I was farming with a friend of mine, and he was gathering crops with a diamond sword. I told him not to use a diamond sword as it takes damage, but then he told me crops don't damage your tools when broken.

What blocks don't damage your tools when you break them, besides crops?

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    Not an answer to the question, but I find harvesting crop with seeds in my hand a good solution. Run a crop line harvesting, run it back sowing. – Philipp Aug 28 '12 at 8:22
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    A good way to tell if a given activity uses up durability is to use wooden tools. They show durability use much more readily. – Wikwocket Aug 28 '12 at 14:17

Crops damage your tools, and in fact, sugarcane specifically will shred your tools faster than anything because of the extremely fast harvest rate. Any particular tool has X durability, (X being an arbitrary number) and every block destroyed by the tool reduces X by 1. When X < 0 the tool breaks.

However, this information does not always apply if you're playing on a modded server.

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    Not quite true. If a tool is used to break the appropriate type of block (pickaxe -> stone, shovel -> dirt), the durability will decrease by 1. If it is used to break any other type of block, the durability will decrease by 2. – SaintWacko Aug 28 '12 at 13:25

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