Stardew Valley Tool Upgrade Guide

Tools are a crucial part of the Stardew Valley experience, and players start with a basic backpack, trash can, mining pick axe, watering can, hoe, scythe, and axe. The fishing rod appears a few days later, assuming you bother to go visit the beach after Wily writes you. These open up various actions, allowing you to clean up Grandpa’s dilapidated old land to create the farm of your dreams.

While this is old news for experienced Stardew players, there’s still a surprisingly healthy debate about what the best tools are, what the most overrated upgrades are, and what order a player should upgrade tools in. This can make the process of upgrading tools in Stardew Valley intimidating to relatively new players.

The short answer? Here’s my interpretation of the best Stardew tools by tier, followed by a section by section breakdown explaining what tools to upgrade, which to put off, and why the copper mining pickaxe is arguably one of the most important tool upgrades in the entire game.

Stardew Valley Tools Tier List
My list of all the tool upgrades and specialty tools in Stardew Valley from best to worst. My ratings aren’t just based on what is best (all iridium) but how important an improvement the tool is when you get it during the game.

Why Upgrade Your Tools in Stardew Valley?

Upgrading the tools means you not only have tools that cover more area, or are more effective at their specific function, but also spend less energy doing every action. This means you can go bigger, better, larger, and all with less energy and less time.

Upgrading all your tools makes the game more enjoyable, but also opens up a lot more that can be done. With less energy spent per action and more results per use, Stardew Valley as a game really opens up when you go from basic tools to more advanced and upgraded tools.

Cost of Tool Upgrades Per Level in Stardew Valley

It is worth noting that the trash can upgrades at each level are half as expensive than the other tools.

  • Copper: 2000g plus 5 bars of Copper
  • Steel: 5000g plus 5 bars of Iron
  • Gold: 10,000g plus 5 bars of Gold
  • Iridium: 25,000g plus 5 bars of Iridium

A tool must be upgraded to the previous level to upgrade to the next one. In other words, a copper tool can never be upgraded to a gold tool. It must be upgraded to its steel upgrade, and then, and only then, can the steel version of the tool be upgraded to gold. There is no skipping tool upgrade tiers in Stardew Valley.

The prospecting pan is something you get for free once you’ve advanced the storyline enough, and the same is true with the golden Scythe.

The first upgrade to a Large Backpack is 2,000g while the maxed out Deluxe Pack will cost 10,000g.

The Fiberglass Fishing Rod costs 1,800g while the maxed out Iridium Rod costs 7,500g once it’s available.

Stardew Valley Mining Pickaxe Upgrades

One of the primary tools you’ll be looking to upgrade immediately in Stardew is the mining pickaxe. This quickly opens up the mines and makes it much easier not only to find gems but to pick up a

In fact, I’m a firm believer that the copper mining pickaxe is the first tool to upgrade in Stardew Valley. To the point I have it rated as the second best pick axe and fourth most important upgraded tool in the game. Why is this?

Because of when it comes during the game. It speeds up getting artifacts for the museum, getting badly needed minerals, and opens up the route to quality sprinklers, tool upgrades, and more. The value returned for that first mining pickaxe upgrade in Stardew Valley is incredible whether a beginner player figuring things out or a veteran player sprinting for quality sprinklers.

Since mining even occurs deep into the late game, these will consistently be one of the best upgrades in the game.

mining pickaxe upgrades stardew valley
Mining pickaxes – among the most important tool upgrades in the entire game from start to finish!

Copper Mining Pickaxe

Upgrade Main Feature: Gray stones in mine go from two hits to one, can break large boulders in mine for the first time, and break tougher frocks more quickly.

Grade: A

The copper mining pickaxe is the first tool you should upgrade in Stardew Valley. This makes it fast to harvest stone, gems, and copper from the bottom floors of the mine, makes the ice floors much more tolerable, and while the lava floors where gold ore are still tough, copper pickaxes make floors 1-40 a breeze, make it much faster to break up large amounts of copper or iron, and the ice levels are very hard to mine with a basic pickaxe.

Because this opens up copper, iron, gold, and gems – it’s an upgrade that opens up huge swaths of the game the way very few upgrades do.

You also need copper pickaxes to break boulders in the mine. The boulders on the farm take a steel upgrade.

Steel Mining Pickaxe

Upgrade Main Feature: Breaks boulders on the farm, breaks stones in the mine on levels 40-79 in one hit, and breaks copper nodes in one hit.

Grade: C

As I look at my list this should probably be up at the top of the C-tier instead of the bottom. It’s not a bad upgrade. Any pickaxe upgrade that makes it go through the mines easier is great, but by the time you get it, generally you’re already collecting large amounts of metal for quality sprinklers or making enough money where this is just an annoying middle step on the way to a gold pickaxe.

Because of that timing, this is the weakest of the pickaxe upgrades in Stardew even if it is one that is still useful and does make those early levels in the mine much easier. This is one of those “middle” upgrades that because of how you’ll progress your tool upgrades, will become more of a stepping stone than a game-changing upgrade.

Gold Mining Pickaxe

Upgrade Main Feature: Breaks boulders and most stones quickly, including one-hitting rocks on levels 80-120 of the mine, iron nodes are broken in one hit, gold nodes in two, and meteorites can be broken with a gold pickaxe.

Grade: B

The gold pickaxe is a solid upgrade because it lets you fly through the mines and makes Skull Cavern viable (because from a practical standpoint it really isn’t with a Steel Mining Pickaxe), not to mention making the quarry or any rocks on the farm easy to shoot right through. A lot of mining is notably easier once you upgrade to gold and higher, though no new bonus from this upgrade is A-tier game changing.

Iridium Mining Pickaxe

Upgrade Main Feature: A

Grade: A

This is an upgraded tool that is still super useful late game, especially moving from the mine to Skull Cavern or the Ginger Island Volcano. In fact, this is borderline S-Tier, and is the clear crossover tool that goes from A-Tier to S-Tier as far as best tool upgrades in all of Stardew Valley. It makes Skull Cavern much less deadly by breaking rocks there in one hit, and making short work of all stones and mineral nodes in the regular mine.

You don’t want to even start tackling the Ginger Island Volcano without the mining pickaxe upgraded all the way to iridium.

Watering Can Upgrades Stardew Valley

Early on in the game watering can upgrades are a huge boost, although the later upgrades have surprisingly little effect in work efficiency or quality of game life. A major reason for this is that after the copper watering can upgrade, or the steel watering can at latest, you should already be able to build quality sprinklers.

This reduces the need for a good watering can and sort of cuts off future upgrades at the pass. On top of that, because of how fields with sprinklers are often laid out, there are many times where having three squares or a line of six squares in a row makes more sense for a mass planting than a 3×3 or 6×6 square.

In other words, it’s easier to control, especially if you tend to mass plant every available square early on.

watering can upgrades stardew valley
You would think these are much more important, but thanks to the amazing upgrade of sprinklers, outside the beach not as important as you’d think.

Copper Watering Can

Upgrade Main Feature: Can water up to 3 tiles in a straight line, and capacity increased from 40 (basic) to 55 charges of water.

Grade: C

This is a necessary upgrade that can take the watering from one space at a time to three. It’s an important upgrade but in the long view of things a weak one because going three at a time can be kind of clumsy. You don’t feel like you’re making progress until the steel watering can’s 6 squares at a time.

That said, just being able to upgrade to something allows you to expand the farmable area you can handle with early game energy and that is worth it.

Steel Watering Can

Upgrade Main Feature: Can water up to 6 tiles, also in a straight line. The steel water can upgrades water capacity from 55 (copper) to 70 charges.

Grade: C

Solid upgrade that helps, but nothing spectacular or game changing. If you’re behind in getting to quality sprinklers because you didn’t mine or farm much in the early spring and summer of year one, then this upgrade becomes more important and flirts with a B level.

Gold Watering Can

Upgrade Main Feature: Can water up to 9 tiles in a 3×3 grid. Increases the water capacity from 70 charges (steel) to 85 charges before a refill is needed.

Grade: C

This is a solid upgrade but the biggest thing going against the gold water can upgrade in Stardew is the fact by this point you should have a huge collection of quality sprinklers that automatically take care of day-to-day watering needs.

Iridium Watering Can

Upgrade Main Feature: Can water up to 18 tiles in a 6×3 area or “double grid.” This also moves the watering can capacity from 85 (gold) to 100. This is the best watering can available without enchantments.

Grade: B

If you are playing on the beach farm, move this can from a high B-Tier improvement all the way up to S-Tier because when the majority of land on your farm can’t use sprinklers, suddenly the ability to cover 18 squares with water at once suddenly becomes crucial to build a farm of even moderate size.

Outside of the beach farm this is really nice for the one day a season when you want to water a huge number of tiles when growing the first mega crop of the season, but if you don’t care about maximizing yields, or the crops you’re growing harvest before day 28 even with the last planting, then you can just ignore watering them on day one.

Stardew Valley Axe Upgrades

The Axe is a great tool and it’s one of my favorites because virtually every upgrade gives measurable change in what you can do in the game. Wood is one of the most important resources in Starew Valley, as is hardwood, and both remain important deep into the late game. While there comes a point where I don’t run out of money or minerals, I can still run out of wood after multiple upgrades.

Even more interesting is how virtually every upgrade of axe either:

  • Opens up new areas or actions in the game
  • Drastically improves ability to gather resources at an opportune time within the game

That second point is more important than new players might think as many otherwise great upgrades (watering can) are often made obsolete by other systems setup in the game.

Axes are great tools and each upgrade shows an immediate upgrade in quality of life in the game, and what more can you ask from a series of tool upgrades?

axe upgrades stardew valley
Some the most important and consistently useful (game-opening) tool upgrades in all of Stardew Valley.

Copper Axe

Upgrade Main Feature: Allows you to chop large stumps for hardwood, reduces hits needed to chop a tree by 2 and a tree stump by 1.

Grade: B

Immediately gives access to hardwood from being able to chop large stumps. This is great for clearing the farm, and if you choose the wilderness farm you now have an easy daily source of precious hardwood.

Steel Axe

Upgrade Main Feature: Allows you to chop large logs (opens non-glitch path to Secret Woods), reduces hits needed to chop a tree by 2, and a tree stump by 1.

Grade: A

This is a stunningly good upgrade. Not only does this axe chop large logs, allowing you to clear the rest of the farm and get more hardwood but this is also the first ax with bonus on cutting smaller trees without requiring the full number of swings to take down a full-sized tree.

On top of that, it’s very noticeable when cutting down a tree in 6 hits versus 10 for a basic axe. This is the time where you can gather a large amount of wood without needing serious spring onions, food, or extra energy to collect a decent amount without cutting your entire day short.

Gold Axe

Upgrade Main Feature: Takes two less hits to chop a full-grown tree or stump, and one less swing on everything else.

Grade: B

Solid upgrade that makes it even easier to cut trees, stumps, big stumps, and big logs in large numbers without exhausting yourself. This is an excellent upgrade that keeps the resource collection humming along and clearing out giant clumps of growing trees you don’t want on the farm is noticeably easier at this point.

Iridium Axe

Upgrade Main Feature: Kills all the trees. 2 hits a fully-grown tree, 1 hits a small stump, 1 hits small trees.

Grade: S-Tier (aka A+ and then some)

This is a tool that is useful no matter what part of the game you’re in and when you finally decide to upgrade the house, build a new barn, and mass produce kegs all at once – this axe makes collecting over a thousand wood in a day or two far more viable.

This is arguably the best upgraded tool in the game of Stardew Valley. The ability to 2-shot any tree in the game, and then 1-shot a stump, you can clear cut entire sections of a map with very little energy and effort spent.

Even more importantly, it’s still useful late game. Wood and hardwood are still materials you will need in large amounts when building new buildings, upgrades, or various other items in the game. Getting acorns to plant a field of oaks or maple seeds to plant a filed of maples for maple syrup helps create more bee hives or kegs.

In other words, you can find times late games where you suddenly need hundreds of pieces of wood or to clear the secret forest of stumps for more hardwood. The iridium axe makes this fast and easy, keeping it incredibly useful (and even necessary) in the late game – one of the few tools to be so.

Upgrading Your Hoe in Stardew Valley

The hoe is actually one of the last tools I tend to upgrade in Stardew after the initial copper upgrade. Many Stardew players I talk to see the hoe as one of the least important tools to upgrade quickly, so I’m not the only one who holds this opinion.

Upgrading up to a copper hoe in late spring so you can clear 3 spaces of ground at once versus one is a good upgrade. Because especially early on with limited energy every bit helps, but mostly the copper is a stepping stone to the steel, which moves 6 spaces of ground at once. The ability to create large areas of tilled ground is very helpful.

hoe upgrades stardew valley
Early game kind of useful, but even limited use throughout the game – though admittedly if you plant mega crops each season that one day you need it you’re glad you have it.

Copper Hoe

Upgrade Main Feature: Can till three tiles at a time, all in a straight line from the player out to the direction he/she is facing.

Grade: D

While it’s nice to have more than the basic hoe, three at a time really doesn’t do much. Especially for the majority of us casual players who don’t practice animation cancellation. Overall, it’s a definite weak sauce tool improvement, but necessary for later ones.

Steel Hoe

Upgrade Main Feature: Can till five tiles at a time, all in a straight line from the player outward in the direction he/she is facing.

Grade: C

This is the first major hoe upgrade that feels like good progress as you can actually till up a field within reasonable time going 5 spaces at a time. Progress can be made at a steady pace to till a large area, but it’s nothing special.

Gold Hoe

Upgrade Main Feature: Can till nine tiles at a time, in a 3×3 square.

Grade: C

This is the first real decent hoe upgrade, and makes it easy to clear a new space and plop a quality sprinkler in the middle. This is an okay upgrade, but the hoe is just a weaker tool in Stardew Valley, as necessary as it is.

Iridium Hoe

Upgrade Main Feature: Can till 18 tiles at once in a 6×3 square outward from the player.

Grade: B

This is really good for a beach farm, and quite a useful quality of life change for those 1-2 days per season when you need to clear out a large amount of area and if you want your crops watered from day one to maximize yields instead of giving up a day waiting for the sprinklers to kick in on day two of the growing season.

Stardew Valley Most Important Tool to Upgrade

The most important tool to upgrade depends a lot based on where you are in the game, the style you want to play, and in part what type of farm you decide to setup.

That said, there are certain tools that just almost always give clear benefits to players who sprint for them.

The axe is useful throughout the game and you’ll always be in need of wood and hardwood, making these a great upgrade. Considering how much energy cutting down trees takes early game, these upgrades are a big boost during those early game times while also staying relevant in late game.

The best early game tool upgrades in Stardew Valley are generally:

  • Copper Mining Pickaxe
  • Copper Axe
  • Big Backpack
  • Fiberglass Fishing Rod
  • Steel Axe
  • Deluxe Backpack

This can take two seasons between getting seeds, harvesting crops, and unlocking new areas (and mining) but these tools give a fast quality of life jump that allows you to quickly upgrade the rest of the tools.

Generally speaking the best tool upgrades in late game Stardew Valley are:

  • Gold Axe
  • Iridium Axe
  • Iridium Fishing Rod

Other Stardew Tools/Upgrades of Note

There are other upgrades in Stardew Valley and these tend to be very good, or completely unneeded slash worthless. So the four good upgrades among “other” Stardew tools are:

  • Big Backpack
  • Deluxe Backpack
  • Fiberglass Fishing Rod
  • Iridium Fishing Rod

And the two worthless ones are:

  • Copper Pan
  • Golden Scythe
other stardew valley tool upgrades
The early backpacks are important, and fishing rod upgrades are excellent. The pan and scythe just are meh at best.

Why Upgrade Your Trash Can in Stardew Valley?

From a pure economics standpoint, there isn’t much reason to do this. If you’re a packrat who hates leaving things behind, hates littering the entire map with wood chests, and hates not getting anything when you have to throw some stuff away because you need to pick up something more important (guilty as charged), then a copper trash can at least gives you some money/refund for every item you throw away.

trash can upgrades stardew valley
Not necessarily important at all – but at a discount for upgrades and for those of us pack rats, a great “feel good” add-on.

For me that just makes the game more enjoyable especially in those early weeks without a backpack. I like getting at least something when I have to toss away some stuff, and the copper trash can only costs 1,000 gold meaning even at the low 15% item value for everything thrown away there is a chance of it breaking even.

By the time you get up to gold you shouldn’t be in need of money, while iridium gives back enough from throwing stuff away that for players like me it feels like a decent upgrade because you get enough back to not feel bad about throwing away items you don’t really need.

The steel trashcan just falls in that gap where it’s worthless and you upgrade when there’s nothing else to do.

A Note on Ring & Weapon Upgrades

Rings, like weapons, originally couldn’t be upgraded but once the 1.5 update rolled out and Ginger Island became available, this option now exists. The best upgrades depend on preference, but some pretty incredible combo rings can be created while weapons can get much needed improvements to deal with even tougher enemies that can be met, and unlocked, through the Ginger Island storylines.

Rating these out is nearly impossible because we all have different preferences on weapons, rings, and there are so many combinations that work together, but Unsurpassable Z has a great video on the best 4 ring combinations in Stardew Valley, and he mentions a lot of other combos based on play style and goal, so it’s a great video to check out.

So that’s it, that’s all you need to know about upgrading your farm tools in Stardew Valley. Follow this guide, figure out how you enjoy running your farm, and before long you’ll have a full set of iridium tools that help you make short work of the most challenging situations.

Thanks for reading, and see you on the Pelican Town farm!

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