Meet the Blacksmiths Who Transform Guns into Garden Tools

It takes 2,000 degrees of heat—and dozens of volunteers

Bishop Curry holding tools crafted from gun partsPhotograph by Joe Buglewicz
Bishop Curry holding tools crafted from gun parts

The Right Rev. Jim Curry lights the furnace of his portable blacksmith’s shop in the parking lot of Christ Episcopal Church in Guilford, Connecticut. The furnace glows orange and lets off a low roar. It’ll get up to 2,000 degrees, hot enough to soften the metal of a tray of disassembled shotgun parts so they can be hammered against an anvil and remolded.

A crowd is watching, and Curry picks out a 9-year-old named Oliver to help him.

“This is really magic,” Curry says. “Right before your very eyes, you’re gonna see Oliver transform this gun, this instrument of potential harm, into something that could never be a gun ever again. It’s gonna be a trowel.”

Curry lines a sawed-off portion of a shotgun barrel against the anvil and hands Oliver the hammer. Oliver swings cautiously at first, flakes of red-hot metal falling around his feet. The metal shotgun barrel starts to bend. He reshapes it into a trowel you could use to plant flowers in a garden.

“It was exciting,” Oliver says. “I love the fact that you can take metal that’s random and shape it into something useful.”

Curry, a retired Episcopal bishop, is a co-founder of Swords to Plowshares Northeast, the organization putting on this event, which helps police departments manage their gun buyback programs and repurpose the weapons into gardening tools. Those doing the repurposing are often prisoners, volunteer blacksmiths or, as on this summer day last year, eager participants plucked out of the crowd. The finished tools are donated to community gardens and agricultural high schools, and the harvested vegetables donated to soup kitchens and homeless shelters, according to the group’s website.

"People need to know that we can change. There is hope."

Curry says he was inspired by a Mennonite group in Colorado that reforged guns into garden tools. The phrase “swords to plowshares” has a biblical ­origin.

“It comes from the prophet Isaiah, who was talking about a terribly troubled, violent, uncertain society,” he says. “And what he said is they’ll beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not raise up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” A wonderful sentiment, considering that in 2021 almost 49,000 Americans were killed by guns.

Retired Episcopal priest Mary Ann Osborne first volunteered with Swords to Plowshares when a family member fell victim to gun violence. She helps collect guns through police buybacks.

“You see the guns lying there—­­AR-­15s, handguns, antique guns­—and then you see them get broken down,” she says. “And then you see people here go to the anvil and hammer them, and then you see people digging their gardens and something grows. You actually see the transformation.”

She says the hammer, anvil and forge are powerful symbols that the epidemic of gun violence can be reshaped into something positive and peaceful. “When there’s such despair now in our country, people need to know that we can change. There is hope,” she says.

Curry wears a constant reminder of that hope around his neck. It’s two large pieces of metal molded into the shape of a cross. When Mozambique’s civil war ended in the 1990s, artists gathered guns used in the war and found ways to repurpose them into works of art, like this cross.

“It’s made out of pieces of an AK-47, the piston that creates the automatic action and the sights” used for killing, he says. “But God takes that element and then God’s love breaks it apart, reshapes it, then transforms it into the sign of greatest hope—the cross. And that’s why I wear it.”

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest