Choose long-handled tools using the same criteria as for other tools. W hile you can get by with just a shovel and a garden fork, you'll find garden work easier if you own both a short-handled spade and a long-handled shovel plus a garden rake for smoothing beds. A sharp, lightweight, cultivating hoe is a worthwhile investment for weeding all but the smallest gardens. Hoes parade under a variety of confusing names, so go by the shape rather than the name. Many more variations are available in addition to those shown here.
Some of these tools come in two styles: with either a straight, shoulder-
high handle or a waist-high handle ending in a grip. Shoulder-high handles provide better leverage for shoveling; the shorter handles are easier to maneuver, especially in small spaces. Standard waist-high handles measure 28 inches (70 cm). Tall people should seek out the harder-to-find 32-inch (80 an) handles. The best handles are made of ash with a straight, tight grain running the length of the handle, or of fiberglass. While good fiberglass is stronger than good wood, poor fiberglass is weaker than wood. Solid-core fiberglass is the most expensive and practically unbreakable. Hickory is heavier and less flexible than ash; choose it only for heavy-duty tools with short or medium-length handles (mattocks and grub hoes).
For the working part of the tool, forged or heat-treated, tempered steel is much stronger (and more expensive) than pressed metal. The lower the gauge of steel, the thicker the metal. With shovels, 16-gauge is fine for anyone except a landscape contractor; avoid weaker 18-gauge shovels. Longer sockets are stronger, particularly if they're slightly longer in the front than in the back.
Before You Buy
Choose the best-quality long-handled tools you can afford, and heft a tool to be sure it feels comfortable before purchasing it
Master Gardening Tip
Styles of Grips
The grips on waist-high handles come in three forms: D-shaped, split Y-D, and T-shaped. AH work well; choose the grip that feels most comfortable.
TO ORE AT SO
Garden/Spading fork. Usually four flat or square fines, square tines ore stronger. Border forks are smaller and lighter; pitchforks have longer, widely spaced tines good for hay but not soil Used for turning or breaking up soil working in amendments, turning under cover crops, and harvesting root crops.
Broadfork/U-bar. Used for breaking up hardpan and compacted soil without turning soil over. The broadfork (at right) is more readily available; U-bars (with U-shaped handles) are less common.
Garden rake. Used for smoothing son, mixing in amendments, spreading mulch. Lawn rake has long, fanned tines good for raking leaves or grass clippings.
Lawn aerator. Opens small holes in lawns, reducing compaction and thatch buildup. Core aerators, which remove small cylinders of soil, are better than spike aerators, which push spikes into soil. For large lawns, rent a power model.
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