Garden shovels and spades

Imagine you wake up and it’s a magical white Christmas morn – snow everywhere. Whoo! You build a snowman and throw snowballs at your imaginary enemies until your husband yells that’s it’s time to clear the drive.

The right tool for that job is a shovel. It’s nice and broad so you can lift a lot of snow in one go. It’s probably got an angled handle so that you can get the shovel head flat on the ground without you having to bend down all the way.

You wake up the next day and because of climate change you find yourself with various sand dunes in your yard. Again, it’s shovel time! Sure the sand is a bit heavier than the snow, but your goal is to sort of get UNDER the material you’re moving and lift it up.

It might be helpful if your shovel has a pointed tip, or some ledges along the side of the blade, or whatever variant you might find in your local hardware store. All that really matters is that we’re talking about moving loose material from one place to another.

In these examples, snow and sand isn’t something you really dig. (No need to email me about avalanches in the Alps, cleverclogs!) Shovels aren’t great at digging.

Shovels and Spades

Choosing the right shovel or spade for your gardening needs is important. From the material the handle is made from to the construction of the blade. You will have a choice of 3 blades when choosing your garden shovel.

  • Forged Blade – This is where the head and shank are forged from a single bar of steel. This is the strongest construction of blade
  • Closed back blade (welded) – This is a stamped blade where the back is reinforced by a welded piece of steel for added strength
  • Open back blade – This is an economy blade that is stamped at the back. It is the least strong but is lightweight and ideal for basic gardening jobs

Shovels and spades also have many designs based from general tasks such moving dirt or sand to specific task such as a trenching shovel used for trenches such as irrigation or electrical lines.

The newest handles are the composite handles that combine the best qualities of wood and steel in that they are light, strong, and resist uncomfortable resination. Also the shape of the handle is important where you have the choice of a “D” handle for getting a better grip or simply a straight handle with a grip at the end which can give you more leverage. Also the material a handle is made from is important as for example steel handles are practically unbreakable, but can be heavy and resinate uncomfortably if you hit a rock. Wooden handles feels better but is susceptible to weather stress. The newest handles are the composite handles that combine the best qualities of wood and steel in that they are light, strong, and resist uncomfortable resination.

As a flexible rule of thumb, spades are used for digging and shovels are used for moving materials.

All it takes is a few simple garden tools to have an amazing, weed free, and highly productive garden. In fact, as we see it, 6 just about does the trick just perfectly!

This past week, we received a wonderful email from a Wisconsin gardener explaining how he had decided to switch this year to a Raised Row Garden. He had read our Raised Row Garden book in early Spring, and decided to give it a try. See : Raised Row Gardening Book

It doesn’t take a lot of expensive tools to create and maintain a Raised Row Garden!

He wrote, “I am simply astounded with the results. I used to spend hours rototilling every few weeks, and countless hours weeding. I cannot believe how easy it is to maintain, and how well my plants are doing!”

As much as we loved hearing how thrilled he was with the results, there was one comment we loved the most. Near the end of his letter, he wrote : “The one thing that really blows my mind is that I now have a garden shed full of tools I simply don’t need or use anymore. I am amazed at how little I need to maintain this garden.”

The fact is, with a Raised Row Garden, you don’t need a lot of tools to create a lot of produce. No rototiller, no tractor with plow, and no specialized digging tools. In reality, you really only need about 6 simple garden tools to create the garden of your dreams.

The 6 Simple Garden Tools Needed To Create And Maintain An Amazing Garden

#1 Post Hole Digger

In a Raised Row Garden, the post hole digger is the planting tool of choice. It creates a perfect 4″ wide hole that is 6 to 8″ deep. And it does so in seconds, and with little effort.

Post hole diggers are incredible in the garden!

Simply plunge the soil out, and then fill in with the transplant, compost, soil and a little worm castings for fertilizer.

The hole allows plenty of room for transplants to grow and expand. And using the post hole digger is easy on the back. It allows you to dig holes standing straight up, and fast too! See : How We Plant With A Post Hole Digger

We can usually plant all of our 100+ tomato, pepper and other transplants in about 30 minutes.

#2 Garden Rake / Tine Rake

A good metal tine garden rake is perfect for planting the coveted cover crop for a Raised Row Garden. Each fall, we pull back the straw mulch in our growing rows and scratch the surface of the soil with a garden rake.

Once we spread our Annual Rye cover crop seed, we rake lightly again to set the seed, and our fall gardening chores are complete! Cover crops replace 90% of the work in a traditional garden, and a good metal rake makes easy work of the planting process.

#3 Hand Held Pruners

For pruning and harvesting, one great pair of sharp, ratcheting pruners is a must.

A good pair of pruners make life easy in the garden. They are perfect for pruning back and up under tomatoes and peppers. They are also wonderful for cutting off and harvesting cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon and more. It is much better for your plants to cut these crops instead of pulling them from the vines.

Ratchet Pruners make pruning, cutting and harvesting a snap!

Ratcheting pruners make life easy. The have tremendous power vs. traditional pruners. Great for saving strength in both old and young gardening hands!

#4 Pitchfork

If you have a Raised Row Garden, you need a compost bin. If you have a compost bin, you need a good pitchfork! Pitchforks are a must for turning compost piles easily. They also come in handy for harvesting root crops like garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more.

We use ours as well for placing wood chips in our walking rows, or straw in the growing rows. A pitchfork is simply a great way to move materials quickly.

#5 Lawn Mower, String-Trimmer, or Shears

One way or another, you will need a device to cut back your cover crops in the spring. We have used our bagging lawn mower for years with great success. But you could also a string-trimmer, or even a pair of shears.

An old fashioned reel mower can do the trick

One of the best aspects of the Raised Row Garden is you simply never have to till or turn over your soil. You simply sow a cover crop in the fall, and then mow off in the spring and plant through it. It not only builds the soil, but it cuts down on weeds as well.

#6 Hand Edger / Lawn Edger

So what place does a hand or lawn edger have in a garden? It turns out they are perfect for creating planting rows for seedlings. We use ours to quickly slice a perfectly straight row for planting green beans, peas, corn and other seeds. We can create our planting rows in our 20′ long rows in under a minute.

If you really want to cut down on labor, there are some great electric lawn edger models out there for under a $100 that work incredibly fast.

There you have it – our list of 6 simple garden tools that can create and maintain a Raised Row Garden! Of course there are many other tools that can perform some of the above tasks, but believe it or not, you could easily get by with just those 6.

Happy Gardening! – Jim and Mary. To receive our 3 Home, Garden, Recipe and Simple Life articles each week, sign up below for our free email list. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. This article may contain affiliate links.

6 Simple Garden Tools – The Only Tools Needed For An Amazing Garden! Tagged on: garden tools hand held garden tools raised row gardeing simple garden tools

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PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson by J. Keeler Johnson March 14, 2017

The English language can be confusing, given that it borrows words from many different languages and includes many words with similar meanings. Understanding the deepest nuances of such a language can be a challenge in and of itself; throw in the fact that words are frequently used in ways that are technically incorrect, and things get even more confusing.

Consider as an example the words spade and shovel. Both refer to digging tools that are common on hobby farms—in fact, it’s hard to get along without them! But while the terms are often used interchangeably, the truth is that spade and shovel refer to separate and different tools with their own strengths and usages.

Spade

While spades can come in a few different shapes and sizes, a spade is generally a flat metal digging tool with a sharp edge, which allows it to be used for both digging and for moving dirt, debris and similar materials. While some spade blades are rectangular in shape, many others are sharply pointed to increase the penetrating ability of the blade. To aid in digging and breaking through tough ground, a spade’s blade will often have a metal footrest positioned on either side of the handle, allowing you to push the spade further into the ground using your feet.

Some types of spades, referred to as drain spades or trenching spades, feature narrower and longer blades, which—as their name implies—make them suitable for digging trenches and ditches.

Shovel

The term shovel tends to be much more of a catch-all than the term spade, which means that the word shovel can refer to a wide variety of digging tools.

In essence, a shovel’s primary use is for scooping and moving materials from one place to another, so with this in mind, many shovels are larger than spades so that more material can be moved with each scoop. This also means that some shovels are made of plastic rather than metal because digging and breaking through the earth is not always the primary goal. A perfect example is a plastic snow shovel, designed with a large, wide scoop for quickly shoveling snow out of the way.

However, another common type of shovel is the metal digging shovel. This is very similar to a spade, but it usually has a more rounded blade that falls in between the flat or sharply point blades that are used for spades.

Remember, the fact that spade and shovel are so often used interchangeably means that you’ll see instances in which a tool that is clearly a spade is referred to as a shovel and vice versa. This isn’t a big deal by any means, but understanding the more formal meaning of the two terms can be useful if you’re looking to purchase a particular type of digging tool and need to know what to look for.

If you have a garden, you have a shovel.

In fact, it’s very likely you have more than one shovel. You might have one with a curved blade and a pointed tip. You may have a narrow one with flat sides, or a gigantic one that’s almost more of a giant spoon-like conveyance device. You probably have two or three handheld ones that you call trowels. You might even have a flat one that isn’t a digging shovel at all.

Whether you call it a shovel, a spade, or a scoop, let’s explore the wide category of shovels and their related garden counterparts and go over how they’re used and which are the best.

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If you just want the best shovels by type, check out the extensive and well-tested list below. Otherwise, read on for a more in-depth look into the wild world of shovels.

Best Digging Shovels:

  • Bully Tools 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel
  • High End: Corona All-Steel Round Point Shovel

Best Trenching Shovels:

  • Corona Trench Shovel, 4”
  • Box Trencher: Bully Tools 14-Gauge 4” Box-Style Trench Shovel

Best Drain Spade: Fiskars 46″ Steel D-Handle Transplanting Spade

Best Scoop Shovels:

  • Polyurethane: Ames D-Handle Poly Scoop
  • Aluminum: Truper Tru Pro Aluminum Scoop
  • Steel: Nupla Power Steel Western Scoop

Best Scraper:

  • Bully Tools Heavy Duty Scraper

Best Edgers:

  • Garden Weasel Edge Chopper
  • Toothed Edger: Ames Steel Handled Edger

Best Post-Hole Digger: Seymour Structron Hercules Post Hole Digger PD48

Best Trowels & Soil Scoops:

  • Wilcox Garden Trowel
  • A.M. Leonard Stainless Steel Soil Knife

Best Shovels By Purpose

  • Best Shovel For Digging: Bully Tools 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel
  • Best Shovel For Snow: True Temper 18″ Ergonomic Snow Shovel
  • Best Shovel For Your Car: Kylin Sport Utility Snow Shovel

Types of Shovels

The primary thing to consider, of course, is what you’re doing. After all, if you’re trying to dig a trench, you should probably use a trenching shovel… shouldn’t you?

You could use two basic shovel types (a sharp bladed shovel and a flat bladed shovel) to do almost everything if you really had to. But different styles of blade will greatly simplify your work and lessen the strain of doing different tasks.

Digging Shovels

While this seems obvious (all shovels are used to dig, right?), it’s not necessarily the case. By digging, I mean actually getting in there and digging a hole or ditch in the ground, not just moving some soil out of the way. And for digging, you need something that’s built for the task.

Generally speaking, a digging shovel should have a handle that comes straight up from the center of the blade, not one that’s offset. This helps to add extra leverage when trying to pry up material. Most good digging shovels have a pointed tip to the blade to help cut into the soil, and some fancier varieties even have sawteeth on the cutting edge.

Trenching Shovels

Trenching shovels tend to be long and narrow bladed, not much more than 4-6” wide at the maximum. These handheld trenchers are meant for making narrow trenches, hence the name. They’re often used for laying irrigation pipes or making slender swale runoffs. Sometimes they have box sides to help with removing material cleanly without disturbing the trench sides.

What all trench tools have in common is a pointed-tip blade, designed to cut neatly into soil, and flat sides to maintain the walls of the trench itself. The goal for trench digging tools is to minimize the disruption of the areas you aren’t digging and to create precise, straight lines.

Drain Spades

Drain spades look quite similar to trenching shovels. The major difference between a drain spade vs trenching shovel is the slight variation in its shape. A drain spade often has a rounded tip and curved edges, rather than having a pointed tip with flat edges. This enables drain spades to be used for transplanting uses, as well as for clearing out debris from existing drainage trenches or ditches. In fact, they’re used often enough for transplanting that they are sometimes referred to as transplanting spades.

Scoop Shovels

Scoop shovels are designed to move material that is already dug out. A scoop shovel is also great for moving and spreading mulch, compost, manure, snow, coal, or similar materials. There are both small and large scoop shovels available. While there are lightweight versions made of aluminum that are meant for grain, fluffy compost, etc, a steel scoop shovel is better for heavier items such as gravel or heavier soils.

Scrapers

Scrapers have their origin in the use of a flat-bladed shovel to scrape ice off roofs or driveways. However, they’ve developed into their own variation on a shovel. Not meant for digging or scooping, a flat-bladed scraper is ideal for the purpose of getting ice off whatever it’s on. It’s also very popularly used to remove shingles from roofs, as the flat blade easily slides beneath existing shingles.

Edgers

Like scrapers, the landscaping edging shovel has its origins in a classic flat-bladed shovel. In this case, the goal was to cut through plant material and roots to create a nice, neat and flat edge along lawns or garden beds. Most edging shovels are now custom-designed to the purpose, with a shape not unlike the half-circle of a pizza cutter. They work wonderfully to separate plants that form offshoots, and are perfectly designed to make a straight edge.

But these shovels are not meant to dig, as the blades are not designed to lift or move soil. I guess it could be said that these, along with scrapers, are truly on the outer edge of the shovel category!

Post Hole Diggers

The name of these is somewhat misleading, as it implies that these are a digging shovel. In reality, these are meant to be used to excavate a very specific size of hole in already-loosened ground. In essence, you’re using two shovels almost like joined chopsticks to pick up soil from a narrow, deep hole. Push these into tilled or loosened soil, pull the handles apart, and then lift up a perfect bite while leaving a neat hole behind.

Trowels and Soil Scoops

Every gardener has these around. Some are plastic, others are metal. Some trowels are marked with depth indicators for planting and a pointed tip for easy penetration of harder soil. Others are more scoop-like, with a blunt, rounded tip that makes removing soil from a planting site or transporting planting mix to a planting site easy. In fact, most gardener has two or three variations of these in their garage or tool chest, just because they’re so widely used – they are probably the most common hand tool in a gardener’s arsenal.

What To Consider When Buying A Shovel

There’s shovels that are pointy, there’s ones that are flat. There’s handles of fiberglass and wood and sometimes other things. There’s some that are lightweight and some that are heavy. What do you need most? Let’s figure that out.

Shovel vs. Spade?

The main difference between a shovel and a spade. source

In modern language, the terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a history to the terms “shovel” and “spade”. Traditionally, a shovel is meant for digging, and it typically has a sharply-tipped curved blade and more of an angular blade shape that cuts easily into the soil.

A spade is meant for moving soil, and typically has a flat blade. It can be used for digging, but tends to be less efficient at it unless one is trying to create a straight line, like trenching. However, a flat head shovel or spade is fantastic for removing sod, and definitely is far superior for moving large quantities of material than its pointy-tipped counterparts.

Sharp Vs. Flat Blades?

In the old debate between sharp vs flat, neither side “wins”, as both have their uses. I keep both types in my garage and use them as the task dictates. But I find myself going back to the old standards more often than not: a pointed-tipped blade for digging, and a flat-tipped blade for moving soil.

Handle Design

In considering what shovel you want, you have to consider its handle, because that’s what you’re going to be holding onto.

For most digging shovels, you have two options: a standard-length shovel handle, or a D-ring handle which is shorter in handle length but has a D-shaped grip at the end. Your choice is going to depend mostly on how and where you’re using it. Longer shovels can easily reach deeper into the soil, so if you’re digging a deep hole to plant a tree in, this may be your best bet. A shorter shovel is more comfortable to hold, but doesn’t have as much leverage when trying to pry up rocks or roots that might be in your way.

I personally use D-ring shovels for most of my garden work as they’re more comfortable to hold onto for long periods of time and suit my purposes more often than standard shovels do. But if you’re likely to be prying up rocks or roots, or doing anything that goes more than 1-1.5 feet beneath the soil’s surface, you will need something a bit longer.

Handle Material

You also need to consider the material which your handle is made from.

A good hardwood handle is the old standard, but wood has a few issues. It can splinter with age, which makes your shovel nearly useless without hurting your hands. It also can form weaker points in the wood as the wood ages, and it can break more easily. It tends to be heavier than more modern handle materials as well.

Fiberglass is popular right now. It does not splinter, nor does it age and develop weak spots. It’s also stronger than most wood and able to resist bending more easily. However, its major drawback is that while wood handles are easy to replace, fiberglass ones are not. If your fiberglass handle snaps, you may need to purchase a new tool.

For certain types of shovels, especially scoop shovels, aluminum or steel is a handle option. However, aluminum can bend easily, so it’s meant for lightweight materials only. Steel can be quite heavy, and over time the extra weight of the metal combined with what you’re moving may prove to wear you out faster.

Blade Material

The vast majority of shovels on the market have steel blades, with two exceptions.

Scoop shovels come in multiple types of material based on their intended use. I’ve seen plastic scoops (which I never recommend as plastic becomes brittle with age), polyurethane scoops (far better than plastic for light to medium weight materials), aluminum scoops (used primarily for lightweight materials), and steel scoops (which can handle anything).

Trowels and soil scoops also come in multiple types: plastic, aluminum, and steel are common. Trowels are sometimes available in carbon fiber polyurethane versions now too, and those claim significant strength, but I haven’t seen any viable strength comparison tests between carbon fiber and metal blades. I never recommend the plastic trowels either, as they just don’t last very long, although they do have a purpose if you’re just working in well-aerated, light and fluffy soil. Aluminum ones are inexpensive, but tend to bend at the tip far too easily. Steel or carbon fiber are likely your best choice.

Durability

You want your shovel to be durable and able to hold up to its intended job. So it’s important to take the durability of your shovel’s construction into consideration. Is the blade designed in such a way that it will not bend when pressure is exerted on it? Is it attached to the handle in a way that won’t encourage the handle to snap?

Typically, the weak points in most shovels are the handle itself, the joint where the handle attaches to the shovel, and the blade (both in the step plate and the blade’s tip).

Ideally, you want a shovel that will not bend at the tip or on the step, will remain sharp if it’s a sharp-edged tool, which is firmly secured to its handle in a way that won’t fail, and which has a handle that can take levering force without damage. If it’s a specialty blade like an edging shovel or scraper, you want it to hold its edge all the way along the curved or flat surface and maintain its shape without twisting or bending. And if it’s a trowel, you want one that’s sturdy enough to avoid the dreaded tip-bend that destroys most hand trowels.

Weight

Often, people do not take the weight of their tools into consideration when they’re buying them – and that’s an error in judgment. If you’re going to be using a shovel for hours and hours to remove sod or dig up large parts of your yard, you want something that will minimize muscle strain. Too heavy of a shovel may not be ideal for most people, although a heavy-duty shovel may be the best choice for a professional who does it every day. So consider the weight of your tools carefully when selecting them.

The Best Shovels By Type

Now that we know quite a bit about the types of shovel, let me offer you my best recommendations as to what you should consider. I’m going to break this down into two sections: best in category, and best specific purpose.

Best Digging Shovels

Bully Tools 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel

Bully Tools 82515 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel with Fiberglass Long Handle

  • 100% Made in the USA
  • Commercial grade
  • Limited lifetime warranty

One of the best things about the Bully Tools 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel is that the step across the back of the shovel blade spans the entire width of the blade. This means that you can use your legs to do the hard part of getting the shovel into the soil, and use your arms for the actual leverage and lifting. A fiberglass handle gives it durability, and that, when paired with its phenomenal blade design, makes this the top rated digging shovel on our list.

See Prices >

Higher-End Digging Shovel Pick: Corona All-Steel Round Point Shovel

Corona AS90300 All-steel Round Point Shovel

  • All-Steel
  • Handles made from Aerospace Grade Steel
  • 12-Gauge Closed Back Head

If you want something that’s a professional-grade tool, our high-end choice, the Corona All-Steel Round Point Shovel, is ideal. This thing is built super-strong and will last for generations. It is a lot heavier than the Bully as even the handle is made of steel, so that needs to be taken into consideration. It’s also pricier than the Bully. But if you want something that your grandchildren can use as if it were brand new (provided, of course, that you maintain it), this is the one.

See Prices >

Best Trenching Shovels

Best Overall: 4″ Corona Trench Shovel

Corona SS 64104 General Purpose Trench Shovel, 4-Inch

For most tasks, you don’t need a box-trenching shovel — you just need a shovel with a narrow blade that can perfectly tear out that narrow strip of soil. And for that, the Corona Trench Shovel, 4” is our top choice. It’s sturdy, extremely well priced for what you get, and performs the task admirably. The V-shaped blade helps to hold reasonable-sized scoops of soil, and its flat sides ensure that the walls of your trench stay neat.

See Prices >

Best Box-Style Trenching Shovel Pick: Bully Tools 14-Gauge 4” Box-Style Trench Shovel

Bully Tools 92730 14-gauge 4-Inch Box Style Trench Shovel with Fiberglass Long Handle

  • 100% Made in the USA
  • Commercial grade
  • Limited lifetime warranty

But what if you’re doing a really deep trench and want something that will hold more soil per scoop? Then the box trencher you’ll want is the Bully Tools 14-Gauge 4” Box-Style Trench Shovel. Tall walls on the flat sides provide extra capacity to pull soil out of the ground, and its design ensures a smooth trench wall will stay smooth as intended.

See Prices >

Best Drain Spade

Fiskars 46″ Steel D-Handle Transplanting Spade

Sale Fiskars 46 Inch Steel D-handle Transplanting Spade

There’s a lot of variations on the market, but I would put my money towards the Fiskars 46″ Steel D-Handle Transplanting Spade. This is a powerful tool for transplanting, separating roots, and just general trench maintenance. It has a comfortable D-ring handle which is extra-wide to allow you a two-handed grip when it’s needed, and its all-steel construction can’t be beat. Pro-tip: because it’s black, don’t leave it in full sun while taking a break, because you will come back to a very hot shovel! But despite the poor color choice (which is in-line with Fiskars’ brand style), this is easily the best reasonably-priced drain spade on the market.

See Prices >

Best Scoop Shovels

I can’t discuss scoops without offering good choices for multiple varieties of blade material, simply because each one has its pros and cons. So let’s go through my picks.

Best Polyurethane Scoop Shovel: Ames D-Handle Poly Scoop

AMES 2682700 Poly Scoop with Hardwood Handle and D-Grip, 46-Inch

  • Large poly D-grip for leverage and control
  • Hardwood handle for strength and durability
  • Used to lift and transfer stone, soil, and grain

The molded polyurethane blade of the Ames D-Handle Poly Scoop can easily handle most light to medium-weight material. It’s perfect for shoveling grass clippings, leaves, mulches, composts, grain, or manure. While it does have a wooden handle, the weight of the wood provides a comfortable heft to the tool. This might have some trouble with super-wet snow or soil, and isn’t advised for heavy rock, but for most other purposes it fits the bill.

See Prices >

Best Aluminum Scoop Shovel: Truper Tru Pro Aluminum Scoop

Surprisingly lightweight at under 3.5 pounds, the Truper Tru Pro Aluminum Scoop is my pick for an aluminum scoop shovel. While it is a bit shorter than some of its counterparts on the market, the balance on this tool is surprisingly good, and it’s comfortable to use. The aluminum will handle everything up through snow and gravel/smaller rock, but larger rocks may end up denting the blade with use.

See Prices >

Best Steel Scoop Shovel: Nupla Power Steel Western Scoop

Nupla WS10D-E #10 Ergo Power Steel Western Scoop, Hollow Back Blade, D Grip, 16 Gauge, 27″ Handle

  • Ergonomic for comfort, safety and less fatigue
  • Closed D grip for secure holding, pushing and…
  • Nupla ergo power handles meet the highest…

Looking for that professional-grade heirloom tool again? Consider the Nupla Power Steel Western Scoop. This steel-headed scoop features a fiberglass handle that has been coated with polyurethane for extra strength and protection. It’s weighty, coming in over 7 pounds, but it will handle all materials with ease.

See Prices >

Best Scraper

Bully Tools Heavy Duty Scraper

Sale Bully Tools 92200 Heavy Duty Sidewalk and Ice Scraper with Long Steel Handle

  • 100% Made in the USA
  • Commercial grade
  • Limited lifetime warranty

A scraper needs to hold up to what it’s designed for, and the Bully Tools Heavy Duty Scraper does precisely that. All-steel construction with an 11-gauge steel blade ensures that this scraper will last and last. It’s American-made, and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. But you likely won’t need the warranty for this commercial-grade tool!

See Prices >

Best Edger

Garden Weasel Edge Chopper

The name Garden Weasel always makes me smile. That might be because so far, there are very few of their tools that have failed me. The Garden Weasel Edge Chopper is no different. The wide foot plate ensures that you can do the force work with your foot, and only need to use your arms to pull it back up. The angled blade easily drills down through most soil types, providing a neat, flat edge. All in all, this weasel is perfect for your garden.

See Prices >

Best Steel Serrated Edging Shovel: Ames Steel Handled Edger

AMES 2917200 Saw-Tooth Border Edger with T-Grip, 39-Inch

  • Create Clean Borders Around Beds And Walkways
  • Arched Blade Design
  • Remove Sod With Ease

But what if you have really tenacious roots under the surface of your soil? Then you need something with a few more teeth than the weasel can provide. If that’s your situation, pick up the Ames Steel Handled Edger. The serrated lower edge of the blade easily chews right through a root mass to create a smooth, even edge. It is sturdy and holds up even to commercial-grade work.

See Prices >

Best Post-Hole Digger

Seymour Structron Hercules Post Hole Digger

Seymour Structron Hercules Post Hole Digger PD48

  • Post hole digger
  • Designed for frequent, heavy-duty, professional…
  • Fiberglass handle with fiberglass core insert for…

If you’re redoing your backyard fence or preparing a hole for a concrete support, you will truly want the Seymour Structron Hercules Post Hole Digger. This digger provides up to a 6.25” jaw spread, enabling you to easily excavate a deep hole for your inset project. Made in the USA, its fiberglass handles are reinforced with a fiberglass core and will handle all the pressure you need to exert on them. It’s weighty at over ten pounds, but that’s not a bad thing since you want those blades to bite a neat hole out of the ground.

See Prices >

Best Trowels & Soil Scoops

Wilcox Garden Trowel

Wilcox All Pro 202S Trowel, 14″, Stainless Steel

  • Works very well for deep bulb planting & breaking…
  • No fear of bending or breaking due to high quality…
  • Stainless Steel. Made in the USA.

When I select a trowel, I want one that will hold up to the rigors of everything – and I’ve bent quite a few trowel heads. That’s why the steel construction of the Wilcox Garden Trowel is so important. Incised with 6 inch-markers on the blade to help you gauge your planting depth, it is designed with an all-steel construction and has a comfortable grip. All in all, this stainless steel trowel is unlikely to bend or break under pressure.

See Prices >

High-End Trowel Pick: A.M. Leonard Stainless Steel Soil Knife

A.M. Leonard Classic Soil Knife – Hori Hori w/ 6-Inch Stainless Steel Blade

But what if you want something that cuts and digs at the same time? Well, you’re in luck. While it’s not what most people envision as a trowel, the A.M. Leonard Stainless Steel Soil Knife digs and cuts. It’s designed to easily eradicate any roots in its path and to loosen even the most stubborn of soils. People swear by the utility of this tool, and so I have to give it an honorable mention in this category simply because of the utility it provides.

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Best Specific-Purpose Shovels

Best Shovel for Digging

Bully Tools 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel

Bully Tools 82515 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel with Fiberglass Long Handle

  • 100% Made in the USA
  • Commercial grade
  • Limited lifetime warranty

There’s a reason why the Bully Tools 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel is at the top of both this specific-purpose category and the digging category — overall, you can’t find a better tool for the home gardener, and you might be pressed to find one that’s better for professionals too. The combination of its lighter weight and durability makes it stand out and shine over all others.

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Best Shovel For Snow

True Temper 18″ Snow Shovel

The biggest snowfall of the season has hit, and you’ve got four feet of snow outside and no snow blower. What do you reach for? The True Temper 18″ Snow Shovel. While I know I’ve been hard on poly blades in this article, this one goes a step further and attaches a steel edge to the front of the blade, providing extra rigidity and a sharp edge that cuts right through the snow. And if you need to lift and toss a load of snow off your walkway or driveway, the poly’s lightness is really helpful. It has an ergonomic curved handle that offers a little extra leverage. All in all, this is the tool to clear your winter walkways.

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Best Shovel For Your Car

Kylin Sport Utility Snow Shovel

I generally don’t like tools that I consider to be gimmicky, and a lot of extendable shovels fall into that range. But in this case, I’ll make an exception. Most of the time, what you’ll need for your car is something that can shovel snow, salt, or gravel to help you extricate your car from a winter wonderland or a muddy mess. And the Kylin Sport Utility Snow Shovel is an excellent portable option. It is height-adjustable, and disassembles into three pieces for compact storage in your trunk. Constructed of aluminum, it’s lightweight yet sturdy. If there is one complaint I have, it’s that the blade is a little narrow for my preference, but that’s to be expected in something that breaks down to a small space for storage.

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That’s the breakdown of pretty much every shovel you’d ever need to buy. Sure, there are a few exotic types of shovel out there that we haven’t covered here, but if you’ve got a couple of these, you’re likely not going to need anything else. Do you have any personal favorites, or maybe a use for one of these shovels that I haven’t covered? Comment and let me know!

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Kevin Espiritu
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What are your favorite garden tools for soil work? I would think the most over-utilized tool in all of gardening would be the spade. This general purpose tool has come to symbolize the gardening spirit all over the world since it can do so many nifty things. You’ll soon find out quickly enough though, that soil work does require more than a simple spade. The heavier duty tools are the shovels, trowels, and hoes.

Since you’ll be doing some reasonably heavy stuff, test the tools before you purchase them. Durability is important, but so are your hands. They should feel right and shouldn’t be too big to handle, or too heavy. These days, the hoes and shovels are usually made of alloys (several types of metals mixed together) so they shouldn’t be as heavy as in the days of your forefathers, whom I would think really toiled on the land handling those tools fit for an ogre!

Shovels and spades are of course used for digging holes and trenches. The spades and trowels can be used for transplanting purposes. They come in the D-handle and straight handle styles.

Basically, the difference between a spade and a shovel is this – Spades are meant for loosening soil and prising it up; shovels are meant for shifting earth from one location to another. Also shovels have goosenecks behind the blade that help to lift the shovel out from the ground after it is embedded. On the other hand, spades have no lifts.

A few kinds of shovels and spades

  • Round-point shovel – This shovel is the most common type and used for digging ditches and scooping up earth. It is available in both the D-handle and straight. Such is its versatility that it features in a few other variants such as the garden shovel and irrigation shovel (for ditches).

Round point shovel

  • Square-point shovel – This is the best suited shovel for shoveling earth and snow. It is handy for leveling small knolls, provided the soil isn’t too compact. As the name suggests, its blade is shaped like a square. The D-handle type shown below is the best, as shoveling earth isn’t really easy on the hands.

Square point shovel

  • Square-end spade – This is useful for prising, and cultivating, breaking up clods and lumps of clay, and also smoothing out the edges of ditches. This spade also comes in the D-handle and the long, straight handle type. It is similar to the square point shovel, just smaller/shorter though.

Square end spade

  • Transplanting spade – This spade is useful for herb gardening, and mostly used for transplanting shrubs or other small plants.

Transplanting spade

Trowels

Trowels are the smallest versions of spades available. You can use trowels for any kind of work to do with small plants such as bulbs, bonsai, orchids, vegetables, herbs, annuals, and small perennials. They are also handy for weeding tasks – digging out the roots of weeds.

Drop shank trowel

The most popular trowels are the drop shank types due to their versatility. Trowels are often referred to as spades by the ignorant; however, spades can be much larger. Try to get a good quality trowel as they often get bent or broken due to frequent usage.

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I bought a shove somewhere around 15 years ago. I was just getting into gardening and had agreed to help with some landscaping design. Part of my job was to unload and spread about 10 yards of mulch and I figured a shovel was definitely going to be needed.

I bought a round point digging shovel because it 1) looked like a shovel, and 2) I knew nothing about shovels. So for those of you have have moved mulch before you are already aware this was not the best choice. I may still be permanently damaged from how long it took.

But the point is that there are MANY different types of shovels out there for various jobs, and if I had had access to this fabulous article I probably would have saved myself a lot of pain (literally). If you’ve ever wondered about shovel differences and which is best for your job, look no further – we’ve got you covered!

Table of Contents

WHAT IS A SHOVEL?

Not to be confused with a spade, which we’ll get to later, a shovel is a tool with a concave, broad blade and a curved tip (usually). It rests at the end of a straight shaft to help with digging and moving materials such as dirt, mulch, and snow- to name a few. They are also helpful tools in the garden as they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

But there are quite a few choices out there to choose from, and what you need to consider is what your needs, and capabilities, are before you commit to a purchase. Chances are you could use more than just one type if you like to putter around in your yard and garden.

THE ANATOMY OF A SHOVEL (AND SPADE)

Shovels are pretty simple tools, but there is a bit of terminology you might want to know so you can picture the differences between the many I will introduce.

Grip

This is where you place your hand along the shaft. Wooden handles rarely have anything extra in place to grab hold of, but fiberglass shafts will often have an area to place your hands to keep from splinters. Shorter shovels may also have something called a D-handle to hold onto.

Handle (or Shaft)

Made from wood or fiberglass, these come in a variety of lengths and is what works as leverage for your job at hand.

Collar

This is the point where the shovel blade meets and connects to the handle. Usually they are connected by a screw or rivet. You can also replace the handle at this point if it ever breaks. Most blades last longer than the handle anyway.

Kickplate (or Step)

This is the top of the blade where you can place your foot (depending on the type of shovel) to help drive it down into the ground.

Blade

Usually made from steel or aluminum, the blade is what does all the digging and lifting when you put in the manpower.

Tip

Either rounded or flat in nature, the tip is what works with the rest of the overall design to help determine what job the blade is good for.

TYPES OF SHOVELS

TRENCH SHOVELS

A trench shovel, or clean out shovel as they are also known, is a long, narrow blade with a sharper curve at the end to help clean out and define trenches. These are the perfect tool for following up behind power trenchers or for shallow lines needed along garden beds for whatnot.

I do mean shallow however. The narrow blade has very little in the way of a place to put your foot to drive it deeper into the ground, and the majority of force will come from your arms and torso. These are most often used by landscaping professionals and gardeners.

FLAT SHOVELS

In this case a flat headed shovel has the slightly concave shape which defines it as a shovel but it also has a flat head, as the name suggests, to help scoop and transfer material. It also can be driven into the ground for digging, but the flatter end naturally doesn’t enter the ground as easily as a pointed or rounded tip. This is a good choice for edging, and even cleaning out trenches as well.It is a great choice for softer soils and scooping and spreading it, along with things like mulch. Plus, it’s an excellent choice for filling wheelbarrows and scooping materials out of them. Which I wish I’d known 15 years ago.

EDGING SHOVELS

These are a highly specialized little tool that are specifically for edging grass and garden beds (or anything else you feel the need to edge). Half moon in shape, they look a bit like half a pizza cutter, and are also flat- mainly because they are meant to be driven into the ground where you need precise cuts. These drive in with ease and can create angled cuts and get into tight places unlike other shovel designs.

They also work well to separate perennials, and cut through shallow roots from shrubs or small trees. They can get into tight spaces without damaging the larger surrounding root systems that may exist.

DIGGING SHOVELS

Possibly the most versatile shovel design, the digging shovel can complete many of the other tasks mentioned – but not always as easily. What defines a digging shovel is the slightly upcurved sides to help hold the materials you’ve dug up.

SQUARE DIGGER

This is a flat shovel, and is used mostly for edging, transplanting woody perennials and small shrubs due to how easy it is to cut through roots, and trenching.

POINTED DIGGER

A pointed shovel tip is for more hard packed, even rock filled soils (as long as it isn’t too dense). The narrower tip allows for it to burrow deeper beneath your weight and cut through what stands in its way.

ROUND DIGGER

Rounded tips work well for digging in softer soils, and for transplanting plants. They too drive into the ground easier than square edges due to the how the pressure of your force is transferred through the tips.

SCOOP SHOVEL

These shovels are broad with a wide flair and may have a squared, or rounded tip for scooping and moving large amounts of material. These are perfect solutions for moving pea gravel, mulch (another one I could have used!), coal, grain, or loose soils. Metal versions last longer than aluminum, but may weigh more so consider what materials you need to be moving before purchase.

Snow is often moved by scoop shovels although many snow shovels also include a metal edge along a flat tip to help provide longevity and also chip at ice.

MINI, HANDHELD SHOVELS

This is a gardeners best friend, and I have no fewer than three laying around in various places mainly because I often misplace things, and I like having them on hand without having to walk across the property when I am in need. These are often a more tiny version of their larger counterparts and can come in a variety of designs as well.

These little shovels usually have about a six to eight inch long pointed or rounded blade, and is about 4 inches wide. It is used specifically for digging in the garden to help with weeds, dig up plants for transplant, or create holes for planting. It is also a good size for medium to large pots when having to move plants from one to another.

POST HOLE SHOVEL

Otherwise known as a post hole digger, or clamshell digger, this is a tool that utilizes two curved blades and handles to create narrow, deep holes for fence posts. There are a few different designs available, but they all do a similar job. Tips are usually rounded, or pointed in nature to better jab and cut through anything in the way.

Trench shovels are also often called post hole shovels due to their long, narrow blades that fit well into these types of holes to help clean them out. Although not as precise in digging the holes themselves, they can be helpful in the process.

POWER SHOVEL

There are a few different descriptions that fit the terminology of what a power shovel is. The first type of power shovel is basically a series of blades that are powered by a motor to throw, in most cases, snow. Lightweight and easy to maneuver, this is a great alternative to bulky, heavy snowblowers.

Another use for the term power shovel is a jackhammer body that includes a shovel foot attachment. These are used when hard packed soils are difficult to dig into when turning over soil for gardening and yard work, or where getting larger equipment in for the job is an impossibility.

The term is also used to describe a large, bucket equipped machine used for digging large areas, or excavating. Other names used include stripping shovel, front shovel, or electric mining shovel. These are large, powerful pieces of equipment that are not typically used in residential areas, so for our definition of usefulness, stick with our first and second definition!

*You might also like: To know more on Snow Blowers Vs. Shovels

TREE PLANTING SHOVEL

A tree planting shovel is very specific to the job it is designed for. It has a narrow blade, with a curved or pointed tip to help it drive deep into the ground and cut through roots and other obstacles with ease. The blade itself is also pointed inwards to help cut around and lift out the tree you are working to transplant.

The shaft comes in varying sizes to meet the demands of the job. Short shafts are good for sloped hillsides, where longer shafts are better for flat ground and bigger saplings to get more force while driving it downwards. They also may come with a D-handle to help with grip and the shock of the work you are undertaking.

SPADES

The poor spade never really gets the attention it deserves despite the shovel stealing its design and incorporating into new uses. Despite this a spade is generally defined by a shorter shaft which very likely will end in a D-handle. The defining feature of the blade is how straight, and flat it is compared to the more angled, curve of a shovel. It also is almost exclusively a square tipped blade as well.There are also a few differences between spades and what you use them for. Wider blades are used for driving into the ground, digging, and edging large areas, whereas narrow blades can be used to pry tile, help define trenches, edge, or even work well to help with larger plant transplant.

Spades typically have a very durable blade and the design is specific to a bit more heavier duty type jobs, such as chipping at and working around rocks, cutting through packed, wet clay, and cutting roots.

CONCLUSION

Bet you weren’t aware there were so many choices to pick from did you? Or perhaps you did but knowing what was used for what job may have evaded you (I know it did me!). Having more than one type on hand for use around your yard and garden is never a bad idea, just make sure your choices fit the job so you don’t end up working harder than you need to.

What uses have you put your shovel to, and which designs are your favorites to use around your place? Comment and question below, and as always, please share!

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