Digging is such a simple operation that the very simplest tools will do an adequate job. A basic arsenal for a gardener might include a trowel, a medium-pointed shovel, a hoe, and a garden rake.
As you spend more time gardening, however, you will find that more specialized tools make working in the garden more pleasurable. To supplement your medium-pointed shovel, for example, you might add a spade for cutting soil, a square-pointed shovel for scooping loose material off a hard surface, a garden fork for turning over soil, and a scoop shovel for moving lightweight materials quickly.
Begin with a basic set of tools, then add to them as you feel the need.
Selecting Good Tools
The quality of steel used in tools for digging, raking, and weeding has much to do with the tool’s durability. Although tools are not normally stamped with the type of steel used, the following information will help you spot good steel as well as other construction features common to tools in this category:
Stainless steel is the top of the line and therefore very expensive. Its advantages are indisputable: It is very hard and virtually rust-proof, and soil will not readily stick to it.
Carbon manganese steel is used to make some of the better gardening tools in this country. Others are imported from England, which has a long history of producing high-quality gardening tools. Ask a salesperson to locate some catalogs so that you can read a detailed description of how the tools are made. Read over the comments of several firms, and compare.
Check to see how the handle is attached to the working end of the tool. On most shovels, the back of the socket does not fully enclose the handle. This “open socket” construction is of cheaper quality than the “closed socket”, which is either seamless or welded closed down the back.
Rakes and hoes usually are attached to a handle by means of the “tang-and-ferrule” system. The head ends in a long protrusion (tang) instead of a socket. This tang is fitted into a hole in the end of the handle. The handle end then is wrapped with a piece of light metal (the ferrule), which is held in place by a pin or rivet. The tang can become loose, either through use or because the handle cracks or rots near its end. This loosening then causes the head of the tool to loosen. On better tools, the head and socket are made from a single piece of steel, and the handle is fitted into the socket.
Inspect the wooden handle. It should be made from straight-grained ash or hickory, and it should be smooth and free of any knots or blemishes. For maximum strength, the grain in the handle should run in the same direction as the direction of the force or pressure that’s exerted on the tool during use. The handle should fit tightly and evenly into the socket or ferrule. If the head wiggles or if any of the workmanship looks careless, the tool will not last, even under normal use.
Try Before You Buy
Tools such as shovels, rakes, picks, and hoes vary in terms of weight and balance. If you already have one or more of these tools, you probably already know each one’s particular weight and balance and feel quite comfortable with it. A different tool might feel strange and uncomfortable in your hands. So if it’s time to replace an old, comfortable tool, try to find one of the same make and size as the original.
If you are about to buy a tool for the very first time, start out by renting one or borrowing a neighbor’s. Try several different sizes and lengths until you find one that feels right to you, then buy one like it.
A certain tool may come in many different sizes and lengths. Evaluate each tool’s features in terms of your own needs before you buy. And be realistic about your strength. A tool that is too heavy will make gardening a burdensome chore rather than the pleasure it might otherwise be.