How To Tips

CobraHead® Short Handle  |  CobraHead® Long Handle  |  Border & Digging Forks

Using the CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator

The CobraHead® blade is a "steel fingernail®". It works with either or both hands. Wear gloves when working with this tool! For small weeds, grasp the tool where the handle meets the steel shaft and place your forefinger along the blade shaft to let you place the blade where you want it. Shave off weeds at or below ground level. For low lying weeds such as purslane, use the tip of the blade to lift up the plant mass. Lift the weed with your free hand. Gently pull on the stem and drag out the root with the blade tip.

For tap roots, shove the blade into the soil behind the root crown. Place blade behind the fattest part of the root. Use the soil as a cushion to keep from snapping or cutting the root and pull toward you. For larger weeds use two hands - one on the tool and one grasping the weed. Pull with just enough tension to break the feeder roots without breaking the tap root.

The tool is an excellent cultivator. It cuts the hardest packed soils. Use it to break up clods. Use it for planting. It makes a furrow or trench easily. Set small transplants. Make seed holes and small bulb holes. It's a good edging device for smaller areas. It's an excellent mud scraper for cleaning other tools. Use it to clean out mower decks and roto-tillers. Turn blade sideways - use it as a crack weeder for sidewalks, flagstones and rock gardens.

Using the CobraHead® Long Handle

We suggest you always wear gloves when working with this tool. We also remind you that gardening and agricultural injuries are quite possible due to both repetitive motion and the jarring action of swinging the tool into the soil. This is a common occurrence with gardeners and agricultural workers whether with this tool or others. Don't overdo it! Change from right handed to left handed action frequently, take breaks, and stretch often. The locking collar may seem to make the blade end of the tool slightly heavy, but the tool has weight for a purpose. Without the weight, the tool would bounce off hard soil and sod, instead of cutting into it. Use the weight of the tool to do the work, and you will soon realize the necessity of the weighted end.

Just remember that the blade is a "steel fingernail®". Think of having a long, strong and sharp fingernail at the end of the handle. It is an extremely valuable tool for weed control, garden maintenance, and cultivation.

Weeding There are several actions for weeding. You will develop your own technique after you start working, but it is possible to pull out whole weeds intact with the root system depending on the size of the weed and the softness of the soil. To do this, drive the blade into the ground just behind the bulkiest part of the root and pull toward you. Keep a little soil between the roots and the blade. The soil will act as a cushion to help you from snapping off the roots. With practice you will develop the ability to pull out clumped roots, tap roots, and runner roots.

For major weeding projects, we highly recommend using this tool in conjunction with a good garden fork and the original CobraHead® short handled tool. With these three tools you should be able to tackle most weeding situations

Scalping is a very effective method of weed control. Scalping is cutting off smaller roots at or below ground level. Small weeds will be killed by this. Larger weeds may have enough root left to put out new leaves, but frequent scalping will kill almost any weed. Scalping is best accomplished by using a sweeping action and using the side edge of the blade to do the cutting.

Cultivating The CobraHead® Long Handle is a most useful cultivating tool. Its blade will work just like a small plow and it will work in tough soils. It will even work in wet soils.

Wet soil will stick to the blade and decrease its effectiveness. Clean off wet soil and clay build-up on the blade as it occurs.

When cultivating, digging, or edging with the tool - "less is more". Do not take huge bites when you first start. Let the weight of the tool do the work and don't drive the tool deep into the soil, initially, until you have loosened it up. Again, you'll develop your own favorite techniques, but practice letting the weight of the tool drive the blade into the soil. You can cut prairie sod with this tool, but take shallow bites to start.

Remember that the blade is a "steel fingernail®". If the job you are doing requires a mattock or a backhoe, then use those tools!

Raking While one might think the little blade would not make a useful rake, we suggest you try it for de-thatching and cleaning out old growth. We use it to move piles of wet, soggy leaves with which we mulch our beds. We use it to move soil along our raised bed edges, and we use it in our compost pile.

Edging/Trenching The sharp edge of the CobraHead® blade makes it an ideal edging tool. It is also a good tool for making a shallow trench.

Using the Border & Digging Forks

I'm surprised at how few people in the general population of gardeners truly know how useful a good fork can be. Doing all your digging using a spade or shovel is often not the best way to approach the task.

For most garden and landscape tasks that require breaking or cutting earth, a fork is the better tool to choose. In actuality, for many gardening and landscaping jobs you really need both a fork and a spade or shovel. In tandem they make the work a lot easier.

Breaking new ground or cleaning out a gone-to-weed piece of earth? Start with a fork. Cutting dense weeds or even packed turf is much easier than trying to do it with a spade. Forks penetrate the soil with much less resistance. The downward force you put on the tool is concentrated into four tines and not along the entire leading edge that a shovel or spade offers. Less resistance translates to deeper, easier soil cutting.

Use a fork for heavy duty weeding. A spade or shovel is mostly useless as a weeding tool. You'll find a fork most valuable in removing larger clumps of plants. If you have the room to get a fork into the weeds without disturbing your good plants, weeding with a hand tool, like our CobraHead® Weeder and Cultivator, is always easier if you first break the soil and loosen the roots with a fork.

Transplanting can be easier with a fork, but this is often a task where a fork and spade working in tandem can accomplish much more than trying to do the job with one tool or the other.

It's much easier and more effective to break and loosen soil with a fork. A fork can be used to loosen soil without "turning it over" and inverting soil strata. Maintaining soil structure without intense tilling is beneficial to soil health.

If you have to move a pile of loose material the shovel always wins, but if the pile is packed hard it's far easier to soften it up with a fork, then scoop it away with the shovel.

Forks come in a great variety of styles and quality, but most "garden" forks can be grouped as follows:

Digging forks have four sharp, usually square tines. Most often digging forks have a "D" handle, but there are longer handled versions.

Similar to a digging fork, a spading fork has wider, flatter tines. It's better than a digging fork for moving soil material, or edging.

A border fork is a smaller, lighter digging fork. It used to be called a "ladies fork", but it is a tool for all gardeners. It is much better for weeding and better for a lot of edging tasks than the wider digging fork. I find this fork the most valuable for cleaning up overgrown areas. Its light weight and maneuverability in tight areas make it a pleasure to use.

Larger forks, called broad forks, but also sold as bio-forks and u-bars, are used to aerate larger beds and are often used by small scale commercial growers. They are nice tools to have if you're a vegetable grower, but you can use a digging fork or spading fork to accomplish the task.

Garden forks are not pitch forks. Pitch fork is a nebulous term used to describe just about any fork, but it refers mostly to the thinner round-tined forks used, obviously, to "pitch" material. Hay forks and manure forks would fall into the category of pitch forks. A good manure fork is usually a better tool for moving and turning compost than a garden fork. It's lighter and will lift more material. Most gardeners would not need a hay fork, which typically has three tines spaced widely apart. The tines of pitch forks are not meant for digging and will most likely bend or break if used for that purpose.

As far as using the fork goes, most of the same rules apply as with other tools. Safety first. Forks have exceptionally sharp tines and an accidental thrust in the wrong direction or even dropping it on one's foot can result in a nasty injury.

Don't work too hard. Breaking dense soil is hard work. Take small bites with the fork when the soil is hard. To work a fork into hard ground, rock it side-to-side instead of back and forth. Work with tough soled work shoes. Working in sneakers, sandals, or flip-flops is not smart. You have no protection on top, and you can do damage to your arches by stepping on the fork with soft soled shoes. Keep the fork clean during and after use. Caked on mud can really inhibit the ability of the fork to penetrate hard soils.

Even the best forks can be broken if you put the entire weight of your body on them. While better forks are quite strong, they are not made to replace the work that might be better done by a mattock or some of the very heavy duty ground breaking tools that are out there. A good garden fork is light and well balanced and there is always a trade off for lightness versus brute strength. Your common sense should tell you if you are trying to work your fork too hard.

Good forks are invaluable. Better forks cost more, but the cheap ones will break easily and do not have good ground cutting capability. As with most garden tools, you really do get what you pay for, so research your purchase before you buy.