How to Use a Grape Hoe
Author: Ray Herndon
Grape Hoe Basics
The cutting head is heavy enough to chop through thick weeds in one slice, unlike lighter pressed steel tools that tend to bounce off of them. At two pounds, this head is substantial, but light enough to work for a long time before tiring.
The 5 foot long handle helps to efficiently reach more weeds with less effort. And the long handle allows you to stand mostly upright, which is more gentle on your back.
The Action Of Using A Grape Hoe
For maximum effect with minimum effort, I find it’s best to make the cutting edge contact the weed stem just below the surface of the ground. The motion of the head of the hoe should swing in a low arc toward your feet. Your hands on the handle of the hoe will move forward and slightly up as you raise the hoe, and pull backward as you strike the ground. Pull back, raise the hoe, reach forward, then lower it and pull back again. The head of the implement will follow a kind of oval pattern.
Stand erect or bend very slightly at the waist, with knees slightly bent and one foot slightly before the other. This way you can subtly shift the weight of your body, gently rocking back and forth with the motion of the hoe. Most of the arm movement should come from your shoulders; your hands, forearms and elbows simply guide the tool. Use the weight of your body to pull the hoe, rather than just your arms. This is like the Tai Chi principle; "Move 10,000 pounds using only 4 ounces."
Aim the blade to contact the soil a little past the weed you intend to cut, so the hoe blade is a little under the soil surface before slicing the weed. Pull back, scraping away the weeds and a little soil. The soil and weeds dug must go somewhere, and debris will pile up. It generally lands in the direction of your slice, near or on your feet.
I have found that if I work forward, toward the weeds, I tend to walk on the debris, packing it down. But if I make the stroke slightly diagonal, so that the piles end up on one side, I wind up with a clearer path and a row of soil and debris that is less compacted and more easily raked and moved than if I walked on it.
Walking backwards down the path is NOT recommended because the soil and debris tends to get in the way by landing and piling up where you want to make the next strike.
Comparing To Other Hoes
Some tools are versatile, others more specialized. General-purpose American garden hoes sold in hardware stores are made with a lightweight 3 to 6 inch wide steel plate spot welded onto a curved piece of metal attached to the handle. Like the Italian Grape Hoe, the common American hoe is a draw-type hoe, but it is lighter, narrower, and with thinner metal that will dull faster. Common hoes are about half the price of an Italian Grape Hoe, but more likely to break. If you are like me, your body will thank you for spending $25 extra for an Italian Grape Hoe because you can finish in about 2/3 the time, with less effort, and the tool will last MUCH longer.
Besides using it for weeding, the Grape Hoe can also be used for piling loose soil into hills or ridges (see video below), and for pulling yard materials (sand, gravel, mulch) out of trucks or carts.
Scuffle hoes (also called a stirrup hoe or hula hoe) work well in tight areas because they cut in both directions as you scrub them forward and back across the surface of the ground. But they are not as fast or effective as the Italian Grape Hoe in heavier weeds or for large areas.
Videos of using a Grape Hoe
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Video of Grub, Grape, and Pointed Hoes. Nice demonstration of three types of hoes, and how they are used for different tasks. If you are in a hurry, the Grape Hoe info is at 1:15 and 3:30 second marks.
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Some speedy action! The grape hoe is best known as the fastest way to weed large areas, but it is also a great tool for moving loose soil. Check out this fun time-lapse video to see just how fast you can move soil with this tool.