Good tools are half the work!
This old proverb teaches us that having the right gardening tools and knowing how to use them definitely helps when creating and maintaining a garden. So what are the essential gardening tools that every gardener should have in their shed, what are good tools, and what should you look for when buying and maintaining your gardening tools?
A spade should be high on your garden kit list. Even if you don’t move and turn the earth in your garden, it can be useful for planting or moving shrubs, digging beds in winter, and so on. The best spades have a blade made from high-quality steel that is heated to roughly 1,000°C during the production process, after which it is dipped into a cooling bath. This increases the carbon content of the steel, modifying its internal crystal grid structure. The steel’s hardness is increased, making it more wear-resistant. At Polet, we harden our tools until it is the same as that of a stone or concrete chisel, ensuring that the edge of the blade stays sharp longer. The blades of top-quality spades and hoes (Polet Traditional) is always hand-forged first, to ensure that it is thicker at the top, with a thinner and sharper edge. This creates a self-sharpening edge. There are different types of spades with different uses. The rule of thumb for a garden spade is that you use a broad, short spade for light, sandy soil whereas a long, narrow spade is more suited to heavy soil. The shaft is equally important. Ash is the best option. The long, parallel grain of this wood is ideally suited for sturdy, light, and flexible shafts. Depending on the region, the handle can have a T handle, D handle, or rounded handle.
A shovel is made to move loose material, such as soil, sand, or gravel. Choose a shovel depending on the material that you will be moving and the intended use. Polet’s shovels are made from high-quality alloy steel. During the production process, the shovel blades are heated in the furnace, after which they are shaped. This removes any residual stresses in the steel and avoids tearing. The blade is then hardened. The blade is heated to roughly 1,000°C (like with spades) and then dipped into a cooling, galvanising bath. The blade of a quality shovel, like Polet’s, is also hardened to the top of the socket, preventing the blade from bending or warping. This extends the shovel’s service life.
Garden hoes are indispensable because they skim underneath the surface of the soil. Obviously, they are great for clearing weedy soil. During the summer months, you can also hoe the soil to reduce evaporation loss. Hoeing the soil also reduces the need for watering the garden. Draw hoes are used with a drawing action, scuffle hoes with a pulling action. Here, too, the quality of the steel and the finish make all the difference. A smooth surface and a sharp edge will make the job much easier. The blade should preferably be 14 or 16 cm wide. The shaft should be 150 to 160 cm long to work ergonomically and prevent back strain. Small vegetable patch hoes with a short shaft, with a rake trident at the other end, are also handy for precision work in seedbeds.
A digging fork has 4 flat tines and is a great alternative to a spade. It is especially useful for loosening the soil without turning it over in ecological gardening. But you can also work between flowers and plants without damaging their roots. When used in heavy soil, it will break up clods of dirt easier. A manure fork is a good choice for turning over all kinds of waste, manure, or compost. Hardened tines and an ash shaft are a must for forks.
Rakes come in all shapes and sizes. A large garden rake, which is roughly 50 cm wide with 10 long tines, is especially useful for levelling the soil or breaking it up. Use the back of the rake for this. A ground rake has 10 to 12 tines and can be used for raking seedbeds or in between plants.
If you regularly use a cultivator in between plants in spring, the soil is aerated. This also shears off weeds so they wilt. A cultivator usually has 3 to 5 slightly flattened tines. You can also get a cultivator with a short shaft for use in seedbeds.
Good tools need maintenance.
Moisture in soil can lead to rust. That is why it’s vital that you clean your tools with a rag or a steel brush after use and store them in a dry place. Before winter hits, you should take some time to give your tools some love and care. Perhaps the edges need sharpening. You can use a soft file or a whetstone for this. An angled grinder with a sanding disc works even better. Make sure not to heat the edge, because this will reduce the steel’s hardness. You can grease your tools with oil, or spray them with a silicone spray.
A practical tip: fill a large bucket or container with a mixture of sand and biodegradable (chain) oil. After each use, you should dip your tools in it a few times. This cleans the dirt off the tools and greases them.
Don’t forget the shaft of your tools. Treat the shaft with some linseed oil, rubbed in with a rag, a few times a year. This protects the wood and the shaft will feel softer as a result.
Finally, here are a few tips that you should take into account when buying garden tools:
- Buy hardened steel tools with a sharp edge.
- Make sure the shaft is attached firmly.
- Choose ash shafts with a long, parallel grain, that have been nicely sanded.
- FSC-label shafts are sourced from ecological forestry, making them more environment-friendly.
- The shaft must be sufficiently long to work ergonomically.
- Hold the tool. Check whether it feels right and whether the tool and the shaft are suited to your height.
- Cheap can become expensive. Unless you have a small garden, it always pays to invest in decent garden tools.
Used and maintained the right way, they will last a lifetime.