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,