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Animal Crossing New Horizons guide: How to find and upgrade tools

We’ll show you where to get more durable Axes, Bug Nets, and Fishing Rods

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A hero holds an axe in Animal Crossing New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

When you begin Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Switch, you’ll have a paltry set of tools that won’t last more than a few minutes. Making new tools at your DIY station is cheap, but it’s also a pain in the butt, so you’re undoubtedly wondering how you get better tools.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through finding your first tool recipes and upgrading them.

How to unlock the Axe

You can unlock your first axe on your first day. All you have to do is head to Tom Nook in his tent while holding a few different bugs and fish. After speaking with him, you can choose from a prompt saying that you found a creature. Donate two creatures, and he’ll reward you with a DIY recipe to make a Flimsy Axe.

Note: If you are playing on a Switch with other people, only the primary account holder (the first person who started playing) can donate things to Nook. To make progress, you’ll need that primary account holder to finish their five donations.

How to unlock the Watering Can

Keep donating creatures to Tom Nook. After four donations, he’ll give you the recipe for the Flimsy Watering Can, which is handy for watering flowers.

How to unlock the Vaulting Pole and Shovel

Once you donate five creatures (fish or bugs) to Tom Nook, he’ll invite his buddy Blathers the Owl to your island. The next day, when Blathers shows up in his tent, talk to him and he’ll give you recipes for both the Vaulting Pole and the Flimsy Shovel.

The Vaulting Pole is useful because it allows you to cross over rivers, letting you explore the rest of your island. You can also use the Flimsy Shovel to dig up cracked spots on the ground and find Fossil Pieces (which you can donate to Blathers).

Note: The Vaulting Pole can’t break, so you don’t have to worry about getting stranded on the other side of a river.

How to upgrade your tools

Pretty Good Tools Recipes in the ABD store in Tom Nook’s Tent in Animal Crossing New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

If you’re sick of using “Flimsy” tools, you’ll want to consider an upgrade. Head over to Tom Nook’s tent and use the Automatic Bell Dispenser (ABD) machine in the corner. Then select the option to redeem Nook Miles.

One of the options, Pretty Good Tools Recipes, costs 3,000 Nook Miles. This recipe pack will include upgrades for your Axe, Shovel, Net, Watering Can, and Fishing Rod. These new tools will be far more durable than the Flimsy variants, but they are also more expensive to create.

While most of these tool upgrades function the same as your Flimsy tools, some are slightly different. The Stone Axe is like just the Flimsy Axe, but more durable. But don’t use the the Axe — which looks like it’s made of metal — for harvesting wood, as it’s capable of fully cutting trees down after a few swings.

How to unlock the Ladder

The last major tool unlock is the Ladder. Several days into your journey, you’ll be asked to place three new housing plots on your island. After you’ve placed the plots and inspected them, you’ll get the Ladder recipe.

Using the Ladder will let you climb the cliffs on your island. Like the Vaulting Pole, it can’t break, so no need to worry about getting stranded.

What about more tool upgrades?

Even with the “Pretty Good” tool recipes, you’re still going to be breaking tools a few times a day. So how do you get better recipes? Good question! We don’t currently know! We can confirm that the Nook’s Cranny shop will eventually upgrade (after about 30 days worth of game time) and offer new tool designs. But all of these tools seem to have the same durability as the “pretty good” tools you’ve been using since Day 1. Beyond that, we’re continuing to hunt for better tools and will update this guide if we find any.