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Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2015 11:43 am
by Martin Pansch
So my sister gardens. A lot. Besides the veggie garden that grows every year (a slippery slope when you have a 72" tiller behind a John Deere) there is the kitchen garden, and flower gardens around the barn, house, etc. If you have been out here you know what I mean. She also has this issue where she is not gentle on garden trowels. She pries, chops and other verbs that mean the cheap, stamped out box store trowels don't have long for this world. 4-5 years ago she asked me to make her a tougher one. I did but she threw me a design change half way though. I was going to weld on a piece of pipe for a handle and she told me she wanted wood after I had already cut the tang too short. I stretched the tang as much as I dared but still only managed to get a half tang. The hickory handle I put on it (recycled broken ax handle) didn't seat as well as I wanted but it was still leaps and bounds better than her pile of store bought ones.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, Jen finally lost the one I made her. She had lost it several times before, I guess dirty wood blends in with the garden pretty well, but this time it seemed gone for good (or at least until next tilling). So I got to make her another one with all the lessons I learned from last time.

For material I used 2"x6"x1/4" 1080 steel.
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About 80% of the forging I did under the tire hammer with drawing dies. I used a hand hammer to straighten things up, dress the edges and clip the "bird mouth" off at the tip. I used the treadle hammer with a flatter for a few heats to dress it up. I used the hand hammer and my swage block again to put a radius into it. Little under an hour of forge time and a lot of that was just putzing around getting things symmetrical. I like how the shape turned out but I would have liked a little more swell in the handle. I thermal cycled by eye three time when I was done with forging.
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I used my 2x72" belt grinder and a 36 grit belt to grind it. An old belt at first to get the forge scale off then a sharp one to make short work of the grinding. A 2" contact wheel did the inside curve nicely, almost like I knew which curve in the swage block matched my contact wheels. I resisted the urge to put a mirror shine on the trowel as that may have been over the top. I also resisted the urge to heat treat it. I mean, it is going to have a root stabbing edge not a shave my sasquatch looking back edge.
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For handle material I knew Jen would want wood again but that putting wood on it would mean increased chance of losing it again. Instead I opted to use pieces of an old cutting board I had sitting around the shop (seen under the trowel in the above photo). It cut easy on the band saw and ground well enough on a sharp 36 grit belt to rough them out. Instead of epoxy and brass pins like I normally use for knives I went with brass cutler rivets and no glue. I didn't know if epoxy would stick well enough to the UHMWP cutting board. Before setting the handles though I still had time for a couple mistakes. I was using a 3/8" bit to countersink the holes for the rivet heads. On the very first hole the bit grabbed the soft cutting board material and instead of a 1/16" hole it drilled completely through before I could react. In the below photo it was the hole on the bottom left.
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I had to cut another scale to replace it. Easy enough. I cut it, temporarily pinned it to the tang and rough ground it. Part way through I figured out I pinned it to the wrong side, it was supposed to be for the bottom instead of the top (no, my tang isn't identical on both sides, thanks for noticing) and I had already taken a little too much away so the tang stuck out a little on one side. I was able to swap them around a little and make it work with taking only a little more off the tang. I unpinned it from the tang to grind a little more from the length on the ricasso side (if trowels have ricassos) and ground the bevels. When I went to the drill the countersink for the rivet heads I discovered I had GROUND THE BEVELS ON THE WRONG SIDE of the scale! I couldn't recover from this one so I had to cut a 4th (!) scale. That one I was uber paranoid about, marked what was what, etc. and it finally came out. I was able to set the rivets and, with the nice flat grind on the face of the tang I got a real nice fit.

I finished smoothing out the handle with an old 220 grit belt I had. The belt had been used for steel before and left some smears of rust in the cutting board. I thought this was a happy accident as it left some cool streaks, almost like a bone or ivory:
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(Last photo on next post).

Re: Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2015 11:49 am
by Martin Pansch
Here is a shot of the full finished trowel:
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I think my sister was pleased with it. At least she brings this one in the house instead of leaving it stabbed into the flower pot with all the box store ones. It is carbon steel versus stainless so will rush if left damp and unused for a while. Otherwise slow oxidation paired with repeated stabbing into the ground should give it the patina of a real tool. I am hoping the white handle will keep it from getting lost for a while. If not I think I have it pretty well figured out for the next one.

I do want to give a tip of the hat to Jim Moenck and Mike Blue on the handle fit up. When I did the last trowel and wasn't happy with the handle I hit them up for advice and it certainly paid off this time around.

Re: Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2015 6:30 am
by Jim Ericksen
Nice work !!!

Thanks for sharing

Re: Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2015 2:28 pm
by Ashurbanapol
Really nice, Martin. Losing garden tools? I have made my wife literally dozens. She works really hard in our very rocky ground. Now we have 33 large raised beds and a strawberry patch, an asparagus patch, and 2 sweet corn patches. Mary, my wife, manages to lose almost anything over a period of time, even hoes! She finds a lot of them eventually, sometimes years later, and sometimes never. Of course she has lost silver jewelry I've made her as well. But I lose some of the tools as well as well! I hate showing your trowel to Mary as now she is gong to want me to grind everything shiny!. Hope your sister gives you lots of veggies!

Re: Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Sat Jun 20, 2015 10:48 pm
by Martin Pansch
Hi Bob.

Sorry for any grinder work I might bring down on you. ;)

My sister lost her last one a dozen or so times and always found it but I think might be good and lost this time. At least until we till next year. I am sort of worried what happens if the tiller finds and slings it as it is more or less a spear point.

And yes, I get plenty of veggies both fresh and canned including her kick ass sauerkraut.

Re: Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2015 6:46 am
by Jim Moenck
Martin, I am not going to show this to MaryAnn because if I do she will want me to make her one too. But, Damascus and curly maple might make an interesting trowel.

Re: Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2015 12:24 pm
by Martin Pansch
Funny you mention Damascus Jim. That was one of Jennifer's first comments, after asking what the handle was made of.

I have some folks are coming out to do a little pickup day of trowel forging 12 July. Seems like there are plenty of overlap in the gardener/blacksmith venn diagram. It is a bit of a drive for you for one day but you know you are always welcome at my place if you want to join us.

I have some old bandsaw blades and pallet strapping sitting around with the intent of eventually trying some junkyard Damascus. Might give it a go that on the 12th if the muse is with me. Though I was thinking bocote myself for the handle versus maple. Maybe inlay a little something in the handle too as I have never tried that with wood before. ;)

Take care.

Re: Full Combat Garden Trowel!

Posted: Sun Jul 12, 2015 5:04 pm
by Jim Ericksen
Thanks for the good times today , mine may not be combat ready but it sure was fun to make