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Selecting Your Garden Tools II


When considering rakes, shovels, trowels, and other such garden tools, pick them up and think about how they fit your body with respect to your grip, height, and reach. Test and weight, and remember to factor in the weight of the materials (leaves, soil, gravel) you will be moving with the tool. Evaluate the length of the handle, and determine whether it is appropriate for your body height. To get maximum leverage out of straight-handled digging and raking tools, aim for a handle length that falls between your elbows and chest. Also, consider the option of a D-handled tool, which provides an alternative grip option and allows you to apply force from the handle end.

On shovels, don’t forget that half of the action of digging involves placing your foot on the rolled edge of the head to push it into the surface of the soil. Make sure the step (the part you tread on) is adequately sized for your foot, and is designed so that you can comfortably dig without slipping or losing balance.

Trowels and hand forks are often cast in one piece, out of lightweight, rust-resistant aluminum alloy. Some have handles that are dip-coated in a vinyl material to provide a secure grip, others use foam padding attached with adhesive. Pick up these tools and test the heaviness and balance of the head to the handle.

Here is another area where weight should be a consideration. If the tool is one that you’ll raise overhead, will you tired of lifting it? In addition, look for shock-absorbing bumpers to cushion or deflect the impact of the blades closing. Look for padding on handles, which provides added grip security as well as comfort.

Some pruners and loppers are designed with gears or ratcheting action to provide more leverage at the cut. This can be a real asset for gardeners with limited grip strength, as long as the gear mechanism is constructed to last. Test out the open-and-close action of the tool and pass on ones with a sticky or awkward cutting action, since over time this repetitive movement could induce fatigue and stress injuries in your hands or upper body. Other marks of quality for cutting tools are bolted-on handles and replaceable blades that you can sharpen between uses.

Also, think about the practical application of a cutting tool as it relates to your particular garden site. Does the pole pruner you are considering offer an adequate extension length for your needs? The lopper with 1-1/2 inch cutting capacity might be less expensive, but if the more expensive one offers a 2-inch cutting capacity, the difference in price could be worth it, because you can cut a wider variety of materials with it.

Finally, you’d better take good care of your garden tools. After use, hose off metal parts or use a stiff-bristled brush to remove dirt and plant material. Oiling the metal parts of digging and cutting tools will help prevent rust, and an occasional application of linseed oil preserves wood handles. The best maintenance habit to get into for the long life of your hand tools is to store them indoors, and protect them from the elements.