It’s April! Think gardening AND think gardening tools!

Lowell Cordas, Lowell's Tools
Lowell Cordas, Lowell’s Tools

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.

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.”

Sue and Lowell Cordas, Lowell's Tools
Sue and Lowell Cordas, Lowell’s Tools

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 are turning gardens into forms of new urban agriculture, and they need good tools to manage their smallholdings.

As we head into the spring gardening season, Lowell 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.