Tool time

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - GREEN LIVING - Mark Cullen Go­ing Green Mark Cullen is lawn & gar­den ex­pert for Home Hard­ware, mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada, au­thor and broad­caster. Get his free monthly news­let­ter at markcullen. com. Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Cana­dian Gar­den’ pub­lished by

I love my gar­den tools. Us­ing qual­ity tools, when do­ing any job, is a key to squeez­ing the great­est pos­si­ble joy out of the ex­pe­ri­ence. But how do you know when you are buy­ing ‘qual­ity’ with the in­her­ent ben­e­fits like dura­bil­ity, long last­ing per­for­mance and a tool that just works bet­ter with the pas­sage of time? Ask me, I know a thing or two about it.

My Dad was a tool hound. He loved to use well-used tools. I learned from him that there is a lot of sat­is­fac­tion in us­ing a tool for a long time.

He left me many great gar­den tools and I have col­lected more of my own.

I have a gar­den-tool mu­seum, of sorts. It is a cel­e­bra­tion of crafts­man­ship that goes back a few gen­er­a­tions.

What to look for in a great tool:

Hard­ened Steel

High car­bon steel has great ten­sile strength. This means that a pair of hand pruners made from this ma­te­rial will re­sist break­ing and will hold a sharp edge longer than a blade that is not made of high car­bon steel.

It helps to have a metal file handy in the garage or tool shed to run up and down the blade be­fore you be­gin work.

I don’t just mean ‘at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son’ but at the be­gin­ning of each work ses­sion in the gar­den. I have sev­eral bas­tard files around my 10 acre prop­erty so that I don’t ever have to walk too far to find one. I use it for a minute — some­times less — to put an edge on my hedge shears, dig­ging tools like a spade or shovel and my weed­ing tools like the

Back­hoe or Dutch hoe

If you make this sim­ple task a habit be­fore you head out to the gar­den with your steel tools, I guar­an­tee you will re­duce the stress on your own body as you work. And you will work more ef­fi­ciently. I give the metal parts a squirt of oil too.


There are many heavy-duty han­dles on dig­ging and weed­ing tools. If you find a shovel, for ex­am­ple, with a fiber­glass han­dle, you will no doubt have trou­ble wear­ing it out in your life­time. Maybe that’s be­cause you will sel­dom use it. Un­less you have arms like Samp­son, lift­ing a fiber­glass han­dled dig­ging tool is a chore. Alu­minium is soft and bends eas­ily. Plas­tic is, well plas­tic and per­forms like plas­tic. Uggh.

I much pre­fer old-fash­ioned hard­wood han­dles. They are light, heavy duty, pro­vide just the right amount of flex­i­bil­ity and they are hand­some when you care for them. Af­ter the first cou­ple of sea­sons of use, ei­ther rub some lin­seed oil on them or ap­ply a spar var­nish and you will lengthen the use­ful life of the tool.

When you buy a wooden han­dled tool, be sure to wrap your hand around it be­fore you pur­chase. Make sure that it feels con­fi­dent in your hand. Some han­dles are ul­tra-padded and oth­ers are very thick: I don’t like ei­ther. I get all the pad­ding that I need from a qual­ity pair of gloves. A ta­pered, long han­dle is best: balanced and a fine fit to my hand.

Qual­ity hand tools are al­ways a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive than the dis­pos­able lightweights that you find at many re­tail­ers.

It is my ex­pe­ri­ence that a qual­ity tool can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween a job filled with joy and ‘work’.

In my books, I con­sider the added in­vest­ment a good one.

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