Are Wood, Fiberglass, or Steel Broadfork Handles Better?

man using broadfork with wood handles

As the old saying goes, we generally get what we pay for. This cliché holds especially true for tools we rely on to do their job without interruption. As any gardener knows, broken tool handles cause a lot of frustration. They also result in added expense and downtime during crucial planting and harvesting seasons, and possible physical injury.

The broadfork is a first-rate example of a garden tool demanding strength and durability - not so much from the operator, but from the tool handles and the tines. The handles work as a lever, reducing the amount of force needed to loosen the soil. Stepping onto the crossbar, the operator shifts his weight from side-to-side and front-to-back until the tines are burrowed into the soil. The soil is then aerated by pulling the handles back about 30 degrees towards the operator.

Depending on the condition of the soil, steel handles with their added weight and strength may be best suited to the task.

Conversely, handles made of wood or heavy-duty fiberglass are an attractive, lightweight alternative in less-arduous applications, such as in previously worked gardens or raised beds. Credit: Image 1

Pros and Cons of wood and fiberglass handles

broadfork with square wooden handles

Broadforks made with fiberglass or wooden handles are also less expensive initially than steel-handled tools, so long as the handles hold up. Replacement ash handles cost approximately $15 to $30 each, not including shipping. Fiberglass handles are sometimes covered by manufacturer warranty if damaged during normal use. Although replacing the handles is uncomplicated, time is lost waiting for shipping as broadfork handles are usually not available locally. Perhaps as popularity of this handy tool grows, replacement handles will be easier to locate.

The sapwood of ash is most commonly used for handles because it is strong, yet somewhat flexible and shock-absorbent. Hickory is also used for handles. As a side note, oak is rarely used in tool handles because it releases tannin, which corrodes metal. Without any obvious defects in the wood itself, the weak point is where the handle joins the implement. Ideally, wooden handles should be bare wood so they can be coated annually in tung or raw linseed oil to prevent them from drying out. This is usually done at the end of the gardening season.

Broadforks made with non-metal handles weigh approximately 12 to 14 pounds, depending on manufacturer and tool length. By comparison, all-metal broadforks weigh from 15 to 22 pounds. Credit: Image 2

Pros and Cons of steel handles

Woman pulling handles of garden broadfork

The broadfork was designed to employ the dynamics of the human body and leverage. It is an extremely efficient human-powered tool that doesn’t require enormous power. But when you do need MORE POWER - when the soil is hard or contains roots and rocks - then the steel-handled broadfork is best. Combining heavy-duty tines with steel handles allows you to safely pull harder, to exert more leverage, without fear of breaking anything. Meanwhile, additional weight makes pushing the tines into the soil easier.

The all-metal broadfork is designed to last for generations. Simply clean the soil and debris from the tool after use and store where it is not exposed to moisture. Without a need to replace or oil handles, it will always be ready to prepare the garden for planting, harvesting root crops or aerating the soil.


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