I’ve had a chance to use several of these tools over the past year, I just put some more hours on them over the weekend and I thought I’d share.
Sneeboer & Zn is a Dutch company which makes garden tools. They have an incredibly broad product line–for example they have 43 different varieties of fork alone–so you can really pick the best tool for your needs. However, the vast majority of their tools follow the same basic construction: the metal part of the shovel, rake, hoe, fork, etc, is hand-forged stainless steel, and the wooden handles are ash with an oil finish. From the start this is a winning combination. Stainless means no rust hassles, and I love the wood handles. First off, if I were ever to break one then the tool is easily fixed which is not the case with fiberglass handles. Second, the oil finish is fantastic. It is not slippery so you can get a firm grip on the tools if your hands are wet or dirty whereas most wood handles have lacquer or varnish on them, and that is slippery. The oil finish is easily touched up with a little boiled linseed oil as the tools age and require maintenance. The design of the “business end” of the tool seems very well matched to its duty. Light-duty tools have a shallow socket forged into the tool and the handle is fitted with a single rivet. It’s plenty strong and it’s easy to replace if the handle breaks. The tools meant for heavier work like a digging fork or a spade are “strapped”, in other words the metal part of the head extends quite far up the handle on both the front and the back, and they are riveted twice. I can’t imagine snapping the handle on one of these tools even with doing heavy prying. The tools are also sharp, which I really appreciate because unlike most brands I don’t have to waste time sharpening tools before getting to work. Spades and hoes are meant to be sharp, and the ones from the hardware store or the home center never are.
I have been using 4 of their tools, here are my thoughts on each one.
Great Dixter Planting Spade. This is halfway between a garden trowel and a full-size spade. It’s about two feet long, has a T-shaped handle and a pointed end on the spade. I wish I had known about this tool years ago. It’s fantastic because you can choke up on the handle and use it with one hand like you would a trowel, or you can use it with two hands and get a lot of leverage. It’s ideal for planting anything short of a tree in a 5-gal pot. It’s also great for working in containers, raised beds, or large pots.
Great Dixter Fork. This is basically the same thing as the above planting spade, but it’s a 4-tine fork instead. Same size at just under two feet long. It shares the same benefits of being able to be used one or two-handed. It’s excellent for digging up plants or for working amendments into the soil in tight spots. There is a lot of attention to detail on this tool–the tines of the fork are very sharp, and they are ground so the front side is flat and the back is rounded over. As with the Great Dixter Spade it’s great for working in pots or containers as well.
These two tools are so useful I now consider them must-haves. I’ve gifted a pair to an elderly relative who loves to garden and she loves them too. She says she can use them much easier than full-sized tools, and being able to use 2 hands gives a lot more leverage compared to a normal one-handed trowel or cultivator.
Stone Spade. This is a mean looking tool. It’s four feet long overall, T-handle, very strong strapped construction, and the business end is is ground with four large teeth. The tips of the teeth themselves are a little blunt but the “V” between the teeth is extremely sharp. It is advertised as being able to dig in hard rocky ground where a normal shovel would fail, and this is absolutely true. The points tend to push stones to the side so the spade slips between them. It is very heavily constructed, I’m a big guy and I can lean hard on the handle with no fear of anything breaking. It’s a little bit smaller in width than most spades which makes it easier to get into hard ground. And the teeth also work great if you have to dig through roots. It goes through much easier than a normal spade. Obviously not everybody needs this tool but if you find yourself with rocky ground or having to deal with a lot of roots it does the job. I also like that it’s a little smaller than a typical full-size spade so I sometimes use it just because of that.
Garden Fork, 3-tine, Ladies model. Sneeboer makes a lot of forks! I wanted something that was in between the Great Dixter fork and a full-size digging fork. Something that I could use standing up, was small enough to get into tight areas but at the same time was strongly built. What makes it the “Ladies model”? As far as I can tell from reading the catalog specs it’s the same construction as their standard 3-tine fork but slightly shorter and narrower. The head is about 5 inches wide and the tines are about 7 inches long. Overall length is about 4 feet. But the name “Ladies model” is a bit misleading because it is, like the Stone Spade, extremely strong in construction. The tines are very solid, flat on the front and rounded on the back. Very sharp tips, and the joint to the handle is fully strapped on the front and back. You can lean hard on this tool, and yet it can fit into tight spots very well, and it’s not too heavy to use for a long time either. I like this fork so much that I ordered another to gift to my gardening relative. As I just gave it to her she hasn’t had a chance to tell me about her experiences yet, but when she unwrapped it she loved it.
Overall I am very happy with these tools. The prices can be steep depending on where one orders them from but they are very well made. When I went to order another ladies fork for my relative the only one I could find in stock and ready to ship was from a shop in Canada…international shipping for a garden fork isn’t cheap on top of an already high price, but even with that I felt it was money well spent. The whole design is well thought out and their ergonomics are excellent. I feel that many garden tools are just a cylindrical handle with a metal part on the end with little thought given to the shape of the handle or long-term comfort. These tools are well designed. They are well balanced, and the shape of the handle suits the tool very well, every little thing seems to be thought of, even down to subtle details like using the oil based finish instead of a slippery varnish. I can work with these tools a lot longer without getting tired compared to the average hardware store brand and there is no doubt in my mind that they will last longer too.