You have probably noticed the wide range in price of garden tools - shovels, rakes, hoes, digging forks, etc. You may have wondered what you get for the additional cost or how to evaluate actual quality when selecting a tool. One of the major distinctions between low-quality and high-quality tools is the way the toolhead is manufactured.
Low-priced tools generally have welded toolheads (Figure 1). In the case of a bow-type garden rake, for instance, the finger portion of the toolhead will be stamped out and then steel rods will be welded to the head to make the bow that fastens to the handle. In the case of a hoe, the blade will be stamped out, and then a rod with a handle socket will be welded to the blade.
Higher-priced garden tools generally have forged toolheads (Figure 2). Forging is a manufacturing process in which the entire toolhead is formed from a single piece of steel. The steel blank is heated red-hot and then either hammer-forged or roll-forged. During the forging process, the steel is forced to elongate into the desired shape such as the fingers and bows on a rake or the blade and attaching rod on a hoe. Forging greatly increases the strength of the steel in the direction of elongation, which is usually the direction of most force in garden use. You can recognize a forged tool by the lack of welds. A forged toolhead will be one continuous piece of steel formed into a rake head, shovel head, hoe or fork.
With welded toolheads, the weld process weakens the tool; with forged tools, the forging process actually strengthens the steel. Forging is a more labor-intensive process and is thus more expensive, but forged tools will be stronger and last longer. As a historical aside, in the past garden tool manufacturing facilities were often located adjacent to penitentiaries so that inmate labor could be used for the hot, noisy, unpleasant forging operations.
If you want a tool for only occasional light-duty use, an inexpensive welded tool will probably suffice; but if you are a serious gardener, you should look for forged tools. Forged tools will cost more, but they are worth it. You should never pay a premium price for a welded tool.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture