Crowbars

The long crowbar is a specialty tool that is indispensable for prying out something heavy. The most versatile (therefore handiest) bar is 3/4 inch in diameter, 5 feet in length, and about 18 pounds in weight. One end is pointed; the other end is often flattened to resemble a chisel blade. (A carpenter’s pry bar or wrecking bar is also called a crowbar. It is too light for digging, and is not a garden tool.)

The big crowbar was originally used by railroad men to move freight cars a few inches for coupling or uncoupling. Today, it is still used primarily for prying: You can remove large rocks buried deep in the ground by first digging out the soil from around them and then jamming the chisel end of the crowbar under the rock. To increase your leverage, use another, smaller rock or a short length of 4 by 4 wood as a fulcrum. The crowbar is also very useful for digging postholes in hard or rocky ground. Use either end to break hard-clay soil or rocks at the bottom of the hole; then lift out the debris with a clamshell posthole digger or a straight shovel.

The crowbar plus a fulcrum will lift out heavy, large-rootballed trees that must be removed for transplanting. The crowbar can also be used to punch holes in the ground for planting bean poles and for taking the temperature of a compost pile. To do the latter, plunge the bar into the center of the compost heap for about five minutes. Then grasp the end with one hand and remove it. The compost heap is the right temperature (about 140 degrees) when the bar is not too hot to touch but it is too hot to hold onto for more than a second.

Crowbars normally are made from high-carbon steel, which gives them great strength. This is one tool that is difficult to mistreat. You can pull on it with all your might without bending it. The tips rarely need any sharpening. If you do touch them up, use a coarse file. Never make them actually sharp or else they will bend if they strike rocks.