Another list in this series describes tools for a flower garden. To me, the purpose of a flower garden is to putter, to do things with your hands, to take your time and relax. In other words, to enjoy the "Zen" of gardening. It's a hobby and a process.
A vegetable garden, on the other hand, can be all that as well, but there is usually another goal in mind, an end result that is more tangible - edible, in fact. With that in mind, I've picked tools that are more about efficiency and productivity than those you would choose for a flower garden. I've still applied the "bang for the buck" principle.
A garden rake is a good all-around tool for any serious gardener. Use it to smooth and level soil, to thin seedlings, to clean out debris from between plants, and even to harvest small root crops from loose soil. Choose one with heavy tines and a handle length and diameter that is comfortable for you.
Your basic round nose shovel is probably the most common farming implement in the history of the world. Among the many uses you will find for yours are planting larger plants, harvesting larger root crops, turning compost heaps, getting rid of those really stubborn weeds once-and-for-all and chasing off wild rabbits. Some people prefer shovels with a long, straight handle and others, myself included, prefer short-handled shovels with a D-grip. In either case, choose a shovel with a smooth handle, a sturdy blade, and make sure your foot fits comfortably on the shoulder.
Every vegetable gardener gets to know weeds very well - especially how to get rid of them. I prefer organic gardening, which means that I prefer manual methods of weed eradication rather than resorting to chemicals. There are many, many different types and styles of weeding tools, but a good, sharp hoe is hard to beat. Blades can vary in shape and width. It's best to start with a straight blade that is about 4" wide. You can always add a weeding hoe, warren hoe, scuffle hoe, cultivator, cobra-head weeder, and more, later.
Once you've done all the work preparing, planting, weeding and waiting, you're going to want to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Many plants give up their harvest easily, but others prefer to put up a fight. For those, you will want to use a sharp cutting tool to reap your reward. The scissor action of a bypass pruner is much better for most plants than the crushing action of an anvil pruner. If you feel confident, you can always use a good, sharp knife.
The key to a successful veggie garden is soil preparation. With powered tillers available for just about any budget and garden size, the job is easier than ever. Turn under old plants, loosen soil, work in soil amendments, create rows and planting furrows, and weed, all in a minimum of time with no backbreaking digging. I wouldn't attempt to tend a veggie garden bigger than a planting box without one.