What Are These Unusual Garden Tools? Who Makes Them & Why? Are These Unusual Garden Tools Historical Or Modern? That’s What This Article Is About.
Have you sometimes seen Unusual Garden Tools and wondered what they are for? I’m old enough to remember and, in some cases, have used many farm and garden tools that are rarely seen these days. Years ago tools were made locally by the village blacksmith to the specifications of local farmers and gardeners. So local soil type and other factors affected their design. In some cases the design varied from village to village and in others county by county.
When I was young my grandfather used a long handled Devon shovel. It was different to the long handled Cornish shovel and both are different to a spade.
Spades have parallel edges and either flat bladed or very slightly concave. The handle is fairly short. Shovels have much longer handles and usually have shield shaped blades, though some are parallel edged with a broad blade, much broader than a spade.
The Devon shovel blade is slightly wider than the Cornish shovel and is designed to dig in clay and similar soils, whilst the Devon blade is bigger, more concave and designed to be used in lighter soils. Of course local variations tend to merge the two types as soil types aren’t defined exactly on county borders.
Don’t confuse a digging shovel with the much wider parallel bladed shovels used to shovelling malt or coal. All are called shovels but perform totally different functions.
Iron Bar: An Essential Gardening Tool
One of the most important tools in my garden is not a spade, fork or even trowel. It’s a pointed iron bar.
Why you might ask? What do you use it for?
Let me start by explaining that there are two sorts of iron bar. The first is round in cross section. around 4-5ft long, straight and quite heavy. The second is more “refined”. It is the rapier of the iron bar world. Though in this case not straight. It has a slight crank or bend at the very end. It is also much lighter, and is made of steel rather than heavy iron.
Both are used to help dig holes for gateposts or fences posts.
When soil is compacted and a deep straight sided hole is required a conventional spade alone is difficult to use to get the perfect hole. It is much easier to use to use a ling handled spade (see below) and a bar. The bar is used to drive into the ground to loosen the hard soil whilst the spade is used to lift the soil out of the hole.
Some people refer to use a post hole tool, which is like a long pair of spades joined like scissors, which can be used to drive into the soil and grab the spoil to lift it out. They are used a bit like sugar tongs to do the lifting bit! Personally I find post hole tools a faff to use and prefer the bar and spade method.
Why the crank in the more refined steel bar? Simple. Being shaped like this enables the user to get right into the corner or sides of the hole whilst still going straight down with the tip.
Recycled steel bars
My steel bar is recycled. It’s an old buck rake tine recycled from a farm yard. I’ve had it over 50 years and I treasure it amongst all my tools. With it I can dig a 3-4 ft deep hole very quickly.
The alternative to these tools is a post hole auger. It is a big petrol driven auger that drill sin to the soil in no time. Quick and efficient when used by two strong men in ideal conditions I’ve seen it hit a huge rock and throw both of them off their feet when the slip clutch didn’t work. Imagine a huge electric whisk in your kitchen getting out of control and throwing you across theorem and you’ll Gert an idea of how much safer a steel bar is!
Long Handled Spades
Though I’m mainly no dig I still own a spade. But mine is not conventional. I have modified it for digging holes for fence and gate posts, tree planting and similar. The blade is relatively modern stainless steel and the handle is significantly longer than a conventional spade.
The relative handle lengths are easy to see in the photo which shows a conventional spade of modern design and my own design long handled spade.
In the past I have made my own handles from a length of ash but this one was bought online and is of exceptional quality. It’s actually better than the ones I used to make. My own lasted 2-3 years whilst this one looks like it will last a decade or two.
The thing about long handled tools is that they mean less bending. Being long handled its also possible to get more leverage from the handle … that how my last home made one broke!
When digging holes for fence posts and gates the long handle makes it much easier and less bending is needed. If a short handle is used you end up kneeling on the soil next to the hole to dig it deep enough. Thats no fun in the rain. The long handled spade means a three foot deep hole can be dug without bending.
But not all tools have long handles .. as can be seen from the next section.
Historic Hand Tools
This is a tool I bought a few weeks ago in an antiques shop. It was in the garden section. The steel is of exceptional quality and it’s very sharp. The handle is mass produced, possibly beech. Beech was often used because it is not as absorbent as oak or many other woods. So in the garden, or other wet places, it didn’t soak up moisture and, being fine grained, polished up quite nicely and was therefore comfortable to handle.
What do you think this tool was used for?
I’ll give you a clue, I have a long handled version in my shed.
In reality I’m not quite sure what this tool was designed to do as it possibly had two potential uses. In the kitchen the half moon shape was used in a rolling motion to finely cut herbs. Whilst in the garden it is used to edge lawns etc in exactly the same way as the long handled half moon spade was used.
I believe the local blacksmith made exactly the same tool for kitchen and garden use and merely changed the handle length depending on what was ordered!
Am I right or is this a fanciful notion? We will never actually know unless we can find some old catalogues containing these tools.
Scythes are. I’m sure, the work of the devil.
I often see scythe courses and people eager to learn how to use this mediaeval farming tool. They think it a romantic tool and I’m sure must see farming in the same romantic way that Marie Antoinette saw being a shepherdess.
The reality is they are hard work. The action of rhythmically swinging the blade through a dense crop is tiring for a fit person. I dread to think how well an unfit person would have managed a days toil in the fields with a scythe.
In the image the labourer isn’t wearing a codpiece, it’s an important part of the scythe users kit. A sharpening stone. Or more likely a whetstone that would have been quarried out of the earth to sharpen farm implements. There was no B&Q to go to in mediaeval times.
The real secret of the scythe is keeping it sharp. Sharpen the blade every few minutes.
The second secret is not o try top cut too much at once.
The third secret is one not covered in this video … see my answer below.
So what was the third secret? It’s to have the scythe fitted to your size. They are adjustable and to use on effectively you need to ensure it fits you.
If you look carefully in the video you’ll see the top handle is moveable. There are several holes through which the handle can be fitted. If you are pulling the blade though the crop this handle needs to be adjusted to fit your height.
Tag: Unusual Garden Tools
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