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

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.