The Blacksmith at Red Pig Tools
Off a quiet winding country road in Boring, Oregon, about an hour away from the majestic Mount Hood National Forest, sits a few lonely blacksmith workshops among the laden green trees of an apple orchard. This is the home of Red Pig Tools which is owned and operated by Bob and Rita Denman. Bob’s passion for tools and tool history is extensive; he tells me about many of the 200+ tools he creates by hand, where they originated, and how they are used. Formerly a marketing and advertising executive, 73-year-old Bob is fascinating, intelligent, and fit. Blacksmithing has kept him in remarkable shape and he has the energy and attitude of a man half his age. He repairs tools and builds custom iron creations, but his real work is forging one garden tool at a time. He describes his forging as meditative and prides himself on how each tool is unique due to the art of manufacturing the tools by hand.
When I arrived I rang the shop bell loud and long as instructed by the sign (right). In his shop, we explore all the tools he offers. Bob explains why heavier tools are often better. They may be heavier to lift, but they are easier to use on the ground because the weight does more of the work than your back or hands. My favorites are the cultivators, digging tools, and weeders. He reviews tips and ideas for using the tools. I asked him about osteoarthritis and which tool might be beneficial for someone with my condition. He suggested Ball Weeders or Fulcrum Weeders as both have a lever effect that allows you to use less pressure to do a more powerful weeding job.
While we were discussing fulcrum weeders Bob suggested we go back to his forge to see if we can make a tool. Below you can see he revved up the forge (which almost burned my face off – do not stand in front of the forge when it’s being started – just a little tip). Then he began heating a metal rod. He hammered the tip flat (top photo). Then returned the rod to the forge to heat it again. Then after more hammering, cut the tip (below). With the metal hot, the tip of the tool cut like butter. Then he heated it again to keep it pliable and shaped the rounded fulcrum (below).
While heating the metal only takes a few moments for the Red Pig Tools to forge, as soon as Bob pulls the iron out of the fire it begins to cool he only has a few seconds to hammer his creation into shape. Satisfied with the shape after he heated and shaped the tool, he plunges it into the quenching bucket and cools his work of art (below). While he is heating, hammering, and cutting, he tells me the history of his life. How his wife and he founded the company and work together to ship orders out online. He tells me he will never retire because forging tools is what makes him happy; it occupies his mind and his soul.
Bob the blacksmith gives the completed fulcrum weeder to me (below) and it is still warm. I feel as if I have been given the crown jewels. His love for his family and his art is hammered right into that weeder and every time I use it I will think about where it came from. Perhaps I will be more thoughtful when I use his tools because I witnessed all that love that goes into his forging. If you get to the Mount Hood Territory, you must go to Bob’s shop along that quiet winding road, ring the bell so Bob and Rita can come down from the house, and get yourself quality Red Pig Tools for your garden.