What low-impacters are up to around the country: Meadow Forge

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Posted Aug 14 2014 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org

Nestled in, part way down the side of a beautiful valley in Devon, is probably the most interesting, bonkers, chaotic and inspiring workshop I’ve ever been in. Housed inside what was once an open cow shed, this is where long-standing network member, Dean Aggett, designs and produces such things of practical use and beauty as his fabulous mini-but-mighty DK rocket stove. On the day I visited just one of the other extraordinary things I got to examine and admire up close was Dean’s newly-completed 180-layer Japanese knife – this is made up of alternate layers of soft & hard steel sandwiched together (not the technical term!) in order to ensure it is very sharp but not brittle.

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Dean’s workshop is packed to the rafters, quite literally, with materials and ‘useful things’ awaiting just the right project to repurpose them into something useful but artfully simple – if anything, I would say that simplicity of both function and form are key elements of Dean’s approach to his creations, and I dare say, to life. There is also a pretty mischievous side to Dean, in common with many of us – changing an agricultural shed into a working forge has been a gradual, modular process, with various shed walls and pieces of equipment going into place as time, materials and purpose have come together over the years. One thing Dean has been very careful to do is to make all his changes within the existing planning and business rules – in fact, he definitely delights in being so well-versed in current planning rules and procedures that the local planning office has learnt to tread carefully with his enterprise, having in the past fallen short on their own knowledge of the actual law.

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My leisurely, detailed, fascinating tour of the workshop revealed project after project turning metal, physics, engineering and a Heath Robinson mindset into useful equipment for sustainable and self-reliant purposes. There’s the forge, of course, where Dean makes all the stock in trade of a jobbing blacksmith as well as more decorative pieces; there’s the raw materials and welding kit for his deceptively-punchy rocket stoves; and then there’s the wood-gas generator made from an old gas bottle or two. There are one or two other projects partway through the head-scratching trial phases, and in amongst all of this, looking perfectly at home in this unique creation-fest, are the most enormous scrap-part sculptures, taking their place in the great scheme of this glorious adventure.

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Full of filtered stream water & choccie biccies I said my farewells much later in the day than I’d intended, (and only because I really had to be somewhere else before dark), full of optimism about the ingenuity, and, crucially, the generosity and open-source-mindedness of all the people we link with through Lowimpact.org. Oh, and with the folding DK Rocket Stove firmly at the top of my ‘life on the road wishlist’ – I’ll be back for one soon, Dean!

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I came away from my visit to Dean and Meadow Forge buzzing with the energy he and his partner bring to their daily lives and ‘crazy’ (brilliant, practical, vital) ideas, and much more inspired by how possible it is to just ‘make things’. Something that really struck me was how much more important it is to re-purpose items or revert them back to their original materials than ‘recycling’ them – did you know, for example, that were it legal to have your own distillery it is perfectly possible to revert plastics, including plastic bags, back into gas that will clean-burn in the right design and diesel, recovering virtually the same weight in diesel as the original plastics? OK, I may have mis-remembered or over-simplified that through my own ignorance, but the principle of reverting plastics to diesel, is a lot more attractive to me than mountains of unused sludge-grey recycled plastic kerbstones and public benches.

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I also want to say hooray for Lowimpact.org network members for being the sort of people to wonder, experiment, learn and teach such things for us all to gain from.  As my first trip to launch  ‘LILI visits’ I couldn’t have had a better time, learnt more or been made to feel more welcome. Hopefully as time goes on my writing & photography skills will evolve to do justice to the people and projects we are so lucky to have been connected with over the years, and the many new members that are joining us each month. The vast array of solutions people around us are practicing, refining and teaching others is amazing – I hope you’ll follow along as I do my best to convey their skills, their passion and their humour!