Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wisconsin Winter

It's very bleak.

This photo was taken on a simple trip to the mailbox. The wind chill was 80 below zero and my nose fell off about half way back to the house. I am only exaggerating a little.

I make a garden tool. I live in a place that is frozen for more months than I care to count. The funny thing is that you folks are buying them now. I keep getting orders from places where I know it's much worse than it is here. Sunday night I got an order from Dysart, Iowa. It's a town almost small enough to be "misplaced" under the blanket of snow that fell on it last week, but one optimistic Midwesterner with his eye on the future and his heart set on Spring ordered a broadfork.

Thanks, Ryan. I share your pain. Your broadfork will lean against the wall for at least 3 more months while the Earth will successfully repel any attempt to penetrate it. Your spirit rides the wave of seed catalogs that will arrive in your mailbox in the next 30 days, and I ride with it.

We have gotten past the longest night of the year, and in 6 months, we'll be at Summer Solstice; the beginning of the return to darkness in the night. It's hard to imagine that between now and then, we will have planted seeds in the (presently frozen) soil and they will have produced auxins, germinated, and will begin to provide us with a food supply if we have done our part.

We're all so anxious to do our part, but most of us must wait. We wait while the mercury heads down, down to the places where it's just not fun to be.

Let's embrace this season. We must have it to have the rest of them. Our Spring must endure our Winter to fully form herself.

Look ahead to a time when we can reach into the soil and place our seeds in it.

Remember how that feels? After a few days the spinach will reach up to the Sun for life and all the other seeds will follow as they have since the beginning of time.

Let's look forward to the rhythm of nature. Let's synch again with the Earth and become part of it. Get those seeds ordered and hold them dearly until you can reunite them with the soil from whence they came. If we do our part, Nature will do Hers.

This is the cusp of a new decade and it's time to seek a new direction. Let's head back to a time when it was important to look ahead. Let's be as good as our grandparents were about planning for our future. Let's be the change we want to see in the world ahead.

Good soil to you,


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to the Grind

I'd like to introduce to you to the newest member of the Gulland household, with Karen taking it out for a spin. It's our grain grinder. A friend had it and wasn't using it enough to want to keep it, so she called me and asked if we'd be interested in being it's next owners. Of course we said yes.

In the past 5 years or so, we have concentrated on learning how to live our lives very differently. We live in a cold place where nothing can be grown in the winter, so we are learning how to preserve our food by traditional means as well as by freezing. We're finding out that the shelf life of certain things is many years in some cases, and we are beginning to look ahead that far with many of our pantry items.

Grinding fresh flour (from local organically grown wheat berries) for bread produces a quality of loaf that has, until now, been unattainable. We make bread once a week now most of the time. Today, Karen made 2 whole wheat loaves for the week and 2 hamburger buns, which we just enjoyed for dinner.

Karen has been making bread for years, and I have been lucky enough to sit back and enjoy it from time to time when she would whip up a loaf for a special occasion. About a year and a half ago, we quit buying bread all together and began making all our bread from scratch. She taught me how to do it, and I taught a few others along the way.

Now we produce our own pizza crusts, sandwich bread, sourdough loaves, cornbread, biscuits, and we even make flour tortillas and corn tortillas as well as specialty items like foccacia and calzones.

I think that the monster grinder will take it well. It's built to outlive us all. I cannot believe a better quality grinder exists than the Diamant. If you can't find a used one, it's worth saving for and buying it at full price. It's the Gulland Broadfork of grain mills.

It's nice to walk out in the yard and pick up a few things to throw on a pizza for dinner, and when we can't do that any longer and the ground turns to stone, we'll have a stack of jars in the basement with all our favorite ingredients in them. When we filled the freezer, we opted to not buy another one, but began to can more, dehydrate more, and designed a root cellar to share with neighbor Harald. We'll have about a thousand butternut squashes to store this winter.

The tomatoes are still producing well, as are the broccoli (Harald's favorite), celery, and bush beans. The late planted stuff is doing very well, particularly the carrots, beets and radishes.

I named this blog the 'Broadfork Blog, and Other Affairs of Daily Living'. People are beginning to do things differently everywhere these days, and I have been a student of the changes that are taking place. I like what I see a lot of the time, but I know that this is a hard time for a lot of people.

Part of my 'affairs of daily living' has been to accept that life is hard work and it takes a lot of time and energy to get things done using older techniques and machinery. Karen and I spent about 10 minutes grinding wheat by hand today, switching back and forth and turning the handle face to face, one hand each on the crank. When you're doing something like that, 10 minutes can seem like a really long time. It's always faster to open a bag and dip in a measuring cup and dump it in a bowl, but bags of flour only stay fresh for a period of months, not years in storage.

The extra effort we put into our food is time well spent, we believe. What's an extra 10 minutes a week to grind flour if you're already spending the time to make the bread in the first place?

These are the little things we do that take up the time that many people would spend in front of the television or commuting or grocery shopping. We've not been cursed with a TV in years now. We work at home for the most part, and our grocery shopping is getting less every year.

I hear from my customers from time to time and garden vicariously through them. Some of you folks have wonderful gardens! I wonder how many of you prepare and preserve a lot of what you eat during the year?

Good soil to you all,


Friday, September 4, 2009

A Milestone Has Been Reached!

To some, it's just a number, but to me it's a moment of triumph! This is Gulland Broadfork frame #100, awaiting it's tines. It's not sold yet, but it will be soon. I make these in small batches at home in my shop, doing every step by hand with absolute quality control my number one priority. If they aren't perfect, they don't get sold.

I started this little business about a year ago and I had no idea if anyone would ever buy one of these tools. I wanted to see if a tiny manufacturing shop could support itself by offering very high quality tools at honest, fair prices. I won't get rich this way; quick math will tell you that 100 broadforks at $185 each is not enough to live on these days, but it's a great start. Pretty soon I'll have 100 happy customers that will tell their friends about this tool and it'll go from there. I didn't do this to get rich quick.

I took out an ad in Countryside Magazine that hit the stands on October 15th 2008. That day, my phone rang with the first customer that had not bought one from me face to face. He was in New Mexico, and thus began this very rewarding little business.

There is a Chinese saying, "The ox is slow, but the Earth is patient."
I'll continue to patiently make each and every broadfork with painstaking care using my own hands to do all the work. Even the apparent drudgery of handle fitting is joyous on a beautiful Wisconsin afternoon in the dappled sunlight beneath the birch tree by my back porch.
Each handle is fitted this way to insure a good tight fit when you get it. Nothing is worse than a handle that rattles around in the socket, and the only way to achieve the proper fit at this scale is the way I am doing it. Depending on the humidity when you get your fork, it may be a little tight or a little loose, but the 3/8" stainless steel lag screw that comes with the broadfork WILL hold it together tightly. Sometimes the handles might need a little help slipping into the sockets. You can tap the handle into place with the aid of a wooden or rubber mallet or just a piece of 2x4.

Make sure you don't leave this nice tool out in the weather, and a couple of times a year, rub the wood down with a 50/50 mixture of linseed oil and turpentine and some steel wool. It's a way of preserving wood that has been used for centuries, and it still works fine.

A note to the person that gets Gulland Broadfork #100:

You have made me believe that there is a great deal of hope for our future. You are the kind of person that takes care of your own responsibility to feed yourself and take care of your soil, because you know how important it is to have some control over your most elemental needs. The purchase of this human powered tool shows your commitment to the environment, to your physical health, and consequently, your mental well being. Producing your own food IS good for your head.

By purchasing your Broadfork from me, you are saying that you believe in the small business man, and you have 'put your money where your mouth is.'

A note to the 99 before you and to #101 and beyond:

We're all in this together. We're a small tribe of self reliant persons doing what we can in these crazy times to take care of business for ourselves and our loved ones. We're teaching ourselves how to raise food, preserve it for the months ahead when we can no longer pluck it from the Earth, and share our excess with our friends and neighbors. We're teaching what we know along the way and we are all doing a very good thing.

Thank you to all my previous customers. Your gardens are in the farthest reaches of this country and beyond. Gulland Broadforks are in Hawaii, Canada, and Mexico. They are in the good soil of Nebraska and New Mexico, of Florida, Maryland, Washington, Maine, Texas, the Carolinas, Idaho, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and my home state of Alabama. California has many, Idaho, a few. I won't list them all, but most states now have a Gulland Broadfork serving in a resident's garden.

It's getting close to the end of the season, and it's time to start to consider what to do with the garden over winter. I'll be reporting back as we start to close down sections that are out of production and I'll show you how I prep my garden beds for their winter rest.

Good soil to you all,


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fast Food Local, Local Food Fast

We live about 10 miles from the nearest fast food blight, and refuse to eat that way anyhow. Within 2-3 miles we have a few locally owned taverns that I would feel better about supporting, but there's an issue with my arteries and a threatened early shut-down if I eat in such a way. That leaves me with a do it yourself attitude about food.

I went to the garden a little bit ago and picked a couple of squashes, a pepper, and onion and a hand full of beans for lunch. Prep time was minimal because I never even wash anything unless it has soil on it. In a couple of minutes the skillet was hot, and the saute was over in 5. I added some bread we made yesterday from a sourdough starter from Neighbor Harald, (with a touch of real butter) an old fork from my wife's grandmother's collection and a handmade napkin, and the feast was on.
Since the world headquarters of Gulland Forge Broadforks is located here at home, we eat in a lot. In fact, we rarely eat anywhere but here, and especially this time of year. It's so easy to go and pick up our meals in the yard.

I have been working on the garden in the last few days getting things ready to receive the fall plantings. Yep, it's the middle of August, and time to plant again in south central Wisconsin where fall comes very early.

There are a lot of great things left to plant this season that are willing to put on a jacket and cap, so to speak, and come out of the ground in cooler weather. Now is the time to plant more lettuce, spinach, turnips, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mache, chard, carrots, parsnips, mustard greens, and peas.

So get up off the couch and get something planted in the garden. I am working on some new video this week for the Gulland youtube site, so make sure you take a look over there and watch me make it look easy.

Good soil to you,


Monday, August 10, 2009

Harald was mistaken

Harald is my next door neighbor, just across the driveway. He helped to build this house in 1948 for his Uncle Clarence. My next next door neighbor is about a half mile from here, and we're about two miles outside the tiny village of Black Earth, Wisconsin.

Harald is directly descended from the Norwegians that were among the earliest settlers here in Vermont Valley. He knows all the history of the area and even remembers the years the various trees were planted around the property and loves to share his stories almost as much as I enjoy hearing them.

He loves the deep rich soil here in Black Earth and told me when we moved in here that, "Whatever you plant in this beautiful soil will grow."

He's articulate, broadly wise, but very humble, and wow, does he love to grow food! He has gardens scattered here and there over several acres around the house. Look behind a copse of trees above his house and you'll discover his experimental squash patch. His 'kitchen garden' is swelled beyond capacity, and he says, "I'd rather mow it than not plant enough!" We've benefitted by Harald's propensity to plant more than he can pick.

Yesterday we were both out in the gardens picking and Harald finished and walked by with a huge bag of beans he had just picked. I piled him high with crookneck squash as he walked past my garden, even stuck a couple in his shirt pocket. You can't leave his house without a hand full of cookies, garlic, or something edible.

I was visiting him a few days ago and he saw a packet of carrot seeds on the windowsill and asked me if I'd like to plant them. I told him I thought that it was too late to plant carrots, that in 60-75 days it would be October and I thought it might be too cold.

Harald said, "Well, they'll never grow in this bag!"
Harald was mistaken, as you can see. I guess a seed was still in there. I'm going to love this batch of carrots.

Our garden is great this year, thanks largely to Harald, but mostly thanks to some of the best topsoil on the planet, abundant sunshine and plenty of rain. My wife and I are very fortunate to have landed here.

All good things,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gulland is on youtube!!

That's right, everybody. I finally got around to making a broadfork demo video.

There are a couple of really bad ones on youtube that feature a 'gardening expert' using a broadfork like a harpoon and one that has some body builder guy in a meat suit, shirtlessly pounding a goalpost sized broadfork into apparently rock hard soil with his considerable hulking frame, 'wrasslin' style.

Now you can see skinny-armed Gulland showing a much more reasonable technique that will allow you to use a broadfork for hours on end if need be.

I'll apologize in advance for the less than Hollywood level of video, but movie making is about my 9th language. There will be more eventually, but I finally got the ball rolling with this one.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Funny thing happened... not 'ha-ha' funny.

I was in the shop yesterday, forging broadfork tines, and I had a little slip of the hammer which resulted in a brief touch of knuckle and 1600 degree steel. It would have hurt if the steel wasn't hot; the impact alone was what made me scream.

When I do such things to myself, I have an autonomic response to the situation and blurt out a string of vile obscenities in obscure languages. It seems to help for just a moment. The words mean nothing to 99% of the planet's population, but would make grandparents blush in several small, distant countries. I trained myself to respond like this over the past couple of decades of burning, cutting, abrading, bludgeoning, and otherwise causing pain to myself with power tools and hot, heavy objects.

Being a one person business, I have to be very careful, and I am. I always wear boots, an apron, safety glasses and ear protection. Gloves are not safe when doing certain operations, because they make you clumsy, particularly when holding hot tines with tongs. I tell people that you really have to wear gloves either all the time or never so that you don't have to think about whether they are on or not. 

Rule #1: Assume everything in the blacksmith shop is hot until proven otherwise.

Rule#2: Everything in the blacksmith shop is out to get you.

I haven't had a 'real' burn since the Great Burn of '88 when I seared the entire palm of my right hand and had my first prescription narcotics soon after. These little burns happen pretty regularly just due to the nature of the job and are forgotten about quickly.  

Now, here's where it gets funny... Since I always wear ear protection, I don't know how loud I talk (or scream) in the shop. I must have let out a particularly blood chilling scream, because my wife heard me, and came running to see what happened... and she brought her CAMERA! She arrived with the scent of seared flesh still heavy in the air and recorded these photos. Here's a close up where you can see a piece of mill scale stuck to the burn and see the singed hair on my finger.
I'm glad she came to check on me, but grabbing the camera was a bit strange, even for her.

A burn doesn't necessarily hurt. Sometimes the nerves are fried and you can continue for a while before the pain comes on. In a couple of minutes I finished the last tines, and went to the house for the cure. I typically apply ice directly for a half hour, then aloe vera, which is amazing on burns. Top it all off with a shot of tequila, and get back at it in the morning.

These broadforks really are hand made.

Be careful out there,


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Questions, questions.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from a man in north central Pennsylvania who was interested in purchasing a broadfork. He said that he and his girlfriend had recently moved to some rural land and that they wanted to garden and would go into a small production situation. We talked for a while about the broadfork and he told me that the broadfork would be the largest expense so far for the garden, and that he would have to consider it. I had a feeling I'd hear from him again. 

Last weekend his order showed up in my email along with a note reminding me of our previous phone conversation. He ended his note with this: 

"This is our single biggest cost investment thus far, but we decided to go for it because it seems like it'll last a lifetime at least. We look forward to using your fork this season and passing it on to future generations."


Given the state of things in the world these days, sometimes I feel like asking someone to send their money to me is like taking food out of their hands... No, wait a minute... its like putting food into their hands! 

Something occurred to me after I got that note. Each time the broadfork is used, it's cost per use goes down. There are no yearly tune ups, no broken springs or cables, no flat tires, and no gas tank. 

You buy it once, you pay for it once. Your pocketbook wins, your soil wins. 

After I had that realization, I wanted to know a little more about this customer that had only been a voice on the phone and an email correspondent. I had this short list of simple questions I sent to my him after I got his note:

What inspired you to want to produce food?
How much experience have you had with gardening before you went 'pro'?
What will you be planting?
Will you be selling roadside, at a local market, or to friends, etc?
If you have time and would like to share that info, I'd love to share it with people out there that need inspiration.

I got his answers and his permission to post them. I hope these words mean as much to you as they did to me:
What inspired you to want to produce food?

A:  My girlfriend and I were living and working in New York City for a few years after college, and doing 'well.' It took a while for it to dawn on us that, despite our successes, we were actually becoming increasingly disempowered. We had less time to ourselves and we were reliant on a vast series of bureaucracies for our most basic needs, including, but not limited to, our housing and food. Meanwhile, we'd been spending summers out on a piece of land in North Central PA owned by my family -- a farm that burned down in the 60s and has since been owned by weekenders. We were living outside, fixing things up, and building a little house. When summer was over, we'd go back to 'real' life. It occurred to us that we could switch the whole thing around and make our time here our real life.
Food production, especially, is meaningful to us. It's the most basic human activity, and we know nothing about it. In our ignorance, we've let huge corporations set the terms for the quality and price of what goes in our bodies, and the way our food is grown. For us to grow and preserve our own food is the single most important part of taking control of, and responsibility for, our own sustenance.
How much experience have you had with gardening before you went 'pro'?
A:  We have almost no experience. I've worked at a plant nursery, and grew up with a very small garden in the backyard. We spend a couple months working on two farms in Argentina. We've got very helpful and supportive neighbors.
What will you be planting?

A:  We're doing a little of a lot, in terms of vegetables and herbs, about half an acre altogether, although a bit more counting experiments with various grains. Everything that we like to eat, and extra of things we think other people will want. It will take a few years before we have fruits.
Will you be selling roadside, at a local market, or to friends, etc?
A:  We'll be selling at a stand in a nearby town, and possibly at a couple farmers' markets. We also bring our stuff into New York, where our chef friend makes incredible, gourmet meals and we explain where the food was from and how it was grown. 
Hope this helps. Looking forward to the fork!

I hope I don't wear my readers out by repeating this over and over, but you folks are wonderful and an inspiration to me. Thanks to you all.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hot Stuff!

My favorite part of making the broadfork is the hot work. I started blacksmithing in 1985 and have been around a lot of hot metal over the years. The same intrigue and passion for forge work that hooked me in all those years ago still keeps me wanting to do it day after day, year after year. 

Making the tines is a lot of fun. Initially, I used a mechanical hammer for forging the tips, but in the move last fall, I left the 2000 pound beast behind in Wisconsin. Doing them by hand is possible, but very slow and a lot of work that can (and should at my age) be avoided.

So I asked my wife to help me. She swings a 3 kilogram German style sledge (it's her very own hammer!) as I swing my little 1 kg hammer. We strike in rhythm, back and forth as I rotate the hot bar on the anvil to forge the tip square. It's fast work, and we usually do 20-25 tines without a break, but have done 40 before. Ow!

I'm really proud of her ability to hit. A lot of women wouldn't touch that job with a stick, but she really took to it, developing the strength, speed, stamina, and most importantly, the accuracy needed for the job. We've been doing it for years now and she's really good with her hammer. We have fun doing the hammer work together and have done enough now to where it's almost play, as it should be.

Once the tips are done, the tines are placed in the forge and each one is heated and bent to that perfect curve. 

With the hot work done, the assembly begins. All the parts are gathered, rolled in a tumbler to clean the mill scale off them, then brought together at the welding table.
I try to intersperse the steps as much as possible to keep from doing one thing all day. It keeps it interesting for me, and I think it's better for the body to break up the chores like that.

All the other details come along; the drilling, the handle fitting, the trips to the handleman, the welding, the sawing, the trips to the steel supplier, etc. It's all part of the job.
I love seeing a cart full of parts in the morning. Thank you for helping me to keep that cart full. It's spring now in 2/3rds of the country, and it's getting pretty busy in the shop so I haven't been able to write much lately. I'm working on a little demo video that should be out soon so you can all see how the broadfork was designed to work. Keep an eye on the blog for that.

Thank you all for your support. I recorded my first daughter/mother broadfork sales referral this week. The daughter works on an organic farm and bought a broadfork several weeks ago. Her Mom ordered one yesterday. What a wonderful thing to share.

I hope the ground is warm where you are and that you are planting soon. Keep those broadforks busy!


Monday, April 6, 2009

Scythe In The City

Few lawn chores are pleasurable to me.  I hate a lawn for all the right reasons. Mostly, they are a waste of space, and a pain to maintain. In town, however, there are some things that MUST be done. 

I let the grass go too far before mowing this spring, and it got out of scale with what my beloved 60 year old reel mower could handle. So I let it go a little bit more and broke out the scythe for the first time this year.
The scythe is an amazing tool, really. Depending how tall you are, you can cut a swath about 8 feet wide if you're in good grass. You start far behind yourself on the right, swing wide and around...
... and end up on the other side with a nice, neat windrow of mown grass as you proceed. With each swing of the blade, a small step is taken forward and a semi-circle of fresh grass is mown and pushed to the side. The effort in using the scythe is comparable to that used in paddling a canoe. It's just not that big a deal. I calculated that about 600 square inches of grass is cut with every swing of the blade.
When it's all mowed, you take a wooden rake and collect the windrows together. Then a pitchfork is used to load it onto whatever conveyance device you are using. A garden cart is ideal for fresh cut grass. These traditional style rakes have about a 28" width and a 6 foot long handle. The tines are 4" long and you can move a LOT of cut grass with one pull of the rake. 
The grass piles up quickly. You can rake 2 windrows together, then start rolling up grass into big piles until it gets hard to move with the rake. A pitchfork is then used to load the cart with the piles of cut grass. In the case of this batch of grass, I used it to smother some overgrown and undesirable privet. 

I have a friend in the scythe business that you should look up to get a lot more information on the tool.

My friend, Botan Anderson in Wisconsin, sells the finest scythes and accessories available. Take a look at his website at Mystic Prairie. Make sure you tour his site and see his amazing farm. Oh, and his ducks are wonderful, so don't miss the slideshow! Botan is doing the right thing and is an inspiration to me.

Another great article I'd like to direct you to is this one written by my friend Harvey Ussery. Here he lists the most important tools for the homestead, the scythe, the cart, and the broadfork.  "Completing the Tool Kit" takes care of the rest of the stuff you really need. 

Spring is about to happen to you wherever you are in the northern hemisphere, so get busy and get ready to grow something. Find a new way to love an old tool.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Details, details

I went to Mike's HandleWorld today to pick up my order and saw this stack of tool handles. These are square ended post hole digger handles. Most broadforks on the market use these, but I don't. 

When I set out to make broadforks, I didn't want to be another broadfork maker, I wanted to be the best broadfork maker. I had to find the details that the others manufacturers were missing and fine tune the Gulland Broadfork to make it better. I came into this job after blacksmithing for the last 23 years and I learned a lot about wooden handled tools in that time. I always carefully installed handles in my hammers, knew how to choose the right ones out of a pile of handles. 

A striking tool handle should be used with the grain of the wood running in line with the direction of the strike to make the handle stronger. The broadfork is not a striking tool, but it's very important for the grain to line up with the direction of the pull so that the handles will be able to utilize the ultimate strength of the wood. Take a look at the photo below.

It's easy to see on the square ends which ones have diagonal grain running through them, and you can see it on a lot of the round ends as well. These diagonal grain ash handles are very strong, but ultimately not as strong as those with a grain that can run in line with the pull of the tool. With a square handle socket, the handles can't be spun around to line up properly.

That's why I use a round handle socket. It's a little more difficult to assemble because welding a round tube to a square tube makes for a more 'interesting' weld joint, but it allows me to align the wood grain of the handle to be exactly where I want it. 

Each handle is pre-drilled with the proper grain orientation so that all you have to do is tighten 2 bolts and the handles will be as good as they can be. 

When designing this broadfork, there were lots of places I could have ignored such details but too many people do that these days. I wanted the Gulland Broadfork to be a generational, heirloom tool.

It's all in the details.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


This is a picture of the parts of the broadfork handle that will never make it to your hands. This pile of sawdust won't go to waste; it will be sent to a factory from here to be used as fuel to fire a boiler. 

I get to see my handle man tomorrow. I first met him by phone last summer and saw him for the first time just a few weeks ago when I went to his 'factory' to say hello and order some more handles. Mike's just a little over 45 minutes away, which is dangerous because I could spend a lot of time visiting if I'm not careful. I consider him to be a partner in my business because without his handles, the Gulland Broadfork would just be a doorstop.

I like to support small businesses like his. On the day I was there, 3 people were working, including Mike, and when his business peaks in the summer, there may be 4 or 5 at most. He spent a lot of time with me showing me around the log yard and the sawmill, and explained how everything worked. His building burned down several years ago and he rebuilt from the ground up, salvaging and rebuilding a few irreplaceable specialty machines, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, and trying it again. I don't know if I'd have the courage to do what he did, but Mike's a man of strong Faith and he's really good at what he does. I hope all his customers appreciate him as much as I do.

After the logs are cut into slabs, two men set up at the saw (above) and feed the heavy pieces through the beast, over and over cutting square pieces from the slab until there's nothing left on the in feed side. Ash is a heavy, dense wood, and although the slabs get smaller every time they pass through the saw, there is a nearly endless supply of slabs in a day's work. 
On the off feed side, the square pieces are stacked and stickered to insure that air can circulate freely around them so that they can be kiln dried more efficiently. Mike's drying room is run off of wood scraps that fire a boiler that provides the heat. The drying room runs constantly and this pallet of handle material will spend a couple of weeks stacked wall to wall and floor to ceiling with other handle stock before the real work of shaping and finishing them begins.
There are about 38 dozen handles on this stack. One in ten handles will meet the quality standard that I specify for my customers. To put a visual on that, essentially, the top 3 rows on this stack will be good enough to go to my customers. 

I'll have about a dozen dozen handles to work on after tomorrow and I really enjoy the woodworking portion of broadfork making. I look forward to the peaceful, quiet work of sizing the handles with my block plane and soaking them in the linseed oil and turpentine mix. This has been a fantastic project so far and I'd like to thank all of you that have become my customers and my friends along the way. 

I saw a t-shirt this week that said something like, "If you find a job you love to do, you will never work a day in your life." Thanks to you, it's going that way for me.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"A Chicken in Every Pot"

We've all heard it, but exactly where did that phrase come from? A little research and I found that in 17th century France, King Henry IV wished that each of his peasants should enjoy, "A chicken in his pot every Sunday." Later on, in 1928, though President Hoover never actually said the phrase, the Republican Party used the phrase in a 1928 ad campaign touting a period of "Republican prosperity" that provided a "chicken in every pot."

Yeah, and we know what happened shortly after that.

The metaphor of the chicken in the pot brings up all kinds of warm thoughts of visiting Grandma on Sundays and the closeness and joy of a family meal together, scents of home made foods wafting, and the crisp autumn air just right for a friendly game of football in the yard.

Go to the grocery store today and try to set that lovely Norman Rockwell scene with a factory farmed bird and you have to add some not so pleasant images and words. Let's see, "Arsenic in 70% of pots," "Salmonella in every pot,"  "Campylobacter in every pot," "Antibiotics in every pot," you get the idea. 

For several years now, my wife and I have been watching the quality of food we purchase. We raised chickens at home and grew a lot of our own food, supplementing it with high quality local food when at all possible, and in general, being very careful what we bought and how we cooked it.

We recently spent 105 days camping, and in that time we ate a dozen meals out. You read that right. Sometimes we needed to stop in and use a wi-fi, and occasionally, we just wanted some fried chicken or a burger. Otherwise we did as Lewis and Clark would have done, as they were a great inspiration as we traveled through South Dakota and Nebraska, and a hard act to follow. We cooked our own, we also packed our own, and we bought high quality food as we traveled.

Raising one's own food supply is not easy or convenient or stylish, but it's high time a lot more of us did it, and none other than the main stream media has inspired me to post this today.

MSNBC.com posted an article today that everyone needs to read, then decide who you want to provide food security for you and your family. Clearly the USDA isn't doing a good job for us. Just take a look at the e. coli and salmonella contamination issues we have been faced with in recent years. As funding is cut to monitor food quality (and it WILL be) and food factories cut more corners in production (and they WILL), we will face a point in time where we're playing Russian roulette on our dinner plates.

Take your fate into your own hands and grow your own. It is the only way to insure that you will get good quality food. Grow your own vegetables and grow your own chickens. Find a way and make it happen. Start small, and learn your way as you go. Visit Harvey Ussery's site and get all the information you need to have to make it work for you. Do it today. This is really important stuff. If you can't grow it yourself, try to buy your food from a source you trust. 


Monday, February 2, 2009

Creating Broadforkers

I had a great Saturday. We visited with Alex, who had recently bought his first house. It's on 5 acres with a barn and some fenced pasture in the rural outback of north central Alabama, and is a perfect a place for a young man in his 20s to begin. Alex has spent his whole life up there, surrounded by farmland and home gardens, but had never had one of his own. After my wife and I had a tour of his new place, he asked where he thought his garden should go. 

We took a look around and decided on a spot, which was, coincidentally the same one his Dad had chosen. I told him we could lay it out and start working it with the broadfork and he could get some spinach started if he had some seeds and an old storm window to cover it on cold days.

Alex thought it would be a lot more complicated than that. He said, " So that's it?"  I told him we could lay out a line with a garden hose to get a look at exactly where it should go. We looked at the shadow of his (very nice) barn and of the surrounding trees, considered the approximate angle of the sun in a few more months, stretched the hose out and started working. I always travel with a broadfork lately, and I showed him how to handle it, then he tried it out. The soil was a sandy clay soil and was very easy to work. 

As we worked, Karen and I talked with him about the foods he liked to eat, and how to get them started. He'd never had fingerling potatoes before, and from the look in his eyes as we talked about them, I think he'll enjoy them a lot, particularly when he digs up his first basket with his broadfork. He's going to have some really good potatoes there.

He seemed a little surprised that he didn't have to 'till' the whole garden, but just the rows that would be the beds, and it would look kind of like earthen corduroy. I told him I'd be back with my scythe when the grass got up to show him how that works to make great mulch.

I left my demo broadfork with him to work on the garden this week, and I plan on going back next weekend to see how it went. I felt like something very important happened there in the warm sun and chilly breeze of the last day of January. Alex really wants to produce some of his own food, and now I believe he is going to do it. He's off to a good start.

I think demystifying gardening is part of the challenge in getting someone started. From the outside, it seems like so much work, so much equipment, such a miracle to get food to grow in the Earth. I told Alex that when we open the ground and put in a seed and water it, we are simply letting Nature happen. 

Try to help someone start their first garden if you get a chance. You'll feel good about it, I promise. 


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Time in the can

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,



Monday, January 26, 2009

Making the Gulland Broadfork

When I started this blog, I really wanted it to be about the broadfork. So far it's been about pears, intermodal logistics, chickens, and Chernobyl. Today, I'm going to talk a little bit about the broadfork.

I want you to know that I make each one by hand, one at a time in my shop. I pay attention to details during this process to make sure that each tool is as good as it can be. I go to great lengths to insure that things are done the right way, ultimately for you, but also for me and for all of us. By that I mean that I am very careful in the manufacturing process to think about the details that will make this tool useful, durable, repairable, environmentally reasonable to produce, and actually profitable, so that I can make a living by doing this. With proper care, the Gulland Broadfork should never get to the point to where it should end up in a landfill.

First, I want to introduce the process of fitting the handles to my broadfork. The select ash handles are really half the tool and deserve to be treated as such.  My handles come from a small producer located about 30 miles from me in Tennessee who gives me the best he has to offer. He uses ash that is native to the Tennessee Valley, and the wood travels very minimally from where it is harvested to my shop. Mike runs a 4 person operation, and most of his employees are family members. I consider him a partner in my business, and I have the utmost respect for what he does. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with him.

I start by matching each pair of handles by grain density so both will have about the same amount of 'spring' which is what gives my broadfork such a great feel when in use. Some handled tools feel like pry bars, but these contoured ash handles have a dynamic feel when in use. All the handles are straight grained, and the grain runs the full length of the handle with no run-outs.  I drill each one with the hole in line with the strongest orientation of the grain. 

The drilled hole is carefully whittled out before the final handle sizing is done.

The steel handle sockets are seamless DOM tubing, and are sized just a bit smaller than the handles I get from Mike. The wood comes to me at 1.5" diameter, and the tube is 1.482" inside diameter. That leaves me with a little fitting to do as you can see from the scratches on the end of the wood handle shown here. I choose to do it this way to insure that the handle and socket are fitted very closely to each other. The wood changes size ever so slightly with changes in moisture, so it can never be perfect, but I like it to be as close as possible when it leaves my shop. The first step in sizing the handle is to see approximately how much wood needs to be removed. The handle is pressed by hand into the socket, and the resulting line gives me the exact depth of cut I need.

The sizing process is one I have decided to do the hard way. In the first few broadforks I made, I used a sander to size the handles to fit the sockets. For production, I wanted to minimize the amount of 'consumables' I had to purchase and throw away. Sanding discs wear out quickly on the rock-hard ash wood, and all that sandpaper would just go to the landfill, so I decided to buy a hand tool to do the job. I went straight to the top, and bought a bronze Lie-Neilsen low angle block plane. I'd like to thank my brother for turning me on to this exceptional tool. After I borrowed his, I went out and got one for myself. It is a joy to use, and though it may be a bit slower to use than a power sander, it works beautifully, and at a human pace. It's silent, doesn't create that fine dust that gets everywhere, and has no throw away 'consumables'. By doing it this way, I don't have to use electricity for a sander or for a vacuum system. Clean up is simple with a broom and a dustpan and I use the shavings to make fire starters and garden mulch. 

I set up a simple jig to rotate the handle as I size it to fit, from time to time checking the handle socket as I slide the razor sharp blade through the wood pulling off paper thin curls. Doing this for an hour or two is quite relaxing, really, and I am always amazed at how much time passes while I am doing this very pleasant task. Yesterday I enjoyed Holst's 'Hammersmith' while I fitted a couple dozen handles. You can get much worse work.

The last step in fitting is to actually line up the holes in the wood with the holes in the metal. This is a nice, tight fit and everything lines up perfectly. The square punched hole in the handle socket is another detail I add. The handle is attached to the broadfork with a single stainless steel carriage bolt with a thin locking jam nut. The square hot punched hole holds the square shank of the carriage bolt making the fit-up as neat and clean as possible. 

We're not through with the handles yet. Next time we'll take a look at the last step in making the handles as good as they can be. If you couldn't tell, I just love these tool handles. Having been a blacksmith for all these years, I feel like I am learning something new with this exposure to woodworking, and I'm looking forward to doing more of it.

Thanks for reading along, and check back soon for more broadfork information.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

on a lighter note...

From my friend Kaitlyn:

Inspired by Yooper

For quite some time, I've been following Yooper's Blog and looking at urban decay through his eyes. 

Several years ago I found Kidd of Speed, a motorcyclist that made the most remarkable tour of the wasteland around Chernobyl on her bike and photographed what she discovered.

Most of us don't think of Chernobyl anymore. I urge you to take a close look at the Kidd of Speed's website and see what she has seen in the ruins of the worst nuclear plant disaster yet. It's chilling and not easy to view. I have tremendous respect for her efforts in documenting the devastation brought on by the core meltdown of April 26, 1986.

Thanks, Yooper, for reminding me of Kidd of Speed.



Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Intermodal Logistics

After my last post, I came across an article I thought was very interesting regarding the importation of stuff from abroad. It looks like those Chinese pears are going to create some problems for those living in Gardner, Kansas in a roundabout way. 

Most of the stuff we purchase that is imported comes into the country via the ports. Since the bulk of imports come from Asia across the Pacific, California is the spot for most of it to land. Once things get off the ships, it all has to be distributed and the 'intermodal and logistics park' was born. Gardner, Kansas is getting one, and it'll mess things up beyond repair in that mid size city.

But we'll have our Reeboks!

Please read this article and figure out how you can begin to need a minimal amount of imported things. The environmental damage we are creating is beyond measure and it's time for each of us to take a look at our lifestyles and start to be more careful in our purchases and to stop feeding this monster.

Read this from AlterNet

Remember, it's all about small steps in the right direction. 


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Broadforkers on the road

My wife and I just made a road trip to Wisconsin to pick up another load of blacksmith shop tools and household items from their storage place in a friend's barn. Along the way, we spent the night in a motel and ate at their breakfast bar on the way out the next morning.

I always hate those breakfast bars because everything there is usually pre packaged in far too much plastic and styrene, but it's there, it's 'free' and we're in a hurry, so we drop our usual standards of food quality and move on. After a little discovery, I believe we'll be much more careful next time.

We picked up a couple of Dole fruit cups to eat with some yogurt. We read the label, and the sliced pears in light syrup passed our basic test of ingredients by containing no high fructose corn syrup, and minimal ingredients consisting of the following: pears, water, sugar, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and citric acid. The label also stated that the package was manufactured for Dole Packaged  Foods Corp, ... Westlake Village, California.  Karen ate hers, then noticed some writing on the side of the plastic cup. It says: 

Karen asked the question, "So we don't have pears here?" 

Apparently ours aren't cheap enough, my dear.

So, how can they grow a pear in China, ship it to Thailand, process and package it, ship it to the US, and get it to a motel in Oglesby, Illinois for less than an American grown and processed pear?  The answer is that someone or something was exploited along the way. For the life of me I can't figure out that level of the economy, but as a result of this discovery I have clicked my food shopping quality filter up a few  notches. I don't want to eat food that has traveled that far and has come from a place with potentially lower standards for food processing.

In fact, I think I'll start processing my own pears and begin to take my food supply with me when I travel. How difficult can it be? After all, there was a time when travelers didn't have 'free breakfast' bars at motels. WWL&CD??*

Be careful of what you eat, grow any food you can, and what you can't grow yourself, try to purchase locally or at least regionally.

*What Would Louis & Clark Do?

Friday, January 2, 2009

First Post

Stay tuned for the action packed adventures of a broadfork maker! If you don't know what that is, take a look at the tool on my website   http://gullandforge.com

Through this blog, I hope to introduce you to the tool itself and the way of life I have created around self sufficiency based on lower tech tools and low fossil fuel input gardening at a small, scalable level that almost anyone can achieve. 

Along the way, you'll meet the broadfork, the scythe, traditional hay rakes and pitchforks. You'll learn about the true value of chicken poop in the home garden. You'll come to know that there was a pretty successful life on Earth prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine and our addiction to it as a tool to do all our 'hard' work for us.

I'll try to share what I know about a simpler lifestyle to those of you that are interested in becoming more free from the dependence of purchasing more stuff.

There will be a rant or two along the way and a lot of references to "What were they thinking?" as I observe the things that we are blatantly doing wrong in the world.

I'll document some of the projects I take on and how I solve the challenges that confront me. 

There are some serious changes coming at us right now, and I am modifying my lifestyle to accommodate those changes  before they are imposed on me. I feel like there are a lot of people out there that don't know how to get started in a direction that takes them out of the path of the fear of the unknown, and on to a path of empowerment and knowledge.

It's all about small steps in the right direction.

Follow me.