Bulldog Tools: Field Tested!
As long as there’s been soil to dig, people have puzzled over the best ways to dig it. The tools have been evolving for millennia but the debate still rages: about designs, materials, long handled or short… and then there’s price to factor in. It’s hard to know the quality you’re getting before you test them out, and it’s often the moment something fails that tells you you’ve made a mistake. So what do we do? We do what we’ve always done: we look to other gardeners to share their experiences. With that in mind, Low Impact Shop asked me to test-drive some of the Bulldog Tools range and report back.
I’m a professional gardener so quality is important, but I also have an hourly rate to earn so there’s a limit to what I want to spend. ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’ they say, but it’s also possible to buy the expensive stuff and find it’s still not up to the task. We’ve all experienced the buyer’s remorse that comes when something you’ve invested in fails, and it’s all too often at the exact moment you need it most. My first impression of the bundle of Bulldog products I collected from Low Impact Shop’s Mytholmroyd building was of sturdiness – you know the kind of sixth sense you have when you hold something that tells you whether it’s going to do what you ask of it (or not)?
One thing I’ve learned to look for is any welding on the metal parts of a tool: they’re usually the weak points and I’ve had spades and trowels literally break off in my hand at the welds, sometimes after only a few uses… and I’m a small girl! It’s reassuring, then, to find that each tool in the Bulldog range is forged from a single piece of steel: there’s no welding at all! They’re obviously confident in their products because they offer a lifetime warranty – a rare thing these days.
None of that would mean anything, though, if the tools weren’t any good at what they are designed for. I’ve found them excellent: the loppers and anvil secateurs in particular cut brilliantly. I’m no engineer but it seems they get great leverage as well as being supplied brilliantly sharp. I sharpen secateurs once a week (easy enough with a home knife sharpener), but I put them through a lot more than most users and they hold up really well. The real test of secateurs is live wood, not dead, and they make it a dream. The safety catch is really well-designed too. The loppers I used on a mature rhododendron with about two-inch thick woody stems, and they felt like cutting through paper rather than living wood. Here’s some handy advice from the RHS on how to sharpen your tools.
The trowels and hand forks are reassuringly sturdy, which is all-too-often not the case: many manufacturers seem to think that smaller tools can be lighter built, but there’s nothing worse than a bendy trowel when trying to cut through roots and lever out stones. Bulldog seem to take the opposite approach; the trowel blade feels like it could be on the end of a spade-length handle and still stand up to the leverage. It really feels like the last one I’ll ever need, and the quality wooden handle seems to go along with this too. There’s a tradeoff with wood in that it takes a little maintenance to stop even treated wood from drying and cracking after several years, but an occasional wipe with pretty much any oil should keep it in good fettle. Some makers use plastic for handles which is great for the zero-maintenance aspect, but I’ve sometimes found that plastic handles can generate blisters and provide less grip. I’d choose wood every time.
Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve never owned a riddle before and when LIS asked me to test one I wasn’t sure how much use I’d have for it. I have to say it’s been a revelation: instantly transforming the chaotic mix of rocks, clay, vegetable matter, bugs and soil that comes out of some of my clients’ gardens into potting soil feels like a magic trick. They come in two sizes and I’ve been using the large-mesh one; I think when the growing season starts again I’ll be getting the finer one too.
The only slight drawback I’ve encountered, if you consider it a drawback, is that the hand tools are at the heaver end of what’s on the market. It’s inevitable that with solid construction comes a slight weight penalty. If your lifting strength is severely limited you might want to look at specialized lightweight alternatives, but I’m a 55kg girl and they’re easily manageable for me even on the longest days of heavy gardening – it really is small difference.
Overall, then, I’m really impressed, even delighted, to have access to such a world-class range of tools. Now all I have to do is make sure my skills are up to the same standard!