The History of Common Garden Tools

garden_toolsGarden tools are not a modern day invention.  Their history coincides with human development and can begin around 10,000 years ago.  This is the period when the earliest record of garden tool use can be found.  This coincides with the Neolithic period and the domestication of plants.

The microlith was invented during this time period and consisted of a small sharp stone blade that was set into a handle made of wood, bone or antler.  This was the first multi-tool.  It resembles a small spade and can be used to dig, clip and cut plant material.  It can also be used to clear land but this time period also gave birth to many other gardening tools.  This included the hoe, garden plow, and scythe.  All these tools were made the same and consisted of a stone shaped tool that was attached to a handle made from natural material.

The Bronze Age saw the development of the smelting process.  This process took tin, copper, and iron and separated these into their ores.  The purified ore was then turned into metals that could be worked easily.  Tools made from this new material were solid pieces that were sharper and could last longer.

During the Han Dynasty in China, a wooden version of the seed drill was developed in the 3rd century B.C.  In the 2nd century B.C., the wheelbarrow was developed in China.  The wheelbarrow itself really has not changed from those created so long ago in China.

Once America was discovered, garden tool development continued by the invention of the first cast iron shovel.  This was created by John Ames and consisted of a broad blade on a long handle.  During the same period a unique type of pest control was developed called the cloche.  Gardening became very popular during this time and in doing so new time saving tools were invented.  This included budding and grafting knifes, edging irons, and cultivating forks.

The Industrial Revolution brought automated tools and mass production.  This started in the mid to late 1800s with the invention of machinery powered by steam and electric.  Horses and manpower were replaced with steam power and steel the most common material for common garden tools, such as spades and hoes.

Mass production and mass transportation made tools more widely available for the masses.

Today, garden tools can be found in many different versions.  This includes the very basic, human-powered kind to those run on all electric. But before you jump into a garden tool craze, learn the humble beginning of some of the most common tools found in the garden shed.


Many tools that sever the same purpose as a rake can be found in the earliest part of human history.  In 1100 B.C. China, the rake was being used to gather and harvest hay and grain.  It was also being used to clear fields of leaves and plant refuse.

In America, rakes were sold by the Charlotte Genter and Bernard McMahon Company.  This simple agriculture tool was very expensive and became a very important possession of many 18th century families.

Today, many different designs of rakes can be found.  A new invention to the world of rakes is the telescoping handle.  This type of handle allows the gardener to reach areas that in the past were impossible to reach.  An example of this is the Telescoping Shrub Rake.  This rake allows one to remove those shrub clippings from the top of the plant and below.

Garden Weeder

There are two types of garden weeders.  These include the daisy grubber and the corkscrew weeder.  The daisy grubber is a tool that consists of a wooden handle that is about two inches long.  The handle then splits into two forming a “fork shape.”  To use, simply place the fork part around the base of the weed and push down hard on the handle.  This action cuts through the stem of the weed and kills it.  An example of this type of tool is the DeWit Dandelion Weeder, which is an excellent tool to use when it comes to removing weeds in sidewalks and driveways.

The corkscrew weeder is an early 1900s invention from the British Isles.  This tool consists of an open steel spiral on a wood handle.  To use this tool, place the screw at the base of the weed.  Turn the screw so that it cuts through the roots of the plant.  When the screw is removed from the soil, the plant will come up with it.  The DeWit Screw Weeder Aerator sold by Outdora is a great example of this type of weeder

Garden Knife

The garden knife can be found in art created in Rome.  This art shows the pruning knife as more of a scythe that can cut through herbs, vegetables, fruits and nuts.  It was believed back then, that the pruning knife contained magical powers and could tell the gardener when to harvest and which plant to harvest.

A more recent version of the pruning knife can be found in catalogues from the 19th century.  This version consists of a blade shaped like a scythe with a wooden handle.  The Dewit Garden Knife and the Carbon Steel Patio Knife are both examples of garden knifes that will serve you well in your garden space.


The principle behind this tool is the shape of the end.  A seed dibber consists of a conical end that makes a hole in the ground.  The gardener then drops the seed in this hole and covers the seed up.  Some models even have an end that is used to rake the soil over the seed.

Today seed dibbers can be found in Europe and UK garden shops.  While this tool is a European invention, it can be found in the United States under the name Dewit Dibber.

Watering Can

In 1692, Lord Timothy George wrote the term watering can in his garden diary.  From this simple act, the watering can was born.  It can come in many different styles which includes ones that rain water down or have several holes to ones with just a singular opening.  The spout has also moved from the side to the bottom on many models.  This simple move allows the watering can to completely drain.

The Haws watering can was patented in the 1880s.  This watering can design moved the handle from the top to the rear of the can.  This move made the watering can easier to handle.

Garden tools have a unique history that is directly tied into human development.  These tools have served mankind well and will continue for millenniums.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.