It being Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d tell you about my favorite garden tool company. Lee Valley Tools is based in Ottawa, Canada. It was started in 1977 by Leonard G. Lee and his wife Lorraine, and their son Robin now runs the company. They sell woodworking and gardening tools, though you will also find some good cooking tools in the gardening catalog. It seems difficult for me to say enough good things about them, but I’m going to try. So, without getting mushy: Lee Valley, how do I love you? Let me count the ways:
Our ultimate aim has always been to develop problem-solving tools at the best value. That isn’t an easy task. Just being able to develop a tool that solves a problem effectively isn’t simple, but when we add to that the goal of achieving the best value (which is a combination of price, utility, quality and longevity) it increases the complexity.
Price, utility, quality, longevity: music to a frugal gardener’s ears.
- You have three months to return anything for any reason, and they will reimburse you for shipping both ways. It is truly risk free on the buyer’s part. Not only that, but when an item has a lifetime guarantee, they mean it. I have had occasion to put this to the test a couple of times. One time my transplant spade bent and another time it was my carbon steel spade. Lest you wonder about the quality, let me emphasize that I wasn’t using either at the time, Rundy was. Now Rundy regards his body as his most important tool, and he takes pains to make sure it is working at top capacity. One of the ways he does that is by strength training. Exactly how much he is lifting for which exercise is his business; suffice to say he is much stronger than the average couch potato, and he expects as much out of his tools as he does out of himself. Combine an unyielding gardener with unyielding dry clay soil and something’s got to give. In each case, Lee Valley shipped out a new tool the same day, and sent a check for the postage I paid to ship the bent one back–with an apology for any inconvenience I might have experienced. Talk about treating the customer like a king!
- I like the creative, almost playful spirit their custom-designed tools evince. In describing their rock rake, they confide, “We spent a lot of time getting the right tine shape and spacing . . . The rock rake picks [stones] up for transfer to a wheelbarrow or bucket, or even surreptitious dropping over a fence. It can also be used to catapult the stones some distance.” Who says tool designers don’t have fun? And it doesn’t have to be their design, either–just the best design. They carry items originally designed a hundred years ago, and items designed by customers as well.
- They have an obvious respect and appreciation for children. They carry real tools and real safety equipment, sized for children, so they can do and make things of real worth and utility. And, especially but not exclusively in their holiday catalog, they carry a selection of toys and gadgets meant to appeal to kids of all ages.
- Speaking of gadgets, they always have a good selection of small tools and accessories in the center insert of every catalog, and often a bargain they managed to find. I got the best grass shears I ever owned from them for $3.50; they were a special buy of close-out stock from Italy.
- They also have occasional informational bulletins in the center of their catalogs, conveniently hole-punched for permanent storage.
- They reprint books and pamphlets that deserve to be rescued from oblivion. These often contain old-timer know-how that is in danger of being lost, as well as other items of beauty or humor.
- Their catalogs have great cover images. I’ve scanned one into my computer for a screen saver, and there’s a couple more I think I will add. That doesn’t directly affect the quality of their products, but it does show they care about the details.
If you are tired of shoddy products that never work right or fall apart after a season’s use, try Lee Valley. If you are an incurable putterer and are happiest making things with duct tape and baling twine, Lee Valley will help you achieve your end. If, like me, you know nothing about woodworking, their woodworking catalog will make you wish you did, or at least knew a woodworker who could make some of the items featured in their product displays. Parents, you need their sliver removers and refrigerator magnets. You should see all the things they do with magnets! If you know someone who has everything, you can probably find something in one of Lee Valley’s catalogs that they don’t have–and would actually use.
And for those of us who have already succumbed to Lee Valley’s charms, they now have a wishlist function on their website. Ah, bliss!
Catalog content used with permission