Tim Wickstrom: Forging Permaculture Hand Tools, Part 1
Tim Wickstrom is a former Verge grad who has started his own forge business to make permaculture and garden hand tools (Check out his Alumni Profile here). Here is the first piece of his three-part guest blog series:
Part 1 – Craftsmanship, Materials and Waste
My name is Tim Wickstrom and I’m a blacksmith in southern Alberta. My focus is forging permaculture and garden hand tools for others who love to work with their hands. I love to be out in my garden and young food forest working with hand tools. My partner Lorinda enthusiastically agrees to test my creations and if you were to visit our home during the growing season, you’d very likely find us working away in our yard. Last October, I founded Reforged Ironworks with the intent of sharing with others the tools I create and why I make them the way I do.
The magic of fire and hammer is truly transformative and I am marvelled by it every day that I work at the forge. An abandoned railroad spike is reborn as a hori hori and a truck’s leaf spring becomes a heavy duty trowel. This marvellous process has been around for millennia and it still appeals to many.
My particular process, like many things in permaculture, goes back to traditional techniques. Modern blacksmiths often use forges fueled by propane, metallurgical coal, or coke. All of these are non-renewable resources. I want to use something that is sustainable in the long term, a fuel source that can be replenished and managed over many generations, and so I use charcoal. This is the fuel that all blacksmiths used until fossil fuels became widely available. Since we live in a time of abundant waste (i.e. unused resources) I can make charcoal from leftover construction timber such as untreated spruce. There’s no shortage of this material, it can be found in my neighbourhood, diverting waste from the landfill to create tools that will last for years to come.
Here again, because we live in a world with large amounts of waste, I can source automotive suspension steel, like leaf and coil springs, railroad spikes, spring harrows, plow discs and all sorts of scrap metal for free. Some of this metal is especially good for tools because it’s high carbon steel. This type of steel can be hardened, giving my tools lots of toughness and durability. There’s a bit of experimentation that goes into each piece of steel that I use since it’s all reclaimed; I never know quite exactly what the scrap metal is like until I play around with it a bit.
It does take me extra time to find, sort, and experiment with the metal I find, but it’s worth the effort because I can upcycle it and divert it from the waste stream. It’s important to me to minimize the ecological footprint of myself and my business.
It’s rare these days, but there are moments when I see a truly amazing piece of workmanship and it speaks directly to my heart. A perfect example of this was an artisan broom-making shop in Crawford Bay, BC that I visited last summer. I was confident that the broom I purchased would last for many years; that confidence is the foundation of craftsmanship. Built upon that are the aesthetic details and the method of construction that combine to create something that is both memorable and wonderful to use.
I get a very positive vibe when I know exactly where my money’s going and who it’s supporting. My visit to Crawford Bay cemented in my mind the kind of experience I want my customers to have: Confidence in the quality of my tools, appreciation for their aesthetics, and an understanding that they’re directly supporting a sustainable business.
We often forget that beauty is a form of yield. For the sake of efficiency, it’s often first to be sacrificed. I choose to create within the limitations of the mediums of reclaimed steel, charcoal forge and hammer and anvil, creating tools of lasting beauty and function, informed by a tradition of hand tools that’s been with us for as long as we can recall.