Whether you are a farmer, an orchardist, or a home gardener, good tools make the job! And you can’t do a quality job without quality tools. It has become harder and harder to find well-made, long-lasting tools! How do you find good hand tools that are sturdy, repairable, and properly sized to your hand or height?
After gathering up a collection of nearly a half-dozen hand clipper “bodies” over the years, we certainly know exactly how long a poor quality tool lasts. Every year we try to find a better quality pair and by the end of the season they have completely come apart; springs sprung, locking loops broken, coated handles worn through…
In this day of globalization, consolidation, and a “rush to the bottom” for both price and quality, one always wonders if there is really room for small independent businesses.
We discovered Lowell’s Tools at this year’s Tilth Producer’s Conference. Conferences, home shows, and garden expos, are all venues where small niche businesses that truly know their trade and provide a real service offering can interact one-on-one with their customers.
Meet Lowell Cordas, past executive director of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation (SHRF), a man who over his lifetime as a professional horticulturalist worked his way through nearly every tool available for a gardener, arborist, or farmer. As head of the SHRF staff, Cordas was part of the research to develop and promote the use of California native plants and trees, shade trees to maximize cooling, and alternative plantings for heavily watered areas. Over the 70 years the SHRF was in existence – the foundation’s assets were converted to an endowment managed by UC Davis in 2008 – the organization was instrumental in developing the ornamental landscaping familiar to Californians today.
Upon leaving the SHRF, Lowell built a horticultural service business focused on high-end ornamental and fruit tree pruning. “The tools we were using just did not stand up to hard daily use,” says Cordas. “Each time we wore one out we replaced it with one of a higher quality. Pretty soon we were using the most expensive tools out there and my foreman wasn’t breaking any more.”
Many of Lowell’s pruning clients started asking where he was getting his tools, and he began selling them. As Cordas and his wife, Sue, began to look forward to retirement, he started seriously considering the business of manufacturing and selling tools as a possibility. “How did we turn what we loved into a business? We inadvertently backed into it,” he laughs.
When the time came to retire, Lowell and Sue moved back to Washington, to Lacey, just east of Olympia at the south end of Puget Sound. It was really “back home” for him, Cordas’ grandfather had emigrated from Russia and settled in Seattle before World War I.
Today Lowell’s Tools are recognized on the West Coast from British Columbia to Southern California for their high quality and creative design. “The tools we sell are the ones we used in our business; they are tools I’m comfortable with. They are for someone who needs a quality tool for professional-level work,” he says. “The type of tool we carry, and our pricing, may not be for the average home gardener; though we do offer a range of prices.”
We respectfully disagree with Lowell on this one! Home gardeners, especially those in Puget Sound who, like us, are turning gardens into forms of new urban agriculture, need good tools to manage their smallholdings.
Lowell’s Tools is the originator of the “Let-Us Weeder” family of weeding tools and the “Deck Digger,” a specialized tool for cleaning between wooden deck floorboards or weeding between garden pavers.
The Let-Us Weeder was developed in the lettuce fields of California for use around young field transplants. The bad news: Lowell has not been able to offer the Let-Us Weeder in this year’s catalog due to high production costs, but he has been able to approximate it by adding a long handle to a Kana Weeder.
Says Lowell, “Necessity brings invention, and I began removing the handles on the short Kana Weeder and epoxying the head onto a 60″ wooden bow rake handle. This is a close approximation of the Let-Us Weeder and should work well as a scraping-type weeder in row crops, vegetable gardens, and landscapes.”
The Deck Digger, on the other hand, was designed to “floss” decking floorboards to clear out debris. It has also been called the “Butter Knife on a Stick,” for those times when a home gardener is tempted to run into the kitchen and grab a butter knife to pry weeds out from between paving stones. The digger is exclusive to Lowell’s Tools and comes in short and long-handled versions.
In response to customer demand, Cordas also offers telescoping pole saws with a smaller diameter handle in a 4 to 8 foot length, and a reinforced handle in a 5 to 12 foot length. Both have a hand grip and a “tree climber’s ring” on the handle.
As we head into the spring gardening season, Cordas has some simple advice for home gardeners:
1. Buy the best tools you can afford.
2. Fit the tools to the job.
3. Buy tools that fit your hand, height, and weight. Women, who have smaller hands and are lighter weight should use tools scaled to their size.
4. Get the longest handle you can find; you can always cut it shorter to fit your height. The proper length for a long handle? It should just touch your nose.
5. Keep your tools squeaky clean. Clean your tools with foaming bathroom cleaner (including bolt threads and threads inside the tool), letting it sit for a while before wiping it off with a clean rag.
6. Keep your tools sharp. Use the right files and right oil. The best oil to use? 30-weight motor oil!
7. Replace worn and broken parts.
8. Store your tools – clean and oiled – in a dry place.
Good tools are getting harder to find – if not nigh unto impossible – through conventional retail channels, now you don’t have to look any further! Get a copy of the latest tool catalog from the Lowell’s Tools website. Lowell’s Tools also offers maintenance, repairs, and sharpening for hand tools.