Trade Secrets

How to tell if a garden tool is really good quality

Firstly - How fredshed works

fredshed is not a conventional retail site and only stocks and sells a few carefully selected tools. I can also take direct orders for a couple of long established European manufacturers and a few inventors. Mostly  I research, test and write about equipment - a bit like Which magazine.( who I have also worked for)

The way it works is that I show you carefully selected tools that I have tested and endorse, then,  direct you to someone who sells them, on or offline. If my recommendations don't suit you, then you are welcome to e mail me and ask about alternative products. I will then offer you my free and impartial advice. Why do I do this- and what pays for fredshed?   

fredshed  is a kind of CV for my work as a freelance writer and consultant. I also enjoy running my own website and talking about tools with amateurs and professionals from around the world. I really don't want to become a shop but I do sell a few specialist tools to help you find them, and the Inventors sell them. In particular I like to help and encourage inventors and innovative small companies who have the odds stacked against them when bringing something new to the market.

To help cover the running costs of the site I sell a few, carefully selected items that I have used for years and have total confidence in. I only stock the small items, as I am one man in a shed and don't want to live in a warehouse or become a large retailer. If you order one of these small items it will be packaged and sent by me personally.. From time to time I will also take orders for new inventions or stock parts for them to help inventors off to a good start, or maintain a niche product in the market.

Fredshed is also affiliated with Amazon and several top garden equipment retailers . Some of my readers are kind enough to reward me for the good info I gave them by using my links when buying products from Amazon and my other partners. You can use the link below, or on the bottom of every page to search and buy, books , CD's, Videos, electronic goods and garden tools. Let me know if you use my Amazon link and I will keep you informed of any end of line or special deals before they go on the website.


For free expert advice - on buying tools, (on and off-line) mail me at 


Fredshed is independent from any one manufacturer or retailer.  So,  you will find tools from a wide range of manufacturers and retailers, large and small, even bearded inventors in sheds who can hardly afford to shave, let alone pay me anything! . If the tools are good and I've tested them- there here regardless. I've even included products from companies I don't really like and receive no co-operation from. If the product is the best I will try and feature it anyway - that's my commitment to providing quality information.

On one level some of the companies featured in fredshed are in competition, but  most recognise that innovation and excellence need to be rewarded and protected. Some companies who frequently copy patented tools, consistently produce low quality items or have defrauded inventors are excluded from the shed. 

Most tools are covered by a 25 year patent and if this expires and is not renewed then other people are free to use the design and in many cases often improve it due to the use of modern materials and processes. This sort of copying is legal and something I welcome. as long as the quality is acceptable and no false claims are made on the provenance of the product. Wherever possible I try to discover and let my readers know where products are made.

Supplied with this knowledge you the consumer can also promote good products and benefit from them. Let me know if you have bought a fantastic tool - or a total duffer. Tools that work well and last are safer to use and cause less damage to our environment. 

Secret No 2 - How some other people work

Unless you are in the trade,  or a "tool anorak" (like me),  buying equipment online, from a shop or mail order, is likely to present you with a bewildering range of choices. It is likely that the tools that you are offered from any one place will have been chosen mainly with profit in mind and design and functionality a close 2nd or 3rd. Many products are designed to fail after 2-3 years use so that you buy another. 

Manufacturers and retailers have admitted to me that their product is rubbish and does not work, however due to clever marketing it does sell,  so they are happy!

Many websites and catalogues sell tools they have never tested and don't understand. The chances of them keeping spares or even knowing where to get them is slim. Fredshed aims to build long term relationships with manufacturers and  bring you the true facts about products rather than marketing hype.


Another  piece of landfill from a leading manufacturer

It is far easier for a shop to stock the whole range of tools from one or two companies, it keeps down the paperwork and makes life simple. So if you want the best tools then you will need to visit several places and see a lot of junk. ( save time and visit fredshed)

I want you to be happy with your tools and for them to last as long as possible. I would not recommend any product if I thought it would not impress. My reputation is my most valued asset and I think happy people come back again so it is worth making the effort even for a small request.

Trade Secret No 3

Nearly any manufacturer is capable of producing an occasional lemon!  I've even done it myself. (Ssshhhe)

If I produce a lemon in fredshed workshop it can easily be thrown in the scrap box or used as a plant support. -However if someone spends 200,000 tooling up and makes 50,000 "lemons"  then they will probably end up in a shop,(in an un-openable  package) or catalogue where you cant examine it, and then into YOUR SHED. Eventually they end up in YOUR BIN! - 

 At fredshed we can avoid this    -   we have the  information technology!




If you try to buy a fork or spade you will find that they range enormously in price, for no apparent reason. Why does that shiny stainless steel spade cost less than that dull and boring painted one?

It could be because one is a poor quality duffer. But which one?

Unless you do your digging in a grow-bag I would always recommend a solid forged fork or spade. This means that it has been bashed out of one piece of metal and the crystalline structure of the metal is uniform and very strong.

Pressed steel and welded forks and spades tend to do spagetti impressions in hard soil or snap at the (frog) weld. (There are a couple of exceptions) I also favour Ash or hardwood handles although fibreglass can often be even stronger.

Bulldog and Spear & Jackson are long established "British"companies who both made great solid forged tools in the UK.  Bulldog have moved their forge abroad but still fit the handles in the UK. Spear and Jackson is now American owned and has moved its forges from its Birmingham factory to the far east.

Both companies also  import the cheaper welded tools so be careful what you buy if you want the best. You cannot rely on a brand name alone if you want the best tools. Consult Fredshed if you want to know where and who makes the tools you buy.


A Bulldog Premier Solid Forged Spade undergoing a bend test at the Clarington Forge in Wigan.

My Dad "Big Fred" used this model spade for many years and I can vouch for it's quality.

Bulldog tools are still popular in the USA where they are known as Clarington Forge tools.


bendtest.jpg (9150 bytes)

Twelve stages of forging (bashing) a spade from one piece of steel,



(Picture courtesy of Bulldog Tools )

Stainless Steel tools look nice and do slide into the ground easier, but  stainless tools are inherently weaker, especially forks, even though they may cost more, depending on who makes them and where you buy them. 

No-one makes solid forged stainless steel forks and spades in the UK. If you see any stainless steel spade or fork labelled "manufactured in the UK" - beware  - this does not apply to the metal parts!  All it means is that a handle was stuck on in the UK- perfectly legal but plainly deceptive in my view.


A so called "top quality" Stainless Steel Spade sold by a Top Brand Company.

This product has failed because it is made of 2 pieces welded together (badly)

It came with a 10 year guarantee and was a replacement for the previous one that broke. Your time and petrol is not covered by the guarantee.

The environmental cost of manufacturing product for landfill is not covered by the guarantee. Buy cheap - buy twice!


Fredshed tried and tested Stainless Steel Fork and Spade

Although these tools are not solid forged they are well made and I have owned a set for over 7 years which have survived regular use- and abuse.

I would rather recommend the Bulldog solid forged carbon steel tools but they are not shiny and some people want shiny tools! ( it does help reduce soil adhesion)

If you use these Spear & Jackson stainless steel Neverbend tools sensibly they should give good service




If you are thinking of buying some expensive tools and want some help, you can e mail me at Likewise if you have had an expensive tool break then I would like to know. (unless you were lifting paving slabs with it!)



Bulldog Premier Tools

Assembled  in Wigan, Britain 


see my page on Bulldog Tools


British and Solid Forged -  When Only The Best Will Do

* Sadly the Bulldog Forge has moved aboard and the steel parts are now sent to Wigan to be assembled with the handles. legally speaking this is UK made but I prefer to call this UK assembled.


I receive more E mails about broken forks than any other tool, this is because there are so many inferior quality tools of this type in the shops. Also to be fair to the manufacturers some people try to use a garden fork when they should be using a pick-axe or mattock. see 

My advice is where possible  ONLY BUY FORKS THAT HAVE BEEN SOLID FORGEDAlso take care when buying Stainless Steel.  This metal is not as suited to making large forks, normal carbon steel is stronger, easier to forge and less likely to break in difficult conditions like heavy soil or when digging near roots. 

Solid forged  tools exceed the UK strength test criteria by nearly 100% and should last a lifetime if used properly.

For personal advice on how to buy the right  fork or spade e mail me at 

 Still can't find the tool you are looking for?

For free expert advice - on buying tools, (on and off-line) mail me at 



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Fred Walden -2015