ISSUE 39  |  Old Meets New

The Sharpest Tool in the Shed: A Gardener’s Obsession

September 24, 2012 7:30 PM

BY Kendra Wilson

“You hardly ever see professionals use tools of stainless steel,” declares Louis Decae, an enthusiastic Dutch toolmaker. But people do not always do what is good for them, and a quick straw poll tells me that many garden professionals just pick up the nearest spade. An error.

“Carbon steel can be forged very thin and hardened easily. It stays sharp for a very long time,” says Decae. Sharpness is the beginning and the end at De Tuinheeren, which means “garden gentlemen” in Dutch. The company began as a hobby by a couple of enthusiasts who loved top quality tools. Sharp tools. The problem with stainless steel is that it is thickened to avoid bending and the edges are only sharpened in the manufacturing process. “Because the tools are put in the ground a lot, the cutting edge wears out fast, so the tools are bad cutting,” he charmingly explains.

Above: Stainless steel requires expensive specialist equipment to be sharpened. Carbon steel, on the other hand, can be done easily at home.

Above: “Tools that are used in the ground—like spades, edge cutters, trowels and hoes—have to be strong and sharp.” This Short Pointed Hoe is made from carbon steel; 24€ from De Tuinheeren.

Above: Would you cut steak with a butter knife? Super-sharp large lawn edger, 59€.

Above: “Tools forged of carbon steel and especially the ones with hard wooden handles will last over a hundred years,” says Louis Decae. Garden “scoop,” more commonly known as a trowel, 19€.

Above: “The making of these tools is very labor-intensive,” says Mr Decae. “Buying good tools is a big investment.” And a good one. Narrow border spade, 94€.

Above: “The most important garden tool is a sharpener,” says Louis Decae, who really doesn’t do blunt, ever. “You can only properly sharpen hardened steel using diamond,” he adds. This is the diamond file, best friend of the Bahco secateurs which are also stocked by De Tuinheeren. After sharpening, using small circular movements, the job is finished off ideally with a whetstone. Diamond file 17€; file and whetstone set: 25€. “The most important tool in our collection is the diamond file.” But first you need to get the tools.