When shopping for tools, it's important to read labels and understand manufacturer claims:
Forged or drop-forged: This term means the blade or head has been formed by mechanically hammering or pressing a hot metals into dies. Forging improves the strength of the metal by aligning and stretching the grain structure and produces a stronger, better balanced tool than pressed or machine formed tools.
Gauge: This refers to the overall thickness of the metal head or blade. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the steel and the less likely the blade or head will break due to heavy use. Thicker gauge metal is also easier to sharpen.
Heat-treated or tempered: This indicates that the steel use to make the tool has undergone a re-heating process, which creates a tougher and less brittle head or blade. Tempered metal is usually easier to sharpen and will stay sharp longer.
High-carbon steel: A very strong steel in which the main alloying constituent is carbon. Tools made from high-carbon steel are very hard, wear-resistant, and able to take a sharp edge.
Solid hardwood handle: A good hardwood handle offers more flexibility and less vibration and cold transfer than a metal or fiberglass handle, but not all "hardwoods" are created equal. If you're looking for a wooden handle that will last, choose white ash or hickory. Make sure it's straight and knot-free. Also check to see how the head or blade of the garden tool is the attached to the handle. The metal should wrap securely around the shaft in one piece (no seams) and be securely connected. If the connection point jiggles even a little in the store, set it down and keep looking. Don't be afraid of plastic, fiberglass, or thick, tubular steel handles on smaller hand tools.
Stainless steel: These garden tools tend to be more expensive, because they are extremely resistant to corrosion and rust. Look for tempered steel for added flexibility. Stamped: This refers to a tool made from a piece of sheet metal has been cut or punched and then bent (formed) using a machine press or stamping press. Tools made this way are usually lightweight and inexpensive, but also weaker and much less durable.
By Ellen Brown
Traditionally, garden wheelbarrows were made of wood. They had one metal wheel in front, a stabilizing leg on each side in the rear, and upright sides that could be removed for dumping. Today's wheelbarrows benefit from advances in design and feature things like double wheels for increased stability and square-shaped trays for added capacity.
A cart with a low bed will be easier to get things in and out of than the deep tray of a wheelbarrow. Do you have trouble bending? A wheelbarrow may be easier to tip and dump. You should be able to easily pull or lift the weight of the cart/wheelbarrow when it's empty.
By Ellen Brown
A complete set of pruning and trimming tools for the gardener usually includes a pair of hand pruners; a pair of long-handled loppers; a pruning saw to handle larger branches; and a pair of garden shears for trimming hedges. Exactly which of these tools you should buy depends on your individual needs and your personal preferences for style.
Bypass pruners: This style of pruner cuts with a scissor-like action. Its thin, tapered blades make it ideal for reaching in between branches. The sharp, upper cutting blade passes against the lower, square-edged "holding" blade. This action allows you to make a smooth accurate cut very close to the tree (or stem) you're pruning.
Anvil pruners: These pruners cut with a single straight cutting blade that closes down on the center of a flat edge or anvil. This style of pruner tender to be a bit more bulky and the cutting action prevents you from cutting as close to the trunk as a bypass pruners (you are more likely to leave a small stub). The advantage is that the design of these pruners allows them to cut larger branches with less probability of damaging the blade.
Ergonomics:Pruners can start to take a toll on your hands and wrist after only several minutes of repeated use, so try them before you buy them. Check that they feel comfortable in your hand and are easy to operate. The handle material and shape, how wide they open, and the pressure of the return spring all vary considerably from one style to the next. All pruners should be fitted with some type of safety catch that locks the blade in the closed position. Some models are designed with a ratchet system for cutting through a shoot in stages. These require less effort and cause less strain to the hands and wrist, but are slower to use.
If all you're going to be doing is cutting soft-stemmed plants like flowers, a light-weight inexpensive pair is probably all you need. For pruning fruit trees and shrubs with woody shoots up to ½ inch (1cm) thick, a pair of "professional" or "heavy-duty pruners" is a much better choice. Look for pruners that can be dismantled (by you) for sharpening and that replacement blades are available.
Curved saw: Like its name suggests, this saw has a curved blade and cuts only on the "pull" stroke. It is an excellent choice for confined spaces where it is easier to use pressure on a pull, rather than a push stoke.
Double-edged pruning saw: This versatile saw is equipped with teeth on both edges of the blade-one side coarse and the other fine. It can be difficult to operate in confined spaces without the top teeth damaging a nearby branch.
Bow saw: The sharp, variegated teeth on this saw cuts through thick branches quickly. It works great in open areas, but it's large, bow-shaped handle makes it difficult to operate in a confined space.
Tree Pruners: The tree pruners suitable for cutting branches up to 1 inch thick that would otherwise be out of reach. The cutting device is positioned at the end of a long pole next to a hook that is lowered over the branch to be cut. The blade is then pulled back and forth using either a lever system or a cord. Tree pruners may have saw and fruit-picker attachments.
By Ellen Brown