What is a Gardening Knife (Hori-Hori) and Why Do You Need One?


If you’re new to gardening, you may have heard of a hori-hori knife but might not know what exactly it is or does. This tool is actually one of the most versatile and helpful for gardening. In this post we will answer what a hori-hori gardening knife is and why you should consider getting one. We’ll also discuss some other types of gardening knives and how they are different from the hori-hori.

A gardening knife, or hori-hori, is a tool that originates from Japan. It has a concave blade with one of its edges serrated and the other smooth. It is a tool that is used for a wide range of gardening jobs, including cutting plants, weeding, digging holes, harvesting, and aerating the soil.

What are Gardening Knives (Hori-Hori Knives)?

Photo by Patrick Morrissey

A hori-hori knife is a multi-purpose gardening tool that every gardener should consider including in their toolbox. There are different kinds of gardening knives available but the hori-hori is the most popular one out there and the most versatile.  

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It is a Japanese tool used for many different purposes like digging and removing plants. Hori is a Japanese word meaning “to dig,” and hori-hori is a phrase imitating the sound of digging.

Five Jobs for Your Gardening Knife

This multi-functional gardening tool comes in handy for a wide range of jobs. The size and shape make it an easy to carry all-in-one tool that saves you from taking multiple trips to the shed each time you need to do a project in the garden. Just slide it in its holster and carry it wherever you go. Here are the different ways you can use your gardening or hori-hori knife:

1. Cutting Plants

You can use both edges of a gardening knife to cut different parts of a plant. The smooth edge is suitable for delicate jobs like cutting small weeds, herbs, flowers, and vegetables. The jagged part is perfect for cutting through tough thick weeds, brush, and roots. It is also a good tool for cutting through soil, fertilizer and amendments bags, irrigation tubing, and landscape fabric.

2. Weeding and Plant Removal

Weeding can be tedious, especially when you can’t get the roots out completely. If you have stubborn weeds with deep roots, a gardening knife can be handy in digging them up.

The concave blade can easily slide down the soil around the weed’s roots and loosen it, which helps the root will come out with ease. Just grab near the weed’s root, give it a little twist, and pull it out, making sure the root is completely removed.

Plus, you can use the blade to remove old, unwanted small tree stumps and bushes. Remove the soil around the roots with the blade and easily remove the plant with your hands.

3. Digging Planting Holes

A gardening knife is a perfect replacement for a trowel. The tool’s semi-sharp point is ideal for digging rows, troughs, and holes for seeds and plants. Additionally, the helpful measurement markers on the blade can guide you on how deep you need to dig.

So, if you have different seeds, seedlings, bulbs, and plug plants, you do not need to switch between tools. You can plant them all in record time with this versatile tool.

4. Harvesting Crops

You can also use your gardening knife to harvest vegetables and other crops. The digging feature is ideal for harvesting root vegetables. It helps you carefully dislodge the soil around the roots to dig out the crop using the curved point of the knife.

You can harvest herbs and vegetables by cutting their stems using the gardening knife’s sharp blade.

5. Aerating the Soil

To loosen the soil for aeration purposes on a large scale, you need a digging fork, but for a small portion of your garden, you can use your gardening knife. The pointed tip is great for allowing air to circulate by jabbing it down and wiggling it inside the soil.

Four Qualities That Good Gardening Knives Should Have

With all the benefits and uses of a gardening knife, you may be thinking about getting one of these must-have tools for your garden. But before you go online and get overwhelmed with the wide array of choices, review the following characteristics of a great gardening knife to help you find one that is best for you.

1. Blade Quality

Most hori-hori knives have a mirror-like finish on the stainless steel, making it stain-resistant. A good gardening knife must be corrosion-free to resist the wear and tear that comes with frequent use. So, make sure the knife is made of stainless steel to protect against stains, rust, and corrosion.

2. Full Tang

The knife’s tang is the blade’s unsharpened extension that goes into the handle and isn’t exposed. It is also an important part of the knife as it can affect the knife’s strength and robustness.

If the tang goes all the way to the end of the handle, it has a full tang. If it only extends to the middle, it has a partial tang. If you want to use your hori-hori for heavy-duty purposes like prying and leveraging, make sure to get one with a full tang. A full tang provides more durability and is visible between the two sections of the handle.

3. Ergonomic Design

Comfort is a key feature in a hand tool like a gardening knife because you use it frequently. If the handle and the blade exert pressure on your palm and wrist, your hand will get tired quickly. Make sure the handle gives a solid and easy grip at the same time. Wood is a better option for the handle as it feels more natural than plastic.

On the other hand, with plastic handles, you do not have to wear gloves as they are softer and can be easier on the skin.

As a bonus feature, look for a knife with a hilt between the blade and the handle. This hilt prevents your hand from slipping while doing heavy-duty jobs.

Also, make sure the blade is attached to the handle through rivets. Welded tangs are not particularly strong and can easily break off with heavy-duty use.

4. Sheath

Photo by Olga Popova

While this feature does not affect the hori-hori’s quality, it’s essential for your own safety. A holster or sheath is a good storage option and lets you carry your knife around. A sheath also protects the blade from getting damaged when you aren’t actively using it.

Most hori-hori knives come with a leather or plastic sheath. Look for one that you can attach to a belt so you can easily access your gardening knife.

Parts of a Gardening Knife

Also known as a “soil knife,” a hori-hori is simple, with two key components: a blade and a handle.

The Blade

A hori-hori knife has a sharp blade on both sides. One side of the knife is serrated, while the other side is smooth, and its end is semi-sharp. The blade is usually made of carbon or stainless steel, and it has a basic concave shape, which looks almost always the same. Some types of hori-hori have helpful measurements guides on the blade for purposes like planting bulbs.

The Handle

You can find different hori-hori gardening knife styles on the market. They mainly differ in the handle, with rubber, plastic, bamboo, and wooden handles available. The blade and handle are both short, making it perfect for one-handed use.

The hori-hori can measure between 11 and 15 inches (27.9 and 38 cms). Although the tool is best for digging, you can use it for a range of gardening purposes. It is a hybrid tool that you can use as a knife, a saw, or a trowel.

How to Take Care of Your Gardening Knife

A gardening knife generally is a sturdy tool which doesn’t need much ongoing maintenance as long as you take good care of it.

Cleaning a hori-hori knife is an absolute breeze. All you need to do is run it under cold water and dry it with a piece of fabric. You can wipe it clean with a wet cloth. Just make sure it’s free of any debris and moisture before storing away.

Put the knife inside the sheath after each use. Make sure the concave side is facing down inside the holster. Otherwise, it’ll damage the sheath.

To prevent your knife from rusting, rub a little Camellia oil or mineral oil on the blade using a cloth. You’ll also need to oil the handle twice a year if it’s wooden. The best time for that is in the fall when you won’t use it for the whole season and at the beginning of the harvest season. Just put a few drops of oil on a piece of fabric and rub it on the handle. Clean off the excess oil with a clean cloth.

When you put the knife away for the season, make sure it’s stored inside and away from moisture. The moisture will damage the wooden handle or make the blade rust.

How Do You Sharpen a Gardening Knife?

Occasionally, you’ll need to sharpen your hori-hori knife to keep its full functionality. You could use a tool file or a sharpening stone to sharpen your knife.

Place the file parallel to the smooth side of the blade and move it along the blade with circular patterns. To sharpen the jagged edge, use a sharpening rod. It has a pointed side that fits into the serrated part’s teeth. Insert the rod between the teeth and move it back and forth and twist it. 

Sharpening a knife using a stone is also straightforward. Some hori-hori knives come with a sharpening stone. Some sharpening stones need to be stored in water, and some should be put in oil. Hold the stone in your hands with your fingers below it. Put it against the blade and move the stone along with circular movements.

Repeat this several times until the knife is sharp. Don’t move the stone back and forth because it could scratch the blade and create grooves in it. The front side of the blade, which usually has measurements on it, doesn’t need much sharpening. Just one straight motion is enough to remove any burr.

You could also rub the stone against the blade with one straight motion from one end to another. Repeat it several times to make sure the knife is sharp enough.

Six Types of Specialized Gardening Knives and Their Uses

Although you can use your hori-hori knife for many purposes, it’s not the only gardening knife out there. Just like kitchen knives that come in different shapes and do different jobs, there is a vast array of gardening knives used for jobs like harvesting, snipping, slicing, or trimming.

Here are some of the most common gardening knives that many gardeners frequently use:

1. Patio Knife

You may have noticed grass and weeds growing between paving slabs in the patio or garden. A patio knife is a tool specially designed for weeding this part of your garden. It has a tough, L-shaped blade that makes it an ideal tool for removing the weeds between patio pavers. You can easily cut out the plants’ roots or remove small pebbles wedged in the space.

2. Pocketknife

A pocketknife is a handy tool that brings together a set of different knives. It typically includes a wood saw, tweezers, a screwdriver, and of course, knives. It’s an all-in-one tool that you can carry around in your pocket, saving you from carrying many other tools to do different jobs.

3. Budding Knife

A budding knife is a specialized grafting tool used to make a graft union or a budding in trees, flowers, and plants. It’s safer than a hori-hori knife since it’s sharp only on one side.

There are both left and right-handed budding knives available. The edge is curved and has a very sharp point to cut the bark open and insert the bud.

There are different styles and types available, each serving a different purpose. For example, double-bladed budding knives are suitable for patch budding. Some budding knives come with a bark lifter added to the blade’s top edge. 

4. Daisy Grubber

Daisy Grubber, or Dandelion Digger, is a handy tool for removing daisies and other weeds. Its unique, fork-like shape makes it ideal for pulling out weeds without disturbing the soil around the roots. This way, you make sure the neighboring plants will remain untouched.

A daisy grubber looks like a large screwdriver with a tip like a fishtail. It comes in short and long versions, suitable for sitting-down and standing-up positions.

5. Bush Hook

A bush hook looks like an ax with a curved blade suitable for cutting through thick bushes. It has long handles that make it easy to use, adding momentum to your hand while working. You can use it to get rid of offending bush and undergrowth.

6. Weed Cutters

Although it’s not a knife technically, a weed cutter is a useful cutting tool that comes in handy in removing light weeds such as grass and annual growth. Weed cutters are lightweight tools with serrated edges on both sides that make weeding easy with back-and-forth movements. You swing it like a golf club to get rid of weeds. Here’s a video to show you how to use a weed cutter:

Hori-Hori Gardening Knives vs. Pruning Knives: Are They the Same?

A hori-hori gardening knife and a pruning knife are both basic gardening tools that any serious gardener should have, but are they the same?

A pruning knife is a multi-purpose tool, just like a hori-hori gardening knife. While there’s a wide range of styles and models available, the typical pruning knife has a short blade (3 inches/7.5cm long) with a strong wooden or plastic handle. The blades can be straight or hooked, and the knife can be foldable or one-piece.

When it comes to gardening, a pruning knife is the first thing every gardener reaches out for. You can use it to cut thin branches, trim vines, cut flowers, or slice strings. You could also clean up bits of bark remaining after cutting a branch.

Pruning knives and hori-hori knives are different, however. Here are some of the main differences:

  • Shape: The most important difference between the two tools is their shape. A hori-hori’s blade is wider than a pruning knife’s blade, and a hori-hori knife isn’t foldable like a pruning knife can be.
  • Function: While a hori-hori is jagged on one side and sharp on the other, a pruning knife only has one sharp side. The serrated side of the hori-hori makes it ideal for replacing a saw. The concave shape of the hori-hori’s blade also means you can use it instead of a spade or a trowel. So, a hori-hori knife is more suitable for digging holes and rows. A pruning knife is better for more delicate gardening jobs like cleaning up hanging bark.

Closing Thoughts

A hori-hori gardening knife is a jack-of-all-trades tool that you must have in your gardening kit. It saves you time and money from buying different tools and carrying them around with you in the garden.

Its unique shape features a concave blade that is jagged on one edge and straight on the other. This shape makes it ideal for different gardening purposes like pruning, cutting, digging, and harvesting. 

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