For a gardener, tools are the enabling and magical ‘Inspector Gadget’ extension of your body. They make things happen which wouldn’t otherwise, improve the outcomes of the job you’re working on to no ends and, when used properly, can reduce your long-term workload significantly. So we love our tools, no matter how modest or common, we love them.

Untitled-1Hannah with a collection of our modest but darn useful tools….. They actually look like they need a bit of a clean in this photo, hmmm. Excuse the ‘split’ effect on this image, it’s a scan from the local newspaper, The Mercury.

Take the humble shovel for example, our lives would be hard without it, really hard. Our shovels have moved a lot of soil, blue metal, sand and gravel – it scares me exactly how much but it’s somewhere in the tonnes. The shovel is actually a wonder of technology (as are all tools).  The steel for the blade has been mined as iron ore and combined with roughly equal parts coal to make a steel bar.  This bar has been stamped and pounded with 10 tonne metal presses to create its shape.  Following this they are dipped in a durable external grade paint.  This is then attached to a shaft that has been harvested from a forest, kiln dried and lathed to create its funky ergonomic shape.

Unfortunately this wonder of technology is not overly valued.  When you can buy a half decent shovel for $30 from your local hardware, it’s easy to throw it out and replace it with a new one when it breaks instead of spending time patching them up.

We try and fix everything we can, or get someone else to if it’s beyond us, to extend the life cycle and also because it makes sense to not throw out valuable resources. One of the more regular tool injuries that happen on our hillside is snapping the shovel handle, this usually happens from either old age or when we’re trying to do something we probably shouldn’t, i.e. move heavy, wet clay (cough cough). So in an ode to our glorious tools and how much we value them, here is a simple guide to how to replace a shovel handle.


 Our recent tool injury looked like this. 


Its worthwhile to check if the head is in good condition, this shovel is around 3 years old and still in pretty good nick.  Although there is a bit of dried cement on the blade – you should really take the time to clean tools properly after use, something which sometimes gets away from us…

You can see that there are two key ways the shovel head is being held on.

  1. There is a steel collar, in this case welded on to the shovel shaft
  2. There is a steel pin/nail that connects the shaft to the timber handle


The first task is to grind out the pin and the weld on the steel collar.


The next step is to remove the handle which can be a bit tricky as it’s usually pretty well stuck in place.  With a bit of luck, the remaining wooden shaft can be hammered out, you can see I gave this handle a fair bash with a hammer but it didn’t move an inch.


Enter the trusty power drill!  Starting with small drill bits, simply drill directly into the wooden shaft and gradually  move up to larger drill bit sizes.  Once it’s pretty much drilled out you can ‘gently’ bash/nudge the scraps out with a hammer.


Now the fun bit, inserting the new timber handle.  It is worthwhile checking as closely as you can before inserting the handle that it is the correct size and orientation (you don’t want the handle up side down), if correct, insert the handle. To drive the head onto the handle, hold the handle with the head in the air and bash down onto a sturdy wood block.

There isn’t a photo of this but it’s worthwhile dipping the handle in linseed oil prior to attaching the head.  This will help the head slide on and help preserve the timber.


Almost there…  The last bit is focused on locking the handle into place.

  1. Pre-drill a hole and drive a sturdy nail into the same location where the pin was previously located.
  2. Bash the collar back into position, it can now be held in place with a weld or a small dab of epoxy glue.


The finished product in all its glory amongst our fresh earthworks which weren’t done with our shovels, we got an excavator in for that job!

Some hot tips for looking after your new handle. Your new handle will last a lot longer if you…

  • Store it under cover, and
  • Oil it annually using Linseed or other oil based timber preservers, eg Livos oil, Tung oil

What now? Time to get digging!

 *Your blogger is Anton Vikstrom, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and a total renaissance man.