Reducing the strain 

Sorry it’s not a post about reducing the work load in the garden or indeed making the house/garden balance better but just a few little thoughts on how to reduce the strain on one of the things our gardens use so much, our hands and arms. All the work we do in our gardens, puts strain on those items, yes even drinking tea whilst gardening and I am no exception to the rule. In my last full time  job, I had the delight of putting up raised beds made from green oak, sadly didn’t have the right equipment to do the job and ended up racketing in timberloc screws into the sleepers, result severe tennis and golfers elbow in both arms, indeed so bad I could only hold my new born baby for 10seconds before the pain became too much. It’s taken me years to recover from that and has really made me adjust the way I work and the strains I put on those parts of my body.
For years, cutting back things, pruning, spent bloom removal, hacking back, I just used one tool, a trust pair of felco no2 secateurs. Very good secateurs indeed but after a little bit of work, especially cutting back herbaceous plants my hands would be in pain, sometimes it took as little as 1.5hrs and would take 3 days to recover, so this was the first and main area I looked at making some changes into, now I love pruning and would really hate to give it up, so started to try different things. First thing was to have a pair of secateurs just for pruning and I fancied a change from felcos and tried the toshiba range from Niwaki, slightly lighter and tend to hold their edge far better meaning it takes fair less pressure to cut things. That’s so important, having sharp edges on tools help you to cut though things needing fair less effort and strain on your wrists, same thing goes with pruning saws, a sharp blade will fly though the wood and make a cleaner cut and take less effort. 

Try changing the way you hold secateurs when making many small cuts

Next thing about pruning, is the way you hold your secateurs, most normal people tend to hold them on the far end of the handles, that’s good if you are doing big cuts and need the leverage, for smaller cuts you need to put more effort into closing the blade before cutting though, so I move the secateurs down into my hand where the palm of my hand stops the secateurs from opening too much and then needs less effort to close them. 

From the top, Japanese rice scythe, secateurs, snips

After that I looked at do I need to use secateurs for everything? Is there anything out there that will reduce strain, wieght and be easier to use? The answer was yes, found a nice light pair of snips that I use for spend bloom removing and cutting string etc that really made it much easier, not only to use but also to carry out the work. Biggest pain in the wrists as still cutting back plants, thankfully looking though the Niwaki catalogue brought a possible answer, a Japanese rice scythe, a small hand held scythe used to cut back tough rice stems sounds ideal for cutting back tough stems of herbaceous plants. This little tool weighing no more that 3ozs fits so well into you hand and flies though the stems so easily and I have found i can use it all day without any problems in my wrists what so ever. This little tool also most single handily saved me from having to give up doing the job I love so much.

Having the right Length handle and shape is important

Great Dixter tickling fork made by Sneeboer

Other tools can help as well, having good well built and balanced handtools is important, things like having the right length handle, making sure they are sharp and also don’t hold on to the soil as much, instead of making do with 1 digging fork/spade to cover all areas, a smaller border fork maybe easier to plant out and a De Wit border fork or Sneeboer Great Dixter  tickling fork makes it easier to turn over the soil, the T shaped handle makes the twisting easier to grip. Putting the spade and fork into the ground is another way shock and stress can be put into the wrists. I have seen so many people stabbing the ground many times, almost like they are trying to kill a hidden monster within the ground! Much easier and less stressful to your body by stabbing the ground once and then working the spade or fork into the ground using your foot, just in front of your heal and either wiggle it down or if you want to stab, keep the foot in contact with the spade or fork as well.

DeWit border hand tools

  Weeding is another area for me that caused me problems, the impact of the hand fork hitting the ground, caused shocks though my wrists, causing pain, switching to the De Wit border handfork, gave me a good T shaped handle, that allowed more of a fork like digging action rather than the stabbing action which sends less of a shockwave up into your wrists. Again something small like that once more make a difference to me and has allowed me once more to enjoy it a bit more. I also have a sharpened solid metal ditching spade that is ideal for getting out small stumps, roots, old buried lawnmowers etc instead of a normal spade. The narrow spade bit allows you to cut though roots much easier by allowing you to put more concentrated power into the strike, the solid metal gives you a little more wieght behind the ‘hit’ meaning you get more damage on the target than with a normal spade, helping once to reduce impact to your wrists 

10v drills are lighter and less stressful while doing lighter tasks

Power tools are again another area that can cause problems to your wrists and hands. Petrol tools are heavy, smelling and cause so much vibration though the usage of them.  Using them all day isn’t something to recommend and indeed if you are working for an employer isn’t something you are allowed to do, breaching vibration levels that can be down to 1hr use for all machines in one day, depending on the machine. Now that’s one hell a lot of vibration, again can effect the wrists and arms as well. It’s well worth taking a look at the new range of battery powered tools like hedge cutters, strimmers, blowers etc. The quality is now up nearly as good as petrol machines and for most the work that we do, they are more than powerful enough to do a very good job. The health benefits do outway the slight cost differences, yes they are a little more expensive even working out the reduction in fuel, oil, air filter replacements, new spark plugs etc just about covers the cost of the battery over its lifetime but it’s the lightness, lack of vibration, lack of fumes really makes such a big difference to your body. After a day of using petrol machines, my body would ache, hands, wrists and forearms would hurt, now a day of such work and much easier. It’s also worth thinking about just small breakers, jack hammers or SDS drills to break up concrete etc instead of using pick axes, crow bars etc as that can put a lot of pain into your wrists as well. If you are doing a lot of screwing or drilling using 18v drills, think about using the 10v drill, lighter and much less pressure on the hands and wrists!

These are just some of the ways I have changed my ways of working to try and reduce the strain on my wrists and enjoy my work even more 

9 Comments Add yours

  1. A. JoAnn says:

    Great tips for making gardening a bit easier!

  2. n20gardener says:

    Another really practical post. Thanks for sharing. I think we are soon going to need something on planting masses of tulips without pain. Any hints!

    1. thomashort says:

      Lol as silly as it seems try and get a auger piece for a drill, they are now selling them for bulb planting, also like the look of the DeWit bulb planter, it’s like a small version of the post hole digger, looks like it will make life much easier

  3. karen says:

    A great post packed with information. I’ve stuck with felco no2 for years but now need a radical rethink- or we will have to sell up and move to a smaller garden. I’m finding my ramshackle acre more and more of a challenge – as illness takes a toll. I’ve found the Stihl battery power range of tools an absolute boon. I’ve got the whole range now and wouldn’t be without them. I need some new hand tools and will have a look at the ones you recommend. Plus adapt the way I use them. Thanks for sharing your expertise. Karen

    1. thomashort says:

      I am so pleased that you have found it so useful Karen and I hope it helps you to reduce the strain on the body. The stihl kit is so useful isn’t, the lightness makes a huge difference compared to petrol doesn’t. I hope you manage to stay in the garden for many years to come

      1. karen says:

        Do hope we can. But we talked today about letting the edges of the garden just go back to nature. We feel that might be the answer. Just concentrate on properly gardening a much smaller area around the house and keeping the veg plot going as long as we can. The wildlife will be happy- and so will we. Enjoy your weekend x

  4. mercyjm says:

    I commented on Twitter, but felt the need to go on a bit more here! Having just had three weeks of twinges from a recoil-start incident (I didn’t even feel it at the time) I have made an expensive switch to a li-ion powered mower. Lighter, cleaner, easier, fits in car. I have realised that while I am still fit, returning to practical hort as a job (now I am over 50) means I have to work smarter than I did in my 30s and 40s. Thanks so much for this post again. Mercy.

    1. thomashort says:

      I think that’s the key word Mercy, working smarted, we all all get trapped into the trap of doing things the same as we have always used or done it that way, sometimes it takes a injury just to make us rethink and do things a different way doesn’t. So pleased you have found it useful, the replies I have from you and others have really made my week

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