Testing Trowels

trowels, tool trials

It seems that a variety of garden industry companies have decided that there is a market for small handtools.

Our trusty trowels that we frequently found on a rack at the cashier and bought for a dollar or two; have now become a much more valued item. I have recently been given four trowels by significant tool manufacturers. They are pictured above along with my tried and true favourite and what’s left of one of those $1.98 specials.

How To Compare?
The first thing you want to know is price. They were given to me as samples and are sold in a variety of locations and some not at all in Canada. I will go and find what I can and report back to this page. I’m planning more updates as I use these trowels for a variety of jobs.

Different Sizes?
As you can see from the picture each manufacturer has a different idea about how big a trowel should be. My old standby with the pink handle is noticeably smaller than all of the new ones. Here are some dimensions, left to right in the picture:

Manufacturer Length Weight Country
Corona14.5 in9.65 ozTaiwan
Vigoro13.25 in10.85 ozChina
Fiskars12.5 in9.35 ozChina
Ames12.0 in9.30 ozChina
My old10.5 in6.75 ozUSA

My Impressions! I don’t know how long I want to wield some of these heavyweights. We’ll see if the extra weight makes digging any easier but I have my doubts.

The Corona felt very large and heavy and the tapered wooden grip was a bit slippery and there was nothing to stop your hand from sliding down onto the blade.

Vigoro Very interesting that a company that has been making fertilizer for many years is now a tool manufacturer. Grip was soft, comfortable and non-slip with shapes for fingers and thumbs and a bit of a flare to further prevent slipping.

Fiskars A little smaller and lighter than the first two with a narrower blade. Reasonably comfortable grip with a good slip guard at the base. I have used this one a bit and the notched blade tip can be handy for cutting tap rooted weeds. The narrow blade may be better suited to planting individual bulbs than digging a hole for a 6" pot.

Ames True Temper The True Temper brand has been around for a while but I think Ames is a newer user of it. This trowel was blister packed so that it could highlight its supposed multiple uses. Saw tooth on one side, sharp edge on the other, hooked opening for ripping open bags, (I thought it was a bottle opener??) and the notched tip. I have already reached into the tool box and cut myself on this little dandy. Quite comfortable grip with a good gentle flare of the same material to stop slipping and make it easier to push down hard. Multi tools are often just average at each of their supposed jobs. We’ll see if I ever use it as anything other than a trowel. The lightest and smallest of the four new ones.

My Old Standby Noticeably smaller and lighter than the new ones which is why I have always liked it. Grip is comfortable and softly non slip but has no slip guard or formed shape. I will continue to use it as the test criteria. I have 500 bulbs to plant this autumn so we will see how each of these performs and then update this page.

Old Bent & Broken, Every thing has its use. The broken handle makes it very short and the weak blade allowed me to bend it 90 degrees so that I could use it to help dig a deep narrow hole in a tight spot. Makes an excellent example when I try to respond to my wife’s complaint that I keep to much junk around.

Bulb planting
Well we planted 350 Tulips with these trowels and found a few surprises. We had previously dug a couple of holes to plant some potted plants and were learning to like the large Corona trowel. I’ll come back to that.

When you plant that many bulbs you cannot dig nice little individual holes for each one or the job will take all day. The preferred planting method is to drive the trowel into the soil and lever it back and forth just enough to create a slot to drop the bulb into. The difficult part of this is to get a hole that is deep enough for a bulb and wide enough to le the bulb drop in easily. The soil I was working in was about 5 cm, (2") of fresh triple mix over some very dry older soil. One of the side benefits of this planting process was to incorporate these two soils a little.

Which Trowel Worked
The large mouthed types, Corona and Vigoro required several strokes to open a hole of the proper size and then it was too wide and required back filling. The old faithful was better but did not penetrate deeply enough. The two long slim models, True Temper and Fiskars usually took one strong plunge to penetrate both soils to their full depth and then with a little twist created enough room to let the Tulip bulb slide in easily. The large soft and flat top on the True Temper handle made it comfortable to hold and push firmly into the soil. Both of the slim ones could be grasped around the handle and plunged successfully but our natural grip seems to be over the top when trying to go down deeply in one stroke.

I’m not sure I like what is happening here. It appears that my tool cupboard should contain more then one trowel to match a variety of garden chores. More to come on this story.

Mid Summer Update! The large Corona seemed to used quite a bit because its large spoon and it's blade angle made planting big pots somewhat easier. Lately I discovered that it wasn't as strong as it looked but then I probably shouldn't have used it to try and pry out that large rock. I've rebent the handle into something close to its original position.

Amazingly, the little True Temper has become a constant companion. When I'm weeding and fixing a bed its notched tip is excellent for getting through the tap roots of Dandelion and Sow Thistle and the big soft handle seems to be comfortable to work with.

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