Does anyone have good quality hand tools that you’ve been very happy with and would recommend? I’ve had a variety of different inexpensive hand shovels and rakes and none so far have held up well.
Yeah, I feel like the cheap tools aren’t worth what you pay for them. Not everyone needs the finest quality tools, but there’s a certain minimum level of quality below which a low price is not as good a value as it seems. I’ve listed some brands that I like, but generally speaking price point is a decent indicator of quality. Even within a given brand (at least the big names), they’ll have different lines at varying quality and price. Some things to look for:
- handles should be replaceable or at least durable
- hoes, trowels, and shovels should come sharp or at least be easy to sharpen
- on wooden handles, the grain should be oriented so that it’s parallel to the direction you swing/pry/pull the tool in. Otherwise the wood will break prematurely. (edit: I like wooden handles, but fiberglass is also a good choice. See discussion below for pros and cons).
How to Replace a Tool's Wooden Handle
- tool heads should be made with a good quality steel (different kinds have different merits, but good steel will last longer in general)
- in addition to good quality steels, look for forged over welded/stamped construction. The forging process changes the structure of the metal making it much more durable, and any joints are going to much sturdier. There are exceptions, but this is a good rule of thumb. If you’re buying forged, it’s a pretty good bet the steel is at least decent.
I really like Red Pig Tools, particularly their hand hoes:
For trowels, I was recently turned on to these simple but incredibly sturdy ones from Wilcox. Mine came properly sharp out of the box!
Rogue tools makes some of the sturdiest, most effective hoes around. I especially like the 575G:
Wolfgarten is also pretty good for rakes, hoes, and cultivators. Their specialty is a system of interchangeable heads and handles if that’s more your style.
Lots of good threads on other categories of hand tools:
One way to get decent quality tools and save money is to look at the higher-end or “pro” stuff at hardware stores and home centers. It’s not top-tier stuff, but most of the price difference comes from the tools not coming sharp and less QAQC on wooden handles. So if you sort through the pile and find one with a good handle, then take it home and sharpen it with a file or VERY CAREFULLY with a bench grinder, you’ll have a fine quality tool at a lower price. I would, however, recommend springing for high-end hand tools. I’ve never found a trowel or hand hoe at a hardware store (small or big box) that stood up to my expectations, even after careful sharpening.
for anything that requires digging or prying i highly recommend fiberglass handled. they are heavier but tough as nails. got several of mine for $15-20 at a local discount store. regular price they were $50. i think both of mine are razorback. also got a mattock from them. my son in law bought a wood handled one this summer and it broke on him the 1st time using it. Chinese made with a birch handle. not a good wood for a shovel . so i went and got him one like mine.
Personally, I prefer wood. Ash or hickory with the grain oriented the right way will be just as durable as fiberglass, and more resilient to being run over. Also, a lot of fiberglass handles aren’t designed to be replaceable if they do break. And there’s aesthetics, of course, but that’s a personal choice.
All that being said, fiberglass is pretty great. Wood does need more TLC to keep it in good shape from year to year, but it’s the kind of work I enjoy doing. And you’re right, birch is a poor choice for this application.
i agree that a good hickory handle is a beautiful thing and works well if taken care of but that said ive never seen a broken fiberglass handle. im guilty of prying rocks out of my heavy clay soil with my shovels. the wood handles gave out eventually but the fiberglass are still going. but thats with excessive use. if you dont use a wood handled one like a prybar it should last you forever.
I can’t claim super heavy use, but I’ve never had a properly-oriented and maintained wooden handle give out. I have seen fiberglass get smashed by being run over or hit with a rock. There’s also another subtlety here: if the fiberglass is hollow, a relatively minor ding can severely compromise its integrity, and it can fail “all of a sudden” months after a seemingly innocuous knock. Fortunately, I think most good hand tools have walls that are sufficiently thick that this isn’t much of an issue.
ive broken a few but they were $30 shovels . dont remember brand . ive got a few chunks taken out of my oldest one. if it fails ill drill out the rivet and get a good hickory one.
Unique… old… light but strong hoe for my seng digger. Hickory handle… lots of use and abuse 15 years and still going.
Yes, I’ve had cracks in hollow fiberglass handles of large shovels appear and then ultimately lead to a complete failure.
Thanks for all of the responses. I agree that tools are a place where spending more for a quality product is a good idea, at least for tools I use on a regular basis. Most of the cheap hand trowels I’ve had failed pretty quickly. I’ll check out these mentioned above.
I have bought a few (new) hand tools from A M Leonard … I have a 4 inch stirrup hoe that I have had for 25 years or so… and a couple years ago bought a 7" stirrup hoe from AM Leonards… it is obviously a quality tool and going to last many years too.
A stirrup hoe is really the secret to a weed free garden… shallow cultivation… each time you do it, less and less weeds come back (only so much weed seed in the top inch of soil)… After 3-4 times near weed free.
I also like to visit Antique Stores… Small Town Country type Antique stores… they often have old tools that are very well made and still quite usable.
I found this tool earlier this year… will use it to collect Grass and other cuttings from my fields in the spring, for compost / mulch material.
that strictly for medicinal purposes?
i have one like that as well. was my fathers. i cut high roadside grass to line my chicken run to keep the mud down in there.
@steveb4 … it looks like a horror film murder weapon… but all I intend to do with it is collect grass, weeds, young tender saplings that grow in my fields… for compost and mulch.
I would really like to have the long handle version too… scythe? But the old ones at antique stores are heavy and often in bad shape.
I’ve had a fiberglass handle fail due to being run over. I replaced it with another fiberglass handle.
More insidious is that fiberglass handles on many tools have a wooden plug to join the handle to the tool. The wooden plug will decay over time, especially if it is left out in the rain or used in wet conditions. I’ve had a couple of fiberglass handles fail from this. I replaced the wooden plug with something a bit more durable. Walnut is something I have a lot of and it is rot resistant. It is not good enough to use for furniture wood, but it is good enough to use to repair tool handles.
I personally have never had a wooden handled tool that did not eventually fail. A few lasted 30 or 40 years, but all of them eventually broke. Wooden handles are available or if I am feeling especially froggy, I will cut and turn my own.
You mention hickory handles, but this is a bit misleading. A lot of hickory handles are shagbark or shellbark hickory which is a lighter weight wood. Mockernut or pignut hickory is a bit thicker and heavier. I prefer Mockernut when I can get it, pignut when I can’t. Shagbark and shellbark are good enough for some uses, but when it comes to tools subject to high impact such as an axe, it is far better to get Mockernut.
For commonly available tools, Ames is fairly decent. They won’t hold up like better made tools, but they will easily beat the cheap junk that is commonly sold in many “garden” centers these days.
For high end tools, it is better to go with specialty tools as mentioned above. I will add one company to the list for wheel hoes. https://hosstools.com/
In addition to cider making, my other passion is blacksmithing. I forge my own hand shovel, hand rake and “root-digger-outer” (a technical term). Check out etsy. You can find some great tools that look great too.
Interesting. My understanding was that it’s hickory’s flexibility rather than its density that makes it so good for handles. Or rather, that it’s strong yet has just enough flex (as Wikipedia puts it: " Toughness requires a balance of strength and ductility."). And that the best hickory is the low-density sapwood of fast-grown regrowth, because it optimizes that flex. However, I can’t claim to have compared handles made from known species of hickory.
This quote from An Ax to Grind sums up my feelings on hickory vs synthetic handles:
Most ax manufacturers also offer axes with fiberglass or other plastic composite handles. While these may be durable and sturdy and perhaps adequate for splitting mauls, they do not provide the feel that a hickory handle offers. You also cannot customize a fiberglass handle. They are not traditional, which matters to me. And besides, they are just flat ugly.
So, it really comes down to aesthetics for me as much as anything, and I’ll come up with any number of reasons to convince myself that it’s “better!”
I like my Rogue hoe.
I also like Fiskars all metal shovels. I leave them out in the elements. I stand comfortably on them to bury the head and pry. Several years of such treatment and they seem unfazed.
$25 delivered, I think I paid $17: https://www.amazon.com/Fiskars-Handle-Round-Digging-Shovel/dp/B000B6Q6BA
A little heavy, I don’t generally use it for transferring material, I use it for digging and filling holes for planting.
I also got the “pro” version. Its a little bit lighter because its partially aluminum. I haven’t used it much yet. It costs more than double: https://www.amazon.com/Fiskars-397900-1001-Shovel-Digging-Silver/dp/B07ZPGMW3R/ref=pd_lpo_1?pd_rd_i=B07ZPGMW3R&psc=1
I have a small handled stirrup hoe from a local membership store - very nice to use for hoeing raised beds. I have a larger one for stuff at ground level. I sharpen using a file. So much better than a regular hoe, Easier, faster, and the cut is shallow so it doesn’t damage shallow vegetable roots.
My impression is that stirrup and hoop hoes are very useful for annuals with good soil tilth, which presumably you have in your raised bed.
They are maddening to try on compacted soil, or through wood chips or tough stemmed weeds.
The Rogue field hoes are more like a well shaped and positioned axe, great for ergonomically chopping horizontally through things an inch or two below the surface. It can remove sod or sever seedling tree roots.
edit: maybe the flat end of a mattock is a better comparison. But much lighter and easier to work with for closer to the surface use, and not for rocks.