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! 5 of my favorite traditional hand tools

 
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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I just love using my scythe to keep my old pasture managed. I also use it to manage the large blackberry patches growing on my wild homestead.

It’s just so much more enjoyable to use a scythe than a powered mower—at least in my opinion. But a scythe is just one example. This week’s blog post—5 Traditional Hand Tools You Need for Your Wild Homestead—introduces 4 more (plus the scythe) of these great tools.

The 5 traditional hand tools introduced in the post are:

- Scythe
- Sickle
- Bill Hook
- Hori Hori
- Machete

I use all 5 of these on a regular basis on my own wild homestead. I like to avoid using loud, heavy powered equipment whenever I can. And for most of my regular tasks these 5 tools are great alternatives.

The Hori Hori – My Go To Traditional Hand Tool



I really love my hori hori. It was a Christmas gift from my parents a few years ago. Since then I’ve used it a ton. I use it for a lot of my plantings (anything small like bulbs, starts, plugs, etc.) and I do a fair bit of chop-and-drop with it.

I really view the hori hori as a gardening Swish army knife since I can do so many simple tasks with it. This is why I tend to keep it on me when I’m walking around my wild homestead. It just lets me take care of quick tasks as I see them instead of having to go back and find a tool.

What’s Your Favorite Traditional Hand Tool?



The 5 traditional hand tools introduced in this week’s blog post are ones that I use on a regular basis and that I find very useful.

I would love to know what you think about these tools. Head on over to the blog post and leave a comment sharing which of these 5 you use. Or if you got another hand tool to add to the list leave a comment sharing that!

And if you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.
 
gardener
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Daron,

Great question!

I posted on your blog, and I will roughly repeat here.  First, I love a grub hoe for earthwork.  I love how easy it is to use, but heavy when chopping through dense clay.  It can also do just about any other soil work activity but unlike a stamped steel hoe it can really chop through an intruding root if necessary.

I also love a kukri.  I would actually want one the size of a large knife or a short machete.  A good kukri is almost like a cross between a hand axe and a machete.

Of course, since I love tools, I could go on and on, but for the top two, these take the cake.

Eric
Staff note (Daron Williams) :

Thanks for the post on the blog post! You were the first so pie for you!

 
master gardener
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I've really enjoyed using hand sickles for chopping and dropping.

I use one similar to the one in your first picture, and another type that looks like a mini scythe blade that I use like a mini scythe in hard to reach areas.

Like you mentioned in the blog post, there's something peaceful and satisfying with using hand tools.
 
gardener
Posts: 533
Location: Central Texas
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I love my scuffle hoe. It's great for clearing out new planting areas, or taking out the weeds in established beds that tend to smother out the more desirable stuff. It's easy to get between established crop plants, and causes minimal soil disturbance since it just slides under the surface to sever the tops from the roots of weeds.
Here, crabgrass is a short-lived annual that tends to suck up the moisture from the soil, then set seed and die once it's dried out. The scuffle hoe is great for removing the crabgrass and maintaining the moisture for the crops that take longer to produce.
 
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Gardening auger. Makes digging so easy indespensible in my garden
 
Posts: 13
Location: Devon UK
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Try the Niwaki hand trowel/knife from Japan. Very useful for deep rooted weed extraction. Or, for surface weeding, you cannot beat the reciprocating hoe. This is available with different widths of blade, depending on the access limits between the crops/plants you are hoeing around. For those of a perverse frame of mind, I still use the left-handed sickle that my Father purchased 50 years ago for his own use. It took me a long time to be able to use this tool as I am more right-handed than left! Reminds me of my lovely Old Man whenever I use it! The odd thing is I now weed by hand using my left hand only, cannot do it properly with the right.
Have a great day!
 
pollinator
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Location: White Mountains of New Hampshire zone 5
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I really like the pulaski hoe/ax. We picked up two at a thrift shop a few years ago. One is even marked with WPA and the worker's name. They were used by the WPA workers during the depression doing trail work here in the White Mountains of NH. I also find many uses for my winged weeder. Not just for weeding, it also makes a fine shallow furrow for seed planting. We use it in our raised vegetable beds. We first use the handle to make where we want the row, then the tip and wings to make the furrows after the seeds are dropped, we can use the wings to cover the seeds.
 
pollinator
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Good day, We are considering the purchase of our first scythe. Our gas weed eater has retired, shall we say.

Using hand tools is much more appealing than buying another gas tool. We are also considering a battery string trimmer too.

I weed eat about 7 hours monthly. Garden paths, fence lines and around our house. Plus we are clearing a few areas to replant.

What are your thoughts on replacing a string trimmer with a scythe? I realize it will be a different workout.

Do you know if the ditch blade is good for grass and some woody materials? Can the grass blade handle some woddy materials?
I'd use it mostly on grass, but there are some thick stems.
Thank you. Great article and post!
 
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I have found a bow saw and a pole saw indispensable in maintaining my woodland.  Since I use a wheel chair now, the bow saw is gathering dust, but the pole saw is easy to use sitting on my garden tractor.  I have my garden in bunk feeders on the deck for easy access from a wheel chair.  The worm bins are in the garage.  
Jim Johnson
Greenfield, MO
 
pollinator
Posts: 221
Location: NE Ohio / USDA Zone 5b
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Read this post and commented on your website!

Great post!

I’ve grown to love the soil knife over the years after dismissing it as an actual tool…however, my day job has progressed into computer work and less involvement with plants. I long to grow beyond the necessity of the day job and a desire/need to return to the land and begin actively building an income from our own homestead.

We’ll be following your journey as we begin our own!
 
Posts: 34
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Sena Kassim wrote:Good day, We are considering the purchase of our first scythe. Our gas weed eater has retired, shall we say.

Using hand tools is much more appealing than buying another gas tool. We are also considering a battery string trimmer too.

I weed eat about 7 hours monthly. Garden paths, fence lines and around our house. Plus we are clearing a few areas to replant.

What are your thoughts on replacing a string trimmer with a scythe? I realize it will be a different workout.

Do you know if the ditch blade is good for grass and some woody materials? Can the grass blade handle some woddy materials?
I'd use it mostly on grass, but there are some thick stems.
Thank you. Great article and post!



Do it!!! There is a whole section here on scythes, my experience is they are more versatile than string trimmers, you can get much bigger stuff than you can with a standard string trimmer. I think they like to classify things a lot more than is necessary when it comes to blades. The Important part to learn is how to sharpen and set up your edge geometry for the task at hand. you can set up a very fine edge on a thick brush blade or ditch blade that will cut grass, but you can also set up a thick edge on a grass blade and cut tough woody materials too, but you don't want to cut woody materials with an edge set up to cut grass. since your edge geometry gets thicker as you mow and hone, It's generally the practice to peen your blade to a fine edge for grass and then when you have been using it a while and it's getting a bit too thick to cut grass nicely, it's set up to be able to cut the weedy woody stuff. Then you can peen it back out to cut grass again.  I use a 50cm falci blade for mowing my garden paths because it's short, it was sold as more of a ditch style blade but I peened it out to a very thin grass cutting edge because my garden paths are mostly grass/clover. but it can still take out some small saplings around 1/2in if done with care. I use a 28in grass blade on the rest of the yard, and have been interested in getting a lighter, longer grass blade but at the same time im in a pretty hilly and bumpy area so I'm not 100% committed to that yet, the 28 does just fine
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I use scythe for cutting long grass and the cover crop pureria javanica which I grow in coconut orchard. But for pathway cleaning where the grass is small, I still use a Honda brush cutter. Recently started using a Fokin hoe which is useful clearing small grasses in raised bed and also near small fruit tree saplings. For making raised beds, I use a long handled grub hoe, it is light weight so it is not tiring to use. I use this for digging holes for planting saplings also.

I use billhooks for cutting green manure trees...and recently started using chainsaw also for this purpose.

In India, I find lots of hand tools which are available in US/Europe is not available...


Regards,
Nandan
 
pollinator
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For growing, I’d vote for the broad fork. Once you realize the damage rototilling does, you still need an alternative to loosen packed soil.
I work with wood quite a bit, and in that arena, the drawknife gets my enthusiastic vote. And there’s really no power tool that takes its place.
 
Posts: 20
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I'm with Julie ~ in addition to all of these great tools (I'm a big fan of our scythe also), our broad fork is likely the most labor saving device that we have that is not a machine. Want to cultivate some pre-season garden beds down deep? This monster is the tool! https://www.easydigging.com/broadfork.html
 
pollinator
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In addition to those mentioned above, I find my old ensilage fork and Mcloud to be indespensible for moving bulky piles of woodchips, weeds, soil, and animal bedding.
 
pollinator
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I realize these aren't gardening tools, but, here goes.

Block plane
Smoothing plane
Chisels
Japanese hand saw.
 
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If you don't have a bushog or napalm, a billhook is the next best go-to for quickly getting rid of multi-flora wild rose bushes. They are hateful bastards. Good leather gloves and eye protection are strongly recommended...My next Go-To would be a good sized herd of goats. Those amusing critters LOVE thorny brush
 
pollinator
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Sena Kassim wrote:Good day, We are considering the purchase of our first scythe. Our gas weed eater has retired, shall we say.

Using hand tools is much more appealing than buying another gas tool. We are also considering a battery string trimmer too.

I weed eat about 7 hours monthly. Garden paths, fence lines and around our house. Plus we are clearing a few areas to replant.

What are your thoughts on replacing a string trimmer with a scythe? I realize it will be a different workout.

Do you know if the ditch blade is good for grass and some woody materials? Can the grass blade handle some woddy materials?
I'd use it mostly on grass, but there are some thick stems.
Thank you. Great article and post!



I'm a recent scythe owner/user (cheap one from Lee Valley Tools that I'm perfectly happy with) and I love it! Cutting big swaths is great. The quiet. The nice little breaks when you stop to sharpen (a must.) And the ability to use it in the morning dew that would be a mess with a string trimmer. The way you can just crouch and use your cuttings to mulch plants as you go when needed.  

But... you will never be able to edge a fence with it. Especially chain link, cattle panel, and woven wire.  The string trimmer wins for those applications, so you most likely will not get to replace a trimmer entirely with a scythe.  

 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 2112
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Hey all, sorry for the delay in replying to the comments. Thanks for sharing!

I noticed that a lot of you are using some sort of hoe for various tasks. Lot of different options!

---------------------------------------------------------------------


Eric – Thanks for sharing! Appreciate the comment on the blog post! I really should get a good grub hoe one of these days… Do you have one you recommend?

Steve – Nice! Yeah, I’ve enjoyed using my sickle.

Kc – Another great tool—thanks for sharing!

Ivonne – Is that a powered auger? I’ve got one that I use for some jobs. I’ve also used some un-powered augers for other jobs.

Nick – Nice! I’m going to have to check that out. Looks like a great tool.

Josephine – I’ve used that tool a lot for some of my field work for various jobs in the past. It’s really quite useful. Thanks for sharing!

Sena – I’ve used both for jobs and I prefer a scythe but it does take a while to learn how to use. A string trimmer is much easier to just grab and use. A scythe takes practice—not just to do the cutting but also to sharpen it. But once you get used to it a scythe can keep up with a string trimmer.

A ditch blade is best for woody material—shorter blades in general are better for that. Grass blades tend to be much longer and they don’t do well with woody material. Shorter blades are also easier to learn on. But it will take longer to cut grass with short blades.

J Johnson – Thanks for sharing!

Rob – Thanks Rob! Really appreciate the comment on the blog post!

David – Thanks for sharing!

Nandakumar – Thanks for sharing! Yeah—a lot of these hand tools aren’t well known here but I think they’re becoming more popular.

Julie – Broad forks really are great—Thanks for sharing!

Scott – Thanks for sharing!

Ben – I don’t have one of those but I do have a mulching fork that is similar. Great tools!

Phil – Thanks for sharing!

John – Yeah, gloves and eye protection is good with a lot of these tools. I got poked in the side of my eye with a blackberry cane earlier this year. Luckily it didn’t do any lasting damage but it has made me more cautious with working without some sort of eye protection.

Matt – I’ve used a scythe around some fences but yeah it’s a struggle. I tend to just create a mulched area around the fences so I don’t have to fight it. But good point and a string trimmer would make it much easier. Especially around chain link fences.
 
Eric Hanson
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Daron, everyone,

Yes, a grub hoe is a great tool.  It has a terrible name, but who cares, it is a really great tool.

Mine came from Easydigging.com.  They have a 4” and 6” models and unless you have an extremely specific need for small hoe, I would strongly recommend the 6 inch variety.

The shape of the grub hoe is important.  It is 6” wide but 8” or more long.  This added length is highly important.  It adds sectional density, or put another way, there is more mass behind the cutting edge to ensure better penetration.

A good grub hoe should also be made of a relatively thick, sturdy blade with a sharpened edge.  And it should not be too lightweight, it needs to have some heft. Mine came with a file and really it should be sharpened at the beginning of each use and sometimes in the middle of usage.  And by sharp I mean razor sharp.  This sharp edge combined with a solid, sturdy mass behind the edge means that the hoe will penetrate ground well without having to rely too much on excessive use of one’s back.  In fact, it relies more on its own weight and less on the strength of one’s swing to get the job done.  

This is important for me as I have a bad back from cumulative earlier mild injuries.  This is doubly the case for me as my soil is some of thickest, most dense clay known to mankind.  I my opinion, a grub hoe can do the work of a tiller without all the damage a tiller does.  Also I find it easier to break ground with a grub hoe than with a shovel (which is truly back intensive work).

Unfortunately for me, I discovered the grub hoe to late.  When I first started my garden beds I started with a shovel but gave up due to back pain and sheer physical exhaustion.  So I went out and bought a tiller which got the job done faster but with its own issues and back pain.  I wished I had the grub hoe.

I could go on and on about the grub hoe but I will finish with this.  A grub hoe can be a pretty good weeding tool, just swing it so the blade is parallel to the ground, and if you have some woody or thick weed like a thistle, this will slice right through.  Also, a grub hoe is a great tool for gathering materials.  Today my grub hoe is primarily used to gather and evenly distribute wood chips.

In case you can’t tell, I think the gun hoe is an indispensable garden tool.  

Again, mine came from EasyDigging.com, but also consider rougehoe.com or prohoe.com.

Eric
 
David F Paul
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Matt Todd wrote:

I'm a recent scythe owner/user (cheap one from Lee Valley Tools that I'm perfectly happy with) and I love it! Cutting big swaths is great. The quiet. The nice little breaks when you stop to sharpen (a must.) And the ability to use it in the morning dew that would be a mess with a string trimmer. The way you can just crouch and use your cuttings to mulch plants as you go when needed.  

But... you will never be able to edge a fence with it. Especially chain link, cattle panel, and woven wire.  The string trimmer wins for those applications, so you most likely will not get to replace a trimmer entirely with a scythe.  



you totally can edge a fence with it. and you don't throw a ton of shredded plastic everywhere, or damage your fence/more delicate things. You do have to focus a little more and go a bit slower, and you have to make sure the first couple inches down from the tip is screaming sharp because you wont have inertia on your side but you can get right up next to anything... scythe regularly as close to the fence as you safely can, then when you get to the fence push the blade in between the grass and the fence, in very short strokes, with the back of the blade in direct contact with the fence. if it's super sharp at the tip end then it will cut the grass no problem, it's a little bit of a different stroke and style, but it works fantastic once you get the hang of it. here's some videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRo0Gy_Sz2U https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBrdFTUhfA8
 
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