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Garden Tools Buying Guide

Garden tools have evolved a lot over the years, from the digging sticks of antiquity to today's highly specialized tools. Every season brings new garden gadgets and buying them can become addictive. Before you buy the latest and greatest garden gizmo, make sure you have all the basic tool groups covered.

garden tool buying guide

Introduction to Garden Tools

Even among the basic garden tools, you are bound to find a wide variety of designs and sizes - enough to cause confusion when shopping. There is a reason for so many options - using the right tool for the right job makes your work easier and more efficient. Here are some of the different tools you might find.

When selecting garden tools, make sure you get the right tool for the job, but don't stop there. Part of selecting any tool is the "How does it feel in my hand?" test. When choosing, try to imagine how the tool will feel after a few hours of use. Remember, as the size of the tool increases, the weight of the tool also increases. Larger tools are efficient, just remember to choose one that won't wear you out too quickly.

Watch our video: How Do I Sharpen My Garden Tools?


Round Point and Square Point Shovel Chart.

The shovel is the mainstay and workhorse of the garden shed.


Garden Spade, Drain or Trench Spade and Roofing Spade Chart.

Spades are essentially a smaller version of the shovel with a flatter blade.


Leaf Rake, Garden Rade, Flat Rake, Bow Rake and Thatch Rake Chart.

Rakes take the concept of the human hand and finger dexterity to a bigger scale. They come in all sizes and styles.


Hay Fork and Spading Fork Chart.

Likely to have originated from a forked tree branch, what we often call the pitchfork has its roots in agriculture. Forks are designed in different styles and with different numbers and sizes of tines, depending on the material you will be working.


Garden Hoe, Warren Hoe, Weeding Hoe, Action Hoe and Mortar Hoe Chart.

Another simple and ancient tool, the hoe is designed for weeding and light ground breaking. There are many different head sizes and shapes.



Cultivators are designed to scratch the soil either prior to planting or around the plants while growing. They are available with either long handles or as hand tools.

Mattock and Pick

Mattock and Pick Chart.

For heavy-duty ground breaking, grubbing out stumps and tough chores in general, these are the tools to use.

Post Hole Digger

Post Hole Digger.

Here is a tool that you may feel is a luxury item -- until you need one. Post hole diggers let you dig holes deeper and with a little more precision than a shovel.

Weed Whacker / Grass Blade

Weed Whacker, Grass Blade, Slingblade.

Also known as the slingblade, this precursor to the string trimmer is sharp on both sides. The blade is swung back and forth to cut small plant material, usually in places that mowers can't reach.

Bush Axe / Briar Axe / Ditch Blade

Bush Axe, Briar Axe, Ditch Blade.

Known by many names, it is a formidable tool made for serious brush removal. It looks a little like a battle axe and deserves caution and respect.



Edgers are made in various styles and shapes, from rectangular to half-moon. The intent is to cut a clean line where a lawn transition occurs, such as a sidewalk or planting bed.

Digging / Tamping Bar

Digging and Tamping Bar.

For serious digging, here is the tool. About five feet long and made of solid metal, the blade does a fine job of digging and cutting roots. The flat top serves as a tamper.

Bulb Planter

Bulb Planter.

Bulb planters are made to dig precise holes for bulbs. Some are marked in inch gradients for exact hole depth. The digging tube grabs and removes soil to allow the bulb to be planted. A long-handled version allows extra pressure from the foot.

Trowel / Transplanter

Trowel / Transplanter.

This is for precision digging in small spaces. The trowel has a narrow blade that is perfect for installing bedding plants. The transplanter has an even narrower blade.



This is commonly known as a dandelion digger, it looks like a notched screwdriver. It's made to penetrate the soil and remove weed roots from deep in the ground.

Pruners, Loppers, Saws and Shears

Pruners, Loppers, Saws and Shears.

A diverse group of cutting tools. Depending on your landscape plantings, you may find a need for all of these.



This is the traditional garden standby. Shoveling material in and out is easy. Wheelbarrows tip up for easy unloading. The single-wheel variety requires some strength and sense of balance (let a load of dirt tip over sideways in the lawn and you will know what I mean). A heavy-duty two wheel model is available. Wheelbarrows are manufactured in homeowner and contractor grades. Contractor versions generally have a heavier duty tray support and a thicker gauge tray. Wheelbarrow trays are metal or plastic.

Metal can rust if not cared for. Plastic is virtually weatherproof. Handles are usually wood. You will most likely have to assemble your purchase, but it is not a difficult job. Look for a good pneumatic tire. Keep the wheelbarrow clean and lubricated and it will last a long time.

Plastic Yard Carts

Yard Carts.

This is a relatively new member of the family, offering the weekend gardener a combination of the best features of wheelbarrows and garden carts. These carts have two wheels for stability and the front is designed to allow you to tip out material. Some even have tool storage.


Garden Gloves, Work Gloves.

Part of the fun of gardening is getting your hands dirty. The feel of good potting soil is a pleasure, the feel of thorns, mud, stones, and blisters is another thing altogether. In addition, some garden chemicals should not come in contact with your skin -- so you should invest in a good pair of gloves.
Materials include:

  • Natural hides -- such as cowhide, pigskin, goatskin or deerskin
  • Top grain -- means top layer (not necessarily top quality). It's smoother and more supple than split grain.
  • Split/reverse grain -- thick hide split into two rough layers.
  • Fabrics -- such as canvas and cotton are, washable, breathable, but also moisture absorbent. Not advised for use with chemicals.
  • Synthetic materials such as latex, rubber, PVC and neoprene or nitrile-coated are water, chemical and mud-resistant.

Cuffs prevent material from getting inside the glove.
Gauntlets protect wrists and forearms (rose gloves are a good example).
Grip enhancers such as rubber dots help you hang on.
Glove sizing is not universal, so try them on. Look for specific men's and women's sizing. A "one size fits all" approach may be fine for some jobs, but gloves that are too big can slip off (often at the worst time). A glove that is too small or doesn't fit right can cause something you are trying to avoid - blisters.
Seams are another reason to try a pair of gloves on. See how the seams feel. Seams can be located inside or outside of the glove. One style is constructed with the seam on the top of the palm, another with seams across the back. Try to imagine how the glove will feel after a full day of wear.

Other Lawn and Garden Tools

  • For working in flower beds, wagons with tool storage and seating are great back savers.
  • Knee pads save wear and tear, both on clothing and kneecaps.
  • Don't forget the kids. Scaled down versions of adult tools let the young ones help out in the yard.

Tool Handles and Heads

Tool Handle.

Some tools are available with more than one handle style. Make your choice based on your personal preference and the level of use your tool will have:

  • Long handles offer longer reach and more leverage, but require more arm strength.
  • Short handles are best for restricted work areas, but they require more leg strength. Depending on your height, you may be doing a lot of bending. Short handles are often thicker and may have a grip on the handle, making them heavier than a longer tool.
  • Many short handled tools have grips. They may be T or D-shaped. Grips give you more control over the tool.

Handles are made of one of several materials:

  • Wooden handles (usually ash) offer flexibility and last a long time with proper care.
  • Fiberglass handles are stronger, weather-resistant (good for commercial use) and usually more expensive than wood.
  • Steel handles are longer-lasting but may vibrate or transfer cold to the user.
  • Cushioned or padded handles are available on some tools, making the work a little easier on the hands.

Handles are attached to the head by:

  • Sockets: a metal sleeve that extends from the head and wraps around the handle. This type of connection is usually found on less expensive tools.
  • Sockets with rivets: a metal sleeve is wrapped around the handle and reinforced with a rivet or screw for additional strength.
  • Tang and ferrule: a metal shaft (tang) extends from the tool head and is inserted into a metal sleeve (ferrule) on the handle.

Forged tools are heat tempered and stronger than tools that are stamped from metal sheets.