Firing a passion for the old ways

By Lorne Eckersley

Working with a surprisingly small, rudimentary propane-fired forge, Tim Peel-Wickstrom has found a way to combine his interests in metalwork, gardening and the environment.

His home-based business, Reforged Ironworks, has its genesis in Wickstrom’s fascination with medieval armour, which involves pounding out shapes in cold sheet steel.

“I wanted to incorporate hot work into the process, though,” he said last week. He met a blacksmith in rural Manitoba, where he was living at the time, “and he showed me the ropes in exchange for beer!”

“My fledgling interest in blacksmithing grew into a full-on passion, and I looked for a proper class to attend to really grasp some of the core techniques and start making some of my own tools,” he said.

A weekend class in Ontario with artist/blacksmith David Robertson was what Wickstom describes as an incredible experience.

Forging wasn’t his only interest, though, and it was put on hold while he attended a permaculture course, where he also happened to meet his wife, Lorinda.

With the encouragement of Lorinda, he began to work toward a career in blacksmithing.

“I started accumulating my own set of blacksmithing tools, attended more classes and kept practicing,”he said. “When we moved to Magrath, Alberta, I set up a small workshop and began working.”

Now, a decade after starting into blacksmithing, Wickstrom makes a point of meeting with other blacksmiths, primarily through the Kootenay Blacksmith Association, at least once a year to keep learning and growing in his craft.

“My approach to blacksmithing is to minimize my impact on the environment while producing items of lasting quality. When I first started out, all of my products were made from scrap steel and reclaimed materials. But as my business grew I realized I needed to purchase some new steel in order to keep up with demand and not spend too much time and energy trying to find scrap to suit my needs. However, my gardening tools always incorporate some element of reclaimed material, most often in the steel itself. Old saw blades, automotive coil and leaf springs, and farming equipment make up the most common source for my tools. I’m always on the lookout for good scrap. I welcome members of the community to let me know if they’ve got some old steel kicking around!”

Wickstrom now works out of a shed on their rented property in Creston. He picks up a hori hori, a Japanese gardening knife that features a serrated blade with nylon-wrapped handle to illustrate his recycling interest. The blade, he explains, is made from an old vehicle spring that he heated, straightened and pounded into a shape before grinding the serrations.

“Old steel that’s no longer useful in its original form can be given a new lease on life as a hand tool that can last generations,”Wickstrom said. “Knowing that the items I hand forge will be around for many, many years is very satisfying to me. I also often source wood for handles locally and purchase as much equipment and supplies as possible from local businesses and people.”

A commitment to recycling materials doesn’t only have environmental benefits.

“It’s primarily an environmental decision,” he admitted, “but there are several other technical benefits that come from using scrap steel that’s really old. Agricultural steel especially I find makes excellent blades.”

Tim, Lorinda and their daughter made the move to Creston from Magrath last fall.

“Since moving here, I think the most common question we got was why we chose Creston. There are a number of reasons: it has a great climate for growing a garden and perennials, it’s a good size town with all the amenities we want, and it’s a beautiful place. A big factor in exploring Creston came from meeting Joanne and Drew Gallius of Full Circle Farm almost exactly a year ago. They were living proof that we can have the lifestyle we’re looking for, and that there are excellent people in the valley.”

With his passion for gardening, it’s only natural that he took an interest in making garden tools, and that’s exactly how he started out as a blacksmith.

“I make tools that are uncommon and not readily found in the hardware store. These include items like the broadfork (a hand tiller), the hori hori (a Japanese style soil knife) and the rice knife (a Japanese style sickle). While uncommon, these tools are based on centuries-old patterns and so have proven their worth and efficiency when we didn’t have gasoline or electricity to do the work for us.”

He has, of course, broadened his interests over the years.

“Over the years, I’ve included other types of products like decorative fire pokers, ornamental garden gates, handles, hooks and knives of various sorts. I create these because there’s a demand for them, and I enjoy the creativity that comes with those types of items.

“I’ve blacksmithed for five years now and I still find that forging a red hot bar into a simple shape will bring a smile to my face. Making things with my hands holds such a visceral appeal to me. There is also the drive to perfect my craft. Every time I make a hori hori or a fire poker, even if I’ve made dozens before, I look for ways to improve my technique and efficiency. I’m certain it’s a never ending process but I do find that when I work on something I’m very familiar with I find joy in the mastery I’ve earned over the years of my hard work.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Wickstrom assumed his business would slow down, partly because the Creston Valley Farmer’s Market is an ideal outlet. Also, he would be unable to invite customers to his workshop.

“Handmade and farmers’ markets, seedy saturday events and music festivals were common ventures for us” he said. “Currently, the only way to purchase my wares is online via my website or through my Etsy shop. Also, because of the current situation with COVID19, I don’t encourage visitors to the shop at this time. Typically I enjoy showing people the process but that just isn’t doable now.”

Wickstrom expressed his gratitude for the interest that Lorinda has taken in his business

“We have a lot of flexibility in our lifestyle with both of us running our own businesses and being self-employed . If we need to take a day off to tend to other matters, or just want to enjoy a beautiful day out in the sun, we can do that. That being said, there have been many late nights putting together packages to mail out or organizing our product for a weekend market The biggest challenge for me is separating work time from home time. I can work all the time if I’m not careful, and my wife has been very good at reminding me to keep a healthy boundary between the two.

“We are so involved in each other’s work and business that we basically are 50/50 partners. Our skill sets tend to compliment one another, so that’s a huge benefit overall. Where I’m weak Lorinda has strengths, and vice versa. We also enjoy each other’s company and I think that goes a long way towards the two of us being effective and happy partners-in-crime.”

For more information about Reforged Ironworks, go to reforgedironworks.com, or visit the Facebook or Etsy pages.

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