Tools of the Trade
Tool choice and reasons why…
I get asked a lot about the tools I use and why I either use the tools I do for the job or my reasons why that particular brand over others.
Here I will go into some details about the main tools I use and some of the reasons why.
This may spin off onto a specific page or review post of certain items in time; so I can save time discussing them, and I enjoy writing reviews!
First things first though;
Tools are very subjective, one person’s favorite may be another’s pet hate.
We are all unique creatures and many of us are creatures of habit, so by all means take what you will from what follows to suit your need and ignore the rest if you wish.
Power tool Versus Hand tool…
I like Power tools, but sometimes hand tools have their place and time.
If I can get the job done quicker and easier with a Power tool, then I will more often as not pick one up. After all, who wants to spend 4 weeks hand forking over a 25 Meter by 5 Meter Allotment when you can do it in an hour or so with a Petrol powered Rotovator? (Trust me, I know this one from personal experience as I have 4 Allotment plots, which is one of the reasons I get asked about this topic a lot and a great deal to do with writing this page.)
The right tool for the right job, or find a tool for another job that works for the job you want to do!
Sometimes the Devil is in the detail, other times it’s a case of needs must while the Devil drives.
While most tools are built and designed for a single purpose, that isn’t to say that using another tool can’t do the job of another. Just be careful when cross purpose use of tools occurs!
Treat your tools with respect and care and they will do their work and look after you.
Brand names or Generic? Also the Cheap Versus Expensive slant…
“Buy Cheap; Buy Many Times!” Often stated, often true.
Rarely does a £1 hand tool do the job as well as or last as long as a £10 quality tool.
I’m sure we’ve all done it at some point, a simple Hand Trowel bought cheap often bends while using it for light work, yet one that costs a few times more can stay in use and live in the shed and become an old friend for many years.
Where machines are concerned, cheaper or less known brands can often have inbuilt lower quality or standards and a lower life expectancy. Though sometimes you can get a good deal or land a bargain that falls in your favour.
Buy within your budget and requirements being the key to which options you have that meet your price point or way you work.
Sometimes you have to make do with what you have and save up for those dream toys or tools from the big brands or famed tool makers.
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I’m not affiliated nor endorsed or associated with any of the companies mentioned, these are independent thoughts and views.
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Hand tools. Where the meat meets the metal so to speak, up close and personal!
I initially fell in love with Joseph Bentley Hand Tools. Something about the traditional look, feel and quality of them drew me to them and they just felt a perfect fit with my hands.
I still use their 3 piece set of hand trowel, transplanting trowel and fork, along with the Weeding tool. All of which I keep at my Allotments so they are in constant use. I swear by their hand Pruners/Secateurs and Pruning Knife set, the Holster on my belt carries them with me most of the time while working and I have a duplicate set at the Allotments. They feel just right in my hand, this is where the subjective element comes in and personal preferences. I like the fact you can adjust the tension with a quick twist of the nut holding the blades together, but some days they slacken off in the middle of pruning, but we live with these things when for the most they do the job you ask of them.
When I’m in the Polytunnel or my home propagation studio their Scoop is the one I reach for when making up my own compost blends, a nice big generous scoop size with a deep and high shape allows a generous scoop of substrate to be moved without spilling.
I initially also used their bigger tools, as in Fork, Spade, Rake, Spring Tine rake and Dutch Hoe. However, being Wooden handle/Shafts, time eventually leads to a snapped shaft after prolonged and often hard use and wear and tear. While expected it still irks when it happens in the middle of a long day when you need your favourite Fork or Spade.
As I write this I am currently about to change from using Joseph Bentley to Spear and Jackson Select Fork and Spade. I’m going to test out Polypropylene shafts and the oval styled handles over the next year or so and see how they cope. After 5 years give or take the Fork and Spade handles snapped on me and I felt it was time for a change to see if I could move to a more modern material, at least for a while…
Keeping with the Stainless Steel head of a tool though as I find these work best and don’t allow the soil to stick as much as some other materials used as tool heads. I find they also stay sharper and easier to clean that other tool head materials.
Not to say that one day I’d say no to a full range of Joseph Bentley Gardening tools in a nice big Workshop shed, even if it’s just for the look of them all hanging neatly on a wall and to be used on a nice sunny perfect day for gardening with them, they feel nice and look great, as well as doing a good job!
Notable mention to Wolf-Garten tools, their Multi Tool system while initially expensive, can be a seriously good investment. Space saving and potentially money saving if you can front the higher costs to start your tool collection.
I’ve used quite a few of their tools and I’ve had nothing but a positive experience with them. Great build quality and good performance.
The Multi Tool and Handle change system is fantastic if this suits your gardening or working style. Not for everyone though.
Fiskars also have an item I adore, my goto mini secateurs or snips as some people call them. These are used constantly during my extensive work and love of Bonsai. Perfect for getting in tight branches or spots other secateurs struggle. Not had to sharpen them once since owning them and they cut like razors kissing with that premium and perfect little snip noise each and every time. If I didn’t like my Joseph Bentley secateurs so much, Fiskars would be my go to brand for a new set.
I’ll no doubt be looking at buying some of their normal sized Secateurs and other cutting tools in the coming year as I am looking to increase the range of hand cutting tools to meet certain requirements and I feel like a little variety might be a good thing. Also, as a side note, their colour scheme is easy to spot if you put a tool down and forget about it till later… (We’ve all done it, so no judging me please!)
Power Tools. Boys and their toys!
I have a soft spot for JCB Power tools.
I have an old JCB 5.5HP Lawn Mower and it’s a tank, bought years ago second hand it’s an absolute monster and without it I wouldn’t have tamed several full sized Allotments which were overrun by several years of neglect and were rampant with well established Perennial weeds and a host of other evil nasty things you don’t want. It waded into 4 foot high weeds and brambles where a Brushcutter failed as it just couldn’t take out the thick growth or was just getting fouled and snagged under the bulk of vegetation. I simply pushed down on the Mower handle, raised the front wheels, pulled on the self propelled handle and went forward at a steady pace and it mulched the weeds and undergrowth down to a stubble while one of my plot neighbours watched in awe. It is long in the tooth now, and spares are no doubt hard to come by, but for a self propelled mower that has stormed Allotments like a Main Battle Tank taking over ground overrun by enemy, I just adore it.
My go to Cordless Drill is also a JCB, again a lot of power and great battery life. Big and Bulky, very Manly if that is your thing and meant to appeal to the Primal part of a man or Woman’s brain I guess. (Might just be me mind you!)
I also have a JCB Circular saw, which again is an animal, nothing cuts up Decking old and new like this tool. Also ate it’s way through more Pallets than I could remember and never so much as flinched while doing so.
Yet to own or use a JCB tool that didn’t work as advertised or wasn’t up to the job it was made for as well as a few it probably wasn’t intended for…
Bosch, ah yes. Quite a few of my DIY tools and a few other more Garden orientated toys come from Bosch.
Their little Keo is a very handy (No pun intended) Cordless garden saw which has saved me a few times in tight spaces or perfect when down at the Allotment and I need some heavy duty pruning of branches or a few Pallets cutting down. Also handy for slicing through nails or screws and other little metal cutting jobs and even through to cutting up thick plastic guttering.
I’ve used a few of their Lawn Mowers and they have been fantastic.
My big corded drill, is a Bosch, plenty of power and the final solution when the JCB Cordless is lacking the juice to get the job done.
If I need to do any sanding then it’s the Random Orbital or detail mouse from these guys that comes out. I’ve tried a few other brands when it came to sanding and none of them so far came close to working as hard or as well as the Bosch sanders.
My Einhell Belt Sander.
For some reason I bought one of their nations challengers when I went for a belt sander, and this Red Demon eats through wood at a serious rate and has plenty of power.
Shame when I bought my first Brush Cutter a little while later it wasn’t as serious about eating weeds or blitzing grass as the Belt sander was about eating through wood. Not saying all Einhell Brushcutters and Strimmers are the same, could be just the one I got, but that experience left a bitter taste in my mouth as it never performed anywhere near as well as it should have done. Oddly enough this season (2017) it’s been sent to a friend to see if it can be serviced and get it running properly or it’s heading to the scrap heap or sold for spares, or maybe the engine can be repurposed.
Either way, onto the big tools for the regular jobs, the bread and butter work for gardening with.
I hopped ship and went against expectations recently.
Having used Stihl Brushcutters and Strimmers for whole days at a time for weeks on end during peak Grass Cutting season while working as a Groundsman for the UK’s biggest Ground keeping company. When it came to replacing one of the staple tools I went elsewhere.
Current reviews and views of Stihl’s modern Cutters and Strimmers are not as favourable as you’d imagine from the big brand and most named name when this subject comes up. The newer models are not hailed as industry standard heroes as they used to be. A lot of people in the field and trade have said often get an older model even if it’s Second Hand as some of the quirks or irks on the newer models are not ones you will want to live with.
That said, this taken with the fact I wanted something I could multi task with; sent me in a new direction, and that was to Hyundai.
As I don’t have a big enough range of jobs requiring the constant use of a Brushcutter/strimmer all day most days in a week I couldn’t justify a dedicated machine for the task and I dislike carrying extra machinery with me to jobs or to the Allotments as room can often be at a premium, so the safe bet and wiser option was a Multi Tool.
Step in the Hyundai Multi Tool, and it has a few great selling points…
Power. Lot’s of it. As it needs a larger power curve to run the Hedge trimmers and Pole mounted Chainsaw attachments that can be swapped over from the Cutter/strimmer unit, it comes with a much larger engine than most Brushcutters and strimmers generally do.
Yes, it weighs more, but that extra power can translate to more cutting power or power in reserve as and when needed.
Trade offs all over but to save room and cost, it’s a good bridge or stop gap if space or expense are issues.
I’ve a mind to opt for a lighter model when the need arises, and their 4 Stroke anti vibration model looks like it might be the one I go for…
I currently also own a Hyundai Rotavator for the bigger task of turning over large areas of land (Remember I mentioned about 4 Allotments and time taken with a Fork or with a Machine, this is where that learning curve or sore back comes in or is avoided!)
It’s a long standing discussion, argument or talking point about turning soil over on a regular basis and if it should be done with Fork or machine or indeed if at all. Which side you are on is your call, sometimes though the volume of work to be done and the time frame required or alloted to do it in requires something with more power.
I’ve used a couple of smaller Rotavators, of both electric and petrol varieties, both have their place and use and when used in them do a good job.
This brings me neatly I guess onto the other long raging subject…
Battery, Electric or Engine powered?
Budget, use, cost and effectiveness.
These are a few of the deciding factors when this subject hits discussion.
Then of course, cables, if I can avoid it, I’d rather live without cables, that again is a personal thing.
If you are at the point you are going down the power tool route, then you have to pick from a plethora of options, and the limiting factors or task to be done are where you make your decisions, and hopefully they are wise ones.
Owning several Allotments and none of them having an electrical source near or available = it’s old fashioned hand power, battery operated or petrol powered. Much as I would like the idea of having a generator at my Allotment, carting it back and forth to avoid the sleepless nights if it was stored in a shed to be stolen leaves me with battery power or petrol power.
Oddly enough, each has it’s place.
Some of the other plot users have battery powered mowers and strimmers and they seem to do just fine, so long as they keep on top of things and it doesn’t get too much for the tools they have. I’m lucky enough to have a range of tools that run on the juice and reap the benefits that power allows.
Don’t get me wrong, if I could get a big tractor in twice a year to turn over and prepare my Allotments, I’d probably go for it and enjoy the time sitting down watching it while thinking about my plans for the coming season and what to plant, where and what else I could do that year.
I like the petrol power tools for simplicity (When they work and perform without issues that is!) I opt for battery powered tools as and when needed, it’s that simple for me.
Then of course, the big question…
2 or 4 stroke?
Do I have to?
Given the choice, 4 Stroke, simply due to the fact mixing fuel can be a pain, then of course it’s an extra can of fuel to have around, plus mixing bottle.
Noise or power discussion aside, longevity? It’s a big can of worms and for now I’m not prepared to really take the lid off of it and go into it, maybe another day?
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JCB 5.5HP Lawnmower (No longer able to get spares – Replacement Sought.)
- Brushcutter/Strimmer (On Shopping List my Choice would be this Hyundai though.)
- Hedge Trimmer*
- Pole Saw Pruner (Upto 6 Inch Branches)*
Titan Leaf Blower/Shredder/Vac
Erbauer Reciprocating Saw
Makita 9″ Angle Grinder
Stanley Anti Vibration Gloves
- 170 Handle
- Weeder Large and Small
- 30cm Rake
Select Fork (Soft Allotment/tended soil only)
Sec’s and Anvil Hand Tools/Cutting Knife in Holster hip mounted “go to” hand cutters.
Gerber “Old Army days Multi Tool” that’s got medals for places it’s visited and things it’s done while there.
Hozelock: H20 Delivery and Hydration from Hose and Waterers.
Van Graphics: Pumpkinprint
Now for the more Unusual or Speciality Machines or Tools.
65 Litre Sand or Water filled Roller.
Manual Lawn Cylinder Aerator (Wet/Damp Lawn/Soil Required for best results.)
Side of House/Hedge Work:
Safety Ladder/Working Platform.
Long Handled Pruning Saw and Trimmer Units.
Lightweight Strimmer and Edger.
Feeding, Fertilisation and Hydration or Suppliments:
2 Sixteen Litre Backpack Sprayers to avoid confusion or misuse of Weedkiller Spraying for Personal use. Dedicated Spraying Containers.
Most Commonly used Supplements or Feeds:
Chicken Manure Pellets
Weed Killer of Choice: Not Roundup 😛
Feed Rotation Method of choice:
Alternate weekly feeds of Root then Foliar. (Hence 16 Litre Knapsack Sprayers for my Allotments.)