When it comes to gardening, having the right tools can make all the difference. Among these, the garden shovel holds a place of honor, proving its indispensability across all seasons. The wide variety of designs, materials, and sizes available on the market has made choosing a shovel more confusing than ever before. So I want to break it down and simplify the process for you.
I’ll dig into the different types of shovels, explore the importance of blade material and construction, consider the impact of shaft length and material, and discuss handle and grip ergonomics. I will even mention the unmentionable,…are shovels designed for both men and women?
Let’s dig into the world of garden shovels and make sure your next gardening project is efficient, comfortable, and enjoyable.
Choosing the Best Shovel for Gardening
Choosing the right shovel will significantly enhance your gardening experience, aiding digging efficiency and reducing the inevitable physical strains. As a gardener, it’s essential that we understand the different types of shovels available to us, their construction, and their ergonomic features.
Different Types of Shovels and Spades
A spade is not a spade, well now when you have such a broad array of spades available, each designed for specific gardening tasks. So let’s start with choosing the right tool for the job.
The standard garden spade has a straight, sharp edge perfect for slicing through soil, roots, and sod. This simple flat blade design is ideal for creating clean borders around garden beds or for double-digging beds to improve soil texture.
A transplanting spade features a long, narrow blade for digging deep whilst causing minimal disruption to surrounding plants or trees. This makes it perfect for planting or relocating trees and shrubs, reducing the risk of damaging root structures during the process.
With its slightly pointed, curved blade, a digging shovel is what you might call a jack of all trades. It’s ideal for a variety of tasks, such as digging holes, turning over soil, and removing larger plants. It typically features a longer hand to allow for good leverage.
A trenching shovel has a narrow, squared blade, specifically designed for digging deep and precise trenches. It’s your go-to tool for installing irrigation systems or creating drainage.
The scoop shovel, with its wide, flat blade, is excellent for moving light, loose material like compost, mulch, or gravel. It’s not designed for digging due to its flared angled edges. It’s these upturned edges that create the scoop allowing for large amounts of material to sit on the shovel face, making it a valuable tool for general garden maintenance.
Post Hole Shovel
From time to time you may come across the post-hole shovel, also known as a post-hole digger, which consists of two shovels connected by a hinge near the top. It’s used to dig narrow, deep holes, perfect for setting fence posts or planting smaller trees.
Shovel Blade Material and Construction
A shovel’s blade is the real business end of this tool. The material and construction have a significant impact on a shovel’s durability and functionality. The majority of blades are made of steel or stainless steel, with the latter offering better resistance to rust or corrosion. In terms of construction, forged blades offer superior strength and durability as they’re made from a single piece of heated metal shaped into form. In my experience a stainless blade is usually good for a very long time, in fact, you should get a lifetime of wear from a decent blade.
Shaft Length and Material
The shaft’s length and material contribute to the tool’s overall comfort and effectiveness. Longer shafts provide more leverage, ideal for heavy-duty tasks, while shorter handles offer greater control and dexterity. This is as much a case of trial and error to find your preferred shaft type. Personally, I prefer a medium-length shaft with a D-Grip top handle, over the more traditional long-handled shovel.
In terms of materials, wooden shafts are sturdy and absorb shock well, while fiberglass shafts are lighter and more durable. Both offer good insulation making them comfortable during colder months, however, wooden handles would get the casting vote if I had to choose just one option. It’s just the natural feel of wood that’s more comfortable for me.
Handle and Grip Ergonomics
A shovel’s handle and grip can have a significant impact on your comfort and efficiency when gardening and there are a couple of interesting and ergonomic configurations to consider.
Standard grips are essentially a straight continuation of the shaft, providing a simple and durable design. However, they might not offer as much control or comfort as other designs.
T-Drip and D-Grip
T-Drip and D-Grip handle provide a place for your hand to rest, allowing for better control. T-Grip handles are typically found on long-handled shovels, while D-Grip handles are more common on short-handled shovels, providing an improved grip for lifting heavy loads. There are products on the market that incorporate D Grip handles with a right angle D or T-Grip add-on offering you two points of leverage.
It won’t come as a surprise to find that heavier shovels can handle more robust tasks, with heavier gauge steel and hardwood handles, but may be tiring to use over long periods. Lighter shovels are easier to maneuver but might not withstand heavy-duty work. It’s essential to find the right balance for you based on your endurance and physical strength. If in doubt I would recommend aiming for a lighter product, as it’s better to be able to work for longer than to burn out quickly due to a poor tool selection.
Spade vs Shovel, What is the Difference
Though the terms “spade” and “shovel” are often used interchangeably, they refer to different tools with distinct uses. A shovel typically has a curved, pointed blade and is designed for digging and moving loose materials like soil, gravel, or sand. It is ideal for creating holes, moving soil, and lifting and transferring materials.
On the other hand, a spade features a flat, rectangular, or semi-circular blade. It excels in tasks like edging garden beds, slicing through roots, or shifting hard, compacted soil. While a shovel is more about scooping and lifting, a spade is all about cutting and moving. Understanding these differences can help you select the right tool for your gardening tasks.
How We Tested the Best Shovels
Our testing involves a comprehensive evaluation of each product’s performance in real-world scenarios. The testing process begins by identifying the most highly rated and recommended shovels on the market.
We then put each shovel to the test in a variety of tasks, including digging holes, transplanting plants, moving soil, and cutting through roots. We assess the durability of the blade, the comfort and ergonomics of the handle, and the overall strength and weight of the shovel.
We also take into account the user experience, considering factors like how easy the shovel is to use, how quickly it can complete a task, and how comfortable it is during prolonged use.
Proper Shovelling Techniques
When you shovel, you lift, bend, and often twist, movements that put you at risk for injuries and musculoskeletal disorders such as lower back pain. Having a tool that fits is only the starting point, using it correctly is up to you. Here’s how you can work with your shovel to get the job done while minimizing wear and tear on your body, the most important “tool” of all.
Choose the right shovel: Select a shovel that is suitable for the task at hand and is the appropriate size for your body. Consider a shovel with a comfortable grip and an adjustable or ergonomic handle. Work within your physical capabilities by selecting a tool that is light enough and to scale.
Warm-up: Engage in some light stretching or warm-up exercises before starting to shovel, especially if you’ll be shoveling for an extended period or digging heavy material such as clay.
Stand with proper posture: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing the area you’ll be shoveling. This stance provides stability and leverage while you work.
Bend at the knees and hips: When lifting a load with the shovel, bend your knees and hips, keeping your back as straight as possible. Avoid bending at the waist, which can strain your lower back.
Keep the load close to your body: When lifting a load, hold the shovel close to your body to minimize strain on your back, arms, and shoulders.
Use your legs: Engage your leg muscles when lifting and moving a load. This helps transfer the work from your back and arms to the larger and stronger muscles in your legs.
Avoid twisting: When moving a load, avoid twisting your body at the waist. Instead, pivot with your feet and shift your body weight to change direction.
Take breaks: Allow yourself to rest and recover periodically, especially during heavy or prolonged shoveling tasks.
Switch sides: Alternate between using your right and left hands to shovel, distributing the workload evenly between both sides of your body.
Are Shovels Designed for Men or Women
Shovels are not specifically designed for men or women. Instead, the right shovel for you will depend on your strength, height, and the tasks you’ll be performing.
That said, some manufacturers do offer tools designed to be more comfortable for individuals with less upper body strength or smaller hands. For example, a smaller, lighter shovel with a Green Heron Tools style D-grip handle might be more comfortable for some women to use.
However, it’s important to remember that individual comfort and usability can vary greatly, regardless of gender. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to try out a shovel, if possible, to see how well it suits you before making a purchase.
Also, consider the specific tasks you’ll be performing in your garden. For instance, if you’ll be doing a lot of transplanting, a transplanting spade might be your best bet, regardless of your gender.
On the other hand, if you’re often moving large amounts of soil or compost, you might want to choose a shovel that’s designed for scooping and transferring, like a scoop shovel.
Additionally, ergonomic features should not be overlooked. Many modern shovels come with ergonomic design elements, such as padded handles, D-grips, and adjustable shaft lengths. These features can significantly enhance comfort and reduce fatigue, making your gardening tasks more enjoyable and less strenuous.
Finally, the weight of the shovel is another important consideration. Heavier shovels tend to be more durable and can handle tougher tasks, but they can also be more tiring to use. Lighter shovels are easier to handle and maneuver, making them a good choice for individuals who prefer a less physically demanding tool.
Best Garden Shovels FAQs
What Shovel is Best for Digging up Roots?
For digging up roots, a garden spade or a digging shovel with a sharp, flat blade is typically the best option. These types of shovels can cut through roots more efficiently, making the task easier.
In some cases, a transplanting spade might be more suitable, especially if you’re trying to minimize damage to the root system of a plant you’re relocating.