[permaculture] Garden Tool Recommendations

Joseph Wright josephonboard at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 11 00:13:10 EST 2012

This is a long e-mail but bear with me because a lot of tools are mentioned. I also included some discussion about shoes and clothing that has worked well for me while doing work. Any company mentioned can be Googled and
found on the internet.

At this point I do not have an opinion
on the efficacy of bronze/copper tools versus iron based tools. My
perspective is that I need to take care of pH balance, access to water, trace
minerals, organic matter content, access to light, microclimates, and
a few other things. Those are my initial priorities regarding
the development of my property and after I am comfortable with
those things(if that day should ever come) I would look into the
concern about iron tools.

Concerning the original question that
has started this thread I have done an exhaustive search for tools
that work for me. I was taught at a young age by my grandfather that
the right tool for the right job will always change your life for the

Garden Fork and Garden Spade
While working at an organic farm I got
to borrow a spade and fork from a coworker that are made for a
company called Brook and Hunter. The tines of the fork and blade of
the shovel is made with stainless steel and the handles are made from
red oak. The stainless steel inhibited rust and allowed easy cleanup
of sticky clay from the blades and tines. The handles have seemed to
hold up well over the past couple of years that I have used them. No
real long term report on them but so far they have done well. I
bought a set of 3 tools (garden fork, garden spade, d-handled shovel)
for under $100 from amazon. The price has gone up a little bit so
make your choice if that still fits your bill. I think I got a good
deal on this set of tools. However, if I had to do it again I would
buy Clarington Forge spade and fork. I could get the fork and spade
for about $120 total but I have no doubt that they are better tools
and are worth the price difference. They would be stronger and would
keep a better edge. If you want to get a less expensive price for
some decent forged tools then look at AM Leonard's tools because they
are a bit cheaper than Clarington Forge. The Brook and Hunter tools
are made in China if my memory serves me. It doesn't say so on any
website I have found but the tools had a “made in china” sticker
on them when I got them. My other hesitation about the Brook and Hunter tools is the website of the company doesn't seem quite right. Something seems a bit off. Clarington Forge products are made in England and I
have no clue where AM Leonard's products are made but they seem to be
of pretty good quality too.

I recently acquired an Eliot Coleman
style colinear hoe. I have probably used all of the half dozen
colinear hoes at one time or another throughout the 85 acres that we
had under production at the organic farm where I worked. It was
immensely useful then and I have found it to be just as useful in my
home garden. It has very limited usage for perennial work but might
prove useful in certain situations.

I plan to buy a “Grape Hoe” from
Earth Tools at some point soon. It seems to be very similar in
function to the “peasant hoe” mentioned by Carol Deppe. It is
also forged and should hold a good edge. This could be very useful
for working with perennials and for moving around soil and mixing

I also plan to purchase a half-moon hoe
and a diamond scuffle hoe made by DeWit. They are a Dutch company
that has been around supposedly since the late 1800s. I would
probably buy these tools through Earth Tools since they are supposed
to be a really good company. DeWit's forged tools are supposed to
have a Rockwell hardness around 60. For those that aren't familiar
with this scale the higher the number the harder the metal and thus
the more durable the tool and the longer it will last  and keep a
sharp edge. That comes with a word of caution for people in rocky
country that like to swing their tools very hard. The higher the
Rockwell hardness the more brittle the metal and thus it will be
easier to chip the tool. I have a lot of clay and very little rocks
so this tool is perfect for my situation. Everyone's situation is

Mattock/Pick Axe/Pulaski
I have a mattock that I purchased years
ago from the local Home Depot or Lowes. It works OK but it doesn't
hold a great edge. If I had it to buy over again I would get the SHW
Mattock from Earth Tools because it is a forged German made product.
It looks more like what I know as a Pulaski which is just fine for
me. They also have pick axes there as well.

I purchased some old axes off of Ebay
because all of the new axes from Home Depot or Lowes are crappy axes.
I got some advice from a timber framing buddy of mine to buy old axes
off of Ebay since I can get some axe heads for about $10-25 a piece
and then add a handle. I got a couple of those axe heads and they
were vastly superior to anything that I have borrowed from friends
that are from the big box stores. If I had the money for a new very
nice axe I would buy either a Wetterling, Gransfors Bruks, or DeWit
Axe. They are expensive but apparently they are phenomenal hand
forged axes that can hold a wicked edge. Iltis Oxhead is a German
company and their axes are supposed to be good but I don't think they
are as good as the Wetterling or Gransfors Bruks or DeWit. Apparently
people shouldn't bother buying Snow and Nealley axes ever since they
put their operation overseas. If you end up searching on Ebay, a few
names to look for are Plumb, Kelly, and Collins. There are others but
this is a great start.

I have some standard round point
shovels that have over the years deteriorated and worn down and have
never held an edge for very long. I bought a forged round point
shovel and a forged d-handle square point shovel from AM Leonard and
have been happy with them. You can buy more expensive shovels from
Clarington Forge and Spear and Jackson and DeWit but I don't know if
they are worth the extra money. I don't feel as particular about
using these shovels for moving material around etc. than I am about
say my garden spade that I use for breaking ground. For that reason I
am comfortable having a strong and hard working tool but not top of
the line quality. One note that I have is that my round point shovel
specifically was made without the indentation in the back of the
shovel that occurs in the manufacture of most round point shovel. For
my situation with a lot of clay, this helps immensely with keeping
the weight down on my shovel because of clay's annoying trait of
sticking to the backs of shovels.

I have a pair of hand pruners made by
the German company Bahco. Felco pruners are supposed to be the
standard in the industry and I have used them a decent amount. I much
prefer Bahco hand pruners because of their lighter weight and they
feel more ergonomic. When I prune for 5-8 hours at a time it makes
all the difference in the world to have a comfortable pair of

I have a Corona long handled pruner
that I call “limb loppers” that can comfortably prune 1.5 inches
of green wood. They have wood handles and forged blades that I can
resharpen. I have had these for about 8 years and while I have the
itch for something better I have no real complaints against them. Be
sure to keep them sharp and well oiled. If I had to do it again I
would look for one with longer handles and would probably buy from AM

I have a cheap hand pruning saw that I
got from Big Lots for about $4 and it does the job but I sure would
like something better. At some point I plan to drop $50 on a Silky
handsaw since those are the nice handsaws for this kind of work. I
would also like to get a Silky polesaw as well but those are a couple
of hundred dollars and I can't justify that yet. I think the model I
last looked at for a hand saw was the Silky Zubat. I have used a
Corona hand saw and that was quite nice to use but I think I would be
much happier with the Silky.
There are a number of lumberjack tools including crosscut saws at The Crosscut Saw Company. I have no experience beyond looking through their website.

I have been continuosly disappointed in
the machetes that I have purchased over the years at various tool and
hardware stores. I had a thick bladed machete that my grandfather
gave me when I was young that he got in the Philippines that was
short and heavy. It was used for cutting cane by short people with
very little room to swing. It was a great machete and I wish I still
had it but I lost it when my house burned down when I was 16. If I
was to purchase a machete currently I would probably try a Crocodile
machete that is made by the Ralph Martindale Company in England. You
can find them online for about $20 and they are supposed to be a
durable machete with a Rockwell of 45-52. That is a good hardness
level for this kind of work.

I don't have one of these yet but I
plan to buy one from Gulland Forge. I found out about Gulland Forge
through Harvey Ussery's website and after talking with Larry on the
phone about his product I was sold. However, I have yet to actually
purchase one from him but that is my next budgeted item. I have used
a broadfork extensively at the organic farm where I worked for
harvesting carrots for market and for preparing the soil in certain
greenhouses that wouldn't fit a tractor in. They are phenomenally
useful for annual production on a smaller than farm or even for a
small farm scale. Eliot Coleman, who I believe designed the
broadfork, seems to have made it work on his small farm.

I have a snath and grass blade that I
bought from The One Scythe Revolution. I also bought a brush blade
from Lehmans when they had a sale. Both blades are great and the
adjustable handled snath is perfect for my size. This tool has done
wonders for me on keeping a lot of stuff cut back in a small field
that I have planted with fruit trees. It is great for making good
quality mulch easily. There are a few companies you can buy these
from but I would recommend this one. He knows scythes very well and
he comes at the recommendation of Larry Cooper who makes the Gulland
Forge broadfork. I had a good long conversation on the phone with
Larry about scythes, who is a bit of a fanatic himself, and he
recommended I call Botan Anderson at One Scythe Revolution since he
apparently knows everything about scythes. After talking with him for
a bit I can confirm this.

I got to use my friend's Jackson
wheelbarrow a couple of years ago and I was amazed. It was so many
times better than my crappy wheelbarrow that I had bought from Home
Depot for cheap many years ago. I have seen good quality Jackson
wheelbarrows at Lowes for $100 and that will be a purchase in the
future for me. 
I bought a Norway Carry-All garden cart
for my mother about a year ago and it is awesome. We used to have a
Garden-Way cart when I was growing up as a child and I could haul 200
lbs of stone/wood/gravel in that thing all over the property as long
as the slope wasn't too bad. I could never have done that with a
wheelbarrow at that age. Now that I am grown up I can haul 400 lbs in
that cart as long as the slope isn't too bad. Our Garden-Way Cart
lasted about 15 years with no maintenance,  rough work, and no
consideration about leaving standing water in it. A local arboretum
has a Garden-Way that they still use all of the time and it is 30
years old. Their only care for it is to lean it against one of their
sheds when work is done so that there is no standing water in it. I
expect this Norway Carry-All cart to last at least that long.
NOTE: Do not make my mistake and buy a
cheaper cart. We bought one about 4 years ago and it fell apart
within a year. Worst buying experience I have ever made.

I used to use nothing but leather
gloves but I have recently become sold on using work gloves from
Duluth Trading. You can read a whole bunch of reviews on their
individual styles of gloves and you can be sure that they are used by
hard working people. If you want leather gloves then I personally
like Carhartt's A115 leather gloves. They seem to hold together
pretty well but most of all they are very comfortable for my hands.
Everyone's hands are different so you will probably have to try
several different styles of gloves from different companies before
you find what you want.
Duluth Trading Company's “fire hose”
clothing is great. Very tough and durable where you don't have to
worry about hurting yourself or your clothes while working all day
pruning rosa rugosa or removing wild sour lemons or prickly pear. If
you can afford clothing from the company Filson then I am sure they
are better quality but you are going to need ridiculous conditions
and a pretty good profit margin to justify that. I have never worn
any of their clothes personally but I have heard they are good.
If you can find merino wool in the
thrift store for a good price then get it. It keeps you warm while
wet to a certain point(won't help while swimming) and it doesn't get
horrendously stinky like poly clothing or cotton clothing will. It is
also immensely more soft and comfortable than normal wool. It does
not feel scratchy and uncomfortable like normal wool. This comfort
does come at a price in that it isn't as durable as the rougher wool.
Use it as a baselayer or midlayer and keep it protected from thorns.
Both Ibex and Icebreaker are good companies for non thrift store
merino clothing but they are pricey. Get them on sale or just keep an
eye out for merino wool sweaters at the thrift store for $5.

I enjoy wearing Keen shoes because of
their comfort and general practicality. My main concern is they don't
have very tough soles for shovel work. It doesn't take long for my
foot to start aching after a lot of shovel work. I used to have a
good pair of Chippewa boots and my next purchase for good boots will
be for a pair of USA made boots from them that will probably run me
$150. My last pair lasted me about 8 years of heavy use and lack of
I have found that I prefer Teva sandals
over Chaco sandals due to their lighter weight and their cheaper
cost(generally). The exception being that the Chacos are better if I
am doing a good bit of shoveling since they have a stiffer sole. I
don't care for the Keen sandals very much because it is easy to get
stones in all sandals but hard to get the stones out of the Keen
sandals. Also, if I am in the sun much then they get quite hot and
stinky in the toe box area.

If anyone has questions I am happy to answer them.


 From: "wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk" <wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk>
To: permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org> 
Sent: Thursday, February 9, 2012 9:19 PM
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Garden Tool Recommendations
I was wondering if anybody here had experience with phosphor bronze tools?

There is at least one supplier in the UK.


And there is some interesting info on the subject of iron tools over at talking trees


"Every where on planet earth is the iron age . Every tool in every place is made of iron . Every tool that cuts open the skin of mother earth is made of rusty iron ! Every iron shovel , hoe , fork , plough and farming implement , every chainsaw, axe and blade made of iron . Each time an iron tool is used in the earth it encounters stones . These cause the iron tool to chip .
Year after year these chips of iron fall on our soils .
The bigger the tool , the faster it is pulled the more stones are chipped at the ploughs and harrows .
Then comes the rain , then come the dews . Then all these iron chippings turn to rust . The fields are covered in water and rusting iron and all the subtle energies made by mother nature to nurture growth in her children ( the seeds ) is discharged to the air through magnetic attraction by every rusting particle . Every iron object that penetrates the soil is a magnet . The larger the object , the deeper it is planted , if it is made of any iron content the more powerfully it steals the accumulated earth charge ! By simply changing to copper or phosphor bronze would completely change the structure of the soil .Any chipping would simply leave deposits of non-magnetic , non-rusting , earth sweetening copper .
As the rusty iron goes the land becomes cleaner , fresher . No iron fences , no iron tree guards no iron tools . Replace every iron tool used to touch the earth with tools made from copper or from coated phosphor bronze . Wood or bone . Every tool or object made of iron steals earth energy ."

Is this true or is it just metaphysics?


--- On Wed, 2/8/12, wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk <wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

> From: wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk <wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk>
> Subject: Re: [permaculture] Garden Tool Recommendations
> To: "permaculture" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 1:27 PM
> For cool tools of all kinds, I really
> like Kevin Kelly's site.
> He has two separate sections of interest, one on
> homesteading.
> http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/cat_homestead-grid.php
> and one on gardening
> http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/cat_gardens-grid.php
> In addition, I reckon that his books are of great interest
> to all permaculturalists.
> The Biology of Machines and What Technology Wants are
> excellent introductions to areas where biology and
> technology inevitably collide.
> Chris
> --- On Mon, 2/6/12, Lawrence F. London, Jr. <venaurafarm at bellsouth.net>
> wrote:
> > From: Lawrence F. London, Jr. <venaurafarm at bellsouth.net>
> > Subject: Re: [permaculture] Garden Tool
> Recommendations
> > To: "permaculture" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
> > Date: Monday, February 6, 2012, 7:47 AM
> > On 2/5/2012 1:26 PM, David Muhl
> > wrote:
> > > Greetings everyone,
> > >
> > > It's February now and I feel my spring gardening
> fever
> > coming on.  I
> > > started thinking about all the projects I'm hoping
> to
> > accomplish this
> > > season, and then it occurred to me that some of my
> old
> > 'blade' tools
> > > are just not up to the task(s) any more.  I've
> > been reading a few
> > > online reviews on certain items, but felt some of
> the
> > folks on this
> > > listserve would be a great resource for honest
> > opinions.
> > >
> > > I would like to pick up some high-quality hand
> pruners,
> > pruning saw,
> > > grafting knife, machete, and perhaps even a good
> tool
> > belt tailored
> > > for gardeners and landscapers (something that
> could
> > hold the other
> > > aforementioned items).
> > >
> > > Thanks to anyone who would like to share their
> opinions
> > on any or all
> > > of these items.
> > 
> > 
> > Avant Geared
> > http://www.avantgeared.com
> > AG Tools
> > lifetime hand tools for home, shop, farm, garden,
> travel and
> > trekking
> > Avant: culturally or stylistically advanced  Geared:
> > one outfitted with 
> > proper gear
> > (garden hand tools & online store coming soon)
> > 
> > Avant Geared Google+ page
> > https://plus.google.com/b/116100117925365792988/116100117925365792988/about
> > 
> > Pictures of tools I own and use on my market farm:
> > https://picasaweb.google.com/103223907782626104592/GardenTools
> > 
> > Farm and Garden Hand Tool Sourcelist &
> Biointensive
> > Gardening Guide
> > http://www.ibiblio.org/ecolandtech/documents/gardening-hand-tools.faq
> > https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MP85QDZW4x8PXCeXEa0hyVbI98JEeHOLJcj71I1h3Ek/edit?hl=en_US&pli=1
> > 
> > Biointensive Farming
> > https://sites.google.com/site/biointensivefarming/
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