When it comes to gardening tools, a garden shovel is an essential item that every gardener should have. Whether you are digging up soil for planting, removing weeds, or spreading mulch, a good garden shovel can make all the difference. However, with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. That’s why we have created this garden shovel buyer’s guide to help you make an informed decision.
Garden shovels have long handles and concave or flat blades or scoops that are used for picking up soil, mulch, and other materials.
The blade end of a garden shovel may be curved or straight. A slightly pointed tip easily breaks through the ground. If you will be digging in heavy soil, a slightly pointed or curved tip is recommended.
Straight or square-bladed shovels easily slide under piles of mulch, debris, and other material. A square-bladed shovel is used for moving material from one spot to another. Squared-bladed shovels often have raised edges on the sides that help the shovel hold more material such as gravel, compost, soil, and other loose materials. A shovel with a square blade that has no raised edges on the sides is called a spade. Spades are used to dig square holes or edge the sides of planting beds.
Choose a garden shovel that is right for the job you want to do. Importantly, choose a shovel that is right for your body; the scoop should be small enough so you can lift it when it’s full, and the handle should be long enough to dig down or move to the size of the material you are shoveling.
Types of garden shovels
One of the gardener’s most familiar tools, shovels have a good deal of variety of detail and type. Depending on the type, blade tips may be rounded, pointed, or blunt. The type of shovel to use depends on the work you need to accomplish.
When selecting a garden shovel, consider the type of gardening you will be doing. Are you working with soft, loose soil or hard, compacted dirt? Different types of garden shovels are designed for specific tasks. For loose soil, a round-point shovel is ideal as it allows for easy digging and scooping. If you’re dealing with compacted soil or heavy-duty tasks such as removing tree roots, a square-point shovel with a reinforced handle and blade will be more suitable.
Round point shovels have a rounded, pointed blade, making them ideal for a wide range of digging and scooping tasks. They are great for transplanting plants, digging trenches, and moving loose soil. The pointed blade allows for easy penetration into the ground, making it versatile for various gardening projects.
Round-point shovel (also known as pointed, dirt, round-nose, round-point, or American pattern shovel) has a pointed curved blade. Round point shovels usually have handles–wooden, metal, or fiberglass–that are about 4-foot-long. The top of the blade nearest the handle is often rolled over to form a tread or footrest. The blade of the round-point shovel is commonly about 8½ inches wide by 11 or 12 inches long. A round-point shovel is used to dig holes.
Square-point or flat-blade shovel
Square-point shovels have a flat, rectangular blade with a sharp edge, making them perfect for cutting through tough soil, roots, and turf. These shovels are great for digging deep holes, edging flower beds, and cutting through tough, compacted soil. They come in various sizes, with longer handles for better leverage when digging. Square-point shovels are sometimes called spade shovels.
A square point or flat-blade shovel has a blunt-ended blade that is not pointed. The blade of a flat shovel is usually about 9½ to 11 inches long. A narrow-blade shovel may have either a long plain handle or a shorter handle with D-grips. The flat-blade shovel is mostly used to lift and move soil or gravel rather than for digging.
Medium point shovel
The medium-point shovel is less pointed than the round-point shovel. A medium-point and may be broader than the round-point shovel. A medium-point shovel is used by gardeners and nursery workers for transplanting or balling shrubs and small trees. Nuersy workers use these shovels for digging trees before balling and burlapping them.
Garden spades are similar to spade shovels but have slightly smaller and narrower blades. They are designed for precise and intricate digging tasks, such as planting bulbs or small shrubs. Garden spades are often lighter in weight and offer better control and maneuverability.
A spade resembles a shovel but it has a flat blade that can slice straight into soil that is not too dry or heavy and make a tidy hole with straight sides. Spades are also used to dig along straight edges–along a garden edge, straight sidewalk, or a foundation. Spades commonly have handles between 28 inches (standard) and 32 inches long with plastic or metal D-shaped hand grips. Spades have a thick top edge, called a boot tread, where your foot pushes against the blade to drive into the ground. One variation that many gardeners find useful is a transplanting or balling spade. It is similar to a shovel and has a slightly rounded tip. Nuersy workers use these spades for digging trees before balling and burlapping them.
There are variations for the garden spade–these variations are sometimes minimal:
- A digging spade is ideal for moving and turning soil.
- A border spade is its smaller and lighter counterpart.
- A pointed spade has a curved blade with a pointed end, and transporting spades have sharp, jagged blades.
- Border spades are smaller and lighter than digging spades. The blade is the same shape on both, but a border spade’s blade is smaller and flatter to dig straight down into the soil.
Border spades are smaller and lighter than digging spades. The blade is the same shape on both, but a border spade’s blade is smaller and flatter to dig straight down into the soil.
Use a border spade in any small space where maneuverability is necessary such as in raised beds or among plants in borders. The border spade is a shorter, lighter tool than a digging spade.
A digging spade is wider than a border spade. It is designed to move and turn the earth and slice through soil and roots. It’s also a good tool for edging lawns and skimming off weeds.
Trenching spade or shovel
Trenching shovels are designed specifically for digging narrow, deep trenches. They have a long and narrow blade with a v-shaped tip, which allows for efficient digging in tight spaces. Trenching shovels are commonly used for installing irrigation systems, laying pipes, and creating drainage ditches.
A trenching shovel has a narrow blade from 3 to 6 inches wide and a pointed tip. A trenching shovel is useful for installing irrigation lines and edging and for tasks that do not require much soil to be moved.
Drain spade or shovel
A drain spade is very similar to a trenching spade. It has a narrow, rounded head and a straight handle. A drain spade is used for working in restricted spaces. It’s good for digging trenches and also works for transplanting.
Scoop shovels have a large, wide blade with a flat surface, perfect for moving loose materials like mulch, gravel, or snow. They are great for loading and unloading materials, as well as leveling and spreading them evenly. Scoop shovels usually have a long handle and may offer extra features like ergonomic grips for added comfort during extended use.
A scoop shovel (also known as a barn, snow, grain, street, or coal shovel) has a square blade that is larger and much lighter than a flat-nose shovel. Scoops commonly have blades or heads made of aluminum or plastic. They are almost always twice as big or more than other types of shovels. There are Eastern scoops and Western scoops; Western scoops are the largest.
Eastern scoops are smaller than Western scoops, which usually have reinforcing ribs in them. Some are more specialized, such as grain scoops.
Garden shovel basics to know
A shovel for digging should have a slightly pointed blade tip that can pierce hard soil. A shovel for moving material from one surface to another can have a square or blunt blade or end. If you need to move a large quantity of light material, such as fluffy compost or leaves, a light oversized scoop will make the job easier. Scoops are not recommended for digging.
Degree of cant or angle
The degree of a shovel’s cant or the angle of the blade in relation to the handle varies from model to model. The angle of the blade to the handle is known as “lift”. The lift of a blade is the distance from the ground to the end of the handle grip when the blade is flat on the ground.
Blades vary from nearly straight (low lift), to sharply angled (high lift).
A shovel with a low lift (minimal to no angle) is best for digging a straight-edged hole. Spades commonly have very low lifts or blade angles. Snow shovels have low lifts. Scoops usually have low lifts.
To know the lift of a shovel place the blade flat on the ground and measure the distance from the end of the handle to the ground.
Blade or head material
The choice of blade or head material for your garden shovel is crucial to its longevity. The most common options are stainless steel, carbon steel, and aluminum. Stainless steel shovels are highly durable and resistant to rust but can be heavier. Carbon steel shovels are sturdy and easy to sharpen but require regular maintenance to prevent rusting. Aluminum shovels are lightweight and rust-resistant, but less durable.
Most garden shovels come with blades made of stainless steel or tempered carbon steel. Stainless steel is rust-resistant and requires minimum maintenance. On the other hand, tempered carbon steel blades are exceptionally strong and can handle heavy-duty tasks without bending or breaking. The choice between these two materials will depend on your gardening needs and personal preference.
Steel shovel blades can be stamped or forged. Forged steel is heated and shaped for strength. Tools made of forged steel will be labeled “tempered,” “heat-treated” or “forged.” Stamped steel is cut by a high-impact pressing. A forged steel shovel is more durable and more expensive than a stamped steel shovel.
A stamped blade is made out of a large sheet of metal. It has a crimp, or fold called a frog, near the top of the blade nearest the handle. Stamped shovels are referred to as hollow-backed or open-back if the frog opening is left as formed. When a triangular piece of metal is welded over the frog to close and reinforce it, the shovel is referred to as a close-back or fast-back shovel.
Forged shovels are forged from a single thick piece of steel. The blade and the shank are made from a single piece of steel. The shank is fitted into the handle. Forge shovels are sometimes called solid shank shovels. They may be either solid-socket design or solid-strap design. Forged shovels are stronger than stamped shovels.
Top-quality shovels made of epoxy-coated, heat-treated, high-carbon steel. Stainless steel heads are strong and won’t rust.
Here’s how shovel blades are attached to the handles:
Handles are attached to the head by:
- Socket: This is a metal sleeve that extends from the head or top of the blade and wraps around the handle. This type of connection is usually found on less expensive tools.
- Sockets with a rivet: This is a metal sleeve that is wrapped around the handle and reinforced with a rivet or screw for additional strength.
- Tang and ferrule: This is a metal shaft (tang) that extends from the tool head and is inserted into a metal sleeve (ferrule) on the handle.
To give you better control when digging, choose a shovel with metal boot tread on top of the blade. A tread will allow your foot and leg to bear down on the blade. Treads on top of the blade give a sturdier and more comfortable foot surface when needing an extra push.
Consider the handle material and length. Handles vary in length and shape, ending in a D-grip, a T-grip, or a slight taper. Handles can be made of wood, fiberglass, or steel. A steel handle will be the heaviest and perhaps sturdiest. A fiberglass handle will also be sturdy and can absorb shock during use.
- Long handles offer longer reach and more leverage but require more arm strength. Longer handles are heavier.
- Short handles are best for restricted work areas. Short handles require more leg strength. Depending on your height, a short handle may require that you do a lot of bending. Short handles are often thicker and may have a grip on the handle, making them heavier than a longer tool. D-handles or D-grips are available on short-handled shovels.
The handle of the garden shovel determines its durability and comfort. Wooden handles are traditional and provide a comfortable grip. However, they can break or splinter over time. If you prefer a more durable option, look for handles made of fiberglass or steel. These materials are sturdy and can withstand heavy use without breaking. Additionally, the length of the handle is important too. A longer handle gives you more leverage and reduces strain on your back, especially if you have a large garden.
- Wooden handles which are commonly made of ash wood offer flexibility and last a long time with proper care. Ash hardwood handles are durable and absorb shock and vibration.
- Fiberglass handles are strong and weather-resistant. Shovels with fiberglass handles are usually more expensive than those with wooden handles.
- Steel handles are strong and long-lasting, but they are usually heavy and can vibrate. They also transfer cold to the user.
- Cushioned or padded handles can make work a little easier on the hands; the cushion can deteriorate over time.
Consider the handle grip. A comfortable, non-slip grip will reduce fatigue and provide better control. Look for a shovel with a strong, welded connection between the blade and handle to avoid any sudden dislodgement while working.
Weight, size, and balance
Consider the weight of the garden shovel. A lightweight shovel will be easier to maneuver and less tiring to use, especially for extended periods. However, keep in mind that heavier shovels can often handle more demanding jobs and are more durable in the long run. Strike a balance between weight and durability based on your specific gardening needs.
A larger or heavier shovel may be ideal for heavy-duty tasks like breaking ground, while a smaller and lighter one will be more maneuverable for lighter tasks. Ensure that the length of the handle is comfortable for you to hold, preventing unnecessary strain on your back or shoulders.
Garden shovel use tips
To dig with a shovel or spade push your foot against the boot tread while bearing down on the handle. If the soil is hard, rock the blade slightly. The power for lifting the soil should come from your leg muscles, not your back.
The round-nose shovels hold more material–the wide, slightly curved blade allows you to pick up a good-sized load. Round-nose shovels are used for digging and moving loose soil or other materials like sand, cement, and gravel from one place to another.
Square-nose shovels are an excellent construction for when you have to lift material like sand off a sidewalk. Scoop shovels are not for digging, but rather for moving loose and light material like snow sawdust, or trash. Narrow-blade shovels can be used to dig trenches.
- To prevent back injury, dig using the correct technique. Hold the shovel close to your body for control and to limit the amount you have to lean towards it to dig.
- Place one foot on the boot tread before digging so that your weight levers it into the ground.
- When lifting soil, bend deeply with your knees. Your legs should take the weight rather than your back. Don’t fill the shovel to full. You want to control the shovel as you lift.
Garden shovel maintenance
- Clean the shovel after each use. Clean soil off the blade and handle. Moist soil can cause carbon steel to rust and wood to rot. Use a stiff brush to clean the blade and handle, followed by warm, soapy water.
- Store the shovel in a dry place.
- At the end of the gardening season, sharpen the blade with a sharpening stone. A wooden handle and shaft should be checked for any rough patches and smoothed down with sandpaper then oil the handle with linseed oil. Also, oil the blade. Wipe off excess oil with a cloth.
- Store the shovel in a dry place.
Garden shovel buying tips
Consider the type and size of the shovel that best suits your gardening needs. There are several types of garden shovels available, including a scoop shovel, pointed shovel, spade shovel, and trenching shovel. Each type serves a specific purpose, so it is crucial to determine the tasks you will be performing in your garden. Additionally, consider the size of the shovel, as choosing the right size will ensure comfortable handling and efficient digging.
The quality of the garden shovel is a vital factor to consider. A well-built shovel will withstand heavy-duty use, making it a worthwhile investment. Look for shovels made from high-quality materials such as stainless steel or carbon steel, as these are durable and resistant to rust or corrosion. Additionally, pay attention to the handle of the shovel. Opt for a handle made from sturdy materials like fiberglass or hardwood, as these provide a comfortable grip and can withstand pressure.
Gardening can be a physically demanding task, and using a poorly designed shovel can lead to strain or injuries. Look for shovels with ergonomic features such as a curved handle or a padded grip, as these will reduce strain on your wrists and improve your overall comfort while using the shovel. Additionally, consider the weight of the shovel – a lightweight shovel will be easier to maneuver, especially during longer gardening sessions.
Consider the price and warranty of the garden shovel. While it is important to stay within your budget, it is also essential to remember that a high-quality shovel may require a slightly higher investment. A cheaper shovel may save you money initially, but if it fails to stand the test of time, you may end up spending more in the long run. Additionally, look for shovels that come with a warranty, as this indicates the manufacturer’s confidence in the product’s quality.
More buying tips
- A lightweight, stamped, hollow-backed shovel is a good purchase for most gardeners and is the most popular and least expensive. the closed-back models are a bit stronger and generally more expensive.
- If you want to purchase a higher quality shovel that will last, a forged steel shovel is a good investment.
- If you have a small garden a round-point shovel will likely be all you need.
- Get a square-nose shovel or scoop if the job is primarily moving material–moving mulch or snow.
- A shovel with a larger cant or angle means you will have to bend over less. The larger the angle or lift the less you will have to bend over.
- Long-handled shovels will require less bending.
- Don’t buy a shovel with a large blade if you the trouble lifting heavy loads–buy the size that’s comfortable for you to work with.
Which shovel is right for you
The classic round-point garden shovel is ideal for a wide range of garden tasks, from digging holes for planting to lifting and moving soil. A good garden shovel should have a sturdy handle made of wood or fiberglass for durability and a strong blade with a sharp edge for efficient digging. Look for a shovel with a comfortable grip and a long handle to reduce strain on your back and make digging easier.
If you’re working with heavier materials such as rocks or clay, a square-point shovel or garden spade might be a better option. Unlike a shovel, a spade has a flat, squared-off blade that is designed for cutting through tough soil. Look for a spade with a sharp blade made of stainless steel or carbon steel for longevity. The handle should be sturdy and ergonomic, with a comfortable grip to reduce fatigue during use.
For those with limited strength or mobility, a lightweight shovel might be the perfect choice. These shovels are typically made of aluminum or lightweight plastic, making them easier to handle and maneuver. While they may not be as durable as other types of shovels, they are ideal for tasks like light digging, moving loose materials, or working in raised beds or containers.
If you often find yourself dealing with roots or dense, compacted soil, a garden trowel might be the tool for you. These small, handheld shovels have a narrow blade that is perfect for precise digging in tight spaces. Look for a trowel with a strong, stainless steel blade that won’t rust or bend with repeated use. Some trowels even come with built-in measurements, making them useful for planting bulbs or small plants at the correct depth.
Garden shovels we like
Square-point blade shovels
Emsco Group 1352-1 Workforce Square Point Shovel. About $24.
Square Shovel, Shovels for Digging with D-Handle, Overall 41-Inch Long Garden Shovel. About $34.
KOLEIYA Shovel,Spade Shovels for Digging Gardening Planting Trenching, Metal Shovel with D Handel for Sand Beach Dirt,41inches Short Shovel. About $34.
Ashman Spade Shovel – 41 Inches Long D Handle Grip – The Single Shovel Weighs 2.2 Pounds and has a Durable Handle. About $35.
Narrow-blade or trenching shovels
VNIMTI Trench Shovel for Digging, 4-Inch Trenching Shovel with Fiberglass Handle, 56 Inches. About $40.
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