Why should you buy forged garden tools?

Some people remember a time when fine garden tools were passed down from generation to generation- from father to son. These tools were of such high quality that they were treated more like family treasures than just a means of digging in the earth. Nowadays, its hard to even imagine viewing a shovel or hoe in your shed as more than just a means to an end, and an expendable one at that. Go to your local big box hardware store and you will be hard pressed to find a garden tool that will last you five years, much less a generation or more.

You may wonder if the old-fashioned tools of by-gone-days still exist. The good news is that these tools do still exist and are still being produced. Unfortunately, it is hard to find an American manufacturer, outside of perhaps a local blacksmith, that makes these tools of yesteryear. To find high quality garden tools that last generations, you may have to look to other parts of the world such as Europe that have maintained strong hand tool traditions.

If you do take up this quest, you will find one commonality among these generational tools. The majority of the world’s best garden tools still in production are made by a process called forging. So what does it mean for a tool to be forged and why should you buy forged garden tools?

Most common methods of garden tool production

Let’s discuss the three most common methods of garden tool production. These are:

  1. Casting
  2. Forging
  3. Machining

In this article, we will talk about the first two since machining, or cutting away material from a larger block of metal, is the least common form of production.

What is Casting?

Currently, the vast majority of garden tools available on the market in the United States are made in countries like Mexico or China by a process known as casting. During casting, metal is melted down into a liquid state and poured into a mold that contains the desired shape of the end product. The molten metal is allowed to solidify and the solidified part, or casting, is then removed from the mold, producing a shovel or hoe or axe.

Casting: Pros and Cons

The idea of making a pot or figurine by pouring a liquid material such as plaster, concrete, or molten metal into a mold and letting it conform to the shape of the mold, is not new. In fact, casting has been done by humans for over 6,000 years.

Casting is a great method for making complex figures or large items such as toilets or large machine parts that would be too cumbersome or expensive to make by other means.

This process is cheap, scalable, and fast, but has great limitations when used to create items that require strength and durability- the key elements of great garden tools- because some key metallurgical properties are disrupted and deformed by molding metal into a cast (see an analogy).

What is Forging?  

Forging is the application of a thermal or mechanical force to a solid piece of metal that results in the metal changing shape.

There are many ways to forge something. We will not go into the specifics of the forging process, but some methods include hammer forging, press forging, roll forging, and induction forging. For more information on the different types of forging and their pros and cons, read this article.

An analogy

Before we get into the benefits of forged garden tools over cast tools, let’s start with an analogy. Imagine you have a hard piece of wood and one day you decide to grind it down so that all that is left is fine wood chips. Then you take your wood chips and put them into a mold in the shape of a shovel. You add a little glue, and, voila, you have a shovel.

Now you try using your newly made shovel. Sure it may work for some time, but eventually some rock or hard chunk of soil takes advantage of one of the inevitable pores or cavities in your shovel and the shovel slowly starts to break down.

Next time, you may decide to add new compounds to your wood chips to produce a stronger bond, but no matter what you add to your mixture, you have fundamentally changed the integrity and structure of the grains that held your original block of wood together.

Now imagine taking a solid block of wood and instead of pulverizing it into millions of tiny fragments, shaping it by means of a hammer or other mechanism into the form of the shovel you desire.

This shovel will maintain the original integrity and strength of the initial wood piece.

So which shovel would you rather use? Your wood chip puree shovel or the one made of a solid whole block of wood?

Why forged garden tools are better than cast garden tools.

Strength and durability

Forged tools offer uniformity of structure and composition. When metal is forged, the metal recrystallizes and the internal grain deforms to follow the general shape of the forged piece. As a result, the grain is continuous throughout the piece, giving rise to increased strength characteristics.

If the tool is then tempered, or dropped to a low temperature, as the best forged tools in the world are, the microscopic grains become even more tightly bonded. This results in metal that is high in shear strength and more resistant to impact.

In general, forged tools

  • Exhibit superior load bearing and overall strength. The tight grains make the tools mechanically stronger.
  • Handle impact better than non-forged tools
  • Have stronger internal integrity and resist pores, shrinkage, or cavities that exist in cast tools
  • Are extremely reliable and virtually indestructible.

 

Cast tools, on the other hand, like the wood chip shovel we made above, are much weaker in composition than forged tools. To increase different properties of cast tools such as strength, ductility, or durability, other alloys such as molybdenum or nickel are often added to the molten mix. While this can improve the quality of the tool, it does not truly compensate for the fact that the grains of the original metal have been destroyed.

Because casting has neither directional strength or grain flow, the process can not prevent the certain metallurgical defects like microscopic pores or cavities that eventually cause the metal to break down.

Efficiency

Steel quality is typically higher in forged tools, especially when the tools come from countries that have a strong forging tradition such as Italy, Germany, or the Netherlands.

High quality steel forged tools are easier to sharpen than cast tools. In fact, some cast tools are literally impossible to sharpen because the metal is too soft to hold a proper edge. Forged tools are able to hold an edge because metal is stronger along its grain. Cast metal has no grain and incurs chips and cavities along the cutting edge that easily break down the edge and keep it dull.

A sharp blade increases tool efficiency by more than 50%. Read Sharpening Your Garden Tools Made Easy.

Sustainability

Forged garden tools are made to last generations. With proper maintenance and care, your forged tools can last you 50 or more years. There is nothing more sustainable than quality and durability.

Cast tools are made for easy, quick consumption. The reason you will never find true forged garden tools at your local big box store is that they want your shovel to break every few years so that you buy a new one. Consumption is the name of the game.

Better Value

An average forged shovel will cost you between $50-$80. If this shovel is passed down in your family and used reliably every year for the next 50 years, the shovel will cost you an average of $1- $1.6 yearly.

An average cast shovel will cost you $15-$25. If you have to replace this shovel every 8 years (more like every 1 or 2 years, but lets give it the benefit of the doubt), the shovel will cost you $1.9- $6.5 yearly, not to mention the lost time and increased medical bills from sore backs and arms!

Conclusion

Hopefully, we have made the case for why you should buy forged tools. The superior performance, longevity, sustainability, and overall efficiency of forged tools makes them the perfect choice for the serious gardener or landscaper.

Happy Gardening!

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