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There are a lot of new gardeners out there. My husband and I choose to grow three different gardens this year so that we would have better access to fresh and safe foods during these uncertain times. Also even during good times, the cost of salad greens and how quickly they went bad made it seem like a good choice.
When Matt and I were first starting out on the mountain, clearing property, we had very few tools. Some were given to us while we bought others. I can tell you that we went through a set of post hole diggers every year or two while getting this place the way it is today. That ended when we finally bought a power auger.
There are a lot of cheap tools out there that can lead to frustration and cost you more in the long run because you have to rebuy them more often and they can make it far less enjoyable to do what you need to do. Cheap tools can even lead to injury if they fail at key times.
That being said, there is the occasional cheap tool that will surprise you. We still have a $5 garden hoe we bought at a discount store 10 years ago or more. It seems like those types of treasures are harder to come by.
I am going to list some of the garden tools that you might want to consider. If you have just a few raised beds, then shorter hand tools may be all that you really need, I have been sure to include some of those as well.
- Garden Hoe
- Round or Spade Shovel
- Cultivator Rake
- Hand Trowel
- Specialty Hoes
- Garden Rake
- Kitchen shears for harvesting and fine trimming.
- Pitchfork (You can definitely garden without one but they can be handy at times.)
The tools in this category are those that may be helpful in some cases but are not really “must haves”.
- Leaf blower for removing leaves certain times of year and from any garden patio areas. You can blow leaves into a pile and compost. The alternative is to till them under.
- Hedge shear or hedge trimmers. These are great if you have a lot of growth to cut back from fence lines or if you have some hedges or hedgerows in your garden
- Garden cart for a mower. A wheelbarrow is great but a cart can sure ease the workload if you have a way to pull it. An ATV or UTV can also pull a cart.
When we started gardening this year, we realized just how worn out some of our tools were. After over a decade of use, they were showing signs that now might be a good time to start thinking about replacements. We are really hard on tools. There is no telling how many bags of concrete got mixed using some fo our garden hoes.
I have been making an effort to avoid inferior tools and those that are at the bottom of the price range. Considering that imported merchandise may not be available as much and the limited capacity of some factories due to the pandemic, I feel it is wise to buy tools that are really going to hold up well.
Tools Made In the USA
All the companies linked in this section manufacture their tools in the USA. I know it can be hard to find some things that are made in the USA but I am making an effort to highlight companies when I find them.
Recently I have just ordered directly from Bully Tools. All of their lawn and garden tools are made in the USA and feature a lifetime warranty. The cost is far less than you might think and I can attest to the fact that they are hefty but not too heavy to be comfortable to use for extended periods of time.
This is a small Oregon company that makes all their tools using old fashioned blacksmith techniques and American Hickory handles. They have an amazing variety of tools from small hand tools to larger garden implements. You can even contact them and have a tool custom made at a very fair price.
If you want quality Amish made farm tools, then Lehman’s is where to shop. They also have a ton of other useful products for off-grid living and homesteading. I used to love looking at their print catalogs and dreaming about spending a ton on old fashioned items for my future house.
This company makes small hand tools for gardeners. If you want some small tools for raised beds or edible landscaping around your house, their unique tools may be just the ticket.
These little tillers are still made right in Pennsylvania. They offer a lot of power for their size and are more practical for the average home gardener. They do have a Honda engine so some of that may not be made in the USA but I consider a Honda engine a real plus considering how long they last.
Fiberglass vs Wood Handles
I love how wood looks and sometimes the feel of it in the hand but over the years I have realized that a good fiberglass handle will last a lot longer and take more abuse.
Tools with wood handles eventually have a handle breakage if used a lot and then you have to go through the trouble of replacing handles. I have seen wood handles last for a very long time but that was not with daily use.
While that doesn’t sound too awful, the fact is that a replacement wood handle is not cheap so a lot of people just wind up getting a whole new tool.
I used to repair a lot of wood splitting mails while on the Natural Resources Crew at Warren Wilson College and I can tell you that it takes a few tools, strength, and time. Some people really prefer wood though. It may be worth it to you.
This can vary a bit. Some people may be more comfortable with a longer handle. Just be careful when buying tools so that you don’t get a length that is not ok.
Head weight and tool width matter.
When I was buying a new mattock I saw that there are two options for head size. There is a 2.5 lb version and a 5 lb. We have always just had the 5 lb. You may wonder why have a heavier end and the answer to that is that a heavier head allows for more impact when striking the ground. Sure a 2.5 lb head is easier to swing but it will not get as much done generally speaking. A 2.5 lb size would be good for light jobs but if I am just going to have a single mattock or splitting maul for firewood then give me the 5 lb version any day.
Some tools may come in different widths as well. For example, a trenching shovel from Bully Tools comes in three different widths; 3″, 4″, and 5″ with varying costs. Garden hoes also come in different widths although many companies usually stick to a pretty standard 5 inches or so. Wider hoes cost more but can help you get more weeding done with each stroke. Of course they weight more and take more force to use.
Maintaining Your Tools
Store your tools in a dry and protected space. While it is not the end of the world if you forget a tool outside in the rain, it is a habit that is best to avoid. Wood handles can be treated with linseed oil or mineral oil to prevent splits and cracks and protect against water.
Most tools are made from metal that will rust if left in a moist environment. You can clean rust off with a rag and oil. Even the bar oil for a chainsaw works well for this. Oiling will also help prevent rust and it is a good idea if you plan on storing tools for the long term,
Some tools are quite sharp. If you need to dull the edge for storage then you can make a blade guard out of cardboard and duct tape or pay for a plastic version.
Here are a few garden tools I found that are currently available and appear to be of decent quality.
This is the hoe we use for our garden. We bought two of them and recently used them to hoe all our corn and sorghum. This hoe is comfortable to use and has a 56″ handle for a great reach. The handle is smooth but still offers a good grip without rubbing your hands the wrong way. I hoed for a few hours and didn’t see any major abrasion spots on my hands. I have a lot of callouses but some tools still give me blisters if it comes into contact with a part of my hand I haven’t used a lot recently.
Amazingly enough this is a tool that is harder to find than I expected since it is so basic. I am a little picky about cultivators after purchasing several at Lowes years ago. They bent and failed pretty fast. I think they lasted maybe a year. I am going to link out to several that are worth ordering and currently available. These are really nice to have for light weeding and aeration in your garden or raised beds.
Bully Tools Shovel
Everyone needs a spade style shovel for around the yard or garden. It pays to get a good one because they need to take a lot of abuse. I have broken a few or bent them by expecting too much out of the cheaply made ones.
The Bully Tools shovel is made of 14g steel for strength and durability. If you will notice, the metal goes a considerable distance up the handle. This is a very important feature because it adds a lot of strength. It would be pretty hard to bend this shovel. I bet you could run it over and it would still be usable.
Hand Hoe and Cultivator
We bought a few of these for working in the raised beds of our kitchen garden where larger weeding tools are not the best to use. I picked this one out because it is forged from a single piece of metal and it has a nice handle that looks like it will be comfortable to use.
You may want a mattock if you feel that you might need to bust up some sod occasionally. Matt and I have used mattocks way more than we care to remember at times. From digging water and septic lines to widening roads and cleaning ditches, the mattock has been the handtool we used. Some styles have a pick on the end rather than the ax style cutter.
The pick style is good for busting up or prying out rocks while the cutter style is better for spots where roots and thick vines are an issue. I recommend the cutter for most gardening unless you have particularly rocky topsoil.
Hand pruners and maybe long-handled pruners depending on what you are growing.
A set of small handheld pruners is a most. Long handle pruners are useful if you are growing some fruits or need to keep some things pruned away from your garden. Good pruners are not cheap. The pruners we use for grape vines cost around $30 and are worth every penny. There are a lot of sets under $15. Pruners are not worth skimping on.
These may not look like much of a pruner but they are a real workhorse. This is what many of the vineyards in the area use to prune thousands of vines. They are made to last for a very long time. ARS is a Japanese tool company that has been in business for over 150 years. The only people they may find these hard to use are those with exceptionally large hands.
Long Handle Pruners
I just realized that these can come in a version that has extendable handles. That may be handy for some applications however I am always leary of things that add more complications and parts to break. I suppose if the extender stopped working you could just glue the handle in place and they would still be usable.
Tabor’s Bypass Lopper is made in a classic style. These will cut through branches up to 1 3/4″ thick using double action. The handles are fiberglass with comfortable ergonomic grips on the bottom. The 30″ handle length offers a long reach without being awkward to use.
Add tools as you need them
Matt and I just added tools as we discovered a need for them on our property. Starting out with the basics I outlined for gardening will put you well on your way towards a nice little gardening set up. Over time you may need to add a few small things here and there. You might discover that a different type of hoe or a trenching shovel would be handy for example.
Electric and Gas Powered Garden Tools
I have no experience at all with electric tillers and neither does Matthew. Like a lot of electric versions of typically gas-powered machines, I would be willing to bet that they are underpowered. For a few little raised beds maybe they would be alright but I would just go with a small Mantis tiller rather than an electric one.
Bigger tillers cost more and they are a bit more tiring to use. At the same time, it can be very frustrating to use a tiller that is too small for the job at hand. We borrowed a tiller the first few times we needed one. You might want to do the same thing and try one out before you buy one. The width of the tiller makes a big difference. Smaller widths can be handy because you can till between rows in your garden more easily.
Tools are becoming harder to find.
I know I mention Bully Tools a lot in articles but at least part of that is due to just sheer availability. Some of the major online retailers are not carrying as many tools as they once did. Shipping times can be terrible for some items. I got my Bully Tools order really fast and it made me kick myself for not ordering their cultivator rakes directly from them. I just didn’t see them on their site at the time.
I ordered from Zoro.com and discovered that it is hard to cancel an order from them and it is frustrating because at this point. Watch out for places with terrible shipping times. More and more companies seem to be selling items that they are not even sure they have any ability to get.
If you use your hand tools a lot or you are considering buying some, I advise doing it now due to the availability issue. So many people have started gardening or doing projects at home that it seems like it is hard to find some tools and it is getting worse.
The lead time is really long on some as well. Take a look at your tools and see what is cracking, worn, etc. I know I talked about how handle replacement can be a hassle but if tools are starting to be more expensive or harder to find, then replacing handles may be the way to go despite the work involved.
What are your favorite tools for the garden? Any brands that you think are great that I did not mention?