Help & advice: Buying guide to garden hand tools
Buying guide to garden hand tools
Having the right hand tools takes the ache out of digging and weeding and makes gardening a real pleasure. Here's how to buy the best equipment.
For quality garden gear, dig through Homebase's range of gardening hand tools.
Weeding the flower beds, digging up daisies from the lawn, pruning those roses. Whatever job you're doing in the garden, having the right tools makes it easier and quicker - and kinder on your muscles! Here's our guide to choosing the right equipment for a glorious garden.
Spades and forks
A spade and fork are essential garden equipment. You'll frequently be working with one or the other so it's important to get the right size that's comfortable for you to use. Otherwise your muscles will soon start complaining! Choose from two shaft lengths - 28in and 32in - depending on your height and what feels most comfortable.
What kind of digging will you be doing? That's helpful to know as it will influence the head width of the tool you get. Do you have narrow border beds or a larger area such as a vegetable plot? If the patch you're digging is big, choose a wide head to get the job done quicker. But bear in mind that garden shovels and forks with a wider head are heavier. So if you have difficulty bending and lifting, you're better off buying one with a narrower head.
For extra strength, choose a tool with a solid forged carbon steel head and socket, and a weatherproofed hardwood shaft that fits into the socket. Many have a tread or flattened area along the top of the head and this will feel more comfortable when you put your foot on it.
Garden forks and spades come with a variety of handles. D-shaped, T-shaped or wishbone. It doesn't matter which one you have, as long as it's big enough for you to grip comfortably even when you're wearing gloves. Some tools have a special ergonomic handle tilted at a forward angle. This reduces fatigue by making digging easier. Tool heads of highly polished steel or with a PTFE coating minimise 'soil stick' and are also rust-resistant. PTFE works like the coating on a non-stick pan and protects the head from wear and tear.
This garden spade is ideal for digging over larger plots or digging on a regular basis. The blade is approximately 11in x 7in. Choose a bigger blade for wider areas, but remember that shovels with bigger heads will be heavier.
This is perfect for your small, narrow borders and beds. With a blade about 9in x 5in, a border spade is narrower and lighter than a digging spade, making it easier to use in confined spaces. It's also really good for anyone who finds bending and lifting difficult.
A garden fork built for digging bigger plots and regular use. The fork head is approximately 12in x 8in with four tines, or prongs.
Use this fork for small, narrow borders and beds. A border fork has a narrower head than a digging fork's. It's about 9in x 5in and has four tines.
Do you need to hand-weed a small patch or loosen soil in pots and tubs? This kind of garden fork is just the job. If you find bending a problem, go for a long handled version. Hand forks often get lost in the shrubbery, so one with a brightly coloured handle will help you to keep track of it!
This is brilliant for breaking down bog clumps of compacted soil that stubbornly remain even after you've dug over earth. The cultivator's head has three or five angled prongs with sharp ends, almost like arrow heads. When you pull them through the soil they break it up.
Some cultivators have two handles you can twist with a push-pull action. This makes the prongs, which are set at different angles, rotate backwards and forwards through the soil. This handy piece of garden equipment is perfect for loosening and aerating soil or lifting weeds. It does an especially good job where soil is heavy and difficult to work and you're preparing it for seed or replanting.
When you need to weed in flower beds or want to loosen compacted soil, a hoe does then job nicely - especially if you have to reach over other plants to the back of the bed.
A Dutch hoe is a versatile all-rounder, a great weeding tool that also loosens surface soil. Move the D-shaped head backwards and forwards across the earth and it will slice through weeds at the base of the stem.
Use a draw hoe to draw the soil around the stems of plants, earth up potatoes or create a seed drill. The head is a blade angled about 90 degrees from the long shaft. You simply draw or pull the hoe towards you in a chopping motion. A draw hoe isn't ideal for weeding.
For cultivation choose a simple garden rake. Use it to level or clear the ground of stones and other debris or break down dug-over soil before you plant or seed. The head has 12 rigid teeth set at 90 degrees to a straight bar. As you pull the rake across the soil it collects stones and debris, and also breaks up bigger clumps of soil. For a larger areas, use a rake with a wider head (remember it will be heavier so could be tiring to use). Find out more about lawn and leaf rakes in our lawncare tools buying guide .
Planting up your patio pots, moving plants around the garden, or transferring them to bigger beds? Then a garden trowel is what you need! A standard size trowel with a wider blade is fine for most jobs. But use a special transplanting trowel with a much narrower blade for transplanting young plants. Many transplanting trowels have a depth gauge marked along the blade to help you plant to the correct level.
If you're putting in lots of bulbs, a bulb planter makes it a doddle. Just push it into the soil then withdraw to remove a plug of soil. Pop your bulb into the hole and replace the soil plug. Nothing could be simpler. Choose one with a planting gauge on the side to help you position different types of bulbs at the correct depth.
A dibber looks like the T-handle of a spade with a pointed end. Use it to make a hole in the soil when planting seedlings, particularly vegetables such as leeks and brassicas.
Choose the best cutting tools you can afford and with a little bit of care they should go on for years. Carbon steel blades give lasting sharpness. A PTFE coating makes tools rust-resistant so they continue to make a smooth, precise cut.
Secateurs and loppers
These garden tools are key for most pruning jobs. Look out for two types:
Anvil secateurs and loppers
Anvil tools work with one cutting blade moving against a blunt - or anvil - bar. The anvil bar is made of softer metal so it doesn't blunt the sharp cutting blade.
Bypass secateurs and loppers
Bypass tools have two cutting blades and are similar to scissors.
Use secateurs to prune stems up to about 1cm diameter. For anything bigger (up to about 3cm diameter), you'll want a pair of garden loppers - long-handled secateurs. Those long handles give you good leverage on thicker branches. But for extra cutting power choose loppers with a ratchet mechanism. If you'll sometimes need to cut branches of tall trees, get a pair of loppers with adjustable telescopic twist handles. These will offer you that extra reach.
Get out the garden shears to cut hedges, trim borders and snip smaller areas of grass where a lawnmower can't reach. For more on border and grass cutting shears, see our lawncare tools buying guide.
These are just the job for tight, compact hedges, shrubbery and larger topiary. If your hedge is tall, try garden shears with telescopic handles. Some have a cutting head you can adjust to a 90-degree angle to trim along the top of the hedge while you stand on the ground. Others are notched for cutting thicker stems.
For those bigger cutting tasks, a saw does it every time - from slicing through thick branches to even taking down a tree. Look out for two types - a pruning saw and a bow saw.
A pruning saw has a handle at one end of a tapering blade, so it's easy to get into overgrown areas of a tree without damaging nearby branches. Choose one with small teeth at the tip for when you begin the cut, and a blade that cuts on the forward and backward motion to get the job done quickly.
This saw has a bow handle and the blade is held between the two ends. Because the handle is quite large, the bow saw is normally used to cut up a branch after it's been lopped off the tree and needs to be disposed of.
Think of garden tools as a long-term investment and go for the best you can afford. Higher quality tools will outlast cheaper rivals and with good care they'll go on for years to come. Here's how to look after them:
- Protect digging tools from rust by removing soil. Oil them lightly or spray with WD40 before putting away.
- Clean cutting tool blades with a damp cloth and dry thoroughly. Oil lightly to keep them sharp.
- Sharpen blades as soon as they begin to blunt.
- Replace any blades that are damaged.
- Store your tools in a clean, dry place.