The Garden Hoe: What It Is Used For & More

The garden hoe has been around in one form or another for over 4,000 years. Comprising of a long handle and metal bladed head, it is a useful farm tool, for weeding and clearing the ground ready for planting. In this article, we will be finding out much more about this ancient gardening implement.

What is a Hoe?

what is a hoe

A hoe is a long-handled garden implement with a flat thin blade. The blade is often set at around 90° to the handle. 

The earliest images showing man using a tool that resembles a hoe were depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back some 4,000 years. Originally such implements were crafted from simple branches with stone, bone, or animal horns used for the blades. 

The first metal forged heads didn’t appear until around the 14th century and haven’t changed much even today. 

The handle of a modern hoe can be made of wood or aluminum and although wood handles have a warmer more flexible feel, they are also heavier than aluminum ones.

Aluminum handles are usually coated with some sort of covering, either rubber or plastic, which helps improve grip and prevents them from feeling so cold on a winter’s morning.

Handles can also vary in length and it’s important not to get one that is too short, as this causes you to lean over when using it, causing back strain.

The blade at the end of the handle is usually made of a metal material such as stainless steel or carbon. The advantage of a carbon blade is that it’s easy to sharpen, but unless it has a powder or epoxy coating it will rust easily. 

Stainless steel blades stay shiny and relatively rust-free but are far harder to sharpen.

The blades also come in different shapes. Often they resemble stirrups, some have teeth on one side and others, such as a Dutch hoe can be triangular.

There are a diverse number of different shapes and styles, but all have their uses and some are better than others for certain jobs.  A wide, toothed blade, may be useful for preparing the tilth of a seedbed, while a narrow-bladed hoe will be more suited for weeding around already established plants.

How to Care For Your Garden Hoe?

Maintaining your garden hoe properly will ensure that it is always ready for use and last for many years. It needs to be kept clean and sharp.

If you have one with a carbon steel blade, you should sharpen it frequently, using a wet stone, after it has first been thoroughly cleaned using soapy water. 

Always ensure you dry the blade completely after cleaning and sharpening, then rub on a little oil to prevent rust. See how to sharpen a hoe below. 

To prevent wooden handles from drying out and splitting, they can be given a coating of boiled flaxseed oil from time to time. Be sure to wipe off the excess

When sharp, your hoe will cut through the soil and remove weeds far more effectively.  

At the end of the season, clean, sharpen and oil your hoe before wrapping the blade in an oily rag and hanging it up for winter.

What are the Types of Hoes?

As with most tools, there are a variety of different types of hoe to fulfill the needs of various jobs.

The basic long-handled hoe’s structure is always the same. They have a long handle with some kind of metal blade fixed to the end. This blade can be all kinds of different shapes, some flat, some curved, some pointed. With teeth or a smooth blade.

On most hoes, you will find the blade is positioned at a 90° angle to the shaft, but there can be variations on this. Some hoes have wide heads, while others have narrow ones. 

  • Paddle Hoe or Draw Hoe – This is the most basic style of hoe and has a long handle and a rectangular paddle-shaped head. The head is attached to the handle at a 90° angle and is useful for weeding, removing roots, and shaping soil.
  • Dutch or Warren Hoe – Like the paddle hoe, the blade is attached at a 90° angle, but is shaped like a spade or triangle. The point can access tight spaces as it faces outwards and it can be used to poke out weeds.
  • Stirrup, Loop, or Shuffle Hoe – The metal end of this hoe is shaped like the stirrup found on a horse’s saddle. It is generally used in a pulling motion, but can also be pushed forwards and backward which is helpful for removing weeds quickly. 
  • Onion or Collinear Hoe – This has a long thin paddle like a garden rake with no spikes. It is better for people with back problems as it doesn’t require you to bend over. 
  • Hand Hoes – There are also hand hoes that have a short handle and can be used while sitting or kneeling. They often incorporate a three-pronged spike side, to use when you flip them over. Whatever type you choose, it really depends on what you need it for and the space in which you’re doing it.

What is a Hoe Used for?

Hoes are principally designed for garden cultivation to get rid of weeds and prepare the soil for planting. You can break up the top surface of the ground, scrape, dig, weed, and lightly harrow with them.

In this video, you can see how to use a traditional hoe and a more modern style push-pull Dutch-inspired hoe.

How do You Till With a Hoe?

Because a garden hoe has a small blade you are only able to till the top inch or so of the soil with one.

The soil must first be turned over with a garden fork and any large sods broken up and grass or deep-rooted weeds removed. After this a garden rake and a hoe can be used to break up smaller sods and work the soil into a fine tilth, ready for planting or seeding.

It isn’t practical to till very large areas using a hoe, but an average size vegetable garden is doable with a bit of elbow grease. 

How to Sharpen a Hoe?

A dull hoe really isn’t going to get the job done as well as a sharp one. To efficiently slice off weeds and chop clods in the soil you’ll need a sharp edge.

Cheap hoes sold by large retailers are not of great quality. They often come with a blunt blade, as providing a sharp one adds cost to the item. It also prevents any potential injuries in the store.

The problem with these cheap hoes is that they aren’t designed to have a long life, like so many other things they are meant to be used for a short while and discarded. 

By spending a little more and investing in a hoe that can last you an entire lifetime, you’ll be buying a tool that is capable of doing a far better job. 

Due to the nature of the work fulfilled by a hoe, it gets caked in dirt pretty quickly. It’s also likely to get small dinks in the blade from hitting stones or harder roots. This is why proper cleaning and sharpening are so important.

How to clean and sharpen your garden hoe

  1. Wash all the excess dirt from your hoe and then using a little soap, warm water, and a scrubbing pad or some wire wool, scrub the blade completely clean. Keep in mind that dish soap often contains salt, which causes faster deterioration of metal, so rinse it off really thoroughly.
  1. Dry the blade completely with a lint-free cotton cloth.
  1. Place the hoe on a flat surface, such as a workbench or table. If possible use a couple of clamps to keep it from moving around.
  1. Using a flat metal file or a wet stone that has been soaked in water, stroke the outside (beveled) edge of the blade at an angle of 30°. Work your way thoroughly over the entire blade, re-wetting your stone frequently if using a sharpening stone instead of a file. It can take several minutes to achieve a clean sharp edge.
  1. On the inside (non-beveled) side of the blade, just gently run the file or stone upwards over it, keeping it flat to the blade to remove any burghs that have been created while filing the other side. If your hoe is beveled on both sides, only sharpen the outside one as this will provide a sharper finish and a stronger edge.

Where to Buy a Hoe

The best place to buy a garden hoe is from a reputable garden supply store. Although you may pay a little more for it, the quality of the product is likely to be higher. 

You can also buy direct from garden tool manufacturers online, or find their products at large online stores such as Amazon. 

You may even be lucky enough to find a good quality hoe at a yard or garage sale.


High-quality tools are well worth the slightly higher ticket price than cheap mass-produced items. A good quality hoe is a very useful gardening item that can last you for many years.

Hoes can do a variety of jobs around the garden, including weeding, tilling, and making farrows for seeds and seedlings. You may need more than one hoe, as they have different heads and come in varying lengths. 

Pick out your hoe carefully, ensure it isn’t too heavy, and feels comfortable in your hands. If the tool is too weighty or too short it can cause back pain.

If you’d like to read more in our series about hand tools, take a look at our website for more articles on this topic – here is one about scythe

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