My spade and garden fork took quite a beating this year as I worked out in the wet weather of early spring and right on into the heat of mid May. They were exposed to hot and cold, wet and dry, conditions, and they showed it. The handles were rough and dried out. The fork handle was so dry it had begun to creak and wiggle like an old loose tooth. They really needed their annual dose of TLC, and this was the week that they got it.
First, I cleaned the loose dirt off and washed them well. I soaked them in a tub of water for a few hours, until the handles were well hydrated and tight in their sockets again. Then I let them dry, and lightly sanded out all the roughness. That was followed by several sessions of hand rubbing with a blend of bees wax, food grade linseed and citrus oils. The oil brought out the beautiful grain in the hickory handles, and also highlighted the many nicks and blemishes that are part of each tool’s history. The handles are smooth as silk now, and my hands are soft and hydrated, too!
After the handles were taken care of, it was time to work on the hand forged metal at the working ends of the tools. A brass wire brush, steel wool, and sandpaper removed the last of the clinging dirt and old loose paint. Today, they got a new coat of green Rustoleum paint, and a final coat of Boeshield T-9 to protect the unpainted metal. The final step was to take a bastard-cut mill file and sharpen the spade to a perfect edge.
Would you believe that the tools in today’s photos are 40 years old? They have traveled with me on all of my life’s adventures, double digging beds in red African soil, helping to break ground for the Ecology Action teaching garden in Willits, CA, finding their way into the soils of upstate New York, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, and other places now beyond memory. They have been loyal companions, and have brought me inestimable pleasure through the years.
My spade and fork were made by the Bulldog Tool Company at Clarington Forge, in England. Clarington Forge has been making these tools for the last 230 years. Each tool head is hand forged out of a single piece of steel. My set was purchased through Smith & Hawken, a company in California that was one of the first to import Bulldog tools to the U.S., so they have “Smith & Hawken” stamped on them.
The handles are just the right height for me, making them well balanced in my hand. As I dig each trench, they are the interpreters through which I come to know my soil in all its intricate detail and variation–even across my small plot. For all these reasons, my spade and fork are among my dearest possessions.