Hoes are the workhorses of the garden. They are simple tools, consisting of a long pole with a blade attached to the lower end. They do simple tasks--removing weeds and re-arranging soil.
However, the subject of hoes can be complex. There are many patterns of hoe. At Red Pig Tools we make 23 distinctly different hoes and sell another dozen made by others. The number of hoes in use around the world is even larger, at least two hundred. And the types of hoes that once existed but are no longer made would take the count into the thousands.
I could write a book on hoes--and intend to, someday. But for now a thumbnail sketch that will help you pick out a suitable hoe will have to suffice.
Hoes fall into four basic categories: push; draw; scuffle and chopping.
Push hoes do their work as you push the blade away from you, usually while walking backwards. Push hoes are more popular in Europe than in the USA. Only a few patterns are available here. The most common type has a six or seven inch wide blade that is straight across. Less common is one with a v-shaped blade with the point of the blade leading.
Draw hoes, which cut as you pull the blade toward you, are the most familiar type, and the most diverse. What most of us picture as a hoe is known to most of the world as an "American Pattern" garden hoe. It has a rectangular blade--six inches wide by five deep--that looks like a pair of tombstones joined in the middle. The blade's shaft is centered in the crotch formed by the two arches. The blade has a "middling" pitch. It is neither upright like a chopping hoe nor laid over almost parallel to the ground like a hoe intended purely for weeding. Like many American implements it is designed to perform more than one task. Draw hoes with large blades are made for working cotton or for mixing mortar. Wider, lower draw hoes known as "Blackland" or "Southern Meadow" hoes are for use on rural properties. Draw hoes designed purely for weeding have very shallow blades--they're useless for moving dirt--and are pitched over to slice more efficiently. Nursery, beet and onion hoes are examples.
Most of the world uses some form of scuffle hoe for weeding. Scuffle hoes cut on both the push and pull stroke, making them extremely efficient. There are more patterns of scuffle hoe than any other type. There are blades shaped like circles, squares, rectangles, diamonds, arrowheads, Mickey Mouse ears, bats, stealth bombers, crescent moons and stirrups, just to name a few. Today's most popular scuffle hoe is the oscillating type, commonly referred to as a "Hula Hoe" after the brand name of the original U.S.A. made version.
Chopping hoes have upright blades and somewhat thicker than usual blades. The best ones have an outward curve to the blade edge. These tools are for heavy duty weeding and shallow ground breaking. They are distinct from mattocks which have narrow, deep, heavy blades for serious ground breaking. Chopping hoes are used with a short stroke whereas mattocks are swung in a long arc. More common in Africa, Asia and Europe, chopping hoes are hard to find in America.
PICKING A HOE
With so many from which to choose, which hoe is best for you?
Here are a few questions, the answers to which will lead you to a tool appropriate to you.
How wide are the spaces between your plants? If you have tightly planted beds, a 2-inch floral hoe may be best. If you have wide open areas a 12-inch wide orchard hoe is a better choice.
How tough are your weeds? Light scuffle hoes are great for small, emerging weeds but no good for that 3-year old dock or Queen Anne's Lace.
What's your soil like? If your beds are sandy loam and rich with compost, you won't require a stout hoe. If you have to chop overgrown perennials in bone dry clay that rivals concrete for hardness, you will need a tool designed for rough work.
How much weeding do you do? If you're taking care of five acres you may be better off with wider blades and scuffle hoes. If your garden is in the backyard of a condo, a little draw hoe is just fine.
How tall are you? Your hoe should be as tall or taller than you. That way you can work out to your side and standing straight (the right way) instead of hoeing to the front while bent at the waist (the wrong way). If you share the hoe with another person, pick the length to suit the taller of you. If there's more than a foot difference in your heights, each of you should have your own hoe.
How fit are you? If you have severely diminished abilities or strength, don't pick a hoe that is too heavy or intended for work that you can't perform. On the other hand, don't buy a feather-light tool to do yeoman work.
Any special requirements? There are hoes for making furrows, hoes for building raised beds, hoes for working in narrow spaces, field hoes for farm work, circle hoes for working next to tender young seedlings and hoes that double as cultivators or weed pullers.
ABOUT OUR HOES
The descriptions of our hoes tell you how they vary from the norm and what kind of work they do best. However, there are certain aspects they have in common that distinguish them from mass produced tools.
With a few exceptions, Red Pig hoes have blades made of steel salvaged from sawmill band saws. While they vary in thickness, they are generally thin but every bit as rigid as common hoe blades.
Our blades are sharp; sharp enough to cut you. The heads of our American pattern draw hoes have a long "Swan neck" shank and blades sharpened up the sides. They can be used to reach behind plants to weed without trespassing on the tilled soil of the beds.
The shanks of our hoes are mostly 1/2-inch diameter low carbon steel for toughness. If you try real hard, you can bend them, but they won't break.
Red Pig hoes have their heads riveted to the handles. They don't come apart.
Our handles are premium grade Ash and come in your choice of 48, 54, 60, 66 and 72-inch lengths.