The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Choosing the Right Tools

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

The signs are everywhere. Butter knives have a distinct bent tip. No doubt from a run in with a paint can. Each spoon has a slight bend to the handle from battling hard ice cream. The scars of not using the right tool for the job are everywhere. Not using the right tool causes injury to innocent tools, harder work for us, often makes a job take longer, and may prompt some yelling from other members of the household.

Gardening certainly has its share of tools. We all have our favorites. In gardening, a few things to consider when choosing the right digging tool are: tool use, type of soil, tool's weight, and tool size including the handles and blades.

Digging tools include shovels, spades, hoes, and trowels. With digging tools how durable the tool is depends on how the business end is attached. The digging end may be attached in three ways: tang and ferrule, solid socket (also called solid shanked), and solid strap.

Digging tools with a tang and ferrule attachment are the cheapest and least durable. The tang is a projecting tongue or shank. The ferrule is a metal ring or collar attached to the handle once the tang is inserted into the handle. Usually a bolt or rivet is inserted through the tang and ferrule to help secure it.

Tang and ferrule tools will often bend or break at the tang. Or the handle falls off. Or the handle gets so loose it spins around. You probably have some of these in the back of the garage right now. The best thing to do with these tools is to lose them.

Tools attached with a solid socket system are sturdier than tang and ferrule. They are the best value and recommended for the sturdiest shovels and spades. With solid sockets the handle is attached with a solid collar that is actually part of blade. Its forged or stamped from the same piece of steel as the blade (not welded together). The socket is wrapped around the first foot of handle or in better models the handle is driven into socket. Solid socket tools may also have a pin or rivet through the shaft.

Solid socket tools are less likely to break or bend where the handle meets the blade. Long forged solid sockets are a sign of top quality, but more costly than tang and ferrule (forging requires hand labor). These tools are worth every penny for durability and much less frustration for us.

The third kind, solid strap, has a strap that extends from the socket up the handle. The blade, socket and strap are all forged from one piece of steel. Solid straps are the sturdiest and most durable. They are also the most expensive. However the price may be worth it if you are doing a lot of heavy digging of trees and shrubs. Scope out garage sales for good tools. High quality tools will last several generations.


  • Treat your tools like your toothbrush. Don't lend them to anyone (except maybe really really really good friends in an emergency).
  • Keep them clean.
  • Always know where they are.
  • Don't leave home without them.
  • Other people's tools only work in other people's gardens.
  • Fancy gadgets don't work like they did on TV.
  • If nobody uses it, there's a reason.
  • You get the most of what you need the least.

As C.D. Warner said (1829-1900) "What a [person] needs in gardening is a cast iron back with a hinge on it."

Learn more about tools and techniques for Landscape Maintenance during the Urbana Adult Education class on Thursday March 1 from 6:30-8:30 pm. Register by calling 384-3530.

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