Anne and I visited the DeWit factory on our visit to the Netherlands this past January and what a time we had. If you can imagine a tool geek such as myself at a place where not only these fine tools are made, but also the generations of blacksmithing knowledge in one place…I was most certainly “a kid in a candy store”!
We got the grand tour seeing all that goes into the making of the DeWit garden tools and it is something else. There were many blacksmiths hand shaping red hot steel on huge hammers, laser machines cutting out parts and engraving Ash handles, robots sharpening a welding, people hand sanding handles, dipping tools in lacquer and hand packing each and every tool. At each area, there were very nice craftsmen with an eye for outstanding quality and detail. It really was something…outstanding!
Just touring the DeWit factory would have been enough, but on the second day at the factory we sat down for some coffee and I told them that we needed a super strong garden fork, a fork that would stand up to some of the really tough soils in the the United States…the wheels started turning. Sietse de Wit, brother Derk de Wit and cousin Derk-Klaas de Wit all started asking questions. Within a few minutes, we were at Derk-Klaas’ computer designing a new garden fork.
After we had finalized the shape of the new fork head, it was off to the laser to be cut out, sockets welded on and a handle installed…a finished fork. Well not yet. It was time to put it through some tests…tests that it would never see in a garden. Sietse wedged the tines between two machines trying to bend it and found a weak point at the socket…it wasn’t good enough yet.
It was then that Anne and I saw the most amazing thing. All three de Wit’s plus uncle Klaas de Wit and Roel van der Vaart huddled around this new fork. Anne and I couldn’t understand a word they were saying because they were speaking Dutch, but here was hundreds of years of blacksmithing experience between these men, all with input on how to make it better.
Out of that conversation came a steel “T” handle, and a new connection point for larger welds and one “badass” garden fork.
We took the fork outside the factory to give it a try in the soil. I say soil, but it was actually a dirt parking area that was harder than any Texas soil, full of rocks and so hard I could not push it into the soil. So Derk-Klaas got a small sledge hammer and proceeded to hammer it into the ground…that’s hard. After the tines were sunk into the “soil”, both Anne and I put all our weight into trying to bend this fork and could not begin to bend it…now that’s strong!
That night, Sietse and Derk-Klaas took us to dinner in Groningen and a name for the fork came up. After many suggestions (and no “likes”), Sietse came up with the Dutch word “Boeren”, which means “Farmers”…perfect, I mean, who knows hard work better than a farmer and a farmer knows the value of a good tool that will last a lifetime.