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Go ergonomic with your tools

  • Dot Zanotti Ingels
  • All my gardening life I have been able to move easily about my yard, work long pleasurable hours and come in to the house with a smile on my face and mildly sore muscles.

    Fast forward to the present and I still move pretty easily about the garden, work far fewer hours before I am pooped and come in with a smile on my face but sorer muscles that take longer to recover. Two of my friends who love gardens have arthritis and unforgiving backs that limit their strength and comfort while doing what they enjoy doing.

    By doing a bit of research I have discovered that we can do better at any age about working more efficiently and safely in our gardens with tools that are designed to complement our bodies and the tasks at hand. By using our bodies correctly we can save our wrists, knees and backs from pain and trauma and keep our precious garden time as invigorating and purposeful as it can be.

    Ergonomics is essentially the applied science of work, how it is done and making the work comfortable and efficient. This applies to equipment designed to fit the human body for specific work tasks.

    We usually notice comfort first when something is pleasing for us to use. That can mean a soft handle or the feel of a tool in our hands. When something is efficient it makes our task easier to do and requiring less strength or steps.

    Gardening is work but with the proper tools we can cut the amount of time and muscle ache that can come with this great hobby.

    Ergonomic gardening tools are designed to transfer the energy of your large muscles (think biceps and leg muscles) to the work end of the tool and take the stress off your other weaker muscles, wrists, shoulders and hands. A good tool properly used should enable you to use good posture without excessive leaning or twisting or the need for excessive force. You also should be able to maintain a natural wrist motion to increase your strength and control and decrease your chance of wrist injury. A good ergonomic tool will increase your efficiency so you can get more done in less time and with less effort. It can also increase your capabilities to complete the tasks at hand.

    The gardening catalogs are featuring more options for ergonomic tools all the time but I think it is important to handle a tool to see how it feels to you. Handle size, length of the spindle and tool weight are all important considerations.

    Several local Marin nurseries carry a great selection of ergonomic tools. Spring is the time for garden-themed shows and there are always many vendors there who are selling tools for you to check out. It is easy to find lots of choices by just putting "ergonomic garden tools" in your Web browser. There are a few helpful tips about tool selection to help you with your gardening:

    • It is simple to start with your gloves. Thin gloves (unless you are pruning roses) that fit trim to your hand without being restricting increase hand efficiency and grip.
    • Buy tools that fit you and the needs of your body. Look for tools that have a lightweight but thick shaft that allow for easy manipulation and a firm grip. You can find rakes, hoes, shovels, tools and pruning tools with telescoping handles that can be adjusted to a length that allows you to take the stress off your back, knees and hips instead of reaching, twisting and bending. The diameter of the handle is important. A fatter handle often feels more comfortable initially, but it will tire your wrist more quickly if it is too fat. Your thumb and forefinger should meet when you wrap your hand around the handle and any indentations should allow you to keep your hand in a neutral position with the thumb up and wrist straight. Ergonomic pruning tools with a ratchet cut through thick stems easily with minimal exertion. Padded handles are a treat and add comfort. Keeping your tools sharp will help make your work more efficient.

    • A gardening kneeler can help save knees. Most come with raised handles that help you get up and down safely and let you flip the stool over so it becomes a sitting bench to work on pots or elevated beds.

    • Garden carts are more stable and roll easier than a wheelbarrow and make hauling in and out of the garden easier on you.

    When you make your work simpler, more efficient and more comfortable, you not only ease the strain on your body but you make the time you spend in your garden much more fun.