From GENE LOGSDON
If you look closely at the photo above, you will see what I failed to see for many years. Although I think of myself as a venerable member of the Brethren of the Holy Hoe Society, and have made shiny the handles of more than a few hoes, I took their construction for granted all these years. I did not scrutinize any of them, thinking that once you have met one hoe, you’ve met them all. Wrong.
In the photo, the hoe with the blue collar around the end of the handle (the collar is also referred to as a shank or a ferrule) is a cheap one, a bad one. Notice that the blade and the crook neck above the blade are separate from the collar. The neck fits down inside the collar. Notice the nails driven in around the neck. I had to resort to this kind of makeshift repair because the neck of the hoe kept loosening up inside the collar. Then the hoe blade would turn sideways every time it hit the soil surface. The nails hold the blade firm for only a few hours of weed whacking. Then I had to wedge in bigger nails. Eventually the whole contraption got too loose to hold the hoe blade in place this way.
Nor is the collar made so that it can be removed from the hoe handle— no bolt, screw, or nail holding it in place. Far as I can tell, some kind of machine pressed an indentation into the collar and on into the wood so that the handle would stay in place. For all practical purposes, this hoe is made to throw away in a few years. A real repair job, if possible, would cost more than a new cheap hoe.
Now look at the other hoe blade. This is a good hoe. The collar, neck, and blade are all one solid piece. Because I am not a great photographer, it looks a little like the neck is inserted into the collar but believe me, it is all one solid piece. Surely, someone still makes a hoe like this, but I have spent considerable time onlining and haven’t turned one up yet nor have I seen one in a hardware store. Smith & Hawken once carried imported tools with single-piece heads, but that company is no longer with us. The advertisers use all sorts of words to make it sound like the blade and collar are all one solid piece, but scrutinizing the pictures on Google, I have yet to find a full-length, real- life, garden hoe with a business end of one solid piece. But if you know of one, I am here to say: buy it.
The hoe blade cannot turn in the collar because it is part of the collar. The forging of this piece of metal is skilled work. I can see a seam in the metal where it was welded together after being rounded into a collar to accept the handle, but the weld is so smooth it hardly seems to be a seam. The weld between the neck and the hoe blade is equally as masterful. I can’t see or even feel a seam there at all.
There are two holes in the collar spaced about two inches apart to take two nails that hold the handle firmly in place. If the handle breaks, it is easily replaced.
Finally, the curve or crook in the neck of the solid metal blade is different than on the blue handled hoe. It is hard to describe in words. On the latter, the blade is at almost a right angle to the handle, so that when one chops down on a weed, or on the soil surface from a standing position, the blade hits the ground almost squarely. On the good hoe, the angle of blade to handle is more acute, so that when the hoer chops down, the blade meets the earth at a slicing angle— more easily skims through weeds or soil surface. The muscular effort involved is appreciably less. The old hoe makers knew a thing or two about hoeing that has evidently become lost to new hoe makers.
We have quite an array of fallen hoes on our place, so I examined all of them, curious to see if any others had collars and blades in one solid piece of metal. Sure enough, the one that my wife loves and uses is also so made. It also has the proper angle to the neck that makes hoeing less strenuous. And then there is one more thing. The handle on her old hoe is just the right diameter and ever so slightly tapered to fit into the hand comfortably. The blue-handled hoe handle is too thick and the same diameter from one end to the other. Your fingers start aching sooner than when using Carol’s hoe.
I do not know the age of the solid metal hoe blades. They have to be ancient because they have been sharpened so many times that they are barely half the original size. A friend gave them to us years ago, after he brought a whole armful of old hand tools at a farm sale. I broke the handle off the one in the photo just above the collar quite a few years ago (which is why Carol doesn’t like me to use hers) and, always in a hurry in those days, I hung the old blade on a nail in the barn and bought one of the blue-handled variety.
Wisdom does sometimes come with old age. I drilled out the broken handle of my solid metal hoe blade just yesterday. I will buy a new handle, if I can find one, when I go to town. If not, by hickory I will make my own, out of my own hickory or ash. The point is that I have discovered a hoe blade that defies the laws of thermodynamics. It is indestructible, a treasure that should be in a museum but doesn’t need to be because it was made to last nearly forever as long as I keep the rust off of it. Keeping the rust off will keep me so busy I won’t have time to be relegated to a museum either.
See also Gene’s Hoemanship