ISSUE 10  |  California Cool

The Gardenista 100: Best Hand Tools

March 09, 2015 4:00 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

Buy a good hand tool and it will last a lifetime (Exhibit A: Michelle’s 25-year-old Felco pruners). For the second installment of our Gardenista 100 guide to the hundred best outdoor and garden products of 2015, we’ve rounded up both new and classic tools–to love now and, one day, pass on to the next generation of gardeners:

Cutting Tools:


Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

These Leather Grip Bypass Pruners from Garrett Wade may look pretty with their leather-sheathed handles, but don’t be fooled. They mean business. Ever since we had the pleasure of testing them, we’ve wanted a pair of our own. They’re perfectly balanced, pleasantly weighted, and have forged steel blades to make quick work of bushes and small branches; $67.50. 

Above: Also from Garrett Wade and new this spring to the company’s offerings, the Premium Anvil Hand Pruner is made in Germany by trusted landscape toolmaker Berger. This is the only Anvil-style hand pruner in our mix, intended for cutting dead branches (leave the live cuts to the bypass blades); $64.75.

Above: The Felco No. 2 Pruner is the company’s original model and the everyday favorite of LA-based landscape designer Judy Kameon, whose gardens surround the homes of celebrities Sofia Coppola and Mike D. of the Beastie Boys; $53.65. (For more on Kameon, see Required Reading: Gardens Are for Living.)

Pruning Shears

Above: From Portland, OR, Barnel Hedge Shears are used by Steve Lannin, gardener to British landscape designer Arne Maynard at his Allt-y-Bela estate in Wales. The 27.5-inch lightweight shears are $52.99 on Amazon. (Watch the seasons change at Allt-y-Bela in A Gardener’s Diary: A Year in Wales with Arne Maynard.)

Above: New from Japanese toolmaker Niwaki, a pair of hand-forged Mamiya Shears set a high standard for craftsmanship. With carbon steel blades and white oak handles, they’re made by a fourth-generation blacksmith near Tokyo; $204.17 from Niwaki.

Above: Niwaki’s Okatsune Precision Hedge Shears are the tool of choice for Jake Hobson, a sculptor who shapes trees in the soft, billowy style known as cloud pruning. (Learn more in Topiary: Cloud Pruning as Arboreal Art.) Made in Japan with two-toned white oak handles, the shears are $85.66 on Amazon.


Above: Anvil loppers. Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

There are two kinds of loppers: bypass loppers (with overlapping blades) and anvil loppers (with blades that meet to cut). We typically use bypass loppers for cutting live wood and anvil loppers for cutting dry or brittle wood. 

Above: Bypass loppers. Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

We got to know Garrett Wade’s premium pruning loppers when we featured in a Giveaway a while back; choose from heavy-duty Anvil Loppers ($60), Bypass Loppers ($40), or both for $85.

Above: Michelle uses Felco 21 loppers, made in Switzerland with adjustable bypass blades; $104.49. (For specific pruning needs, check the Felco Lopper Comparison Chart.)

Digging Tools:

Hand Trowel

Above: Dutch toolmaker DeWitt has been manufacturing garden tools in Holland for more than a century. We trust their Dutch Trowel, guaranteed to hold a sharp point and not bend; $28 at Terrain.


Above: This Garden Trowel from Fisher Blacksmithing is made the old-fashioned way: its steel is heated to a red glow, then shaped on an anvil with a hammer. Made in Bozeman, Montana, it has a sharp point to penetrate soil and a hand-turned black walnut handle; $58 on Etsy. (Meet the maker in Fisher Blacksmithing Tools for the Gardener.)

Above: A specialized trowel from Dutch toolmaker Sneeboer, the Great Dixter Trowel has a particularly long and thin blade to make it easy to dig in narrow crevices and tight spots. It comes fitted with your choice of ash or cherry hardwood handle; $43.10 from Garden Tool Company.


Above: For devotees of the traditional Japanese hori hori tool, this one is a classic: made in Japan of stainless steel by Nisaku/Tomita, the Hori Hori Tool is $25.86 on Amazon. (With a California-made leather holster, the Tool and Leather Sheath Set is $39.50.) Learn more about the beloved tool in My Most Versatile Garden Tool: Hori Hori Knife


Above: For those of us who don’t trust ourselves around sharp blades, the Diggit Hori Garden Knife is an alternative with an equally enthusiastic following. It’s been reimagined with dull edges–sharp enough to cut through roots and sod, but dull enough to keep your hands safe–and a round handle comfortable enough to use all day. Made in Seattle, the knife is guaranteed not to rust–even if left outside all year long in Pacific Northwest rain; $35. 


Above: This Three-Tine Hand Cultivator is hand made in Boring, Oregon; the tang is twisted into the wood handle so the joint will not come loose; $35.85 at Garden Tool Company. (Read about the maker in Red Pig Garden Tools, Hand-Forged in the USA). 

Above: Gardener’s Supply Company partnered with a fourth-generation family-owned business in Holland to manufacture a line of long-lasting basics. The Gardener’s Lifetime Cultivator is made in Holland of Swedish steel; $29.95. 

For more of our favorite hand tools (including some you didn’t know you need), see: