Sometimes the simplest tools are the best. My favorite gardening tool of all time is the Hori-Hori Japanese gardening knife, or as I like to call it, the “MacGyver” of the garden. The Japanese named it “Hori” because “Hori” means “to dig” in Japanese. Some call it the mountain vegetable knife, which hearkens back to its early uses as a way to cultivate and care for veggies grown in their steep geography.
It’s safe to say that I use it almost every single time I go out in the garden. Which is why I needed to get one that was high-quality and would last a lifetime.
If you want a quick look at the best Japanese garden knives, here they are (in order). Read below for more information on each.
The Best Hori Hori Knife
Other Good Picks
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*We go in-depth on each of these tools below. But you can click the links above to check out pricing or read reviews from other customers on Amazon.
The Best Japanese Gardening Knives
1. Nisaku Japanese Hori-Hori Knife
The Nisaku knife is the ‘standard’ hori hori knife design. Instead of three rivets on the handle, it only has two, which means that it’s more prone to pulling apart after months of use.
It does come with a sheath and loop, but the sheath is made of vinyl. It’s lightweight and a bit shorter than average. If you’re looking for a simple hori-hori knife that won’t break the bank, the Nisaku could be a good choice, but I’d pick one of the other options if given the chance.
The knife blade extends through the entire handle, meaning it is a “full tang” knife. In fact, every knife but the Nisaku is full tang.
2. Truly Garden Hori-Hori Knife
If you want a knife with a lot of extras, go with the Truly Garden hori hori. It comes with a whetstone for sharpening and a leather sheath, making it the only knife in the list to provide a sharpening tool.
This is a fantastic choice if you want an all-in-one knife that will last a while and has everything you need to care for it properly as you use it.
3. Black Iron Hori-Hori Knife
The Black Iron hori hori is a solid choice for almost every gardener. It’s built with the classic wood handle and the blade is not offset. At 13.4″ long, it’s one of the longer ones out there which makes it great if you need extra leverage when transplanting or digging out some stubborn roots or debris.
Comes with a high-quality leather sheath, but no belt clip, so you will need to pick one of those up if you want this knife at your side in the garden. However, you can use the small button fastener if you need to attach it in a pinch.
4. Sensei Hori-Hori Knife
The Sensei japanese garden knife is one of the few that has a polymer handle. This means it will last a lot longer and withstand the elements well, but you do pay extra for it (it’s about $10 more than most other knives on the market).
It’s slightly shorter than most other knives, at 12″ instead of the standard 13″. Like most knives, it also comes with a sheath, although it’s not leather. If you want a more modern take on the hori-hori knife, this one made by Sensei is a great choice.
What Can Japanese Gardening Knifes Do?
The short answer is…almost everything. But let’s get into some of the special qualities that these hori hori knives possess that make them such a favorite in the garden:
Chop and Slice Weeds
Whether you have large or small weeds plaguing your garden, this knife can help you get rid of them. If you’re battling smaller, thinner weeds, then just slice straight through them by putting the flat side of the blade against the soil and sliding along the surface. It’s a simple and effective way to eradicate weeds before they grow into bigger problems.
If you have bigger weeds, you can use your hori hori knife as a small chopping tool. Because the stems of most decent-sized weeds are still soft, this hand tool can get the job done.
Make Row Markings
I’m a stickler for order, so I like to have the straightest rows possible. Sometimes I’ll stab my Japanese garden knife into the ground, tie a string around the handle, then pull it taut and mark my row. I like to use my longer, 13″ knife for this job to get it deep into the soil.
Seeding and Planting
To seed with your Japanese garden knife, just use the very tip of the blade to either draw a line along your rows or to make small indentations in the soil for larger seeds like radish or cilantro.
You can also use it to plant bulbs like garlic, onions, or even flowers. Stab the soil with the tip of your knife and shake it around to loosen up your soil. Hollow out a hole to the depth you need for your crop and plop in your bulb or seed. Keep the hori hori in the hole when you do this because as soon as you pull it out the soil will fall back into place.
While a trowel or your hands might be the more common tool to use for transplanting, there’s no reason a hori hori can’t do the job. Press your knife into the soil and give it a shake to loosen, then pull back on the handle and lift out the loosened soil. Add your transplants in and cover it back up. Voila!
If I’m clearing out a bed of radishes, onions, or any other root crops, I’ll often turn to my hori hori instead of a digging fork. All I do is press my knife into the soil at an angle, jiggle it around a bit and gently pull on my plant. In most cases, it will pop right now, but sometimes I need to hit it from another angle.
Removing Stubborn Roots
When clearing out a patch of soil that was once weed-infested or had shrubs or deep roots in it, I turn to the hori hori for a little finesse. If I can’t chop clean through the root with my shovel, then I will become a “root archaeologist” and dig out all of the soil around the root. Then I use my other gardening tools to destroy it!
What to Look For in a Japanese Gardening Knife
There are a lot of hori hori knives on the market from all different suppliers, so it can get a little confusing figuring out what to purchase. Here are the most important things to look for in your knife:
Most hori hori knives will have a wood handle, but you can get some with a polymer or plastic handle as well. I prefer wood because it feels better in my hand and is a natural material, but it can degrade quicker than the more durable plastics or polymers.
The standard length for Japanese gardening knives is 13″ and I have found this to be the most useful length for me, though I do own a shorter one as well. You can always just use less of a long knife, but you can’t use more of a shorter one!
There are a few things to look out for here. The first is the design of the teeth on the serrated edge. you can get ones with a very mild serrated edge that will slide through light weeds, but not much else, or you can get ones with a quality serrated design that slice through weeds and roots like they’re nothing.
Second, be sure to purchase a knife that has a blade with a ruler. There’s nothing worse than not knowing exactly how deep in the soil you are, especially when transplanting or seeding.
Lastly, some blades are offset from the handle, which offers more leverage but can be slightly more awkward to use day to day.
Some knives are sold with leather sheaths, belt clips, whetstones, or other goodies. All other qualities being equal, I prefer to purchase a hori hori with a high-quality leather sheath and belt clip so I’m ready to get out in the garden the instant it’s delivered.
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