Tool Box: The spade of superior breeding

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A SPADE is a spade is a spade. Or is it?

What appears to be the most basic of garden tools, little changed since men turned the soil with implements fashioned from animal bones, embodies a surprising amount of technology.

'Carbon manganese steel of the type used for making railway lines' and references to a 'special austempering process' caught my eye in Bulldog Tools' catalogue.

I asked my local experts, Whitworth Machines of Oswestry, if these apparently impressive terms represent genuine benefits for the gardener.

'Austempering is a clever and appropriate heat treatment that gives the metal durability and strength,' George Whitworth informed me.

He was also impressed by the fact that Bulldog makes and forges its own steel.

The well-made Bulldog Premier 5600 garden spade, which is bigger than a border spade, costs pounds 29, has an ash handle and is sold with a 10-year warranty. Our gardener, Stuart Gilham, says Bulldogs last long enough to achieve heirloom status.

Strength is another word for weight, in this context, but good balance helped compensate while digging frost-hardened earth.

The Bulldog Evergreen 7101 is a lighter, cheaper alternative.

At the other end of the scale, Bulldog's stainless-steel answer to a Rolls-Royce will leave you with less than a fiver's change from pounds 100.