by Michael Boyink
Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO has one. The Historic Village at Faust Park in Chesterton, MO has one. The Coal Miner’s Museum in Novinger, MO has one. And the Pioneer Heritage Homestead in Doniphan, MO has one.
What is it?
A blacksmith shop.
These history-oriented attractions often include a blacksmith shop, because the success of early settlements depended on having one available.
If you wanted to farm the land, you needed a plowshare from the blacksmith. If you wanted to make wagons, you needed wheels and springs from the blacksmith. If you wanted to start a saw mill, you needed a waterwheel and a saw blade from the blacksmith.
Reliance on blacksmiths was reflected in the motto that many of their unions had: “By Hammer and Hand Do All Arts Stand”.
Blacksmith shops in historical villages have an educational aim. They keep blacksmithing history alive by scheduling demonstrations of how metal tools and parts were fashioned by hand. The shop may even have a selection of metal decor and gifts for you to purchase as a memento of your visit.
Nearby Squires, MO also has a blacksmith shop. It has a forge, anvils, and a selection of hammers similar to the shops mentioned above. And while there are no scheduled demonstrations of blacksmithing methods, the shop does have a selection of items for sale.
The main goal at Homestead Iron isn’t to keep history alive. It’s simply to make good tools.
Garden tools, that is. Cultivators. Rakes. Hoes. Weeding forks. Trowels.
Homestead Iron is owned by Will and Melissa Dobkins. Melissa handles the office and administration duties of the business. Will is a fourth-generation blacksmith who either performs or oversees the tool production work.
Like many businesses, Homestead Iron was born out of frustration. The Dobkins had a garden and had a hard time finding tools that didn’t break easily.
“It’s difficult to find new, high quality garden tools now. We discovered some older tools at a junk store, put new handles on them, and realized how much better they were than what the stores were selling. I copied some of those designs and made some new tools for our use, then I made some for the neighbors. The business kinda grew from there. And now the irony is we’re so busy making garden tools that we’re too busy to garden.”
While Dobkins wants his tools to have the same quality of their 50-year-old counterparts, he isn’t hesitant to use modern-day technology to achieve that goal.
At one end of his shop is a brand new, computer-controlled plasma cutter. Once programmed, it can run on its own, cutting dozens of flat trowel blades out of a large sheet of steel.
From there, Dobkins returns to time-tested, one-part-at-a-time blacksmithing processes using equipment like his 100-year old manual “fly press” or his 440-pound anvil that first saw duty in a German Shipyard.
To finish a trowel, Will first welds handle shanks onto the blade. He then heats the metal up until he’s able to use a hammer and vise to shape the tang and the blade. Once the piece is cool again, Will sharpens the blade edge using an electric grinder. The end result is then heat-treated for strength and durability.
Knife-sharp edges are one of the ways Homestead Iron tools are different than what you might find at the big-box retailers.
Dobkins says: “So much of what you find any more doesn’t have an edge on it at all. Having that sharp edge makes any gardening work much easier.”
Will is confident enough in his finished products to offer a lifetime guarantee on them.
Locally, you can purchase tools by visiting the Homestead Iron store at 1571 County Rd. 955, Squires, MO 65755.
Tool availability varies, so it’s a good idea to contact Homestead Iron first to make sure they have what you need in stock. You can call them at 417-543-9182 or email them at [email protected]
Homestead Iron garden tools are also available for purchase online at the Dobkin’s website: https://homesteadiron.com.