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Hand tools you use most .....  RSS feed

 
Chadwick Holmes
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Location: Volant, PA
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So, I have moved over the last few years from building things, to building the tools that folks use to build things, with a focus on hand or human powered tools.

I have been forging builders slicks, timber chisels, kitchen knives (for my wife), hay rakes, pitch forks,etc, and I like traditional, hard to find tools.

So, I want to get some input from y'all, what tool do you use a bunch, really want but can't find, really want but can't afford, etc.

Chop and drop people, do you find you work crouched down, bent over, or standing upright, and would a different tool help you change that posture?

Thanks ahead of time
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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The tool that I use more than all others put together is my custom hoe. The blade is narrower, so it moves through the soil with less effort. The handle is extra long so that I don't have to stoop over to use it. This is used as a knife and not as a hammer, so the edges are kept sharp.

 
Michael Newby
gardener
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Location: Mount Shasta, CA Zone 8a Mediterranean climate
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Have you ever used a scuffle hoe? I absolutely love using them for cultivated beds. In fact I'm in need of a new one before the snow melts in tye spring.

 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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Location: Portugal
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It hasn't arrived yet, but I have a feeling that my most-used all-purpose take-it-with-me-whenever-I-set-foot-out-of-the-door tool is going to be this guy...



It's a hori hori, which has a long pointy concave blade, like cross between a knife and a trowel, so it can be used for digging, cutting, weeding, grafting, harvesting, basically almost anything you might need to do while visiting the garden. I can see it being especially useful in a permaculture style garden where there is such a variety of things to be done. I'll do a complete review when mine gets here and I've done a thorough testing.
 
Chadwick Holmes
Posts: 618
Location: Volant, PA
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I can see why you like your hoe, that is nice!

Yes scuffles are getting more and more popular lately, good one!

That hori hori does indeed look usefull, I would be interested in asking the way you used it most next year....
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I have two Dutch hoes. One is kept very sharp, for undercutting weeds that are left in place. The other is dull and used along the surface, to rip little weeds out by the roots and drag the debris to the end of the stroke.

My Fiskars loppers are used more than any other yard tool.

My long demolition bar, is probably in my hands as much as all other hand tools combined.
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When tools are left for others to use, I take a picture. The borrowers are shown the picture, and it is their job to find everything. This almost always works. Very few get lost, and there no way for them to deny that an item was left.
 
Chadwick Holmes
Posts: 618
Location: Volant, PA
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I like your picture idea!
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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It prevents a lot of arguments. Even if I'm working on the house all by myself, I take a picture of everything that I have taken out of the vehicle.

 I have probably lost more tools to the garbage bin, to the excavator and to the bushes than I have to thieves. Most tools eventually take on the color of mud, and easily blend with the mountains of crap. I just bought another can of florescent orange paint. This brightly colored coating has prevented the loss of many tools. I'm less likely to leave a tool behind,  and thieves don't like to be seen carrying very obvious loot.
..........
  I always have bright yellow asbestos bags with me. Sometimes, if it is necessary for me to leave some valuables behind, I put one of my blankets in a new asbestos bag, and then load the valuable tools inside and tape it shut. The tools have never disappeared when I do this. Nobody wants to take responsibility for a big bag of asbestos laden material.
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Chadwick Holmes
Posts: 618
Location: Volant, PA
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Yes, the tool that gets sat down is often left right there! I know that all too well, that's why I love attic work, free tools from the last guy!!!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2616
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Michael Newby wrote:Have you ever used a scuffle hoe? I absolutely love using them for cultivated beds.


I don't like scuffle or colinear hoes. The ergonomics seem off to my way of doing things. They depend on some of my weakest muscles for the forward motion, so I don't enjoy using them. I feel like I don't have the coordination on the forward stroke to use them safely. I watched by neighbor one time using a colinear hoe. He was putting a huge amount of effort into it. I just shook my head. When I weed, I might hoe 3000 row feet in an hour, using gentle sweeping motions. With his method I would have been worn out in 5 minutes.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3358
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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There is definitely a technique to a scuffle hoe, and your neighbor didn't have it. LOL. if they are sharp and held at the right angle, very little force is needed. I can simply drag it back and forth on the surface and it just slices everything.

But it is a combination of tool plus user plus technique plus application that matters. If all four don't fit together it is a lot more work than it should be.



 
Chadwick Holmes
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Location: Volant, PA
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They seem like they should not be mass produced, but made to fit the hieght of the intended user. That might solve the angle issue.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3358
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Things that are hard to find in the US:
rice knife
kama
Digging hoe

At least hard to find good ones.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2997
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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My most used tools other than my carpentry tools are; Scythe (chop and drop), Long Bar, Railroad Pick and Round Point Shovel.
Wolf's most used tools are; Sharpshooter, Hoe hand spades and Hori Hori.

 
Mike Haych
Posts: 240
Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Magna Grecia hoe. I was contemplating a YoU Bar until I saw this video.



I bought one. It's fantastic. We have old pasture that has lots of nasty stuff growing in it. Even a permie would find it difficult to find much redeeming value in what grows there. LOL. This tool does an amazing job of loosening the soil even in a drought year when the clay is approaching concrete. We liked it so much that we bought a second just in case they aren't available in the future. One small bit of advice - don't use brute force or you will bend the tines. You don't need to use brute force if you adjust the size of the bite you take to the conditions that you are dealing with.

We also use it in raised beds to loosen soil without turning in over. It's also great for harvesting potatoes and sweet potatoes.

I'm beginning to dribble down my chin here so I'll stop.

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2997
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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R Scott wrote:Things that are hard to find in the US:
rice knife
kama
Digging hoe

At least hard to find good ones.


Try Japan Woodworker Japan Woodworker For any hard to find tools you might need or want.
 
Cassie Langstraat
steward
Posts: 3933
Location: Zone 9b
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just found this for the folks needing kindling this winter and it looks super nifty:

 
Len Ovens
pollinator
Posts: 1452
Location: Vancouver Island
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The putty knife. they are $1.50 for a set of two with wood handle (1.5 inch and 3 inch I think). I use them for cooking with cast iron. The wide one for flipping and the narrow for scraping. I oil them to keep them from rusting (they are not chromed). I like that (unlike almost all flippers available any more) they are very flexible. Because they are cheap it is worth while grinding the corner to match one's cast iron ware.

Good for pancakes, eggs, burgers or even just stirring. They are also sharp enough to cut many things while they are cooking.

Welding gloves: these are my oven mitts. I find them on sale for $5 or so ($9 otherwise... or $20 in the cooking section). I can get large enough ones for my hands and they last a lot longer than cotton. True they do not insulate quite as well, but I rarely hold anything for long anyway. I heat my oven to 500F for bread and use them to move hot bricks around in that oven with no issues. Longer cuff than leather work gloves (which I have also used).

Pen and paper: Great tool for memory loss avoidance.

Reading glasses: I am older than 45, better to have more of these around than needed. Better ones for places where they are used more, cheap ones everywhere else. Reading packaged food ingredients, instructions etc.

Covered beverage container: Need I say more?

Cookie sheet: (bakers half sheet) with raised edges... great for keeping parts from rolling off the table to never never land.

Hat: All seasons.

Old assorted bits: These make good shims or replace the lost part. Knowing what to throw away is a real art.
 
Blythe Barbo
Posts: 42
Location: Sequim, WA USA - zone 8b
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I agree with Mike Haych - the Magna Grecia hoe is an *amazing* tool. It is fantastic for loosening up hard-packed dirt, upending rocks, pulling out sod, building beds - all those rough jobs you need to do but don't want to use a tiller on or kill yourself with a shovel. In fact, it is much like a tiller - only better - it aerates the soil, doesn't create hardpan, and it doesn't chew up your worms.

My other tool of choice is the scythe. We have 3 of them and they are indespensible. They are great for cutting mulch, clearing pathways, and general "mowing" jobs. I use mine to pile the mulch up around all my shrubs and also in the orchard around the trees. I have a smaller blade for tight spaces; a longer one for the field; a stocky short one for saplings and brambles. We made a snath from a eucalyptus tree that didn't make it through one of our winters (I am in NW WA State) and a handle from a pruning on an old cherry tree. It fits my small hands perfectly and gives me a feeling of connection from the trees that continue to live through me and enhance our land. The scything is a quiet motion that is quite meditative. No animals are killed in the process.

I am just over 100 lbs and over 60 years old - so using either of these tools is really more about finesse than brute strength. We purchased them from Scythe Works (http://scytheworks.ca/index.html) in Victoria, B.C., Canada. Alexander Vido is a great person to work with and freely shares his knowledge and love of traditional tools. I can't recommend them enough.
 
Mike Haych
Posts: 240
Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Blythe Barbo wrote:My other tool of choice is the scythe. We have 3 of them and they are indespensible.


Yep, yep, yep.

They are great for cutting mulch, clearing pathways, and general "mowing" jobs. I use mine to pile the mulch up around all my shrubs and also in the orchard around the trees. I have a smaller blade for tight spaces; a longer one for the field; a stocky short one for saplings and brambles.


We also use ours to keep the vegetation back from the saplings that we plant. Until thy are big enough to compete with the surrounding vegetation - mostly goldenrod - we find that providing access to light and air circulation makes a really big difference not only to their chances of survival but to how they grow for the rest of their life. With a scythe, I never have the inevitable SH*T moment that comes with a weed whacker. I put the back of the scythe blade against the sapling trunk and then with a quick motion pull the blade away from the trunk. I move around the trunk 90 degrees and repeat. Two more 90 degree moves and I'm done. Depending on what the growing season is like, I do this at most twice a summer. The return is well worth it.

The scything is a quiet motion that is quite meditative.


Absolutely. It's also a time portal. When I scythe, I often find myself thinking about times past and what people thought about when they were scything.

using either of these tools is really more about finesse than brute strength.


Once you find the rhythm, I think old muscles and joints benefit. Mine certainly do.

 
Robert Reid
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I've never tried a scythe, I spent a couple years trying to find a grass whip locally, before a new farm store opened locally.

 
Chadwick Holmes
Posts: 618
Location: Volant, PA
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Good stuff!

I too love my scythe, but I have recently been thinking of a cross between a rice knife and that grass whip, like a scythe putter as it were.....ill have to make one and post it here!

A froe for kindling seems a bit much at first glance, but for those not comfortable swinging an axe at their hand that is much safer!

Do you think a smaller version of a Froe would be nice, like the ones basket makers use?
 
Dillon Nichols
pollinator
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RE: Magna Grecia Hoe, I recently had a chance to use one of these when I visited the Bullock's homestead. AMAZING tool; good for breaking up ground with less effort than a mattock unless the ground is REALLY tough, and awesome for getting deeply rooted weeds out. Just drive in with one tine on each side of the taproot, and a moment later you can just yank the weed out. It's displaced a scythe at the top of my want list.


Historically my favorite tool has been a heavy mattock-axe. With one of those you can deal with soil, clay, rocks, roots, logs, unwanted shrubs, small trees... and satisfying to use. I spend more time using it than a shovel, partly because the soil where I live is pretty bad, but also because I grab it first and leave the shoveling to others. Will have to see if the Magna Grecia hoe displaces it.


On the building side, I'm really enjoying an old 'Plumb' brand broad-hatchet. Single bevel; good for debarking where the doug fir is too tough for a draw knife, but since it's on the beefy side for a hatchet with a slightly longer handle and a ~2.5lb head, it really blasts through branches when limbing trees.
 
Cynthia Quilici
Posts: 33
Location: Central Vermont
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The hori-hori is the main tool I use in garden beds, since I got one.

I'm also in love with my Falci sickle! Works like a scythe, but you can get into tighter spaces with it, and be more selective. I wandered around this spring chopping off the heads of invasive chervil in the scrubby parts of our new property, while leaving the interspersed milkweed standing. It's super-sharp, so it just takes a flick of the wrist. It's a very light tool.



For vine-y or tangly stuff, a roncolo, which is a billhook in English:


I also have a folding pocket version of the latter tool, which is great for harvesting broccoli, cabbage, peppers...
 
Creighton Samuiels
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My most used manual tool, for firewood harvesting & prep, is a smart splitter...

 
Chris Barton
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Anyone else a fan of the Japanese hoe? It's a fantastic tool.
 
Mike Haych
Posts: 240
Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Cynthia Quilici wrote:The hori-hori is the main tool I use in garden beds, since I got one.


We spray painted the handle fluorescent orange so that we could find where the other person left it. LOL
 
Alex Ames
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These are small and very useful.
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Greg Clark
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The tool I need the most, is probably not the easiest to make. I made my first post on permies.com a couple of weeks back (http://www.permies.com/forums/t/51662#416905) about a timber frame house I'm about to build in India. To build it I'd really like to get a hand powered wood boring auger machine (pictures attached).

You can find some old ones on ebay, but they are pretty expensive and being antique would attract a really high import duty with the Indian customs.

If I could get one of these tools I would be a very happy man!

I guess I'll just have to dream on.....

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Chris Fox
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Top right. Pliers wrench is my go to now. I'm just sad I didn't get it earlier. The jaws open parallel to each other and are non marring. Need to get the smaller one soon.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Hey Greg, you are not alone! I would love a post drill machine.....the t handle is for young guys!

I am going on Monday to pick up a post drill press, a blacksmiths hand powered drill press....photos coming soon.....
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I used a very cheap japanese straight sickle for a long time but it rusted quickly and broke eventually. I now have two curved sickles similar to the top on in Cynthia's post above that I use ALL the time for chop and drop.
 
Erwin Decoene
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Location: Courtrai Area, Flanders Region, Belgium Europe
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My most preferred tools are

- a rake with a extra long shank. I use it to sift man-made debris out of my soil. I rake the loosened ground in a heap with steep sides. Fine, light weight material accumulates near the top of the heap while stones, concrete, glass, metal, bamboe roots, ..... accumulate a the foot of the heap. You pick the unwanted stuff out of your soil. (This procedure homogenises the perturbed soil. You can then add compost, powdered limestone and other soil enhancing stuff as needed. Your cleaned up soil can then be used in raised beds etc... This procedure tends to reduce low level pollution by taking out most of the source material and by homogenizing it over a larger mass of ground. By adding compost, wood chips, and such you bind much of the organic pollutants and you may actually improve the odds for natural breakdown. A relatively high pH will help to keep dangerous heavy metals in an insolluble (less toxic) state.

- a finetiped pruning shear. I used it extensively to harvest wild or semiwild vegetables and herbs in my garden and elsewhere. It has been my favorite new tool. Alas the one i got, was a cheap import (2,5 euro). I'm still looking for a good quality one.

- a trowel (in dutch a schilderstruweel) with a dull, pointed tip. This is very usefull to take out weeds and other stuff imbedded in hardened soil, Sadly i lost my good one. The ones that are available in our local shops now bend and are useless in dry, hardened clayrich soils. Also a fine tool for soil sampling.

- an old fashioned, ex-military pickaxe for whacking bamboe and yucca roots. Ordinary spades and such break but this short handle pickaxe does the job nicely.


 
Eric Puro
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Hands down, the best tool for digging is an enxada. https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enxada

After that: scythe, froe, ax/hatchet, two-man saw!
 
Nicole Alderman
garden master
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The tool I use most of all are my little felco pruning shears.

I always put them in my pocket when I go outside, and I use them to chop and drop, prune back bramble and branches from my paths, and prune my trees and berries. I like to use a sickle when chopping and dropping, but I have a toddler and don't want him getting cut. So, I use prunning sheers. It takes longer, but I don't have to worry about him picking up the sickle, or getting in way of my cutting.

The other tools I use most are a hand shovel (planting small things--I think I actually burried my favorite one while planting sunchokes in a hurry ), a normal shovel (making hugels, planting big things), and a large rake (to rake up grass clippings, forest litter, and leaves for use as mulch). Another tool I use frequently is my son's little rake. I use it to move dirt to plant seeds, as well as to sift through dirt to find sunchokes.

I'm sure there's other, better tools for these jobs (like a hoe or a potato fork), but either I don't have them, or I don't feel comfortable using them with a toddler (like the hori hori. That thing looks awesome, but having something knife sharp that looks like a shovel might be a little too confusing for my two year old).
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Shovel, large rake, and child's rake
 
Dan Huisjen
Posts: 51
Location: Acadia Region, Maine.
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I wish there was a tool that you put around a tree and then pushed a pole around the tree in a circle like a windlass, and it cuts the tree down. This would only be good for smaller stuff up to maybe 8" tops. I keep imagining something with a blade that slices in almost like anvil pruners, but keeps going around. It would be even better if it could cut a clumping stool of volunteer scrub alder in one swell foop.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Location: Volant, PA
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Dan have you ever seen a strap wrench or chain wrench for pipes?

You could make a large one of these and replace the strap with chainsaw chain......is that about right?
 
Dan Huisjen
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Location: Acadia Region, Maine.
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Something like that, but I'd rather slice than gouge.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Do you know what I mean when I say Scorp?

If you did a 4 ft handle on a strap wrench, normal strap, but at the end of the handle a Scorp blade fitted in to slice......might work??
 
Peter Ellis
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Dan wants a giant pipe cutter
 
Without subsidies, chem-ag food costs four times more than organic. Or this tiny ad:
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