Part of a good garden is good tools. I’ve read about tools and the need for the best quality tools you can afford. Steve Solomon, in his excellent book Gardening When It Counts, talks of tools and shows how to keep a shovel and hoe sharp. Its an excellent book and I believe covers the basics thoroughly. I appreciate his book for other reasons as well. Essentially, the best course of action is buy the best tool you can afford and take good care of it. Over time, you won’t be replacing lesser tools. And of course, as a diligently sharpened knife makes cutting easy, a well maintained tool makes work easier.
One tool he doesn’t mention is a garden knife. I am a bit of a knife fanatic and have several good knife suggestions for gardeners that I will post about over time (my other blog features many kinds of knives). But for heavier garden work, a Khukuri has been a fantastic tool that has replaced both machete and hatchet, and could easily replace a number of digging and weeding tools.
This tool, a traditional Nepalese farm workhorse and weapon, combines the best attributes of hatchet (chopping weight) and machete (length and swath). While I used to use a machete when needed, I find them to be a bit over-sized for the back yard. The Khukuri is a bit shorter, but heavier, and gets serious work done. Its chopped up rotten material for the compost pile, and chopped down trees. Good for work too heavy for a machete but can serve as a machete as well.
I suggest an authentic, hand-made Khukuri from Nepal, there are only two suppliers I recommend. Each one makes them by hand in their workshop, my favorite shop even makes Khukuris where the kamis (the men who forge these tools) sign their work.
I suggest Himalayan Imports of Kathmandu for the best Khukuri. The late “Uncle Bill” Martino and the kamis at BirGorkha workshop supply some good tools made of high carbon steel sourced from leaf springs. Bill passed away in 1999 but his wife now runs the business and keeps the kamis making money.
Mine is the M43 model with a 13″ blade. Made and signed by Tirth Kami (the “beer mug kami”) from BirGorkha workshop, it features “UB” on the blade which stands for “Uncle Bill”, and the script under it is short for Himalayan Imports. On the opposite side, we find the kami’s signature and symbol, in this case a beer mug. I appreciate Himilayan Imports because they show you exactly how they Khukuris are made and who makes them. Watch the fantastic videos on their site. All authentic Nepalese Khukuris come in a nice leather and wood sheath, and traditional models should have a Karda and Chakra. These are a utility knife and a blade dressing tool that nest in the sheath. Read up on the use and care of a Khukuri at their site.
If I were buying for the first time, I would suggest a wood handle instead of a horn handle. Wood is much warmer and less slick. While wood can crack, is a better option for a working tool, in my opinion. My M43 has a horn handle and is too click for my preference. I have a couple of wooden handled Khuks that are far more controllable.
Also, a good Khukuri should have a full tang, so even if a handle breaks, it can be easily repaired.
I have a second supplier I can recommend. I appreciate the work sold by Khukhuri House Thamel. I have a rosewood handled WWII model among others, and it is a nice and lightweight blade that stays sharp. I know of many of these blades that have been used and abused by friends for years and are still hanging in there. A group I was part of a decade ago ordered 75 of these from Khukhuri House Thamel and I was amazed with the balance and handling. I am not sure what workshop in Nepal makes them, or even if they are made in Kathmandhu like they say, but theyhave all the hallmarks of authenticity. These knives are handmade, they have character, and they get the job done. I do not believe KHT blades always have a full width tang, though they do seem to be full length. The tang is the continuation of the metal under the handle. In general, the best knives have a tang that runs fully the width and length of the handle. That might be important to you.
If you plan on a Khukhuri, plan to wait for a month or two for delivery. Also, consider a non-polished version, a “farmer’s finish,” or you will, like me, have a hard time using your Khukuri and scuffing up the mirror polish.
Some of the major knife companies in the US make a khukhuri-like product, but they are thin-bladed, lightweight, not really heavy enough to do serious chopping. While they may feel good in the hand, they are really just curved machetes. I prefer the heft of a 3/8″ thick blade! This is a great tool, not really limited to gardening, but since I use it in the back yard almost exclusively, I have to suggest it.