One of the best things that ever happened to me was having my old tools stolen from the allotment shed. I had used my Grandad's old spade for years with some pride, and much unnecessary backache, which I put down to not being fit enough.
Liberated from the tyranny of my old tools, I took a look at what else was around, and picked up a small border spade, as well as a mattock. At last, tools that fitted themselves to me, rather than the back damaging alternative. I quickly found the mattock was much more versatile than a spade, and this motivated me to think sideways about other sorts of tools too. So, I began to investigate the kinds of tools that are used by people from other cultures; people who are also cultivating small patches of land in earnest, and on human scale, and having to carry their tools home at the end of the day.
I've discovered that I quite like kneeling to garden; for a start, it makes roots easier to spot, and hoeing much easier to manage well. I can support myself on one arm whilst the other does the driving, then swap to keep the work equal. And, for this style of gardening, hand tools work just fine. Not the traditional fork and trowel set; I find they have very limited use, and are hard work for wrists if you are using them intensively. I really like the longer handled varieties that allow you to reach a wider radius of ground without having to move much. These have handles that are perpendicular to the working end, with sufficient length to adjust your grip regularly, according to the task, reducing a lot of the repetitive strain action.
Gentle gardening techniques
I have used these kinds of tools for long enough now to know that they are also much better for the soil, as well as for me. With a spade, you chop up the soil structure as well as a few worms and perennial weed roots too, leaving bits behind to regrow, and this inefficency also requires hard work. But with a sharp ended hand tool, you can use a much subtler and less invasive edge to comb the soil back, tracing the roots and getting much more out in one go. Less structural disturbance, fewer chopped worms, less effort.
Great weeding tools
If you're changing over to a bed system, then I would really recommend hand tool gardening, in particular, tools like the Japanese mighty pick and hand hoe, which are strong enough to do the job on an allotment scale, and are very versatile. The mighty pick in particular is a great weeder, but both are excellent for making furrows, moving soil around to make irrigation moats around plants, covering seed rows, and of course, for hoeing. The wooden handles of these tools feel good to hold, as well as allowing different grips for different tasks. Even better, they fit through a belt loop, so are easy to carry home when your hands are full.
The razor hoe is a new addition to this family, and its curved shape demands a little more in terms of learning how best to use it. Again, the sharp point is great for fine work, leaving the rest of the blade sharp for slicing through weed roots.
Finally, the Chillington double headed hoe. Much heavier than the mighty pick and hand hoe, my first thought was to cut down the handle which is supplied with it, to the same length as the mighty pick, to use as a chunkier version. But I'm glad I left it at the longer length, as it works well as a mattock; it's a powerful chopper and breaker of new and weedy ground. Some experimenting with the other side, a double pronged affair, showed me it's value as a 'comber' to get out perennial weed roots from down deep. I found a method of using the solid end to chop at the soil, drawing it towards me, then flipping it over to comb the soil for couch grass and bindweed roots worked well. I could do this while kneeling, and the effort on my back of clearing a half bed that was shamefully weedy was a fraction of that if I had used a spade.
Additionally, it is great for breaking up very compacted soil. We've used it to 'guerrilla garden' some neglected municipal garden beds, that had cemented-in cobbles just below the surface. This tool could lever out the cobbles and hard core with no problem, so again, this is a multi-use tool, but not one to slip through your belt loops.