The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The best gardening tools

New trowel

New trowel

I inherited a lot of gardening tools from my aunt. Gradually over the last fifteen years I’ve enjoyed discovering the benefits of each one. I’ve found drawbacks too. Most garden tools are designed for bigger hands and taller people.

Fostering a sizeable family of tools has taught me two things.
• If you have access to the correct tool for the job you will work faster.
• The range of each ‘correct tool’ is massive. Finding the perfect tool for you within this range will conserve your energy and increase productivity and overall enjoyment.

In the past I’ve broken two of my own stainless steel forks battling with the stony ground in some areas of the garden. This turned out to be a good thing as it encouraged me to select each replacement carefully. I now have a stony ground fork (with one broken prong) and soft soil digging boy racer of a fork that isn’t stainless steel but is a perfect match for my frame. I also have a homemade chunky dibber made from the handle of the crumpled fork head with just the one lonely prong. The latter is handy for holding down the fleece draped over our outdoor winter salad area.

Holding so many different garden tools is interesting. I tend to select the same clutch of tools on the way to the kitchen garden. After a few months I twigged that these tools suited my size, weight and strength. A lot of the tools that hung unused in the shed were deluxe makes but when I put them through their paces they just didn’t match my frame. I was delighted to inherit them until I discovered that using them was a struggle for me.

They don’t hang idle. John uses a lot of them. And they have been a great testing ground for him. He has bought the best ones to use on his kitchen garden at home. If there is more than one gardener in your household, you will have discovered that you need more than a basic set of standard sized tools. Beware the label stndard – neither small or large fit.

Years ago a friend’s father was watching him knock nails into a board with a hammer. My friend was gripping the hammer tight near the head rather than positioning his hand towards the base of the handle and letting the hammer swing.
His father’s words were gentle. “Relax, son. Don’t throttle the tool. Let the hammer work for you.”
He changed his grip on the shaft and suddenly the nails were knocked in with ease.

I remember these words when I test out a new tool for weight and nimbleness. Other shoppers gaze in astonishment as I rake imaginary leaves or pretend to dig. Often the tool that I finally choose isn’t the most expensive or even a recognised quality brand.

In the past I only bought top quality stainless steel tools now I look for the best tool for me.

Today I needed a new trowel. I tested all the high end stainless steel ones in the shop. Despite their beauty and last a lifetime good looks, they were rejected. These trowels were too heavy and didn’t have the right balance in my hand. I’d have to strain to make these tools work well for me. The one that I eventually bought was half the price of the others but when I picked it up fitted snugly in my grip. It has the best weight and balance for me and will be the perfect companion for planting. It’ll need a bit more TLC than the other trowels but, wiped over with an oily rag at the end of the day and stored in the dry shed, it should live to see many summers.

A tool is designed to extend and enhance the power of your hands so it’s always well worth testing them out in the shop. And if you buy online a trip to a well stocked garden centre to select the brand of tool that suits you is always a wise investment before you fire up the computer.

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  1. I also have a lot of garden tool. But my favorite is the action hoe. It always in the top priority.

  2. I keep a 5-gallon plastic bucket of coarse sand (aquarium gravel size) in my tool shed. There’s a uqart of motor oil in it. When I come in from the garden I plunge my trowel, shovel, spade, garden fork, what have you, into the gravel and shove it up and down a few times. This scrapes off any stuck on bits of soil and gives a light coating of oil to the tool. About every other year or so I dump the gravel out and then back in, to redistribute the oil. Very easy, works great. And no, there’s not so much oil on the tools that I’m concerned about contaminating the garden.

  3. I thought I was one of the only people to pretend to use the object I want to buy. From garden tools to a knife for the kitchen. I have to pretend to chop or slice things. I still havent found a knife that I am willing to be parted from my money for!

  4. Allotment blogger

    Our plot holder has one of those three-pronged weed pullers but two of the prongs are only about half an inch apart and the third prong is between them but set about an inch back – perfect for weeding strawberry beds. I really, really, really want one, but I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.

  5. kate (uk)

    My current trowel is a real winner- not only is it easy to use but it is a rather vile combination of orange and turquoise and is thus impossible to loose in compost heap or flowerbed…it is a rare day when I cannot lay my hands on it within moments of wondering, now, where did I leave my trowel? Those fancy oak handled ones look lovely, but oh how readily they disappear into the undergrowth…

  6. I think gardening tools are tools are definitely designed with men in mind. I have ridiculously small hands, and I am even shorter than you Fiona, and using “oversized” tools is very tiring. I have a collection of tools bought in my gardening days which are currently residing at my mum’s waiting for when I either move and get a garden or finally reach the top of the allotment list. House clearance auctions sell bundles of gardening tools for just a few pounds but I have seen some lovely looking tools which have obviously been used and loved. But I agree with your try before you buy on line advice.

  7. I dont know the name of my fave tool..

    I kinda pinched it from one of my best friends.. I borrowed it, and kept giving it back, but she never remembers to take it home with her.

    Its got a short wooden handle, like a hammer. It has 3 pointed chunky round prongs on one side of the head, and a flat broad chisel like blade on the other… it digs a hole like no ones business, and gets rid of unwanted grass like a trooper too.

    Im secretly hoping she never remembers to take it home.

  8. My favourite tool is a trowel given to me by my grandfather. I have owned it for 25 years. In all the time it has been in my possession no repairs have been necessary. Gardening wouldn’t be the same without it.

  9. I thought I would throw this in. I bought these tools some time ago and I love them. After three years of hacking away in stony-clay ground and they still look almost new.

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