1. Introduction

2. Tool List


If you are new to gardening, you could spend a fortune on a set of tools, but I’m not going to suggest buying cheap not very good tools, it is a false economy. Cheap tools will not last and will probably make the job in hand more difficult. You might pick up some really good quality old tools, as I have done, but it is also worth investing in good quality new ones as well. If you’re strapped for cash, buy one really good tool one at a time. For example about thirty years ago I bought an expensive stainless steel fork and spade. They have done thousands of hours of work over the years. They don’t rust, and although I occasionally have to use a bench grinder to sharpen the blade on my spade, and I once had to replace the handle on the fork, they are still going strong!

When you have finished working with your tools, wash or wipe them clean, and if they are non stainless it is good, once cleaned, to wipe them with an oily rag to stop them getting rusty. Because a rusty surface is rough, rusty tools, especially spades, hold soil on the surface, which then makes them even rustier. The little time it takes to clean your tools after use, oil them and look after them is well worth the little effort involved and will ensure they will last for many years.


The ‘Man’ Tool Cleaner: is a very useful tool for scraping off the earth from your digging tools after use. It is easily made from a piece of hardwood plank, well worth the effort to make it. Mine hangs up in the garden tool shed on the tool rack to remind me to use it every time I put a tool away. This was the tool used by the Irish Navies that built the canals and railways in Victorian Britain, to clean their spades at the end of a long hard day.

Digging Fork

I prefer to use a fork for digging, rather than a spade, because a fork is less likely to chop up earthworms when digging. It is also useful for loosening soil rather than turning it over. Stainless is best, they are easier to clean and don’t rust.


I am using my spade less and less as I have moved to no-till practices. However, a spade is useful for digging holes when planting trees and bushes, and shovelling compost, leaf mould etc. Again stainless is best, however sticky the soil is it doesn’t cling to the shiny blade, it is easier to clean and doesn’t rust. It is however more difficult to sharpen than a regular steel blade, needing a grinding wheel to do the job, rather than a file. On the other hand it doesn’t get blunt so quickly. 

Keeping your spade sharp makes life a lot easier, especially when digging holes to plant young trees. The front or top of the blade is the part to sharpen. Grind or file a 450 slope, similar to a chisel.

Grub Hoe

This is one of my most favourite tools that I use frequently. The grub hoe (or digging hoe) is one of the most ancient of all agricultural hand tools, and is still used across the globe. Some are pointed, others flat.

They developed from digging sticks, to flat wooden blades tied to a handle, then the metal heads were developed. All these preceded the plough.

Grub hoes can be used to rough hoe, chop up a green manure crop, ridge up potatoes, digging up roots – in fact one of my most useful tools!

Some traditional versions have fairly heavily cast heads, but you can get lighter ones, such as the Chillington Hoe. Sharpen the top of the blade – as for a spade. Mine is similar to the Chillington hoe, but made in China with a 1 kg head.

Muck Fork

A muck fork is not a digging fork. This is not essential – however, with its fine rounded tines, it is ideal for handling organic matter, like animal manure, compost materials and finished compost and is well worth obtaining.


This is the tool for handling any loose material such as sand, gravel, bark mulch, loose mature compost, loose soil, mixing mortar and concrete, etc.

Hand Fork & Trowel

These hand tools are ideal for close work, the fork for loosening topsoil and digging out weeds, and the trowel for digging up seedlings for transplanting and digging the holes to plant them in.


A long handled rake is ideal for levelling newly dug soil, breaking down clods and raking up trash from a bed of soil.

Plastic Rake

The traditional version of this rake is the ‘Spring-tine Rake’, but I prefer this plastic version, which is so useful for raking up leaves, grass clippings and compost material. Unlike the rake above, the tines are flexible and are much better for soft materials.

Dutch Hoe

The Dutch hoe is essentially a push hoe, for loosening and chopping off young weeds, leaving them to die in the sun. It is the traditional hoe for hoeing regularly between the rows of vegetables. It should be kept sharp like a spade with the top edge sharpened like a chisel, which you can just see in the picture.

Draw Hoe

The draw hoe is useful for mounding up potatoes and kumara, and for chopping out more established weeds. Personally, I don’t have one, using my grub hoe instead.

Japanese Niwashi Hand Hoe

This is one of the most useful garden tools I have and the one hoe I use the most. It is a small hand hoe, not a long handled hoe like the ones above; its handle is only 25cm (10in) long, and the cutting edge of the blade 12cm (4¾in), so it is used at close quarters. As such, it is extremely accurate and effective, and is very useful for working round vegetables and seedlings, although you do need to crouch down to use it unless you have high raised beds.







Wheel Hoes

For larger properties, smallholdings, community gardens etc., it is useful to invest in a wheel hoe. The attachments are various – tined-hoes, hoe-blades, disk-cultivators, furrower and potato ridgers (hiller). They are pushed down the rows, effectively and fast, which is ideal for larger areas. The best makes include a range of fittings as the illustration on the right.

Japanese Serrated-bladed Sickle

This is a brilliant tool, which I use frequently around the garden. The handle is 20cm (8in) long with a curved, serrated blade 17cm (6½in) long, with the serrations pointing backwards. It is used for cutting back plant stems, roots or small branches and twigs. As a sickle, it also can be used to trim back ornamental grasses, clear high weeds, cut a cabbage from its stump, cut a compost crop, and is particularly useful for cutting harakeke (New Zealand flax). 

You use it by pulling back, similar to a pruning saw, and just like a pruning saw it is best to wear garden gloves as the blade can do nasty damage to flesh, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a very useful tool to have. They are sold under the name ‘Shark’, for obvious reasons.


You’ve got to have a dibber! They are so useful for so many jobs: 

• Use it to transplant seedlings

• Making holes to plant young leek plants into

• Making holes when sowing large seeds, like runner and broad beans

• I use the flat end of my homemade one to press down paper towel down into toilet role centres to hold seed compost for sowing beans, pumpkins etc. 

You can also make one from a broken wooden fork or spade handle, cut to 30cm (1ft), shaving the end to a point.

Pocket Knife

A garden pocket knife is essential for cutting string to tie climbing plants, light pruning work and harvesting crops like zucchini. Most of the time I work in the garden I have my trusty knife in my pocket. There are also specialist knives like pruning and grafting knives designed for specific jobs – see: section 8 and 10 ‘Propagation Techniques’ and ‘How to Grow Fruit’ for details.

Spray Bottle 

I use a spray bottle for: 

• For gently watering young seedlings

• Spraying Pine Oil emulsion onto weeds in our paths

• The occasional use of organic insecticides 

These I use exclusively for each particular spray, each one labelled so there is no confusion.

Pressure Sprayers 

It is good to have two pressure sprayers – one for organic foliar feeds and the other for biological pesticides, organic fungicides and other treatments. For larger establishments, backpack sprayers are more suitable.


Sheers are not essential if you don’t have hedges to cut, but they are also useful for trimming ornamental climbers, which then provide good high carbon material for the compost heaps, as well as another tool for chopping up plant material for composting.

Secateurs, Pruning Knives, Pruning Saws & Loppers

Along with a pocket-knife, a good pair of secateurs is an essential tool in the garden, for pruning, but also for so many jobs around the garden like cutting out dead plant material, chopping up green prunings for the compost, deadheading, harvesting some fruit crops and cutting flowers for the house. Secateurs are not worth skimping on, buy good quality that will do the job and will last.

For more information on Secateurs, Pruning Knives, Pruning Saws and Loppers see: HOW TO GROW TREE FRUIT - PRUNING & TRAINING in section 10: ‘How to Grow Fruit’.


A sickle is a very useful tool for cutting long grass and compost crops. Traditional sickle blades were made of forged steel, but modern ones have blades made of stamped out thin metal sheet.

I prefer the modern kind, because they are much easier to keep sharp and they are lighter to use. For more robust use, you can often pick up old sickles at farm sales or from sellers who specialise in second hand tools.


A scythe is a great tool for cutting long grass and specially grown compost crops to provide bulk compost material. 

For many years I used a traditional English scythe and became quite proficient in using it, but recently I have discovered the Austrian scythe, which is much lighter to use and which has a superior blade. The Austrian blade is slightly curved in cross-section, allowing it to glide along the ground with the cutting edge slightly raised above ground level. The blade is thinner and lighter than an English blade and has a superior cutting edge, which is not just kept sharp by regular sharpening with a stone, but is also regularly peened (hammered) along the cutting edge to thin, sharpen and harden it.

Scything is a skill worth perfecting.

There are various YouTube videos on how to sharpen and care for your scythe, such as this one on ‘Scything with an Austrian scythe’: -

as well as a wonderful video of an expert young scyther cutting lawn grass with almost perfect action on:

Note how she slides the blade, without hacking, and using her arms and body as a parallelogram so as to keep the scythe parallel to the ground. There is also a video of an Austrian farmer cutting hay: showing the same parallel action.

Also see if you can find an expert in your area to instruct you. In some areas there are courses held.

Rotary Mower

How much you want to use hand tools exclusively and whether you want to use both hand tools and machines is up to you.

We don’t have lawns, but we do have grass patches and grass paths and we use our mower to collect grass-clippings for a useful high nitrogen addition to the compost heap, and for mulching material.

We also use it to chop up material like pruning material that is better chopped up for the compost heap. Just lay out the small branches and green twigs on the ground, or grass, and run the mower over them, with the collector box on.

Battery electric ones have improved dramatically and are well worth investing in.


A weed-eater is a very useful tool for cutting rough grass and overgrown areas, as well as along the edges of raised beds where a mower doesn’t get near enough. When we had our small farm, we found the weed-eater very helpful, because we were always strapped for time and the weed-eater was a lot faster than using hand tools.

Block Hammer

And finally the good old block-hammer is a useful tool for banging in stakes to support young trees and tomato plants, as well as smashing up tough plant stems before adding them to the compost heap.