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My Favorite Tools for Gardening (And How to Care for Garden Tools)

by | Mar 26, 2022 | Grow, Homesteading, Vegetable Gardening

Having good quality garden tools that you enjoy using and that are dependable is very important when it comes to successful and enjoyable gardening! Here are (in my opinion) the best tools for the garden and how to care for your garden tools so they’ll last a lifetime.

A man standing outside next to a number of garden tools.

You don’t need a large assortment of garden tools in order to garden, and many can pull double-duty when needed. However, it’s very important to know how to take good care of your garden tools so they work for you (not against you) and last a long time.

Where to Find High-Quality Tools for the Garden

When starting out, it’s not always feasible to buy brand-new tools. Over the years I’ve always looked for wood-handled tools when shopping at antique stores, thrift stores, and even garage sales and have found some very high-quality tools.

To me, a wood-handled tool just feels better in my hand and they’re usually very well made, particularly older ones. Most garden tools you’ll find at big box stores these days don’t have wooden handles. Big box stores aren’t my preferred places to buy new tools anyway.

I’m in the market for tools I’ll be handing down to the next generation someday, and quite frankly, the majority of tools I would find there just aren’t built very well.

If you’re in the market for that forever tool, check out Homestead Iron (use code “homesteadingfamily” for 10% off). They’re not antique store prices, but I can guarantee they’re quality made, hand-hewn, and, if properly maintained, are those forever pieces you’ll hand down to your children someday.

We have a number of Homestead Iron’s products now and I know, with proper care, they’ll be the last tools of their kind I’ll ever need to buy.

If you’d like to learn more about Will from Homestead Iron, check out our Pantry Chat as he answers the question, “Are quality garden tools worth the cost?“.

Now without further ado, let’s get into which tools make the list of my must-have gardening tools…

A metal rake.

My Must-Have Tools for Gardening (Long-Handled)

Leaf Rake

I always look for metal rakes because I’ve found the plastic teeth break so easily. You might pay more upfront for a metal rake, but it’ll last you much longer and you’ll end up paying less overall when you don’t have to replace it every year.

Hard metal rake.

Hard Rake

There are a few different types of hard rakes, so look around and see which works best for your needs. Most of my hard rakes have come from antique stores.

Hard rakes are nice and sturdy and help when flattening out uneven soil, raking up sticks and twigs or other heavier materials, or even as a makeshift seed sower.

Market garden rake.

Garden Bed Prep Rake

My garden bed prep rake has become one of my most coveted tools that saves me a lot of work. In our garden, we use a 30-inch garden bed system (the same size as most market garden rows) and they make a lot of tools that work for this sized garden bed.

A rake with three pieces of Pex tubing on the tines.

This rake has saved me time by adding a few pieces of PEX tubing and sliding it over my prepared furrows to easily plant seeds.

When planting carrots from seed I can create the rows so quickly and easily.

This is the rake I have and it’s very lightweight with a nice long handle. (Johnny’s)

Hula hoe.

Hula Hoe

A hula hoe is my favorite tool for quick weeding. It has a stirrup-like hoop with a sharp blade on each side that glides over the surface of the soil, cutting weeds off at ground level.

This doesn’t dig up the root, so sometimes I opt for hand-pulling weeds. I’m excited to try out my brand new tool from Homestead Iron that will work very similarly as the hula hoe but the handle is much longer which I prefer as this allows for better posture and ease of working.

The diamond-shaped head will work similarly in the soil as a hula hoe. It only disturbs the very surface of the soil, unlike a regular hoe.

Sledgehammer

Great for pounding in your string line stakes, along with plant, bush and tree stakes.

Two pieces of rebar with string wrapped around.

String Line

We garden in long rows and I like everything to be nice and straight. Using a string line with two pieces of sturdy rebar and a thin rope is a fantastic way to make nice straight rows when planting, tilling, or building garden bed rows.

Simply hammer in (with your sledgehammer) one rebar, walk the length of your row, line it up straight, and hammer in the other side.

Small headed shovel.

Shovel

People tend to think “the bigger the better” when it comes to shovels. But not me.

I like to consider the weight that shovel will be picking up and how much work that’ll be on my body. I actually prefer a smaller head on my shovel so I can’t pick up as much. This makes for a lighter load (albeit more strokes) which is much easier on your body overall.

When I was in my 20’s an older gardener showed me a smaller head shovel like this. Inwardly I kind of chuckled, as I was young and strong, maybe headstrong! Years later, as my back has deteriorated, in large part because of bad posture and work habits when I was younger and dumber, I now really appreciate that advice!

A man loosening a garden row with a broadfork.

Broadfork

There is a time for a tiller and using machinery to get things ready, but in my garden, I don’t want to be turning the soil up each year. So to loosen up the soil without turning it over and allow for aeration I prefer to use a Broadfork.

We like this Broadfork from MeadowCreature, which allows you to aerate the soil without disturbing the layers.

Here are some less expensive Broadforks from Johnny’s, but ours have bent when they come into contact with rocks (and our soil doesn’t even have very many large rocks). I’ve fallen in love with the MeadowCreature Broadfork and am actually ordering one with slightly longer tines for this year.

Garden Hand Tools

  • Spade – We love Homestead Iron’s spade (or trowel) because I’ve been through countless spades in my gardening lifetime, but the one I have from them will be handed down to the next generation.
  • Pruners – I like the Opinel hand pruners, they’re easy to hold and use and fit right in your pocket.
  • Folding SawOpinel makes a great folding saw that fits in my pocket and stays sharp.
  • Jute Twine – We want to stay away from the plastic line whenever possible, so we use a lot of Jute Twine in the garden.
  • Flags – It’s great to flag things in the garden when you need to know where you’ve planted, or where rows begin and end. It’s a good idea to have different colors and come up with a system for them, but whatever you have will do!
  • Markers – We love the wooden markers our son made for Carolyn one Christmas. They’re sturdy, larger than the average markers, and we can use them over and over.
A man oiling the long wooden handle of a garden tool.

How to Care for Garden Tools

When caring for garden tools, especially those with wooden handles, it’s important to keep them in good condition.

If your wooden handle doesn’t feel smooth or feels like you may get a splinter, it’s time to show it a little TLC.

  1. Take a piece of sandpaper (100-120 grit) and smooth off the rough outer edge. You only want to take off as much as is necessary. Don’t overdo it!
  2. Once the wood is smooth, you need to protect the wood with oil. We like to use what we have on hand and we have a lot of home-rendered lard. So I heated some lard until it was liquid and rubbed it on generously with a rag. If you don’t have lard or tallow on hand, some mineral oil would also work.
  3. Go back over the handle with a dry cloth and repeat steps two and three as many times as needed until the wooden handle has absorbed as much oil as it will hold.
  4. The oil may be a bit tacky until it dries completely, so be sure to condition your tools a day or two before you’ll need them (ideally, conditioning your tools at the end of the gardening season is preferred).
  5. On tools with moving parts like clippers and shears, keep them clean and oil them a couple of times a season.
  6. Make sure and clean the working end of your tools periodically and you can even oil them if you really want to keep the metal in better shape.
  7. Lastly, while I don’t do this well, sharpening your shovels, hoes, spades and any tool with an edge will make your work much easier. You can do this with a simple metal file!
A finished hoop house or bean tunnel with no crops growing on it.

Garden Tool Storage

Store your garden tools where they are out of the elements and where they’re easily accessible. If tucking them away in a shed means they’re no longer accessible when you need them in the garden, then having a place closer to the garden (even if they’re exposed to the elements) might work better.

Ideally, you want them protected so they’re not continually getting rained or snowed on, or being sun-scorched all day long. Any exposure to weather will mean they need to get conditioned and cared for more frequently.

I know many people who store their garden tools out in the open during the gardening season, just so they’re easy to grab, but then when the garden season is over they’ll repair, mend, and condition them and store them away until spring.

If you look for high-quality tools from the beginning (even if you’re on a budget) and learn to take care of them, you’ll be much more satisfied when grabbing for that tool to work in the garden.

And, dare I say, when you’re working with high-quality garden tools that are well cared for, I think you’ll enjoy the gardening experience that much more as well.

Picture of a garden and potatoes freshly harvested.

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