Trowel savvy

A buyer's guide to the most-used garden tool

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  • Right-angle trowel with bicycle grip by Red Pig ($24, Denman) is ergonomically designed.

    Trowel savvy

    Thomas J. Story

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Blade materials

Trowels with stamped-steel blades ($1 to $5 and up) usually have short life spans. Rivets hold the blade to the tang (the shaft that joins the blade to a plastic or wood handle), but rivets aren't as durable as good welds. Avoid these trowels, except for use as scoops for potting soil.

High-carbon steel blades ($10 to $20) are strong and can last for decades. The steel may be forged, so it's less likely to bend under stress, or it is tempered (heat-treated) to make it tougher and better at holding a sharp edge. (If a tool is forged, it's safe to assume that it's tempered as well.) High-carbon steel is easy to sharpen but prone to rust.

Stainless steel blades ($10 to $40) are slow to rust. They're also easy to clean, since soil doesn't stick to this steel. Nearly always forged and tempered, stainless steel blades hold an edge well.

Rustproof aluminum blades ($5 to $10) are perfect for work with potting soil, but they have trouble penetrating hard garden soil and are prone to chipping in rocky soil. Also, aluminum blades become dull quickly and don't hold an edge long.

Handles

Most trowels come with handles made of plastic or wood; both are comfortable, but wood is more durable. One-piece aluminum or steel trowels often have handles covered with soft rubber or plastic grips.

Sources

Most garden centers and some hardware stores sell trowels. For the best selection, try one of these mail-order specialists: Corona Clipper ( www.coronaclipper.com); Denman & Company (714/639-8106); Gardener's Supply Company (800/863-1700); Kinsman Company (800/733-4146); Smith & Hawken (800/776-3336).

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