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Best Garden Tools…How Do You Know?

Best Garden Tools…How Do You Know?

The phrase “best garden tools” is a bit subjective. If you’re a “gardener” only once a year when spring rolls around, then a less expensive tool from one of the big box stores might be “best” enough. On the other hand, if you’re an avid gardener that depends on your tools to work as hard as you, every time you pull them out of the shed, then you’re looking for a tool that is a bit more substantial…a garden tool built by gardeners for gardeners.

Today, far too many tool companies have to satisfy their stockholders and as a result, the tools are made less robust. It may be a cheaper grade of wood for a handle, some plastic incorporated or stamping the cheap steel a little thinner, but it all adds up to a poor quality, disposable tool and more dividends to the shareholders.

So, what makes for the “Best Garden Tools”?  Well, one might think that as simple as the typical garden tool is, there wouldn’t be too much to it, but there’s more than meets the eye.

First of all, there’s the design. Better garden tool makers have been refining their designs for decades or even hundreds of years. A little more angle here, a little less there can make a big difference as to how the tool feels and performs.  They tinker with the thickness of the steel so it’s heavy enough for its purpose, but not so heavy as to tire the gardener out.  It may be a design change for the way we garden. Today, raised garden beds are popular and some tool makers are making mid-length tools that are easier to work in those smaller gardens. The list of tweaks that these tool makers have made over the years is long and for the better garden tool makers, it’s never ending.

Now let’s look at the metal used in garden tools. A tool of lesser quality has thin steel that comes from a large roll, cut to size, stamped to its final shape and counted as X number of units per minute versus X number of units per day for the better tool makers. The best garden tool makers have tinkered with their steel formulas to get the strongest steel available and start out as a block of steel before being heated and hand forged into its final shape.

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One of the most important points of a quality garden tool is how the handle is attached. For spades and forks, this is especially important as they are the real work horses of gardening.  Cheaper tools have thin steel that is just wrapped around the handle and riveted or has a tang that is shoved into a hole at the end of the handle…fast to make, but not very strong.

These best garden tools should have either a socket or a strapped connection.  The strapped connection is by far the strongest. The head and straps are one piece of steel and the straps extend far up the handle where it is riveted. Almost as strong is the socket attachment. Here too, the head and socket are forged of a single piece of steel and the handle is fastened into the socket.

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And now handles. Garden tool handles are notorious for breaking and most of the time it’s because of a poor attachment to the metal or crappy wood.  Several manufacturers have gone to fiberglass handles and I’ll be the first to admit that they are very strong, but they don’t absorb the shock of using the tool as well as wood and because they are hollow, they must be glued into the head which is bad news if you ever have to replace the handle. For centuries, garden tool makers have tried different types of wood for handles and have come to the conclusion that Ash hardwood is the best. Ash is not only very strong, but it also has a bit of give to it as well good at absorbing shock. Better tool makers will only choose the straightest grained timber, rejecting 40-50%. Another thing to look for is tool makers that have an eye on the environment and are using only wood harvested from FSC Certified managed forest.

Last but certainly not least…the warranty. When was the last time you bought anything that had a lifetime warranty? Well, the best garden tools come with the best warranty…lifetime. These tools are made to be passed down for generations and are an investment. I read somewhere and is so true for good quality garden tools…”the quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten”.


by Blake Schreck - blake@gardentoolcompany.com


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