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.