Best hand tools

Updated Jun 4, 2012

Stay Sharp

A.G. Russell has a point to make about the importance of a good working knife.

By Billy R. Sims

Anybody have a knife?”

Five guys of a crew on a landscaping project I recently photographed, and no one had a pocketknife.

Ten minutes was lost while one of them walked back to the truck and scavenged for something that could be used to cut the cord binding rolls of drainage pipe.

When I relayed this story to A.G. Russell, he was aghast. “Unbelievable,” he says. “I can’t imagine anyone who works with his hands not having a good knife in his pocket or on his belt. It’s the most basic and essential tool.”

Russell made his first knife at the age of nine, and now, age 78, is a renowned designer and manufacturer of knives based in Rogers, Arkansas. His wife, Goldie, is president and CEO.

TLC: When you design a knife or hand tool, what are the first things you consider?

Russell: The first consideration is what problem is it going to solve? How specific or broad are the tasks required from the tool? That comes before shape, before steel, before everything else.

I use my imagination, freely, to imagine the person using the knife. If he’s a rancher or farmer, for example, he needs a sturdy, full-size knife that can cut rope or trim a hoof, butcher or skin or any number of other tough jobs. The handle should work well in a gloved hand (Models shown below).

The Beak is another example (see previous page).It’s an outstanding hawkbill knife with a swayback handle and locking, hollow ground, stainless blade that would be perfect for cutting sod or pruning shrubs.

When buying a knife, what should I consider besides price?

First off, don’t ever buy any of the knives you see at truck stops. They’re junk that’ll wind up in the landfill. The ones you find at Wal-Mart and Lowe’s are a step up, but not much better.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a knife, but look for a brand that you know and trust. Besides us, Case, Queen, Bear & Son are all American brands that make traditional pocketknives. All of the top brands are sold through our catalog and website (

What are the most important things to do to maintain the life and service of a good knife or edge tool?

Keep it clean. When you finish a job with a knife, clean and wipe the blade before you close it.

Of course, keep it sharp. We like ceramic and diamond sharpeners, medium grit for touch up. DMT is a good brand to look for.

Oil the joints. All steels will rust, even stainless. Blow the dust off, now and then. Don’t store a knife in a wet leather pouch. Keep it in open air and dry when not in use.

What’s your favorite knife blade steel?

When we select a blade steel, it’s based on the intended use of the knife and our target selling price. There are many excellent steels available including D2, VG-10, Sandvik 12C27, Bohler N690, 8Cr13MoV and others. My personal favorite is ZDP189 powder metal steel made in Japan. It’s so hard, 64-67 Rc, that it holds an edge like few others, but the cost makes it unsuitable for working knives. We have several resources on our website that will give you a great deal of information about blade steel.

The best hand tools for landscapers, from the essential pocketknife to sheers, saws, loppers and a company that’s proud to call itself a “Bully.”

By Lauren Heartsill Dowdle

Tools for Your Tasks

Bully Tools manufactures American-made gardening, lawn, roofing, flooring and agricultural tools for landscapers and contractors. The company displays its patriotism on products such as its mud shovel, which dons “USA” prominently on the blade. The shovel features a closed back and 14-gauge steel head and ferrule. Its D-grip, wood-reinforced, fiberglass handle is 33-inches long.

Bully Tools also makes a variety of other shovels, as well as rakes, weeders, post hole diggers, tampers, hoes, mulch/snow scoops and sod lifters, all manufactured in Steubenville, Ohio. They are available at retailers such as The Home Depot and Check them out online at


Garant’s Nature Expert hand weeder edges around steps, sidewalks and hard-to-reach places. It features a non-slip grip handle and a stainless steel blade that is sharpened for a clean cut. Garant produces lawn tools such as hose reels, striking tools, pruners, wheelbarrows, hoses, axes and planters.


Husqvarna’s Technical bypass pruning shears have a maximum cutting capacity of 7/8 inch and have two positions for precision or rough cutting. Its stainless steel upper blade is ground four times, before hardening, and can be easily re-sharpened when necessary. Along with hand tools, Husqvarna offers power products such as zero-turn mowers, trimmers, dethatchers, chainsaws, sod cutters, blowers and aerators.


The Corona QuickSaw 7900 fixed blade handsaw has a taper-ground design and a hook on the blade’s tip, minimizing the reinsertion time. Its impulse-hardened teeth blade, made of high-carbon steel, keeps the cut channel sawdust-free during cuts. Corona manufactures products such as rakes, loppers, shovels and pruners


Level a sand base for paver brick projects, spread soil or seed yards with Wolverine Products’ aluminum landscape rake. With thick tines, a wrap-around brace and 66-inch aircraft aluminum handle, this rake is available with head widths from 24 to 48 inches. Wolverine manufactures all of their edging and steel tools in the United States and offers products such as shovels, wheelbarrows, snow tools and dirt tamps.


Reach and cut limbs of varying diameters and heights with Stihl’s PP 600 telescoping pole saw. This lightweight, aluminum pole has a box shaft design, reaches more than 10-feet high and collapses to 4 ½ feet for storage and transport. Saw heads and lopper attachments are available. Stihl offers products such as vacuums, chain saws, trimmers, edgers, augers and blowers.


The Centurion Monster lopper features nonslip grips and a hook-style jaw to hold branches in place. Able to cut a 1 7/8-inch-diameter branch, this lopper reaches 33 inches for added leverage. Its Link-Force gear drive helps with cutting large branches. Centurion also offers products such as pruners, shears, saws, rakes and shovels.

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Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
Attachments Idea Book Cover