Over the years I have used any number of different gardening tools for hand weeding, planting and general cultivation. A few have stood out and become fast favorites. The three key characteristics I look for in a good gardening hand tool are: 1. ease of use, 2. working power, and 3. durability. These criteria are met by the following tools:
Fine-bladed hand trowels are excellent all-purpose tools for weeding and planting. They quickly cut at deep or shallow roots in no time and withstand lots of wear and tear if made well. The "rockery hand trowel" at Clarington Forge is just such a fine-bladed tool, and it's beautifully crafted for the long haul. Its fine blade makes for easy weeding and planting--especially in heavier or pebbly soils.
For super fast hand weeding nothing beats the classic ho-mi (hoe-mee), also called the Korean hand plow or cultivator. This sharp, downward-facing tool can get to the base of a dandelion root in seconds with a quick chop, chop, chop. Nothing is more effective. For smaller weeds, I use the side of the ho-mi to scratch and smooth the soil. It’s an excellent tool for lightly aerating the base of a plant or getting to the root of a tough herbaceous weed as well as planting new plugs. If well cared for, a ho-mi will last forever (if cleaned after use and oiled to prevent rust). It's relatively cheap, too. Long-handled versions are also very useful. Just be careful when chopping away with this sharp tool. Its tip can be nasty.
A child-friendly weeder that's easy for the little ones to wield is the Dutch hoe from Clarington Forge. It's not sharp, scrapes up surface weeds with little effort and keeps the kids helping out in the garden. This kid-sized Dutch hoe allows children to help out in the garden, and it's fun to use!
I could not get by in the garden without my trusty garden knife (also called a soil knife or Japanese hori-hori). It can cut into the soil to deep roots below and saw through the bases of tough plants. I even use it for harvesting greens and cole crops. One side of the knife is sharp for slicing and the other is serrated for sawing. This tool can easily break through skin, so its best held in a leather belt holder or sheath.
The Cobrahead company sent me a sample of their classic Cobrahead hand weeder and cultivator, and it's a nice, effective, well-made weeding tool. It has a sharp, curved head that makes for fast digging and hand hoeing.
For big "weeds" choose a Pullerbear uprooter. In a matter of minutes, an area riddled with small weed trees can be cleaned beautifully roots and all. It works like no other tool I've tried. Just clench the base of the sapling or small tree and pull. Ignore the fact that it’s a bit pricey. It will pay for itself quickly in time and effort saved wrangling with hard-to-pull woody weeds.