizes the wood and helps to prevent the wood from checking (cracking) and dry rotting over many years of use.

You won't find varnish on these handles, they're just finished with the same mixture. Varnish seals the wood with and can cause sensitive hands to get friction blisters more easily as sweat is trapped between skin and varnish. I learned that fact many years ago as a beginning blacksmith. The result is a tool that is treated much the same way as it would have been a hundred years ago using distilled pine tree sap (turpentine) and linseed oil, which is pressed from flax seed. If you read your Foxfire Books, you'll find that both linseed oil and turpentine have been used for centuries in folk medicine.

The same mix is used on the metal part of the broadfork because I don't think it's a good idea to be painting a tool you're going to shove into your nice organic soil. The paint wears off immediately and gets into the soil where your plant roots pull out their nutrients.

It's important to me to think about these details to provide you with a tool that is as good as it can be. I make every one of these myself; no one else touches them before they arrive at your garden. Quality is the name of the game here at Gulland Forge.

Good soil to you.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Meeting Customers

In an internet based business, without an actual storefront, it's possible to go a long time and never meet a customer face to face. Mostly I get emails, the occasional phone call and I meet people all the time at Sustainable Agriculture conferences, but this week has been hopping with face to face meetings.

Gayle wrote to me a few weeks ago and wanted to pick up a broadfork. She lives in a nearby town, Durham, NC,  just far enough away to make it possibly less expensive to drive than to pay UPS to bring it. I agreed to meet her half way where she worked part time at a church.

We met at the appointed time and place late on a sunny and chilly afternoon. She brought along photos of her best garden year and they were amazing. Her family had worked the suburban soil there for 20 years and the photos looked like an ad for Miracle Gro; but they didn't grow that way. One look at her and I knew she knew better.

She had never used a broadfork and wanted to try it as soon as she got home. I said, "We could fork up a bit of that (dormant) landscaped and mulched area," and we did.

Afterwards, we had a wonderful chat and she made all the appropriate notes to relay to her husband on how to make the handles last forever and she was very glad to not have to use a roto tiller any more.

I had business at the John C Campbell Folk School today and met a couple here that drove up from Gainesville, GA for a Bertha Broadfork. They ordered it the day it was launched on our new website and they got the first production Bertha Broadfork, #01B.

The Folk School has a beautiful garden and all of the vegetables that are grown there are served to the students and staff. Hildreth and Ron got to try out some broadforks today in that stunning setting on a perfect sunny Southern January day.

Ron is shown here using my personal prototype Big Bertha and Hildreth has her Bertha in the soil.

Here she is in a fresh bed of mulched soil using the diagonal side step technique to keep from stepping in the bed. You progress with a broadfork by walking backward as you go, in the same manner you progress in a rowboat. If you don't want to put your feet in the beds, you simply walk beside it. If one person is on each side, you can fork a lot of soil very quickly that way. It leaves kind of a herringbone pattern in the soil.

The folk school has several of my broadforks and has been using them in that garden for years now. It's always fun to travel there and in fact, the new website photos were shot in their garden and the surrounding buildings. There's a lot of history at this 90 year old school and the broadforks in their tool shed will be working the soil for the next 90 plus years. That feels so good to me.

I have made over 900 broadforks now and am looking forward to many more. Thanks to Gayle, Hildreth and Ron for making this week a very special one for me. I look forward to meeting a lot more of you at the MOSES Conference in February in LaCrosse, WI and at the Organic Growers School in Asheville, NC in March. Look for me at the Earth Tools booth in the trade show area.

Good soil to you,


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Scythes and Oxen


Every June for several years, I have made my way to Tillers International near the tiny town of Scotts, Michigan for what I call 'Ox Week.'  Tillers is an amazing place to learn to do all the really important stuff you need to know to participate in the lifestyle that brought you to the Broadfork Blog in the first place.

I like to go there for the oxen basics class and I hang around for the MODA Gathering the weekend after that. MODA is the Midwest Ox Drovers Association and the Gathering this year is June 21-23.

This June is going to be extra special to me in that I will be teaching a scythe class for the first time at Tillers. It's called 'Everything About Scythes' and you can find the link here. June 14th and 15th there will be a class in traditional hay rake and pitchfork making and I get to follow that class with my hands-on scythe class the 16th.

Take a look at the Tillers site and sign up for a class or two this year.

Gulland Forge is expanding its line of tools to include the scythe. We are making our own snaths right here in Siler City, NC and we will have them on the market this summer. We'll also be making peening tools, hammers and all the other goodies for the amazing scythe. Keep up with what's happening on our other website, Tooling the Revolution

I hope your summer is going well and that everything is planted and growing.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Snow Forking

     Hopefully, this is the last of the snow for all you folks that are eager to do some broadforking and have been, ahem, held up from doing so. Nature has been cruel to my old neighborhood in Wisconsin and Winter has dragged on and on until you thought it would never end. Good news; it will end.

     It will end and the Earth will again come to life with an explosion of green and blooms and soil yearning to be loved and poked with a broadfork. My friend Terry, in the photo above, posed for this forlorn shot in his garden when I was visiting with his family a few weeks ago. In our minds we knew it was too soon to work the soil, but the heart must try.

     I hope it's getting close to planting time for you up there in the midwest. This ought to be morel season, yet you've been forced to shovel snow again and again as the shy Spring weather has toyed with you once more.

     Be strong, as I know you are. Your suffering will end soon and you'll be reminded of the reason you love it where you are so much.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Human Pace

It occurred to me many years ago that we are living at too fast a pace.  Just a few human generations ago, the fastest person on Earth rode a horse.

We count our travel time coast to coast in hours now, not months. We 'run to the store' to grab ingredients for dinner and often are able to return in time to add them in just a few minutes, really. If there's no cream for coffee, we can set the brewer to make a pot and by the time it's done, we're back with a carton of half and half.

My wife and I have lived remotely for many years and with $4/gallon fuel, each trip to the store costs $10 extra. There's no way we're going to do that, so we plan ahead and don't make 'quick trips' to the store.

A while back, our friend Kaitlyn gave us this amazing World War 1 vintage waffle iron and we made waffles last weekend with it. Karen dug up her recipe and set out to assemble the ingredients while I heated up and oiled the very well seasoned, heavy cast iron kitchen appliance. We keep a full pantry (very full, actually) so there is no running quickly to the store necessary for us.

Our meals proceed at the human pace and are usually begun by prepping with a good sharp knife, then stirred by wooden spoons and usually cooked in a cast iron vessel of some sort. Old ones. We have an enviable collection of beautiful cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, cornbread and muffin pans, griddles and this incredible waffle iron.

It takes about 5 minutes to cook a waffle and just a moment to pick it off the perfect non-stick finish, created over decades of use and love. Then the waffle is placed into the oven to stay warm until they're all done and it's time to eat.

One at a time, it would have taken a long time to cook enough waffles for a working family on a cold morning a hundred years ago on a wood heated cook stove. It also took a lot of skill to keep the heat just right and the batter just right so that things wouldn't stick or burn. Folks took the time to learn the skills then because they couldn't just go out and buy a plug in electric teflon waffle iron.

When I am dust, my waffle iron will still work and that feels good to me. I hope the people that end up with it when we're gone appreciate it as much as we have. Would you feel good with a Mickey Mouse waffle iron, really?  I don't think this one would last through 2 World Wars, a couple of Depressions, the Model T and the Moon Landing. It's pace is wrong. In a few of years it'll likely be at Goodwill or the landfill.

When are we going to find out that it's OK to move more slowly? Why can't we take more care of the details as we go along and appreciate the Human Pace of living?

Try to learn to understand and accept the pace of a hand plane, a chisel, a waffle, a broadfork, or a scythe.

Learn to build your soil slowly and carefully and let the worms and cover crops do the work for you as you sleep. Develop the skills of those long gone and find the beautiful rhythm of tool in hand and "The grip on Earth of outspread feet, The life of muscles rocking soft And smooth and moist in vernal heat"*

Good soil to you all.

*from the poem Two Tramps in Mudtime by Robert Frost

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The New Gulland Forge

There's a new building going up in Siler City, North Carolina. It's the first building that's been built in downtown since the police station, so I have been told. It's being built right, using century old bricks reclaimed from an old factory that was taken down a block away. These hand made bricks were built of clay dug from the Earth in this county and were actually fired on the building site. It was different then.

In a few days, the walls are getting taller as 2 pairs of hands painstakingly stack brick upon brick, mix mortar, and stack some more. The sun is brilliant today in a Carolina Blue sky. Eric and Victor took on this task and they are true tradesmen, very talented at their craft.

This is the new home for Gulland Forge Broadforks. The last year has been one of great transition as we searched for a place to call home. Moving a blacksmith shop is tough on a good day and a smith  has to be careful when choosing a stopping place. We found this town, or it found us... not sure which, actually. Either way, I'll post more on the adventure as we go along.

The broadforks are being made in a temporary shop right now, thus the low profile I have been keeping  for many months. I'll let you know when I am back in full production with a line of other fine tools that I'll be making in the new shop.

Good soil to you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Crazy Weather

I took the above photograph in Iowa County, in south central Wisconsin on a perfect day in July of 2008. Today, the Ides of March, 2012, it was the same temperature there. It was the same temperature here at my new home in Pittsboro, North Carolina, as well.

This photo was taken on March 28th, 2008 in Iowa county, Wisconsin. I was taking my old BMW out of the barn to do a preseason tune-up on it and wanted to note the irony of the moment. (it's a 1983 model with 'snowflake' wheels)

The crazy 'winter that never was' could throw us a major curve ball at any moment. The last frost date for my old Wisconsin home is late May. I don't think there was a day in Pittsboro this year that stayed below freezing and the lowest temperature we had here was in the low 20s.

This evening I read in the news that a tornado touched down in Ann Arbor, Michigan earlier today. That's just crazy.

I wonder what's going to happen with gardening this year? Do we wait until it's "time" to plant or do we just go ahead and plant now and risk the possibility of losing the early crops? Do we keep the row covers waiting at the back door just in case we have to run out and cover our spinach? Do you have a plan yet?