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I've been purchasing most of my lawn equipment from a home improvement store and most of the equipment (rakes, shovels, etc) I have bought from them over the last 2 years has broken during what I believe to be "normal use". They have been pretty good about allowing me to return/exchange my stuff. However, it's sort of frustrating to start out my day with a broken tool and have to make un unexpected trip to replace it (find the receipt, etc).

What things should I look for when I purchase tools (such as rakes, shovels, etc) if I want them to last a long time?

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Note to answerers: Please make your answers objective and comprehensive. Do not turn this into a one tool per answer sort of list. If you have only a minor point to make, please edit it to the best fitting existing answer (or leave it as a comment, requesting the original author to incorporate it). This will not be made CW. –  Lorem Ipsum Sep 6 '11 at 0:38
    
@Brian, are you using the right tool for its designed purpose ie A spade to dig, not to pry roots or rocks out of the ground? Also do you clean them after use & store them properly? –  Mike Perry Sep 7 '11 at 16:59
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It depends on how you use tools, what kind of soil, what kind of gardening

Spades and shovels do you use these to pry rocks and flatten boulders? If so you need the strongest shaft and head you can get. American white ash is excellent for shafts. Heads should be made from one piece of steel. If you are a gentle user you will find heavy steel heads are tiresome. Fiberglass or resin coated steel.

A good wide step is ergonomic and makes digging easier.

Tempered stainless steel is strong and helpful if you work with clay soils that hang on and add weight to every shovel you take

Rakes Hard rakes benefit from the same materials as spades and shovels. Leaf rakes come in many different designs and I find that extra expense of these is not warranted unless you have special ergonomic requirements

Any pins, nails or screws that hold together different parts are the most likely points of failure. Fastenings should be robust. The less number of parts for a hand tool the better.

Lastly, sizing is critical for success. If the height is not suited to you back injuries can happen or you can break the tool. A spade should come up between elbow and chest height. Rakes should be around shoulder height.

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