If you garden a lot, sooner or later you will break a shovel. Unfortunately, that’s because most tools available at box stores and even locally-owned hardware stores are made of lesser quality materials. What they are is inexpensive and so most people simply buy another one. Personally, I hate this disposable aspect of modern American culture, so repairing a broken shovel, for me, is a matter of principle. In other words, if it’s not worth repairing, it’s not worth owning in the first place. That’s my new motto and I think it’s a good one, whether you’re talking about shovels, DVD players, or marriages. Plus, my girlfriend’s father, a heart surgeon most of his life, retired and worked for almost 10 years at Breed Hardware in Austin where, among other things, he repaired broken shovels. It’s a lost art, in a way, repairing a broken shovel, and I hope this article will help you understand something bigger about life and how to make the things you already have last.
Repairing a broken shovel is not hard to do, and you can replace it with a higher quality ash handle to make it stronger and last much longer than it was probably meant to. Most often, shovels break in the handle, but I’ve had shovels bend and snap off in the tempered steel edge, too. What can you do. Good quality tools are available, of course, and I highly recommend them if you can afford them. On my website, I’ve provided links to several high-quality garden tool sources, such as Smith & Speed Mercantile, Red Pig Garden Tools, and Spear & Jackson, to name a few I like. As the owner of a landscape design-build company, it’s not exactly feasible (or smart) for me to equip my crews with shovels from Sheffield, England. However, I think it’s a crazy practice to throw out any shovel when it breaks from the handle.
The most difficult part of repairing a broken shovel, of course, is getting the broken piece of the handle out of the shovel end after you’ve gotten the rivets or screws pried or cut out (I use a hacksaw). Often, the handle snaps right at the base of the shovel where the metal meets the wood, allowing you no way to pull the handle out. Searching for a solution online, I found a wide array of answers to this problem, from putting the shovel in the oven to drilling the wood out with a long drill bit until it crumbles, to setting the shovel literally on fire. Finally, I found one ingenious fellow who recommended inserting a long 8″ eye bolt into the broken shaft (kind of like a corkscrew–see photos above), hanging it up from a hook, and then firmly tapping the footrest part of the shovel several times with a hammer. This method worked great, taking about 10 seconds to remove the wedged piece of wood from the shovel end after I drilled a small, slightly smaller guide hole to secure the eye bolt in place.
Inserting the new handle, drilling a single hole into the new handle to accommodate the new rivet, and finally securing the rivet or bolt (some people use a bolt, or screws) in place is the easy part of repairing a broken shovel. In all, once you have the right tools, the whole repair takes maybe 5-10 minutes and costs half what it does to buy another poor-quality shovel. Mainly, I find it rewarding to know that you are not throwing yet another thing in the city landfill. Of course, we’d all probably break less tools if we properly oiled the handles with teak or linseed oil in the first place, or didn’t leave them lying around in the yard exposed to the rain and sun. I am guilty of both and I’m afraid it’s the same with my boots and shoes, but I vow from this point forward to treat them–and the earth– a little bit better. The iron bench, by the way, in the photos above is another item I reclaimed on a job site where the wood was rotting, but the hardware was still in good shape. I replaced the old slats with specially-ordered mahogany boards at Stock Building Supply here in Austin. They were great people to work with and highly recommend them. Now all I need to do is sand, stain and enjoy.