Saturday, May 29, 2010

Unfortunate Update

Unfortunately Iron Oaks Farm will not be participating in the May 29th TSC Farm Swap due to a small emergency. While grinding a piece of metal to sell at the event, Zach got a piece of steel in his eye. (and he was wearing eye protection) We spent a good part of the morning and this afternoon at the eye doctors having it drilled out. We hope to at least visit the event if he is feeling better later this afternoon.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fiery Friday, Forging a Decorative Hook

Hello Everyone,

    For this week's Fiery Friday I thought I'd show you how I make a small decorative hook to hang a coat, hat, broom, or whatever suits your fancy. This weekend Jennifer and I will be at our local Tractor Supply for a Farm Swap, so I've been busy forging items to sell and this is one of them.

I am starting with a good length of 3/8" square stock. After it's at a yellow heat I forge a point on the end, alternating every other blow while turning the piece 90 degrees. I'll continue this until I get a nice point on the end.

The next step is to bend the tip into a little scroll. Placing about 1/8" over the end of the anvil I"ll bend the tip down. Then flip it 180 degrees (As shown in the picture) and tap it back upon itself until it starts to roll up into a little ball. I'll have to repeat these two steps a few times until I get a nice little roll on the end.

After I take another heat, I will quench the nice little roll we just made to protect it from getting deformed. Now using the bending forks in my hardy hole I bend the hook back upon itself until it looks good. The idea of using bending forks instead of just bending over the horn of the anvil is that you can see straight down at your piece and see how it is progressing without having to flip it perpendicular from your view every now and again. It makes this process a little quicker and easier. After the actual hook part is in place it's time to cut it off the bar and work on the top of the hook.

Once it is cut off the longer bar I'll taper the end just a bit. This taper creates a nice rounded plate to drive the screw through (once we drill the hole of course). Here in the picture I've put the newly tapered end over the anvil with the rest off and begun to flatten the end white making a nice shoulder and keeping the mass to the back side of the hook.

Next comes the twist. This seems to be the part everyone loves to see. After heating the hook to another yellow heat I clamped it in my vice and using my twisting wrench (an old wrench with a handle welded to the business end to give an even grip) twisted it around one full turn. While it's still in the vice I'll straighten it if it needs it and we're done.

Here is the freshly forged hook. All I need to do now is drill a hole to mount it, wire wheel off the scale and apply some bees wax.

Correction: I gave the wrong date for the June Farm Swap, it is June 26th. Sorry about the confusion.
Reminder: Iron Oak Farm will be attending The Great Farm Swap tomorrow Saturday, May 29th and Saturday, June26th, from 11am to 4pm, in the Tractor Supply Company parking lot on M-15 in Ortonville, Mi. The venue includes chicken owners, crafters, 4-H rs, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Local Vendors, Farmers, vegetable sales, and animal breeders. It's a free event!
We will be selling our mohair and blacksmith art. (We might bring a few chickens as well, if we can tell if they're roosters by then) So come check it out, the last Saturday of May and June.

For questions e-mail Iron Oak Farm at
or visit TSC website at
TSC Ortonville is located at:
700 South Ortonville Road
Ortonville, MI 48462-8872
(248) 627-3708

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Do Your Ears Hang Low?

Meet Darby O'Gill, our Holland Lop Earred Rabbit. Granted, "O'Gill" isn't really Dutch in origin, but we liked it just the same.

Darby breaks my own rule of only buying animals that are useful in some way. Besides the dog, Ceddie, who really isn't an animal, he's a person trapped in a Golden Retriever's body.

Darby is our indoor, pet rabbit, whose only usefullness is looking adorable, eating bits of apple, cleaning a papaya pit of every remaining bit of fruit, taking naps in the sun and cuddling on our laps while he trys to turn the folds of my nightgown into a rabbit hole. Yes, it's true, most farms could not function without one just like him.

Darby followed me home one day, near Easter, from Tractor Supply Company, but this was no spur-of-the-moment compulsive rabbit purchase, no, no. You see Darby and I had a history.

Once upon a time Zach decided to build a tumbler to clean the scale off his blacksmith pieces. (he'll blog about it someday) This project required about 3 trips to TSC per day, for a week or more. I would volunteer to go because TSC is one of my favorite places to go. (Seriously, somtimes when I've had a bad day Zach will take me there to cheer me up.)

Anyway, it was rabbit season, not in the hunting, shooting and skinning kind of way, but in the Tractor Supply gets rabbits in for sale and I get to go there and stare at them, kind of way.

The first trip to TSC, Darby started out as any other baby rabbit in the bin. He was white with tannish, grey spots and his ears stood on end like all the other rabbits.

The next day, one ear was up and one was down. He looked as though he was questioning everything. Like a person might, with one raised eyebrow.

By the next day both ears were down, and I was in love. (You see, I have a weakness for animals with ears that hang down. The goats, the dog, and now this rabbit.) I needed him, and he OBVIOUSLY needed me.

Then the clincher, the lady at TSC suggested that I hold him. WELLLL, that just seemed like about the best idea I had heard all day. Darby and I toured all of TSC. By the time we got to the boot department, he was named.

The next day we brought my Mom up to TSC so she could fall in love too. (My Mom has a weakness for bunnies) and home he came.

Truth is, Darby is a wonderful addition to our home. He is extremely easy to take care of and his little personality is adorable. Not to mention those ears!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wild Wednesday, Snowy Owl

In February 2008, Zach and I attended the Howell Nature Center's "Birds of Prey" Photography Workshop. We were priviledged to encounter this beautiful Snowy Owl among many other birds that are rarely seen in the wild. I will be featuring each bird in Wild Wednesday posts to come. The Howell Nature Center is an amazing wildlife rehabilitation center and an amazing learning experience. They have dozens of Michigan animals in captivity where the public can veiw upclose and observe their behavior in a somewhat natural setting. All of the animals in the facility have encountered some sort of tradjedy in their life which makes them unable to be released into the wild. Not onlly is the HNC rehabilitating, but they are using this unfortunate opportunity to teach awareness, with the hope that animals in the future won't have to encounter the same fate. To learn more about the Howell Nature Center or to donate to their facility visit their website at Every year I donate a gift certificate for a Personalized Pet Portrait done in pastel to the Wild and Wonderful Night Auction. I've met some wonderful people who share my love for nature. The photographs in Iron Oaks Farm blog are all taken by Jennifer or Zach Sartell (unless otherwise indicated) and are available for purchase. If you see something you like e-mail us at or visit our Etsy site at 8x10 prints start at $15.00

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sewing Project, Heat Pad Cover

My mother-in-law asked for a heat pad cover for Mother's Day. This is a simple sewing project that took less than an hour. I purchased 1 yard of pre-quilted material at Jo-Ann Fabric, and 1/2" velcro strip (use their coupons)
I folded the material in half, then cut a rectangle utilizing the folded side as a seam. I cut the rectanle 1 inch larger all around except for the opening side, this I cut 1 1/2 inces larger.
I then opened the rectangle and folded down 1/2" hem where the opening would be and stitched this across.
I then sewed in a velcro strip to each side leaving about 2 inches for the cord to come out.
I then folded the rectangle back wrong sides out and sewed around the outside creating the pocket. Turn right side out and you're done!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Great Farm Swap

Iron Oaks Farm will be attending The Great Farm Swap on May 29th and June10th, from 11am to 4pm, in the Tractor Supply Company parking lot on M-15 in Ortonville, Mi. The venue includes chicken owners, crafters, 4-H rs, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Local Vendors, Farmers, vegetable sales, and animal breeders. It's a free event!
We will be selling our mohair and blacksmith art. (We might bring a few chickens as well, if we can tell if they're roosters by then) So come check it our, the last Saturday of May and June.
For questions e-mail Iron Oak Farm at
or visit TSC website at

TSC Ortonville is located at:
700 South Ortonville Road
Ortonville, MI 48462-8872
(248) 627-3708

Friday, May 21, 2010

Firey Friday, How I Forge a Nail

Hi it's Zach. I'll be taking over the Fiery Friday blog post from now on and plan on showing you more about what can be done with a hammer and some hot steel and how to go about doing it.
Last Friday Jennifer showed you the toolbox I made for the MABA (Michigan Artist Blacksmith Association) toolbox raffle. To attach the corner brackets to the wooden toolbox I made my own nails. To make a nail I start off with 1/4" square bar stock. 

The first step is to get it hot in the forge. Although I have a coal forge I usually use a homemade propane forge. (In the future I plan on sharing detailed instructions on how to make your own coal forge without the use of a welder.) My propane forge gets to about 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a good forging temperature for mild steel. With the 1/4" bar red hot I start to taper the end with angled hammer blows while rotating the stock 90 degrees every couple of hits. This ensures an even taper.
I will continue to do this until the end of the bar has a nice point and the tapered section is about the length I want the nail to be. Usually I can do this in one heat
as long as I'm not trying to make a long nail. When the bar gets to cold, it has to go back in the forge for more heat. Mild steel can get brittle and can crack or fall apart when it is forged too cold.

This is a nice even taper and should make a good nail. Once I am satisfied with the taper I make sure it is good and straight and quickly put it into my nail header for a test fit.

While the stock is still hot and in the nail header I line it up over my cut off tool making sure to leave enough material on the untouched side of the taper to form the head of the nail. If there is too much material the head will bend over instead of mushrooming down. If there is too little material the head will be too small to be usable or may even pop right through the hole in the nail header. Since I made my own nail header it took a bit of trial and error to get this right.

Trying to conserve the heat I'll quickly pull the nail header out of the way, keeping the stock in the same place on the cut off tool and begin to strike the top of it. Once I am nearly cut through on one side I'll rotate the stock 90 degrees and cut through that side until I have just a small corner holding the two pieces together. Then it's back into the forge to get red hot again.

Once hot again, I take it out put it back through the hole in my nail header and twist the bar until the nail breaks off and stays in the header. Keeping the two pieces together allows me not to have to use tongs to retrieve the tiny soon to be nail out of the forge. When using a gas forge, this isn't usually a problem, but when you use a coal forge that little piece can easily get lost and end up getting burned up.

 Again, working quickly I put the header over the pritchel hole (round hole in the anvil) and strike the top of the tapered stock forcing it to collapse over the nail header and thus creating the head of the nail. This usually takes about 7 or 8 hammer blows.

    Finally, I'll quench it in water which makes the hot steel shrink and releases it from the nail header.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thrift Store Finds, Milk Glass Pots

Every winter I get cabin fever and purchase a few houseplants to "Spring" things up a bit. This year I had all the plants balancing on a small nightstand next to our bed, as it is the sunniest spot in the house. After a couple of night time accidents of half asleep adventures to the bathroom, kitchen etc. and knocking plants over in the process, Zach decided to build me a shelf against the sunny window. We had some scrap wood in the garage so he beveled the edge and cut out two wooden brackets. I painted it white. The shelf looked adorable, but now the plants looked somewhat pathetic in their ugly green plastic pots with bits of dirt and dead vegetation stuck to the sides. I thought about buying matching white pots to line the window sill, but after some shopping around I realized that for my little project it would be more than I wanted to spend. I decided to hit the thrift store. We have a brand new Salvation Army just up the street with all sorts of goodies. I found these beautiful candy dishes that look like milk glass for $1.50 each and one was half off! It was a good day at the thrift store.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wild Wednesday, Hummingbird Feeders

On May 10th we saw our first Hummingbird of the year. I try to get the Hummingbird feeder and the Baltimore Oriole feeder up the last week of April so when the birds migrate to Michigan they don't pass us by. This photo and many more are available for purchase on our Etsy site at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Planting the Garden

Yesterday we planted the garden. Depending on who you talk to we should be past the frost date for our zone. If we do get some chilly nights the raised beds make it pretty easy to cover with tarps and dowels.
We added compost from our compost system to the soil. Our kitchen scrap compost system consists of 3 rubber garbage cans with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. We have one that we add to, one that is breaking down that we stir and add pond water to periodically, (the pond water has beneficial bacteria) and one with finished, sifted compost. I sift it through chicken wire to get any large chunks out. We also have a larger compost system by the barn for animal bedding, larger yard waste, and grass clippings. We made the containers out of wire fencing bent into cubes.
This year I am excited to try two new additions. We are growing soy beans, as Zach and I LOVE steamed edamame. We eat it when we go for sushi, and it's high in protein and fiber. We steam it in the microwave for 3 minutes and sprinkle with sea salt. Delicious!
The Garden consists of four raised beds like the one shown here. (We would like to triple that someday, sigh!) This year we are also growing a bed of flowers to dry. Hopefully this fall I can make some dried flower arrangements or wreaths. Last year I grew lavender and was able to dry enough to make this wreath.
Along with these, we planted the usual, zucchini, cucumber, tomato, (Romano, Grape, and an Heirloom mix), jalapeno, and red pepper. We also purchased a pumpkin plant. For 15 year I have tried to grow a pumpkin, and have never been successful. I don't think our yard gets enough sun to support a pumpkin plant. We always get these beautiful winding vines, and the beginning of a pumpkin, but it never gets any larger than a softball, and then rots off the vine. If anyone knows what's going on let me know. We're going to try it in a different area of the yard and see if that helps.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blacksmithing, The MABA Toolbox

Zach has been a member of MABA for a few years now. MABA is the Michigan Artist Blacksmith Association. For those of you in the Michigan area who are interested in blacksmithing it is a wonderful organization. They have meetings once a month at different areas around the state. At each meeting they have raffles, demonstrations and a pot luck lunch. The artistic talent is amazing and the people are wonderful. They also put out a bi-monthly magazine called The Upsetter. Visit their website at
To raise money for the organization they raffle off a handmade toolbox. All throughout the year the toolbox is carried to each of the meetings and the blacksmiths of MABA donate handmade tools such as tongs, clamps and other smithing goodies to the "toolbox". At the MABA Christmas party the box is raffled off to a very lucky blacksmith. Because blacksmithing tools are not easy to find this collection is a very valuable prize to any aspiring blacksmith.
This year Zach is making the toolbox. The box itself is made of poplar and the handle and brackets are hand forged steel. The corner brackets are hand forged, decorative and will keep the corners from getting damaged. He also forged the nails that hold the brackets on and the box together. On one of the end caps for the handle he hand chiseled "MABA 2010" and on the other side an outline of an anvil. If you are interested in purchasing a ticket for the toolbox and tools, please visit MABA's website and contact any of the officers or feel free to attend any monthly meeting. Visitors are always welcome. To see some of the hand forged items that Zach makes visit our Etsy website

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cottage Garden Bed

Zach and I gave our bed a fresh spring makeover. We started by sanding down the the stained finish. This gives the wood a tooth and holds the spray paint better. We wiped it down with a damp flannel cloth to collect any sanding dust. Then we gave it 2 coats of Rustoleum spray primer and 2 coats of semi gloss paint. Our new bed reminds me of a white picket fence.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wild Wednesday, Nesting Vultures

Last week we experienced something extrodinary. Our good friend Elliot has a massive old barn. It is beautiful and weatherd and sits tall and comfortable like it grew there at the dawn of time. The sun shines through the cracks in the boards and golden dust of ancient hay and straw float through the air in an endless cloud of musty sparkles.

In the barn, high in the rafters, Elliot found a Turkey Vulture's nest. We were lucky enough to climb up the rickety staircase while the mother was away to take some photos of the eggs. The eggs are about 1 1/2 times the size of a chicken egg. When we came out the mother was in a nearby tree hissing at us. Elliot researched that vultures, when threatened, will regurgitate on the "thing" that is annoying them, so we got out of there in a hurry, and left the mother to tend to her babies.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Angora Rabbit Fiber Coming Soon!

Meet Wallace and Grommit. Yes like the Brittish claymation cartoon, named after the movie "Curse of the Ware Rabbit" which we highly recomend, wity English humor, cute to watch around Halloween.
Anyway, Wallace and Grommit are our new additions to the farm. They reside in their cages in the barn with the goats, (we want to put up a sign "Fiber Barn") Wallace is a chestnut and Grommit is a black.
They are part Giant Angora, part Thrianta, but they inherited the Angora coat so we are excited to shear them.
We brush them every other day or so to keep away matts and keep their coat smooth.
Here is what they looked like when we got them. They're fur was starting to grow out and they look like giant cotton balls. We trimmed them up on April 3rd and their fur is about an inch now. On nice days we let them out to run, like the goats, they can't get wet. The fenching in the goat area is also rabbit proof.
They both do this strange thing with their chins. They rub them on branches, rocks, trees etc. I assume it's some sort of territorial scent marking, but why their chin?