Grub Hoe - Advanced Tool for Cultivating and Weeding

Grub Hoe: A Versatile Companion

How would you like a garden tool that allows you to cultivate four times the land with one-third of the time and effort of a standard spade or fork? This feat can be accomplished using a fairly little known tool called the Grub Hoe, or Azada - as it is known in the UK and Europe. The Grub Hoe is one of the most versatile tools in any gardeners’ arsenal. This powerful tool can be used for numerous applications including:

  1. Creating new gardens and raised beds
  2. Digging long trenches for planting hedges, drainage, or utility usage.
  3. Removing and tilling in sod
  4. Rebuilding overgrown gardens
  5. Chopping ice or frozen ground

The Azada can also be used to:

  1. Scrape concrete surfaces
  2. Turn compost
  3. Off load trailers
  4. Mix cement
  5. Earth potatoes

Aside from pitching material from one place to another or lifting material into a wheelbarrow, the Grub Hoe can do everything a standard fork or spade can do, but much more effectively!

How to Use a Grub Hoe

While it performs many of the same functions as a spade or shovel, the grub hoe is significantly different. The grub hoe uses a swinging motion like a mattock or an axe to penetrate down into the earth. When kept sharp, the hoe uses its own weight, gravity, and a little body mechanics to easily pierce and turn over new ground.

To use the tool, start by putting one hand on the top of the handle and the other about 1/3 or ½ of the way down, with both thumbs facing the blade. Make sure not to slide your hands like an axe when chopping and keep both of them in place. Raise the hoe to hip height and swing down with a chopping motion into the soil. Then pull the slice of soil you just cut towards you. Instead of having to stomp a shovel into the ground and then using your back to lift up the loose dirt, the Grub Hoe allows you to use your whole body and the physics of the tool to easily cut through and remove the soil.

The beauty of this tool is that, because it is so well ergonomically and mechanically designed, you can do more work with less effort. Depending on the job for which you are using the Grub Hoe, your strategy will vary slightly. For instance, if you are doing light cultivation, the angle of the blade should be less steep as you will only be cutting the top 2-3 inches of the ground. Conversely, if you are digging a trench or a hole, you will want a much steeper angle for greater penetration.

Do not try to work too hard with the Grub Hoe. Instead of attempting to remove a large chunk all at once, make two or three quick strokes. For example, instead of struggling to move a 2lb clod of earth at once with a shovel, try making two quick Grub Hoe strokes of 1lb each for the same effect. The lighter and more effortless Grub Hoe strokes will save you time and energy without the struggle.

Maintenance and Care

Blades

To maintain the integrity of your Grub Hoe blade

  1. Make sure to clean off any excess dirt after use.
  2. Keep the blade sharp! A dull blade can significantly reduce the effectiveness of the tool and make using the tool more frustrating than it should be.

Sharpening

To sharpen a grub hoe, hold the tool such that the blade is pointing up toward you. File only the part of the edge closest to you at a 15-20 degree angle, using a course file or sharpening stone. Use a softer grain stone or file to smooth out any nicks, keeping the sharpener flat and nearly parallel to the blade. Continue to smooth until you have a nice sharp edge.

Finally, make sure to oil the blade to prevent rust when you put it away for the season.

Handles

In general, it is best to use the Grub Hoe with a longer handle to prevent strain on the body. However, some people like a shorter handle because it gives them more force and leverage and may be slightly easier to maneuver.

It is recommended to use the longer handle for most grubbing jobs, and a shorter handle to get roots and very hard pieces of earth, much like a pick or mattock.

To maintain your handles, make sure to clean the soil off of them after every use and make sure the head is firmly wedged into the handle.

Sometimes the handle of the hoe may become loose. In these instances you should either

  1. Pound the handle vertically, with the part closest to the head hitting the ground. This will lodge the head more firmly in the handle. Then soak the tool such over nigh to give the wood an opportunity to expand and mold into the handle.
  2. Pound the head firmly into the handle as described above and insert a small wedge similar to those found in axes or mattocks.

You can also use an oil wood finish to fortify the handle every year.

So why is this highly useful and adaptable tool not very well known in the US?

Historically, the Grub Hoe, or Azada, was the standard tool used for cultivating rough soil for farming. Before the rototiller, peasant farmers needed a tool that could chop up hard, rocky, or clay-based soil to prepare the land for planting. Because of its heavier head, sharp angle, and ergonomic design, the Grub Hoe was the tool of choice for these growers.

Due to differences in terrain, custom, and methods of manufacturing, the Grub Hoe was often more popular in Latinized parts of the world such as Italy, Spain, France and eventually South and Central America. On the other hand, the garden fork and the spade were more popular among Anglicized regions such as England and North America.

Grub Hoes have also historically been made by the forging process. Forging strengthens the grains of steel by evenly hammering the steel into place. Forging is the best known process to produce the highest quality steel products. In many parts of the world, especially the US, commercial forging methods have been replaced with machine stamping processes by which the molten metal is poured into a cast mold and stamped into place by a machine. While the stamping process produces more tools quickly, quality is sacrificed for quantity.  Because they must be strong enough to withstand heavy forces and hard soils, Grub Hoes must be forged or risk a strong chance of breaking!

Therefore, when it comes to finding a Grub Hoe, we are left with two choices 1. Obtain a Grub Hoe from a Latinized country 2. Find a manufacturer in that country who still produces grub hoes using the traditional forging method.

While there are forgers in England and a few other countries that produce Grub Hoes, because of the history and tradition, the best are found in Latinized countries.

Where to Find a Grub Hoe

At the time of the founding of Grower’s Tools, the best Grub Hoes available in the US came from a Brazilian company called Bellotto. Bellotto Grub Hoes are well made, but Grower’s Tools opted for the Falci Grub Hoes because our research showed that the Italian production methods were somewhat sounder. The consistency of the steel used to produce the hoes is generally better and the skill and knowledge of the craftsmen is higher in Italy than it in Brazil. These factors are largely due to the availability of quality raw materials and the traditions of each country. For the sturdier Falci Grub Hoe see here: Falci Grub Hoe

 

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