For those everyday garden chores for which you need an extension of your hand, there’s no equal to a good trowel. Choose one based on how it feels in your hand — large handles tend to be more comfortable — and its purpose. Narrow, sharp blades are good for digging out weeds in the lawn; broad, flat blades are good for digging holes. The most common trowel ailment is a bent blade or neck; to avoid this, select a tool made from a single piece, either cast or stamped from a heavy-gauge metal. Aluminum and stainless steel reduce maintenance because they don’t rust.
As one of the most basic, multiuse garden tools, a shovel or spade isn’t something we give much thought to — not even which name to call it. What matters most is if it feels right and can do the job.
To that end, here’s a rundown of the most common shovels and spades. In general, pointed or curved blades are best for digging, flat-edge blades are best for cutting, and deeply curved, spoonlike blades are best for scooping. One finer point worth noting is blade size: Wide-blade tools move a lot of material in a hurry, while blades with a narrow girth are easier to maneuver in small spaces.
Take a peek at the features described here. You may just find one that does the job easier than the one you usually reach for.
Reaching for a garden tool only to have it bend at the first dig can be frustrating, at best. Follow these tips to ensure you’re buying the best, most durable tools for your money.
Handle. Look for handles made of a sturdy material (ash, oak, or hickory, coated fiberglass, or one of the newer composites), then narrow your search based on how the handle feels. Generally, a thick handle is more comfortable to hold. On D-handle models, steer clear of sharp edges or joints where your hand could get pinched.
Blade and Tang. The strongest tools have a blade and tang (the neck of the blade) made with one piece of metal. High-carbon steel and stainless steel are good choices, with the latter being the easiest to clean. The longer the tang, the sturdier the handle. A closed tang, versus one with an open seam means there’s no place debris can get caught. For the easiest digging, look for large, sturdy footholds that give you a comfortable place to push down with the ball of your foot.
Brook and Hunter make a model with a stainless-steel blade and tang with a solid, red oak handle.” Brook and Hunter, $50.