GRAFA Tools’ copper artisan gardening tools are much more than just a pretty face. Founder Travis discovered the many benefits of using copper in gardening and agriculture when he stumbled across the Austrian naturalist movement and their research into copper and soils.
Always a keen gardener, Travis started experimenting with copper and created the ‘tube trowel‘ out of an old copper pipe. He now uses all recycled copper, as well as staying sustainable and environmentally friendly when sourcing all other products.
We were intrigued by his beautiful, yet ethical designs so set on our way (virtually) to Australia to find out more about Travis and his ethos.
What first inspired you to create GRAFA?
I (Travis) was living on the Sunshine coast at the time (I’m originally from Queensland), and my cousin and I shared an interest in organics and biodynamics so we started mucking around with some ideas. He worked as a roof plumber and we started playing with the idea of using re-cycled copper tube to make garden tools.
My background is in the engineering and power industry, I am a mechanical fitter and turner by trade, which means I make or work with tooling and mechanical processes.
How does the use of copper tools benefit soils in agriculture?
I started reading about the beneficial properties of copper in the garden through the Austrian naturalist movement, which proved the benefits of using copper tools in agriculture.
I was already aware that copper doesn’t rust but the research suggests there is less friction (heat) and it assists with moisture retention and nutrient uptake.
1/ it doesn’t rust, unlike iron, so the absence of rust in the garden is better for the soil (and therefore indirectly promotes growth and nutrition uptake).
2/ copper is also an important component in the soil so there is some suggestion that trace elements in the soil are beneficial.
3/ iron (when worked in the soil) has a small electrical discharge when can destroy beneficial bacteria, which copper doesn’t do.
4/ copper has a lower co-efficient of friction than iron / stainless steel etc which produce more heat. Cooler conditions are said to promote growth.
5/ actual copper pieces in the garden ward off snails and slugs.
How did your love of gardening begin?
I’ve always been interested in the natural sciences and wanted to pursue something outside my trade. I did a Permaculture Certificate with Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton in Melbourne a few years ago now and became quite interested in food production. I also did some woofing on the Sunshine Coast for a small self sufficient farm.
Harriet comes from a long line of gardeners and has become a keen gardener herself. Coming from a design background, she is as much interested in the aesthetics of gardening as much as the pragmatics.
Your use of materials is considered right down to the minimalist packaging – can you tell us about where you source them?
Copper just looks so beautiful and it feels so great to use in the garden. Copper is also infinitely recyclable, up to 50% of new copper today contains previously used copper. It is great to work with and the tools are much tougher than you’d think. We also use bronze (mainly copper) tool heads for the timber handled range for extra toughness. I source the bronze from various non-ferrous metal suppliers and the recycled copper from various metal recyclers around town, I have my fingers in a few pies. We source the spotted gum from suppliers in Queensland and New South Wales, the timber comes from sustainably managed forests. We use this timber because it has similar properties to hickory which is the timber of choice for tools, it’s both durable and is less likely to splinter.
I am very interested in using both available and economical materials, I approached a box manufacturer and worked out the most efficient way of protecting the tools from handling in the post without too much waste. We also wanted a simple yet attractive design, we were pretty happy with the result.
How would you describe your creative process?
I am quite heavily influenced by mid century as well as early industrial age design. I study bridges and architecture a lot, so get quite a few ideas from their construction. I look at lots of early prototypes of machines online. I’m quite keen on alternative thinking when it comes to the natural sciences and get quite obsessed with various inventions. The tools really evolved from a few different prototypes, many were made from single tube copper but the timber handled range came a few years later.
Most of what we do is in house (or in the workshop in Sunshine). The only thing we out-source is the cutting of the bronze tool heads but all the tooling is done by me (and occasionally my Dad when we are really busy). All the finishing & timber handles are mainly done by Harriet at the moment but we share the load depending on who is busy with other contract/freelance/admin work at the time.
What do you enjoy most about working with your hands?
I have always been attracted to working with my hands, I am interested in mechanical processes so working with my hands is both relaxing and creative.
With regards to the interview, we were hoping Travis could give us a bit more of a run down on how he actually makes the tools?
I usually start the cycle of making by creating anywhere between 200-300 handles at a time, I then put together the different styles of tool heads in batches.
The preparation for each style of tool includes the cutting, and then shaping the material with either a hammer or a press. Then finishing the materials to smooth the edges, removing any dags and burrs. Then a consistent surface finish needs to be achieved, before riveting pieces together, stamping a logo on each tool and attaching the handle.
The preparation of the handles consists of cutting, machining, sanding and coating the handles.
In the case of the all copper tools, they are made from hard drawn copper tube, recycled where possible and cold worked by hand.
What is your workspace like?
My workspace is a large square area in the middle of a shared workshop in Sunshine, there are about 10 artists/designers/makers including a foundry. My space has a skylight and very high ceilings with ply and form ply walls and a concrete floor. It has a good amount of natural light and is cool in both summer and winter. Having the central workspace and workbenches around the walls means I have ample space for all my tooling, storage as well as experimental/thinking space.