As we start another year we have some "slack" time here on the farm. Not really slack, but slower than the rest of the growing season. Good thing as we've lots of things to do to wrap up last year and get a head start on this year.
We're planning, researching, ordering supplies, and continuing to streamline our processes while things are still fresh in our minds. The harvests are finally done and we'll have some small seed cleaning jobs all winter, but we'll also have time to do some projects that often get put off in-season; a new bench and new shelves for our tools area in the warehouse, additional shelves in the pesticide cabinets and a new storage area for our hand tools, which is what I'm going to write about this week.
Everyone who works out here on the farm has experience with hand tools. Everyone is taught the effective and efficient ways to kill weeds with our assortment of hand and long handled hoes. The best person to get advice about hand tools from, is someone with experience using them. And on an organic farm, we all have lots of experience.
So, let's start by talking about hand tools. Something as simple as a scuffle hoe has eluded me until a couple of years ago. For my 50th birthday I bought myself a brand new Johnny's stirrup hoe. I had never had a new hoe at home but have used them many years here at Johnny's. I have always known them as scuffle hoes, but from what I can find the names are interchangeable. I like buying high quality working tools that will last many years and I certainly wasn't disappointed with this purchase. The handle is a strong piece of ash, oiled with linseed oil and the steel parts, are well, steel. The blade is sharp and strong and made short work out of any weeds that got in my way. I had a fairly large garden and keeping it weed free was made easier by my having this hoe handy.
One of the most important things to remember when purchasing a high quality tool is how it's going to feel when you're working with it. I like an oiled handle; I do not like a varnished handle. Case in point, a couple of years back I decided to upgrade my kindling wood hatchet to one made in Maine. The handle was varnished, and to make a long story short, I still use my old hatchet and the new one sits up on a shelf. Oiled handles allow you to get and keep a grip on the tool; a varnished one will slip – not something I want to happen when splitting wood. Nor when I'm hoeing down a row with speed and efficiency. Gripping is much easier with oiled handles and you'll be less likely to develop blisters than with varnished handles.
Oiling tool handles every year will preserve them almost indefinitely. A light coat of boiled linseed oil (use boiled, not raw – boiled dries faster) allowed to set a couple of days then wiped off will go a long way to preserving the tool handle. Storing them inside where it's dry will help preserve the wooden handles. This is also a good time to inspect your tools for repair or maintenance issues -- much better now than the next time you want to use them.
If you compare handles there's really no comparison; Johnny's handles are like handles of yesteryear. The orientation of the grain puts the strongest part of the handle where it will receive the most stress. This prevents the handle from breaking due to repeated use. Most garden tool handles aren't designed this way anymore; chances are if you break a handle you're going to buy a new complete tool. Our handles are designed for the maximum strength and will last for years if properly taken care of. When they need replacement one simply removes one screw and the handle comes off; far better than tossing the whole thing.
As for storage we have two racks Jeff built to hang our tools on. This keeps them under cover and organized so we can find them as needed. The racks are positioned next to the door in-season so they are easily accessible; this time of year they are rolled back against the wall for storage.
Check out our website for the video: Sharpening and caring for tools for tips regarding the care and maintenance of wooden handled tools.
Until next week, Brian