Monthly Archives: March 2012

Tool Time!

Had to get out and pick up a couple of new toys to tide me over until my latest internet orders arrive. I’v been shopping both online and in stores over the past several weeks. Today has been a great March day for me here in Ohio. A beautiful early spring day with perennials beginning to show, Daffs in bloom with tulips on the the way. An unexpected snow would almost be a pleasant surprise (almost). Tools ordered online, new tools in hand, and thanks to stumbling across an interesting gardener’s blog even more cool tools of interest to try this season including a rubber rake and innovative bow rake. As for the rubber rake? Don’t laugh just yet, I’m awed by this thing and I’ve yet to even handle one.

Today’s purchases are part of a long-term love-hate relationship with the Sears Craftsman line of tools. Sears is a monster and there are tools I simply will not purchase from them. 25 years ago things were a bit simpler when they offered Good, Better, & Best among the hand tools. Best being the obvious choice if you were shopping Craftsman. My last major purchase was around 1992 so we’re talking twenty years since I last bought hand tools at Sears. Add to that the tools purchased that day are still “in play”. I bought their premium yellow fiberglass-handled line at the time: bow rake, steel tine leaf rake, garden/border spade, 4-prong spading fork, & long handled round point shovel. The border spade has been used and abused and has finally cracked all the way from the collar to the D-handle. I used it today and will continue to use it until it fails and earns a spot on the shop wall. I’ve made alot of money with it. The round point shovel will be replaced soon by yet another premium Craftsman. I ran over the old one with a 3/4 ton truck loaded with mulch and cracked the handle. Sawed off about 8″ and replaced the cap, short but still going strong. The spading fork, bow rake, and surprisingly even the leaf rake are all in good working order. As they’re replaced they’ll be my “home tools”. I do enjoy getting every penny’s worth, more than ever these days!

Today’s new toys are two Craftsman premium that both stray a bit from my old ones. Slick marketing or improvements? Perhaps a bit of both. First is a really nice looking border spade, it feels good in the hands. 3″ taller than the old one (41″ vs. 38″). The D-handle is canted slightly forward and it has what they call a “Power Step” feature with large footsteps towards the front of the blade instead of rolled edges to the rear (this is an Ames/True Temper ~ala~Union tool). Entirely different than my old Craftsman and my much beloved  A.M. Leonard all steel nursery spade. Some sort of hybrid with a hint of drain spade incorporated. Unlike it’s predecessor the connection to the fiberglass handle is reinforced with steel instead of wood but that didn’t appear to be a major issue. I like it but I don’t love it (yet). Please bear with me on the picture layout, it’s been years since blogging and I’m skipping the html and trying for clickables…

The second new one for today is a novel new bow rake with a couple of new twists. Marketed as the “Double Play” it’s tines are less straight and slightly hooked (looks more like a rake, less like a comb). The previously bare area above the tines has a unique row of teeth (hence the “double play”). Now after years and years of using these dogs to spread soil, this one looks like someone was really thinking. Roughly 3″ shorter but not very noticeable in hand, perhaps an inch wider on the business end. As with the new spade I’m impressed. I like it but I don’t love it (yet). Not quite as innovative as the Radius G-Series Ground Hog and Garden Shark rakes I plan to try but it does appear to be an improved version of an old standby.

That’s all for now, I’ve got a sod job coming up soon so these new two will get their first workout and I’ll be able to start to form an opinion. The backyard I’m doing has 3 nice walkways that will require the spade to cut in for sod cutter use and plenty of soil will be needed so we’ll see about that “double play” rake. Looking forward to it!

The Case For Inexpensive Tools?

Is there a case for disposable tools? Every now and again I can say “Yes” but not very often. I recall when I went into business for myself back in 1990 wanting to have nicer hand tools and equipment than my former employer issued to our crews. In fact I recall making tool purchases of my own to replace the bottom of the line Union “knuckle-busters” we were issued. Not to bash Union Tools but the low end stuff is what it is, they’re the equivilent of MTD these days owning the competition’s names. One of their gardening tools I consider absolutely essential can be found on the web under the True Temper and Jackson monikers, the sod lifter. I learned how to do border edging with those funny looking tools and still find them perfect to put a “speed edge” on a properly maintained landscape. I do prefer a good spade for neglected beds, still, I feel under-equipped without a sod lifter on-board the work truck. Slow and tedious but an excellent choice for their designed purpose. Great for tree rings or expanding a bed that doesn’t warrant a gasoline sod cutter. Definitely to be discussed further soon.

Back to the “inexpensive” tools. Getting started I spent the bulk of available funds on my larger power tools, ten dollar shovels and rakes seemed to be justifiable. A few hundred dollars down the road it just seemed wasteful. I started buying tools a notch above basic and with this new season I’m going to be buying and trying many tools. One particular brand of long-handled tools has served me quite well and I’ll compare new vs. old very soon.

Todays tools are one disappointment and one new purchase that I have no intentions of using. First off a Craftsman bypass lopper. Sears clocked me for close to $30 on this clunker. I was in the store for another reason and decided that I “needed” a new lopper. This was the best they had, I questioned it at the time. Just another Chinese novelty they chose to tag with their name. The same exact POS is now sold at Menards for under $15. I do shop Menards, but not for tools. As for the lopper? Guess. The plastic “cushions” between the handles were gone within days. The design did prevent them from becoming the proverbial “knuckle-busters” but the overtravel made them less than desireable. Cleaned and sharpened with a temporary fix they’re useable, a few bucks at the hardware and they will serve someone else’s needs. (the garden hose stops as a prototype, I’ve got the permanent fix in mind)

Second up for the day, a pair of pruners I couldn’t walk past. True Temper 3/4″ bypass pruners at a local “bargain outlet” for $6 and a cheesy holster for another dollar. Seriously, one could do far worse with a $20 in hand. For seven bucks this was a steal. The pruner’s design is contemporary to every TT pruner found online save for the color of the handles. Oddly enough the cheap nylon holster is a perfect match. I find the pruners to be O.K., the finger groove thing is utterly useless but it is the selling point True Temper has chosen to go with. Again, you can find a bargain but I know I wouldn’t pay full price for these or ever consider the heavier forged version.

I gave these a quick workout, they are worth what I paid. I’ll keep my “cheap” Coronas for back-up duty. However if they still have the anvil version (which I rarely use) in stock I will snag a pair for myself. The wide rubber grips might work quite well for that type of pruning.

These tools with both be gifts. Not to be mean-hearted or remotely rude, I have a client that they should be perfect for. One of my oldest and dearest, a sweet friend in her early 70’s, she always needs to borrow one or the other when I’m on her property. Soon she’ll have her own. I’m certain I’ll still be trusted to the roses and ornamentals, at least she’ll be able to deadhead without tearing the roses by hand. The True Temper pruners do have a lifetime warranty, many “disposable” tools do. The manufacturers just bet on everyone buying new…

Is there a case for cheap, er, inexpensive tools? Not very often.

Hello world!

A work in progress. Landscape and garden projects, tools of the trade & more.