A Bad Year for Tools is a Good Reason to Buy More

– Posted in: Tools and Equipment

Image of pruning loppers with broken bladeIt all started with that forsythia bush. Collin had barely gotten started pruning out the thickest branches for me, when the blade of the lopper snapped off. I had purchased these loppers from Lee Valley a while ago, but I thought it was worth contacting them to see if the loppers had a lifetime warranty. Many of Lee Valley’s tools do, but not this one.

They did have a replacement blade, however. It had never even occurred to me that I could replace the blade on my lopper. (Frankly, it had never occurred to me to sharpen the blade, either, which was probably why it snapped in the first place–too dull to cut well.) It was only $3.50 plus shipping.

Decreasing the per-item shipping cost

But shipping was $7.95 for orders up to $20, and $9.95 for orders up to $120. It just wouldn’t do to pay more for shipping than for the blade. It was clear I needed to spread the cost of shipping over more items. A consultation with my wish list was in order. (Did you know Lee Valley has a wish list function?)

One great shovel

I won’t bore you with an itemized list of everything I bought. I just want to tell you that I am really, really happy with the stainless steel border shovel that I purchased. It’s one thing to dig holes for plants in a brand new perennial bed. It’s quite another thing to dig a hole for one new plant in an already established perennial bed. Quite often it’s a little bit of something from a friend that you’re planting, and besides being awkward and heavy to manipulate in close quarters, a standard shovel makes a bigger hole than needed.

Image of three variously sized shovels

I used to make do with what we call “the little kids’ shovel,” the one at the bottom of the photo. The head was the right size, but the handle was too short. If there’s not enough room for a standard shovel, there’s not enough room to kneel and use the little shovel, so that solution created its own problems. But as you can see, the new shovel has a head just slightly larger than the little shovel, and a handle mid-way in length between the two, handily overcoming the drawbacks of the other tools.

Tool size matched to body size

And if I had truly understood how much difference a tool of the proper size and weight for a specific gardener would make, I would have bought this shovel much sooner. I do everything with it I used to do with the standard shovel, and even though I am moving less material with each shovelful, I am less wobbly and move more efficiently. I am not sure if it takes more total time, but it feels much more natural, and therefore satisfying. I no longer dread shoveling tasks!

Out of the (ahem!) thirteen items in the order, only one was backordered–the replacement blades for the loppers. It took six weeks to get here. Go figure.

Image of trowel with broken blade

Image of a boy pretending to stab himself with the broken trowel

All’s we need is a little ketchup to make the illusion complete.

Shortly after the lopper blade snapped, the head of my narrow trowel broke off in a similar fashion. I still haven’t replaced this, so I would appreciate any suggestions you might have. I have a wider trowel, and there are a couple of narrow dollar-store trowels that I bought for the kids banging around, so I’ve been waiting to find the perfect replacement.

In the meantime, that broken trowel has found a new life as a prop in all sorts of dramatic play. Death by trowel: who’d a thunk it?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

John Otto Haas April 22, 2010, 4:40 pm

We have a 6′ shovel with holes in the blade, to keep it light-weight. My problem is that it has no name and I cannot remember where I got it. Does anybody out there know of such a thing and will you give ma an email address where I may purchase it?

Kris at Blithewold September 17, 2007, 6:09 am

Kathy, do you already have a hori-hori a.k.a. a Japanese digging knife? Might be just the thing for replacing the narrow trowel – I’ve been abusing mine for about 15 years – for digging, planting, weeding, whacking, dividing and I don’t think I could break, bend or ruin it if I tried! (Lee Valley has them) Losing it is my only worry – I think it just needs colored duct tape …

Curtis September 16, 2007, 2:53 pm

My trowel broke the very tip off. It is still usable but I would like another trowel for the kiddos. They break if trying to dig up rocks, as I soon found out.

Kathy Purdy September 14, 2007, 9:23 pm

I wonder if you have duct tape on your shovel for the same reason we have it on ours? Long time ago my DH bought a top-of-the-line shovel at Agway. The shovel was guaranteed for life, but you had to be able to prove it was Agway’s best to get your replacement shovel. The sales clerk actually suggested to my husband that he cover the brand imprint in the handle with duct tape so that if (when) the shovel broke, he could just peel away the duct tape and easily claim a new shovel. And we have indeed replaced the shovel at least once in this manner, maybe more than once, I can’t remember.

Ellis Hollow September 14, 2007, 9:09 pm

I swear by my transplanting shovel. I still use my big one (with duct tape on the handle like yours) for turning over veggie beds. But the transplanting shovel with it’s short (but not kid-sized) handle and ~6 inch wide by 12 inch long blade is great in established perennial beds.

Kathy Purdy September 12, 2007, 6:24 am

That is the driveway! I don’t have that much bare dirt–it’s all covered by weeds. I suppose I could have laid them all out on the grass. It didn’t occur to me at the time.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens September 11, 2007, 8:33 pm

Lee Valley has a wish list function. I will have to check that out. The first five years of our relationship our Christmas gifts consisted of two boxes: an Amazon order and a Lee Valley order.

The thing that really caught my eye about this post is the dirt on which the shovels are posing. Is that dirt in your garden! Are you gardening on nothing but rocks and dust. Gracious! Please tell me that’s a driveway or something.

Carol September 11, 2007, 5:55 pm

Any reason is a good reason to buy a new garden tool! And it is always more enjoyable to use a good, well-made tool that fits “you”. I like the hand-forged trowel at Lee Valley, but it is a bit wider than your narrow trowel in the picture, not too mention a bit high-priced. But I can’t imagine it ever breaking.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Annie in Austin September 11, 2007, 3:57 pm

A broken trowel, ketchup and a video camera – I can imagine what would have happened when my son was that age! Your photo is really cool!

My favorite is similar to the ‘poacher’s spade’ seen in some catalogs, but it came from a hardware store labeled ‘Drain shovel’. Those of us who jam our beds too full need a tool that can sneak into the border to add and subtract.

Happy Digging, Kathy!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Kathy Purdy September 11, 2007, 1:08 pm

My kid didn’t know they could break, either, but he found out when you stick them under a tree root and start prying, the tree root wins.

I use that narrow trowel for three tasks: 1) planting little 6-pak seedlings in the spring 2) planting small bulbs in the fall and 3) anytime I can’t find the trowel I really want (the big one). I think I should be looking for a tool that can do tasks 1 and 2 well, and not be stuck on getting a trowel, per se.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter September 11, 2007, 11:51 am

I didn’t know trowels could break! Amazing – a thing that can be broken that my kids haven’t destroyed. I better lock up the trowels now. I wish I had an idea for a replacement trowel, but mine look just like yours & I really like them. Maybe you should get a digger with teeth on it. It is scooped shaped & cuts into the ground well. It is not a replacement for a trowel, however, as it can’t dig narrow holes.