If someone ever asked me whether there is a garden tool I can’t live without, that would be my Hori Hori knife.
It is THE multi-tool of the garden.
It is a trowel, knife, weeder, transplanter, saw, harvester, trimmer, pruner, polybag opener, twine cutter, perennial splitter and many other tools, rolled into one.
A Jack-of-all-trades type of tool.
Only limitation seems to be your imagination.
For a long time, I had been using a similar one made by Fiskar. Built like a tank and cheap one at that (sold at Home Depot and Lowes in Canada), it is made of cast aluminium with rust resistant coat. Its polymer handle has a good comfortable grip and doesn’t strain your wrist. And the yellow tip on the handle made it easy to find, when I misplace it.
Whenever I am in the garden, it accompanied me. It was the go-to tool for me.
It is far better than the garden trowels.
Garden trowels are not the ideal tools for digging or transplanting. They are more of soil scoops than digging tools. As they have no sharp pointed tips, it is hard to dig with them. They are an ok tool for transplanting, but not one for weeding.
But with my Fiskar tool, I could dig deep to get the roots of the weeds out or plant something easily.
But it had its drawbacks.
It has a V-cut fork at the tip that was supposed to help dig dandelions. But it was an annoying feature… kind of deal breaker.
Why? Weeds, mulch and roots with soil got stuck easily in that fork and it significantly reduced the efficiency. Whatever got stuck in that tip needed to be pulled out more often, slowing me down while working.
It can’t be used to scoop soil. The blade is not curved like trowel, but there is a curved channel that has no purpose or use.
It doesn’t have the ruler measurements imprinted on it, leaving me with a lot of guesswork when planting bulbs.
Knife edges on both sides, serrated and straight, don’t come sharpened.
In my opinion, aluminium is, while lightweight, not a good material for knife.
So, it was difficult to use it as a knife.
Still, I used mostly for digging out weeds or holes for planting.
So we were living together as a couple, not out of passion, but by necessity,
Until I got hold of a Hori Hori knife.
Suddenly, my irreconcilable differences with Fiskar tool were magnified. I started regretting using it.
Oh, My new Hori Hori knife was god-sent and made me wonder how I was doing without one.
Now I can’t even think about being away from it.
It is now being worn as a badge of honor, something like a rural cop wearing his handgun.
With pride and a licence to kill… weeds!
The first time I ever read about Hori Hori was from the Lee Valley Catalog. Until then, I knew only about Hara Kiri, a samurai ritual of killing himself by disembowelment as an honorable death instead of dying in disgrace.
Hori Hori is so sharp that it looks like they used Hori Hori for Hara Kiri. (No. They used swords)
Actually, it is used by Japanese farmers for hundreds of years. It is also referred as Soil Knife or Weeding knife.
In Japanese language, Hori means ‘to dig’.
So Hori Hori means, double digging?
No, it is not the tool for double digging in intensive gardening!
Almost a foot long, it is made of steel, with wooden handles. The blade is polished like a mirror and resides inside a sheath.
It has straight and serrated edges each side.
Both of them are real sharp and can easily be sharpened when becoming dull.
And has a semi sharp tip. Yes, doesn’t have that annoying fork tip of Fiskar.
It will cut through the roots and hard soil. Cutting perennials with Hori Hori is a breeze.
Its curved blade can be used as a scoop and is strong enough to pry. You can even use it as an axe or saw for light jobs.
And the blade is graduated with imperial and metric measurements to help see the depth of holes, a great feature for planting bulbs.
Hori Hori knives are not just for gardening. They can be a life and time saver for people who are into fishing, outdoor lifestyle, even survival lifestyle.
What to look for when buying Hori Hori knives?
Remember, not all Hori hori knives are created equal.
It is not cheap. And cheap ones are not worth your penny.
They are cheap for a reason. They will rust, bend or break.
Quality always have a price.
Think about the cheap Fiskar tool.
Also, there are cheap mini Hori Hori knives that have smaller blades or handles. Those handles are hard to grip and blades are not long enough for real work. Stay away from them.
Buy the good quality knife and keep it for life.
The blades come in two flavours.
Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel.
And some ripoffs with cheap iron that rusts very easily.
Shining like mirror, stainless steel is light by weight. As the surface is smooth, it doesn’t accumulate wet soil on it when working. It is easy to sharpen. If you force it pry boulders, or use it as hammer it might bend.
Carbon steel is heavier and matte black and has rough surface that will collect wet soil on it. It is harder to sharpen, but resistant to break or bending.
Hori Hori knives with carbon steel are cheaper than the stainless steel ones.
Handles are mostly made of wood, (Rosewood, Wenge wood, ash wood and other hard woods), though there are models with plastic handles. While the plastic handles are made for good grip, rectangle wooden handles are very comfortable too. It is mostly a matter of personal preference. For me, wooden handles feel natural.
These knives are really sharp. When you push hard and accidentally slip through, you might cut your fingers easily. That is where the hand guard comes. Not only it protects your fingers, but also help you push hard by supporting your grip.
Not all the Hori Hori knives have hand guards. Always buy one with the hand guard to save you from doing finger hara kiri.
Full tang or half tang?
There are knives that have the blades go all the way through the handle(Full tang) and others that have the blades only go up to halfway (Half tang).
If you get an unexplainable urge to use the half tang one as a hammer or use a hammer to split wood, it might break the handle.
You can see differentiate them easily by looking at the rivets. If the knife has four rivets, blades go till the end. When they have two rivets, knife doesn’t go all the way to end in the handle.
Most of the Hori Hori knives are sold with some kind of sheath. Sheaths come in leather (Real and faux) or nylon. You can simply attach the sheath to the belt and access it anytime than carrying it in the hand all the time.
A tool with that kind of kick-ass reputation deserves a sheath made of leather.
As with all tools, you have to take care of them to keep them last long.
- Use them or lose them. Tools have to be used more often to stay sharp and in good shape. What else is the purpose of having tools? Keep them in locked safe?
- Wipe them clean after use.
- Use vegetable oil to have a thin layer of oil before storing away for winter.
- All tools with wooden handles break, when abused. So be gentle. Don’t give in to the urge of prying boulders. When you feel the insurmountable resistance, just give up and use stronger tools.
- If you don’t want to lose them, paint the handle in bright colors that catch your eyes.
Simply put, Use them, care for them, not abuse them.
Having a Hori Hori knife might empower you in the garden and make you feel like invincible. You might be even tempted to use it to settle border disputes, er, fence disputes with your neighbour in a Samurai way.
Don’t even think about it.
If you ever have to settle scores with your neighbour, always stick with the tried and true method of firing Rotten Tomato Cannonballs in the night.
Make sure they are not with your heirloom varieties to avoid detection of place of origin. Otherwise, be ready for the artillery barrage of hard-to-detect Beefsteak tomatoes from the other side.
When losing battles with neighbours, Hara kiri by Hori Hori is not a great idea, whatever great your honor is.