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Using Azadas

I received my Azadas today. I took them straight to my allotment and I dug 4 times as much in a third of the time it takes with a spade. This is no exaggeration. Amazing! Thank you! Mr R Twitchen, Dorset


It is difficult to describe in detail the action for using any tool and  most people tend to develop their own particular technique. Using an Azada should be no problem for anyone used to using hand tools and having reasonable bodily coordination.  Azadas are basically used with a swinging action and, as with a mattock, pickaxe, axe etc, much of the knack is in letting the tool do the work as far as possible. As when using most tools, take your time and don't rush it - don't try and take huge swings and shift vast amounts of soil in one go. If you're worried about chopping your toes off or decapitating your neighbour in the next allotment then you're not using it properly!  Unless you're dealing with very hard ground, there's no need to swing the blade from a great height - apart from anything else you'll probably end up with half the allotment in your hair! If you're jarring your wrists or arms, they are probably too rigid - relax, loosen your wrists and let the tool swing. One of the big advantages of this type of tool is that the shock of impact is absorbed by the tool and not by your arms and wrists as occurs with the ramming action of a spade.


 Just thought I would let you know how pleased I have been with the results and how much simpler this tool makes work on my allotment. It makes you wonder why on earth we still use spades in the UK. Mr N Norman, Cleveland.


  The type of operation you're doing will govern the angle of entry of the blade into the ground. If you're  cultivating then you'll probably only want to work the top 2-3 inches of soil so you'll be using a pretty shallow angle. If on the other hand you want to go deeper, dig a trench or hole then blade angle will be greater. An Azada will cover the ground very quickly and with much less effort than a conventional spade. For cultivating lightish ground with moderate weed cover, I reckon to cover about one square metre per minute and for thick matted weed cover perhaps half that. Having said that, a lot obviously depends on how thick the rubbish is, the type of soil, how fit you are and how often you like stopping for a cup of tea! You can work moving forwards or backwards but I prefer the latter which avoids jamming all over the work you've just done. For deep-digging an allotment, there is a good description by a chap called "Stonehead" on the forum at  www.selfsufficientish.com who seems to have it down to a fine art.


Received right angled fork yesterday. I was able to make good progress removing couch grass from my allotment with it. I am delighted I will be able to get a much larger area under cultivation this year. Jane Cope, London


Have a look at Using an Azada on Youtube where Simon Baddeley wields his (Heavy Duty) Azada with easy expertise while engaging in some amusing philosophical banter - and hardly gets out of breath in the process!

 Keep the blade sharp: I use a small grinding stone which you use with a Black and Decker type drill but a good quality file or carborundum stone will also do the job. Have a look at www.multi-sharp.com who sell a good range of useful sharpening products.

Don't be afraid of experimenting with handle length - most people instinctively favour long handles but I find I can get "stuck in" much better with a shorter handle. I'm about 5' 11" but I prefer a handle about 3 foot long and find a longer handle a bit clumsy and much less maneuverable. I know in theory a shorter handle means you have to bend more but  it doesn't bother me in spite of always having suffered from a very dodgy back. The action of an Azada uses different muscle groups and, even with a shorter handle, doesn't involve the bending and lifting which is so crippling  when working with a spade. On the question of  handle length, Kate McEvoy of Realseeds also thinks shorter is better - see her comments at www.realseeds.co.uk.

Also Simon Fairlie at The Scythe Shop says "I just noticed the bit about short handles on mattocks (Azadas) on your site, and wanted to agree with you and Kate McEvoy. Years ago, in France, I did quite a lot of "dechaussage" — mattocking the bit around grape bushes in vineyards that tractors couldn't get — and we always used a handle about a metre long. This meant you could transfer nimbly from a stroke to the left of the bush to a stroke to the right of the bush, without the handle banging against your tummy. Since my tummy is a bit bigger now, I probably need an even shorter handle."

Apart from digging and cultivating, Azadas are also very useful for many other jobs from scraping concrete surfaces, turning compost, offloading trailers, mixing cement etc. in fact most jobs you'd do with a spade - except for throwing material forwards for which they are not really suitable. The Medium Azadas are excellent for earthing up potatoes - go up and down the row pulling the soil up into a ridge then go round again and firm it by patting with the back of the blade which happens to be just the right angle.

Occasionally, the blade may become a bit loose on the handle. If this happens, do the following: hold the tool vertically with the blade downwards, lift it up and then bring it down hard on a concrete floor, pavement or similar. Do this  several  times which will ram the blade down and seat it on the handle. When you've done this, leave the tool soaking in a bucket of water overnight or longer, this will allow the wood to swell and make a tight fit.
 In hot dry weather it's a good idea to give your new Azada a good soaking when you first receive it. Due to the natural expansion and shrinking of the wood due to temperature and humidity changes blades can sometimes seem a bit loose on the handle - especially after some pretty robust handling in the post!
As a matter of routine it's worth leaving the tool soaking in water overnight every now and then, especially in summer.

The Azada should give many years of service - they're very tough and will put up with a lot of "hammer" as we say round here. I've had only one buyer take a piece out of the blade. Handles do occasionally break but they're easy and cheap to replace. I've been using the tool in the photo for around fifteen years and we've shifted a lot of soil together. As you can see, it's pretty worn and I probably should change it for a new one but it would be like losing an old friend so I'll hang on to it for a while.