Using a Russian Hoe

Weeding: rake just below the soil surface to cut down small sprouts. For deep rooted weeds like dandelion, the long blade and sharp point make it easy to dig the tap root out of the soil without bending down to pull by hand.

Digging: the sharp point and 6 1/2″ long blade make digging into soil or lawn a snap. Use it for edging and digging holes for potatoes or other root crops.

Cultivating: Again, the sharpened edges make cultivating the surface of the soil very easy to do. Since the tool is lightweight overall, and can be sized to fit you properly, there’s minimal stress on the body when working with this hand forged garden hoe.

Furrowing: by drawing the crook of the hoe along the surface of cultivated soil, a furrow is formed for planting seed. The deeper into the soil you press with the hoe, the deeper the furrow.

Starting a new garden bed all with this one tool: Dig the lawn first to loosen it up. Draw the hoe through the first few inches to cut the grass roots. Add compost or organic matter to your new garden patch and cultivate it using the sharpened point and to break up any dirt clods. Form furrows for seeds or dig holes for transplants or tubers. All done with one tool!

Here’s a video showing how three of our tools work well together: the Russian hoe, the broadfork and the hori hori:

One Blade Becomes Two

Sister Blades

Working on some new tool designs, I took an old lawn mower blade and recycled it to use as stock for a kusakezuri (Japanese hand hoe) and a hori hori. In my continuing study of Japanese agricultural tools made with reclaimed steel, I’ve created these as prototypes. The fact that the two blades are sisters really speaks to me, and I plan to let whoever becomes the owner of these tools know it.

The kusakezuri blade, ferrule and handle unassembled. The blade needs hardening at this point.

The hori hori blade with tape measure to capture the scale.

Heat Treatment Process

The hand hoe is ready for heat treatment. The process involves annealing (which I did already), then normalizing the blade for two or three cycles depending on if the blade warps as it cools. Finally, the blade will be hardened by quenching. For this particular steel from the reclaimed lawn mower blade, I took a piece of it and tested it. It hardened very well at a cherry red heat quenched in room temperature water. For longer pieces like a blade, however, quenching it in a medium like that could cause it to warp excessively or even crack from the stress of cooling so quickly.

I next tried hardening the test piece in warm vegetable oil (came out soft), and then cold vegetable oil. The second result had ok hardness (a file barely scratched it). I decided to quench the hori hori blade in the cold vegetable oil. This is the result:

A slight curve can be seen along the blade’s edge. This needs to be corrected.

The blade warped slightly, curving upwards, and the edges were a little soft for my liking, with the file biting a bit. The ideal is a file skating on the surface of the hardened steel. I’m going to harden the hori hori again, but this time using yaki-ire to harden the edges. I will use the same process for the hand hoe as well.

Yaki-ire is a style of edge hardening that is accomplished by applying a clay mask to all surfaces of the blade except for the edge. When the 1-2 mm clay layer is dry, the blade is heated to the correct temperature and then quenched in water. Water quenches faster than oil, so I believe this will give the hardness that I want while maintaining some toughness in the rest of the blade.

Blade Anatomy

A slight concave is forged into the back of the hoe blade to ease in sharpening.

Tang detail: note the sharp shoulder where the tang meets the ferrule.

The back side of a single bevel blade is called ura in Japanese, and in the picture above I forged a slight concave on the ura to make sharpening easier. This is a traditional method for forging single bevel blades. The blade will fit into a slot cut into a hardwood handle. An iron ferrule is used to support the tang and blade; for the support to work correctly the ferrule must fit snugly with both the tang and the wood. It takes a bit of work to ensure all the pieces fit properly.

Next update will show the completed pieces.