Traditional English Garden ‘Tools of the Trade’ – What to Use and Why


‘Tools of the Trade’ – Traditional English Garden Tools

English garden tools

It doesn’t take an expert to decide the sort of garden with which you have been saddled or blessed: brand new and untouched by human hand, a neglected derelict patch or a previously well-kept garden gone to seed. In the latter case you will have to decide whether to replant or carry on just as it is and clean it up, but the first two will need work, very often with a capital ‘W’.

Before you do anything else you are going to need something to work with, and that means tools. There is often a great temptation to call in mechanical aids and you may be advised to do this. However, I am strongly against it for the simple reason that even if the going is straightforward there are all sorts of things that should not be buried or chopped up. I am thinking of old roots, lurking lumps of iron or old bricks in the new garden – all potential killers – and in the derelict garden pernicious weeds such as couch grass which, if they get chopped up will only increase the problem because with such things as bindweed, couch grass or ground elder (bishop weed) any piece that has two ends will root and then you will have compounded your troubles.

So, let’s see what sort of tools you are going to need. Tools of the trade or traditional English garden tools can sometimes be expensive and if you plan to buy only one or two at a time then the first buy should be a spade and a garden fork. There is no need to pick the biggest and heaviest in the belief that if you get a bigger one then you will be able to dig up more soil at one go. Instead, choose one to suit your weight.  These to start with would be two of the best garden tools to invest in.

It always strikes me as odd that in every other occupation a newcomer to the job is taught how to use the tools of the trade. Yet every year thousands of people start gardening who have never handled a gardening implement before and either expect or think they know how to use and care for the tools by instinct. True, most of the basic tools of the trade are simple but I can’t help noticing that many folk develop bad habits, such as simply handling the tools awkwardly and inefficiently. When choosing tools, the best advice I can give to newcomers to the game is to take with them an experienced person, so that they at least start off with right tools of the correct weight.

In spite of the efforts of the manufacturers of gardening tools, there are still some badly designed ones offered for sale. For instance, spades with thick, heavy blades with a ridge on the top. The idea being, of course, that this ridge will prevent damage to the boots and this encourages the belief that the centre of the foot should be used to exert pressure when digging instead of the heel. The trouble is that these thick-bladed, heavy spades are usually unbalanced and damp, clayey soil builds up under this narrow ridge and makes it more difficult to work.

A significant factor too, is the choice of grip, and this will depend mainly on the size of your hand. Some wrists are not as supple as others, some people have short fingers whilst others have broad hands. Most people today prefer the ‘D’ split handle for maximum comfort, but if you have a broad hand, it may not be advisable to confine it in this type  because of chafing the forefinger. This might suggest to you that a ‘T’ handle would be a better choice. Check the point where the wood joins the metal; this is absolutely vital, not only with regard to the strength of the tool but also because, when working with a spade, the action of the handle is very much like that of a piston.

If you regard the closed hand (left hand for a right-handed person) as the cylinder and the spade handle as the piston then it is easy to see why this must be smooth – even if you are only using a spade for a short time. Even if gloves are worn, it is essential for any tool to work freely without snagging or chafing and to do this there must be a smooth union between wood and metal. Incidentally, you may have noticed a reference to ‘solid socket’ in the description of various designs of tool. This is a technical term which indicates an extremely efficient and very strong method of attaching handle to blade and distinguishes it from the strapped design.

Discover more about English garden tools, gardening weeding tools, whether cheap garden tools are false economy and what you will need to buy when starting out.


04. August 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Garden Tools | Tags: , | Comments Off on Traditional English Garden ‘Tools of the Trade’ – What to Use and Why

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