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Handle length on hand farm tools?  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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How do I know how long a handle I need on my hand tools? How do we tell the 'correct' length?

Most garden tools hurt my back something fierce. I can barely manage 2 minutes on a normal size fork, but with a large size, I can dig for about 35 minutes before needing a break. Same with a hoe; most come with short handles, but it's the one with the extra long handle I always reach for.

I don't consider myself overly tall at 5 foot 9, but if I try to use a normal size handle on a farm tool, I have to hunch or bend my back. It's very painful.

I've been thinking of buying a new hoe but I wonder how to discover how long a handle do I need?

 
Dillon Nichols
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I have a feeling that the answer is 'as long as necessary to prevent stooping', which may also equate to 'longer than is easily available'. I'd love to find some longer mattock handles, the normal 34-36" feels way short or a bit short...

I would expect there's probably an old-time rule of thumb for various implements based on comparing tool height to a portion of anatomy, but I don't know what bit for what tool. Hopefully someone else does. However, it seems like 'too long' would become apparent by virtue of being in the way, and could readily be rectified with a saw, so...


I think the short handled tools are sold to people who think they would like to garden, and don't know better... other than special cases they're effectively useless or worse than useless(dangerous) in my opinion.

Short D-handled flat-bladed shovels, scoops, and manure forks can be great for shoveling out of a truck bed, where the load is already up and the long handle gets in the way until you're reaching for the latter parts of the job. That's really the only specialty use I encounter on a regular basis...
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Here is an Amazon link to the type of shovel I use (Picture attached).

Here is a thread that talks about long handled shovels, where I mention my spinal transition from short to long handled shovels.

Better to buy a shovel with a wooden handle that's too long, and cut the handle to your perfect length. I'll never use a short handled shovel again. My spine thanks me for it.
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r ranson
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My fault for posting in a hurry last thing at night.

I'm really interested in how we can tell the right length for different tool handles.

Is there a formula like so many other things in ergonomics? Height divided by star sign times wrist circumference? I know it's more scientific than that, but it's a mystery to me.

I will be changing some of my tools to longer handles, but I also need to know what tools are shortv enough for my 4foot 9 friend to use, so I can leave them unchanged.
 
r ranson
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Dillon Nichols wrote:

I think the short handled tools are sold to people who think they would like to garden, and don't know better... other than special cases they're effectively useless or worse than useless(dangerous) in my opinion.


It seems that way to me too. Looking in several garden centers yesterday, the customers didn't seem like the kind of people who will be farming/gardening 2 or 10 hours a day, most days of the week. In the farm shop the quality of the tool was better, but the handle still 'standard' size. To order a long handle from these places, would cost more than a new hoe. I'm surprised.

My favourite tools are these large shovels/forks (which I 'borrowed' from a relative some time ago, and they never asked for them back). They stand 45 inches tall instead of the regular 38-40 inches. They are heavier than most hand tools, but the length makes up for it. One hand is a fulcrum, the other puts weight on the handle. If you get it balanced right, one can get a much larger load than with a normal size fork/shovel, with far less effort.

But most of my friends who want to help out, tire really easily using such a large tool. I figure I could get more work out of my volunteers (and increase the chances of them coming back) if I could figure out which tool is the right size for their body type.
 
John Duffy
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Longer handles will definitely save your back a lot of misery. I bought a ridging hoe from Easydigging.com and it has a 5' handle. The head of the hoe weighs about 2 lbs. When I first picked-up the hoe, I thought this beast is gonna destroy my back...Boy, was I ever wrong! The long handle plus the weight of the head caused the tool to do most of the work instead of my lower back. Go for the longest handle that will keep you in the most upright position... and checkout easydigging.com Their tools are awesome!
 
Jason Silberschneider
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R Ranson wrote:Is there a formula like so many other things in ergonomics? Height divided by star sign times wrist circumference? I know it's more scientific than that, but it's a mystery to me.


I like what I've come to think of as the 80/20 rule in permaculture. I've seen many examples of it in practice, but I don't think anyone has actually spelled out the method.

Basically, the first 80% of your results will require 20% of your inputs, while the remaining 20% of your results will require the additional 80% of your inputs. (These numbers are 100% contrived, purely to demonstrate the principle)

Regarding handle length, the mere act of using a long handled shovel and finding a spot that feels strong and comfortable will represent the "80%" increase in your efficiency and skeletal comfort. Compared to what you might have been doing up to this point to your body with a short handled shovel, the 80% improvement is "good enough". I've always agreed that excellent is the enemy of good enough.

To seek out and apply all the formulas, wrist diameters, position of sirius the dog star when you were born, etc, will require the nominal 80% additional effort and inputs for what may only be an additional 20% increase in comfort and efficiency.

100% ROI is the realm of broad acre agriculture, and responsible for so much destruction in the world. Embrace the "good enough".
 
Roberto pokachinni
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R.Ranson. I have a feeling that you are in decent shape, and that the strain on your back is because you are using the wrong length of tool as you are indicating, and so I wont bother to ask how you are doing physically, but I will point out a few obvious things for the benefit of others, and maybe you, about tool use, since I have extensive labor experience and because I like labor and use a lot of tools, both mechanical and manual. I consider myself to be in pretty great shape, but I do get strained from certain tasks and from certain tools.

The problem for me is often my own persistent nature. What I mean is that even when I am beginning to ache, I might keep up with the same position or pattern of use, because I feel that it's the efficient thing to do to get the job done fast. The efficient thing to do, though, is is to stop and stretch, or change tasks, or change positions. I have the added bonus of being semi-ambidextrous (although generally right dominant), so I can switch sides/positions a lot easier than others can, but everybody can stretch, and I ALWAYS feel great about taking a moment to do it. Take a moment to simply take a break, to breathe, and/or a longer break to relax your back (detail of big back relaxation below).

Doing Yoga, Pilates, and especially Core Strengthening goes a long way to having a happy back. Choosing the right tools, and your body position while working is massively important, and no amount of yoga will be able to support poor posture while working, particularly as you age and your muscles begin to degenerate.
But most of my friends who want to help out, tire really easily using such a large tool. I figure I could get more work out of my volunteers (and increase the chances of them coming back) if I could figure out which tool is the right size for their body type.


Ergonomics is huge, but it is often task specific rather than necessarily tool or person specific. So it really can depend on a combination of these variables.

The length and size of a tool handle can be VERY important. My favorite weeding tool for instance, is a long forked screwdriver type tool that I think was designed for weeding dandelions. I have two such tools, but one has a handle that is too fat and too long, and I tend to pass on using it. The ergonomics of weeding (which I do on my knees--sometimes with my prosthetic leg off) is massively different with the shorter, thinner version, which I can use for hours with micro breaks. I have several shovels of different lengths and some with straight handles and some with "D" handles, and I will walk a thousand feet to grab the right one and return to the garden to do something; that's how important it is to me (note to self: build a garden shed in the garden-duh!)... but sometimes... often, actually, I don't think about it, I just get focused on the task, and grab the closest tool that sort of fits the bill and I end up getting myself into a position that is not conducive to my general health. I do this occasionally at work as a railroad laborer to occasional great distress. In my job, the right to refuse unsafe work, in any way, is something that I rarely do, but I actually have done on a number of occasions, more so than most railroaders for sure, and that is because I have become more and more conscious of what is safe for my body and my abilities, and I know that I should not use this jackhammer, or that shovel, or that hammer, for this or that task, because my body can't handle it (or I know the tool to be dangerous)... not for the repetitive, all systems go full speed ahead, give'er because we only got so long for the task because the trains are coming kind of work. I know that if I grab the right jackhammer, the lighter or heavier hammer, the shorter shovel with the 'D' handle or the long one with the straight handle then I will be able to perform the task safely and efficiently. The same is true of anybody who comes to help you. If you have a variety of tools you can offer what might work for the person in question the will be a lot happier to help and to return as you said.

I am lucky to be short (5'4''). I get to have more options for tools that work for me, as more tools have handles that are often too short, but few that are too long (which can usually be shortened if they are). I definitely feel for you. It's a challenge to get the right tool for your body when you are taller. I will sometimes forego my own comfort to give a longer handled tool to a taller person. I think going for the longer handles is a good start. There are also long handled 'D' handle shovels too, but they are rare... you can make one though.

Highly recommended
Back Relaxation:

Stand straight up and then spread your legs a little wider than shoulder width, bending your knees slightly. Feel your feet anchor you and stabilize your weight over them. Lengthen your spine via bringing your chin in and up toward your spine/cranial connection while rolling your shoulders forward up, and then back, toward your back. Breath into the vertical spine. If it doesn't feel vertical, make it so, slowly and with consciousness to your breathing. You are now prepared to begin the spine bend. This exercise is not meant to be done super quick, nor is it meant to have touching your toes as the goal; it's meant to be relaxation of the spinal joints/back muscles. So the next thing to do is to slowly reverse the shoulder rotation, and as the shoulders are rolled to their most forward position, tuck the chin into the gap in your collar bones. Stay here for at least one long breath in and out as your spine has begun bending. The arms should be dangling loosely at your sides now. Carry on bending slowly one vertebrae at a time, being sure to stop if you feel any tension. Your arms will be slightly rocked forward as you progress in this. Breath a few times in the tension position of any tense vertebrae, or if that is too much tension then back up a vertebrae and breathe there until you feel like you can proceed. If after the second time you still can not bend that tense vertebrae then allow it to bend with the next one or two (making a mental note that this area should be cared for via massage or hot stones or chiro or something), and carry on in this manner (slowly and mindfully and with a lot of breath) until you are bent over towards your toes. Hang in this position (legs anchoring and spine dangling), and try to breathe deeper than ever, with the spine in natural traction. After several breaths, very gently sway your spine slightly, using your arms like an elephant's trunk to loosely hover near all your toes (or if you are very flexible dusting the ground with your finger tips or palms around your feet). Go back to the deep traction straight down position, and breath there again. After you feel really relaxed there, focus again on your feet stabilizing your weight. Anchor your feet and feel the musculature in your legs from your feet all the way up to your hip bones supporting your spine in natural traction. Bear this weight and consciously allow your legs, and the leg connections to your lower back to slowly lift your body, one vertebrae at a time, and breathing into any problem areas in the way described for your way down. You may notice that the spine is happier than on the way down. Do this all the way up until you can roll your shoulders and untuck your chin. Stay in your vertical relaxed position, breathing for at least three breath cycles. Your body should be significantly relaxed, you spine lengthened, and your mind focused. You can either do this again, or take a light step and feel any difference in your body. Now try to go about shoveling or hoeing in a way that is more conscious and accepting of our body the way it is and the way that feels best.
 
Alex Ames
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I saw ruth stout using a goose neck tool like this in a video years ago and when I saw this I pounced on it.
Just curious. It had short handle that looked like termites had gotten to it. I saw a couple of old hoe handles for sale at
a thrift store and bought them. They were unused but appeared to be quite old.

The tool with it's long neck and new handle is now taller than I am! I am able to get a weed from long distance.
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