The choice of what garden tool to use depends upon the job. Always buy the best tool you can afford and don't buy what you don't need. It is an excellent idea to do some comparison shopping before purchasing. Although purchasing an expensive tool may hurt a little at first, quality is well worth the investment. When looking for tools look for quality workmanship. Avoid tools too heavy for the user or light tools which may not hold up under continuous use. Tools are designed for a specific purpose and should be used as such to prevent breakage and possible injury.
Shovels are used for digging and lifting loose soil or other materials. A general purpose round point garden shovel works well for normal yard and garden digging. If you have a large amount of lightweight material to move, a wide scoop shovel works best. Spades are useful for cutting and digging heavy soil, digging straight-sided flat bottomed trenches, or removing a layer of sod. Garden forks have thick tines and are used for turning soil and breaking up soil clods. Pitchforks have longer tines which are useful for moving light, loose material.
Picks and mattocks are used to work ground that is hard, rocky or root filled. Picks have a pointed end and a chisel-like tip. Mattocks are used for loosening soil that is root filled. These have an axe-head on one side and a flat hoelike head on the other. Every gardener needs at least two rakes--a steel garden rake and a lawn rake. Garden rakes are used to level and prepare seedbeds for planting. They are not meant for lawn areas. Garden rakes may damage the turf and their tines often become plugged with debris. Lawn rakes handle lawn debris such as grass clippings and leaves. They are best used with a sweeping motion like you would a broom.
Hoes are used for cultivation and weeding. There are many types available. A general gardening hoe will work fine for cultivation and weed removal. Triangle shaped hoes are excellent for breaking into stubborn soil, weeding, and cultivation in tight spots. A warren hoe has a pointed tip and is used to make furrows. This type of hoe will produce disappointing results if used for weeding. A scuffle hoe is used for weeding. Its blade rests parallel to the ground and is moved back and forth to remove weeds just below the soil surface.
Cultivators are used to work up soil or weed close to plants, They are also used to incorporate materials into the soil. Weeders are used to dig out weeds without taking large chunks of lawn. Both come with long and short handles depending on your preference.
In addition to selection, tools require regular maintenance to work properly. Clean all tools after each use with water and a penetrating oil to prevent rust. Sharp tools are safer and more efficient to use. Various sharpening methods are used depending upon the tool. It is important to become familiar with the various methods so tools are sharpened properly. Check tools regularly for loose nuts and screws and tighten as needed. Sand rough handles and repair cracks as soon as possible to prevent injury. Store tools in a dry location away from the elements. Hanging them on a wall is an ideal way to organize the garage or shed. Proper tool selection and care will extend the life of your purchase for many years to come.
This article originally appeared in the March 18, 1992 issue, p. 30.