The choice of allotment tool suppliers has vastly increased in recent years with the entry of the giant manufacturing machine that is China.
The humble digging spade and many agricultural tools that were once forged by local blacksmiths in pre-industrial revolution times have now become a cheaply produced item. T
he parts of the spade can now be cut from simple sheet steel, shaped and then riveted to a tubular shaft with a plastic handle.
Whilst this type tool will do a basic job it will not stand the test of time. The use of tubular steel for the shaft can lower the weight but tubes have weaknesses.
A common failure of cheaply produced spades or forks is the collapse of the tubular shaft just above the blade. Invariable this has happened because the user has been putting a lot of leverage on the shaft or rust has weakened the inside of the shaft.
Why traditional is best.
A traditionally forged spade or fork will last a lifetime and will cope with any digging job with ease.
This longevity is due to several design features that were developed over centuries by people who we diggers for a living, the Irish 'navvies' that dug the canals of England are a perfect example.
Today not many companies forge tools from raw materials in the UK but Bulldog Tools still do in Wigan, England.
Bulldog craftsmen take raw planks of steel, heat them and stamp out "T" shaped pieces using a six hundred tonne press.
Each piece of steel is then heated again to over 1100 degrees to allow skilled craftsman to beat, press and mould it into shape.
This 'forging' process increases the strength of the blade and is the modern equivalent of the blacksmith hammering the blade into shape on the anvil.To make a fork the 'T' shaped piece is cut to form the so called 'spider' piece to create a rough fork shape ready for further forging.
All finished heads for spades and forks are then shot blasted and powder coated and painted for protection.
This completes the blade.
Wood is Good!
The traditional shaft and handle are made from one piece of ash, split, steamed and shaped into the traditional 'YD' shaped grip by craftsmen. The ash provides enough stiffness in the shaft to dig through any soil type but some flexibility when pulling downwards on the handle.
The tubular steel shaft when levered hard will just crumple, but the ash shaft will flex and creak a bit. This is the sign to stop levering, so an ash shaft comes with its own strain gauge built in!
With a bit of linseed or olive oil on the handle and shaft, a quick clean of the blade with a wire brush and the occasional sharpening of the blade you will have a spade or fork that will last a lifetime and be something to pass onto the next generation of gardeners.