Published: 06 June 2012
Bulldog Tools - A Factory Tour
Join us on a tour of heritage brand, Bulldog Tools, to see how their products are forged.

I was driving north on the M5 through torrential rain and heavy winds wondering what effect this adverse weather would have on gardens, and us gardeners. This led me to think that we not only need physical strength to carry out any garden work but also emotional strength to keep going when the conditions are bad. My thoughts then went on to the sorts of equipment and tools we actually need and that all linked up to why I was heading towards Wigan in Lancashire in the first place. 

 

Red hot steel is placed into the press.
I had an appointment to meet Fred Foot at Clarington Forge, manufacturing home to the famous Bulldog range of tools. Since 1780 this British company have been hand forging an amazing variety of tools for use on the land. Their diverse range varies from heavy duty spades for lifting trees, scythes for cutting meadows, forks to aerate the lawn and hand trowels for planting up containers.
 
 
Bulldog has an impeccable reputation for producing high quality tools that have been sent to many corners of the world, no doubt playing a lead part in helping the British Empire ‘grow’ and the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaigns in times of need.
 
Fred Foot, the marketing manager, showed me a copy of an old catalogue dated 1940. The pages revealed hundreds of tools, many looking the same as the next but with a slight variation designed for a specific use. Many had regional names relevant to where the style of tool originated from including cutting hooks catalogued as Irish, Yorkshire, Hereford and Anglesey.  These wonderful tools highlight the skills of past and present forge workers and the great customer service of Bulldog Tools to satisfy demand. 
 

Five Hundered Tonne Press

 
Steel blanks being molded into tools.
A visit to a working forge is a fascinating experience, in many ways it is like stepping back in time where men are surrounded by the noise and heat generated from the huge presses and furnaces.
 
Whatever the visual appearance, the skill required to turn a sheet of red hot steel into a batch of rough blanks with a five hundred tonne press should not be underestimated. These glowing blanks are then picked up with long handled tongs and taken to the other machines to be pressed, rolled, shaped and trimmed.
 
Watching the teams moving from machine to machine carrying red hot pieces of steel in a well-choreographed routine is a great sight. The skill and concentration required to carry this out is essential as the red hot steel must be worked before it cools and hardens.
 
The Clarington Forge craftsmen take the raw materials of steel and wood and transform them into the different ranges of garden tools we see for sale in garden centres and retail stores. They also make heavy duty tools for use in the construction industry, commercial horticulture and agriculture. I was certainly impressed with the batch of very strong heavyweight forks, with plenty of additional bracing, destined for use in the plantations of Jamaica.
 
 
 
The Bulldog range of tools is well known throughout the world and a recent mention in the Wall Street Journal triggered a demand for a very specific type of garden fork. This was satisfied by Bulldog manufacturing a batch of the required model for immediate dispatch. “Having a highly skilled workforce and making the complete units at the Clarington Forge we can respond quickly to such requests” says Fred Foot.
 

Choosing carefully

 

The finished product.
There is no doubt that using quality tools in our own gardens is not only a joy but also more efficient. By choosing the correct size and weight of tool for the task we hopefully reduce the risk of fatigue or injury to ourselves. A classic example is to find the correct length of handle on a digging spade or fork, if too short the result will no doubt be an aching back after a short period of time. Bulldog have created a new range of long handled tools called the ‘Bulldog West Country Collection’ which will be of particular interest to those who have difficulty bending and need to take extra care of their backs when working. 
 
When choosing new garden tools take a good look at what is available, if you can handle different types before you buy you are more likely to end up with tools that really do suit you. Within the Bulldog ranges there are many to choose from. Take a look at their website or next time you are out and about have a look at their displays in the garden centre or retail store
 
 As I drove out of Wigan the weather had calmed down. I could not help thinking that if the changing climate means we have to reduce our carbon footprints even more, then investing in good garden tools that will last a long time before they require replacing must be another step in the right direction.
 
The Gardening Times.com team are working with Bulldog Tools to track down some historical details relating to their range of tools and where they were used, we may be calling on readers for your help with this in future editions – watch this space!
 
A range of Bulldog Tools are being used at our Blackwood garden and we will let you know how they do.  Watch out for them in our catalogue of ‘How to’ videos.
Reported by Chris Allen  
   
 

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