Wednesday, November 30, 2011

600 Broadforks!!

I guess it's been a while since I posted. It's a long story I'll post soon. We have been setting up for a little growth spurt and we've been developing some new tools for you.

We have been making broadforks steadily, though and we have come to another milestone here at Gulland Goods and Services, LLC. As of today, broadfork # 600 will be the next one to ship. A little over 2 years ago I noted the building of broadfork #100 in a blog post. (click here) 

I believe that this is the way to grow a company. We carefully make a very finely crafted tool and have a $15 per month advertising budget. The rest has been up to you. Thank you for doing such a fine job in selling broadforks for us.

Thanks to the Gulland Broadfork owners in Coralville, Iowa. There are 6-8 friends out there who all have our forks.

Thanks to Fairbanks, Alaska. For a while, we had more forks there than our former hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

We have new customers in Sweden and Tunisia and I am about to ship one to New Zealand. I am deeply appreciative of the people around the world that are dedicated to purchasing high quality, hand made tools. This is what we do and we do it very well.

I got a note this week from Richard in upstate New York who had this to say:

"Your broadfork arrived yesterday. What a piece of art and craftsmanship! The internet pictures don't do it justice. I don't know whether to hang it on  my wall or use it in the garden next year."

Richard, You should buy a second one for your wall!

As you can see from the picture above, as they are made, each tool is set up in a jig and into it, I hand stamp my initials, the year it was built and it's serial number. Yours is just like everyone else's and they are all as good as they can be before they leave my shop. I do all the metal work myself, from sawing, drilling, forging, assembling and cleaning. My wife does the finishing work and is the elf in the woodworking shop. She fine tunes the fit of the handles and pairs them all according to weight and grain density. When you have such a production team, you get good quality and good looks.

For those of you that do not know, we are a very environmentally conscious company. The broadfork is designed carefully and thoughtfully to eliminate waste material. We cut everything with blades, which cuts out consumable products like grinding and sanding abrasive products. I hate metal abrasives; they are terrible for the environment.

I developed our broadfork to be very cleanly finished. All the parts are cut with a bandsaw and the waste 'saw dust' is recycled. I then de-burr the edges in a tumbler to eliminate the need to grind the sharp edges. Welding is done in such a way that there is no need for grinding because there is no welding spatter. The welds are perfect and don't need to be hidden under a coat of paint. The broadfork is then finished by wire brushing it to a high lustre.

Why would someone paint a garden tool anyway? Why would you work for years to get good clean soil, then press painted tools into it, ultimately depositing those chemicals in your food supply? We hand-apply a coating of linseed oil and turpentine to your broadfork and handles; it's the same stuff your great-grandparents used and it still works fine.

You folks out there keep up the good work with your broadforks. Every time you use one, your soil will respond favorably. Thank you for your support of a small family business that is trying to make a difference.

Good soil to you,


Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's all about the little things

I grew up without a lot of extras. We got by with very little and I guess I learned some very good lessons from that experience. I have lived my life trying to be as practical and frugal as I could be, but I never cut corners on quality, because quality always matters.

This little broadfork company prides itself in being mindful of the details in manufacturing that really matter and the people I work with have gotten into the spirit with me.

I buy my steel from a family owned steel company in Madison, Wisconsin. Wiedenbeck Steel has been run by the Wiedenbeck family since 1894 and there's a good reason why they've been around for so long. Their commitment to quality is as high as my own and I rarely use that metric. I have been a customer there since I got to Wisconsin in 2000 and I will continue working with them as long as I am able.

Josh is my usual load out guy at Wiedenbeck and since I always buy the same material for broadforks, I just tell him how many to pick on my way in and when I get back with my paperwork, he's usually at the saw, cutting the 20-24 foot lengths into sizes I can haul in my truck. Steel comes in what is known as 'random lengths.' A 20 foot piece might be 20 feet and a half inch or 20 feet and 2 1/2 inches.

Josh knows the dimensions of all the parts of my broadforks and he cares enough to measure out each bar of steel and makes a decision as to where they will be cut to make the least waste once I get them home and start sawing them to precise lengths. Remember, he just cuts the long bars in half for me.

I just finished cutting enough steel to make tines for almost 40 broadforks and the photo shows all the steel that I consider 'waste.' There are 16 nubs of steel there ranging in size from about 2 inches to less than a quarter of an inch. The rest of the waste consists of a handful of saw 'dust' from my bandsaw kerf. This time it was as good as it gets; I used every bar I cut to it's maximum.

Josh understands what I want and he's glad to take the couple of extra minutes to give me that level of service. I appreciate him more than he would ever believe.

My wife and I work very hard to provide you with a level of care and craftsmanship that is rare in the world today. When you receive your broadfork you will know the minute that the box is opened that it was made by people that are trying to make a difference in their little corner of the world. Karen hand fits and finishes every handle and my hands are the only two that ever touch your broadfork head before it gets into your hands.

Well, Josh cut the bars in half... gotta give credit where it's due.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Well, it's not quite THAT bad, but it's not that good, either.

I'm watching out the window tonight as the snow piles up outside here in southern Wisconsin and I am thinking of the people a hundred years ago that didn't have the benefit of the internet or the Weather Channel to watch the blow by blow account of the misery that has been dealt out to them. Did we come from the same place they did? How did we get so wimpy?

They got up in the morning and split wood and milked cows and carried on. The kids went to school and Mom made dinner on the wood stove. Things were different then.

I talked to an old friend in Birmingham tonight and I told her that I just wanted to be as prepared for such an event as my grandparents were. They would have had plenty of food on hand to deal with such an occurrence and it would have been written off as "just a bad stretch of weather."

The local mantra tonight is "Travel is not advised." People still feel like they have to go out in this weather. They feel like somebody will take care of them.

Stay home. Why do we think it is imperative to defy Nature?

Let this storm pass and be content with what you have at home. Don't feel so self important as to have the need to overpower nature tonight. Let it be.

We're watching as the storm flies over us and we're seeing the drifts pile up. The woodstove is keeping us warm and tomorrow is going to bring a lot of shoveling. That's OK, it's Wisconsin, after all.

We won't be going to PASA in Pennsylvania this week with Earth Tools. The weather just didn't cooperate. I'm sorry that we won't get a chance to meet some new customers. Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that our environment owns us. It's time to learn to accept that fact.

Good soil to you,


Monday, January 10, 2011

Sometimes you feel pretty small

In my life, I have had opportunities to be in some of the most majestic places in the United States. I have stood before mountain peaks and deep within their crags. I have paddled beautiful lakes and rivers. I have witnessed musical virtuosities and have experienced great art and have stood breathless in the midst some of the most awesome displays of Nature's angry and wrathful weather.

I sought those things my whole life, not because they made me feel powerful, but because they made me feel humble and connected to them in a very deep and spiritual way.

A couple of days ago in Tucson, Arizona, there was an event that made me freeze in my tracks. The tragic shooting event there shook me to my bones and made me feel helpless and numb in a way I cannot ever remember feeling. I have always been the kind of guy that wanted to do something, anything that would make a bad situation better, but I saw clearly that there was absolutely nothing that I could do that would help to heal the heart of a wounded nation.

I felt helpless until tonight. Let me give you a little background.

Late last August, I got an order for a broadfork from The Community Food Bank. I looked them up on the internet to see what kind of organization they were. Because I am such a small business, I don't have money to give to non-profit groups regularly, but I figured that if they ordered a broadfork from me, I would do something for them.

I looked up the extension of the person whose name was on the order and called him, out of the blue. We had a great talk and he told me about all the ways they worked in the community to teach people how to raise their own food in one of the harshest places in the world, deep southern Arizona.

They have a big community outreach, a farmer's market and they organize and maintain a food bank for those in need. In addition to that, they have a Youth Farm Project where "young people are given the opportunity to develop a relationship with the food they eat... learn about food systems, contribute to the community, and of course, have some fun!"

Their mission statement is: Through education, advocacy and the acquisition, storage and distribution of food, we will anticipate and meet the food needs of the hungry in our community.

It just so happened that the guy whose name was on the order was the the CEO of the Community Food Bank, Bill Carnegie. We had a wonderful conversation and at the end, I asked him if he would have a use for a second broadfork; I wanted to make a donation to his program out there. He said he would be delighted to have a second broadfork and was very thankful for my gift.

The following is an excerpt of the note I got from them a week later:

"We do a lot of hand digging in our 1/3 of an acre youth garden, and are working to build our desert soils and to create the rich organic matter and diverse soil communities we lack here naturally. Your broadforks are key to helping facilitate this process."

It felt great to know that I had done something that really mattered and that extra broadfork was stationed in their youth garden, working in the hands of the people that can really make changes in our world.

Well, that's the background and this is the rest of the story.

As I was reading the news tonight, I came across an article on Huffington Post; a statement from the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly. In his closing line he says, " Many of you have offered help. There is little that we can do but pray for those who are struggling. If you are inspired to make a positive gesture, consider two organizations that Gabby has long valued and supported: Tucson's Community Food Bank and the American Red Cross."

I know The Community Food Bank of Tucson would be as appreciative of your contributions as they were of mine. It's a group that is doing really good work in southern Arizona and here is how you can get in touch with them:

Community Food Bank
3003 S Country Club Rd #221
Tucson, AZ 85713-4084

Sometimes when I feel small, helpless and insignificant, I reach out and touch something bigger than I am. Try it for yourself.

Good soil to you,


By the way, that incredible photo above will enlarge if you click on it and you should. It's Leigh Lake in Grand Teton National Park, with Mt. Moran in the background. The water was that perfect ALL DAY!

Photo by Karen Stack

We're Making Tracks

It's time to leave all this Wisconsin fun to head down South again.

Our first stop will be the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group Conference in Chattanooga, TN. You can meet the folks that make the Gulland Broadfork at the Earth Tools BCS booth at the trade show there on January 21st and 22nd. The Southern SAWG Conference is always a wonderful place to get great information and the Earth Tools booth is always a hot spot to get your hands on the finest hand tools available, brought to you by the people that know them the best.

If you're going to be at the conference, please stop by and say hello. I met several of our customers last year and it's always good to see you again.

Next on the conference schedule this year is the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture 20th Annual Conference February 2nd-5th. We'll be there at the trade show with Earth Tools as well. It'll be our first PASA Conference, and we can't wait to get there.

Our last show of the season will be Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin on February 24th-26th. MOSES is a biggie, and it's also our first time to attend. We'll be at the Earth Tools BCS booth there, as well.

Being an internet based business, my wife and I seldom get to meet our customers face to face, but we love to when we can. Please come by and introduce yourselves if you are attending one of these events.

It's been a brutal winter so far in southern Wisconsin, and Nature has shared the Love with the rest of the country, it appears. Now is the time to gather with those like yourselves at one of the conferences I have mentioned so that you can learn as much as can while you can't break into the soil.

We hope to see you there!

Good soil to you,