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The Right Landscape Tools

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Updated: August 7, 2020

Landscape construction requires the right tools to get the job done and with tools, bigger and louder is not always better. There are many instances when the safest and most efficient option to getting a job done is with hand tools. We are not talking about power tools but the old traditional tools of the trade for plying your craft; sometimes old school is simply better.

When it comes to landscape maintenance there are many toolsfor contractors to select from, the range of tools required to either complete or maintain an installation will vary according to the degree of complexity of the work and the materials installed in the construction, including plants.

Hand tools are very versatile and although their use may be limited in some circumstances, their importance on the job can be critical to success, and selection of the correct quality hand tools will pay dividends on the job. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true when purchasing quality tools and equipment for any type of trade. It is false economy to compromise on quality in order to save a few dollars in the short term because equipment failure on the job can result in significant downtime and additional expense.

Starting from the ground up, hand tools can be broken down into some major groups, which includes cultivation and cutting tools. Focusing on cultivation, the most utilised hand tools in landscape maintenance include:

  • Shovels and spades
  • Mattocks and pickaxes
  • Rakes

Digging Deeper

When it comes to shovels history suggests that humans have been using shovels since the Neolithic period over 12,000 years ago. Shovels and other digging implements were crudely fashioned from animal bones with shoulder blades being a popular choice. Since the iron age and the industrial revolution shovel heads have been constructed from a range of metals and alloys and their functionality is just as important today as it was all those years ago. There are several different types, each designed with its own specific purpose and as with any tool it is important to select the right one for the job at hand. Specialised head designs are used for either digging or moving loose materials.

Shovel blades for digging are designed to cut through soil and move loose materials around, so it stands to reason that the larger the scoop or blade the greater the quantity of material that can be moved. Sharp pointed blades such as those on a round mouth shovel will make it easier to cut through soil and material like roots and flat blades are ideal for edging and moving bulk materials. Blade designs are quite varied and can include serrated edges, length and shape usually determined by the intended use.

Scissor shovels or post hole shovels are essentially two shovels hinged together and are used for digging planting holes or post holes, usually in already tilled soils, although a solid workout of the shoulders is to be expected when using this tool.

The handles or shaft of shovels are usually long to provide leverage when digging but can also be relatively short, particularly for broad mouth shovels used for moving bulk materials such as sand or gravel. The type of materials handles are constructed from is as varied as the tools themselves. Traditional wooden handles constructed from spotted gum or other hardwood timbers will require additional maintenance to keep them in good working order. Composite materials, fibreglass and metal handles are also available, weight and cost of the tool will be dependant on the material it is constructed from.

Spades are another versatile tool that no self-respecting contractor should be without. Spades, unlike shovels, have a relatively flat blade with straight edges and the blade is usually in line with the shaft and not angled forward. It is this feature that makes all the difference when working with a spade. The design makes it efficient in cutting through sods and for slicing straight edges in trenches or holes and edging garden beds. The shafts of spades are usually short with a DY-handle or T-handle but there is also an O-handle on the market, which gives more options on how you hold the tool. There is also a range of long handled spades, which can make light work of digging planting holes, particularly for smaller size stock in 150-200mm containers. The longer shaft eliminates the need for bending, thereby making the tool more ergonomically efficient.

Heavy Hitters

When it comes to hard ground it’s time to bring out the heavy hitters, mattocks and pickaxes, these are often referred to as being the same tool, but they are different. A mattock is designed with the cutting blade running perpendicular to the shaft, the blade is often referred to as an adze. An adze is used mostly in forming and carving wood but has evolved to become the ideal digging, landscaping, and gardening tool. The head of the mattock has one side that is an adze (prying or carving tool) and the other side being in the form of a spike or pick for breaking up rock or a flat axe type blade for cutting tree roots.

Contractors will require both tools as they serve different purposes and will enable you to get your tasks completed more efficiently.

Raking It In

As the leaves fall rakes come into their own. Rakes also have some specific uses and not every rake is designed equally.

There are rakes for levelling garden beds, leaf rakes, shrub rakes and thatch rakes for lawns. The humble leaf rake has to some extent been replaced with the leaf blower, a tool that some might find offensive, but it still has a place in landscape maintenance. A wide head leaf rake can cover a lot of ground quickly without the noise and they are available in plastic or metal construction. Better quality metal leaf rakes will have a stress distribution bar to prevent the tines from twisting. Metal leaf rakes have a springy nature and can also be used to lift thatch from lawns if you don’t have a thatch rake handy. Their work life will outlast a plastic rake, which tends to bend and break, but leaves can get skewered on the tines. Most leaf rakes will have a wooden, plastic or metal handle and there are telescopic handles and adjustable fan heads also available, making transport and storage easier.

Garden rakes, sometimes called level head rakes or nail rakes in reference to the tines, are more robust than leaf rakes and are used to loosen soil, so are primarily made of steel. The tines are wide set and short, usually only about 75mm long and bend down from the head at a 90-degree angle. They are used for moving, spreading, and levelling soil. Selecting the right rake can go a long way to easing your workload and increasing efficiency on the job.

Quality Counts

Whether your turning over a garden bed for new plantings or raking leaves from lawns, when it comes to hand tools in landscape construction and maintenance, the choice of one brand over another often comes down to personal preference. Prices in today’s market are highly competitive and just because one brand may be cheaper than another, is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the product. Do your homework before making any initial outlay on hand tools or equipment and you could make some significant savings without compromising on quality.