Digging Fork vs. Border Fork: The Differences Explained

Digging and border forks are helpful garden tools, but having both is not always necessary. If you need to buy a new fork for your gardening tasks, you might be wondering what differences exist between digging forks and border forks.

A digging fork is suitable for use in large spaces and can break through tough soil. On the other hand, a border fork is more petite and ideal for slimmer areas. Border forks are lightweight and shorter than digging forks, so they’re not always comfortable for tall people.

This article will highlight the primary differences and similarities between digging and border forks. It will also discuss how to use them, which one is better, and some of the tasks they can carry out.

Primary Differences Between Digging Forks and Border Forks

There are several differences that exist between digging forks and border forks, so it’s essential to be aware of them before choosing one.

A digging fork will be more appropriate if you have a large garden with lots of soil. On the other hand, a border fork would be helpful if the area has many tight spaces (for example, raised beds).

 Below, I’ll discuss the main differences between these forks in greater detail.

Border Forks Are Smaller Than Digging Forks 

As I’ve mentioned briefly, border forks are more miniature than digging forks, which makes them more appropriate for smaller spaces. The tines on border forks are shorter and thinner than the ones on digging forks, and they’re also spaced closer together.

On most occasions, the border fork’s handle will be shorter than that of a digging fork. However, some border forks have long handles to make them easier to use (particularly for taller people).

It used to be common for people to refer to border forks as ‘ladies’ forks’ because of their small and lightweight nature, but not many people use this term anymore. Anyone can use a border fork, whether you’re a man or a woman!

Border Forks and Digging Forks Have Different Uses

Some of the primary uses of a border fork are:

  • Digging in small spaces.
  • Weeding in small spaces.
  • Digging into light, sandy soil.

Border forks are perfect if you need to dig or mix soil in a small area. At times, some spaces can be so tiny that a digging fork would be too difficult to use, so that’s where a border fork comes in.

They also work well if you want to dig up shallow root systems, like annual weeds. However, it’s better to use a digging fork if you need to remove weeds across a large amount of soil. 

Border forks are also handy if you don’t have a lot of strength because they’re much lighter than others. They’re easy to maneuver and use, making your life much easier! 

However, a border fork won’t make your life easier if you’re dealing with hard clay soil. In most cases, a border fork would be too weak and lightweight for this type of soil, so a digging fork would be better.

Some of the primary uses of a digging fork are:

  • Mixing soil and other components (like compost).
  • Loosening soil in large spaces.
  • Weeding in large spaces.

Unlike border forks, digging forks work well with all kinds of soil, even hard clay. So if you have ground that’s hard to break through with a regular garden spade, you should consider using a digging fork. 

Digging forks are also excellent for removing deep and complex root systems from the soil because of the sturdiness and strength of their tines.

So, if perennial weeds grow in your garden with deep roots, a digging fork is one of the most helpful tools you can buy.

They also work well in large spaces because they’re big and can cover more soil at once. On top of that, digging forks are heavier than border forks. So they can break into the ground and roots more easily.

They Suit Different People

Sometimes, different forks suit different people. In many cases, people who don’t have a lot of body strength would prefer to use a light border fork instead of a digging fork. For many, digging forks are too heavy to use, especially for long periods, which becomes problematic.

On the other hand, people with more body strength and energy would prefer to use a digging fork because it will allow them to get the work done quicker and more efficiently. Also, some border forks have short handles—this makes it challenging for tall people to use them and could even cause back pain if they bend over for long periods.

But, of course, it’s possible to find border forks with longer handles. That way, taller people can use them more comfortably. 

Digging Forks and Border Forks Similarities

While several differences exist between digging forks and border forks, the two tools also come with their own similarities. For example, although they’re different in size, most digging forks and border forks are the same shape and have the same number of tines. 

Below, I’ll discuss the similarities in greater detail.

Both Have Four Tines

In general, digging forks and border forks have four tines each. However, digging forks can have up to six (but this is uncommon). Since they have the same number of tines in most cases, it can be easy to get them mixed up, especially in pictures.

But when it comes to their tines, this is the only similarity. Because, as you know from earlier in the article, digging forks have larger tines that are more spaced out. 

They’re Made of the Same Materials

Most digging and border forks are made of the same materials. The most common material for all garden forks is stainless steel (or carbon steel). In addition to steel, the handles are often made of wood because wood is easier to grip. 

They Require the Same Care

Since most border forks and digging forks are made of the same material, they also require the same care. For example, all tools made of steel are susceptible to rust, so you should take precautionary measures to avoid any damage. Although it’s less likely for stainless steel to rust, it can still happen.

You can prevent rust by keeping your tools in a cool, dry place and oiling them every now and then to protect them.

How To Use a Digging Fork

How you use a digging fork will depend on what you’re using it for. Many would use it to break and mix the soil for better aeration and water drainage.

If that’s what you want to achieve, here is how to use a digging fork:

  1. Place your digging fork vertical to the soil.
  2. Put your foot on top of the base of the fork (above the tines).
  3. Use your foot to push the fork into the soil.
  4. Scoop the fork upward as it’s in the ground to break it up.
  5. Repeat the process across the soil.

If you want an in-depth explanation of how to use a digging fork, be sure to check out the following Youtube video by EasyDiggingTools:

Thankfully, digging forks can push through hard surfaces (like tough weeds and even some rocks), making them the perfect tools for mixing the soil or digging deep.

After using your digging fork, clean it thoroughly to avoid deterioration and rust. Then, you can apply oil to the steel parts and store it away in a dry, sheltered area. Leaving it out in the rain will leave it susceptible to rust.

How To Use a Border Fork

You can use a border fork to reach spaces where a digging fork can’t. A border fork is also helpful if you’re short to the extent that you’d struggle to use a digging fork.  

Using a border fork is easy, and the process is similar to other digging tools. Here is how to use it to loosen and dig up the soil:

  1. Place your border fork vertical to the soil.
  2. Place your foot on the base of the fork if you need the extra strength.
  3. Push the border fork into the ground (you can push with your hands if you don’t use your foot).
  4. Scoop the soil up.
  5. Repeat the process as necessary.

As you can probably tell, using a border fork is similar to using a digging fork. But since border forks are smaller and slimmer, you don’t always need to use your foot to push them into the soil.

Sometimes, simply placing them on the ground and pushing them down with your hands will get the job done. 

If you want to see a video of someone using a border fork, you can check out this Youtube video by GardenwareMovies:

Which Is Better: Digging Fork or Border Fork?

A digging fork is better if you’re working with a large amount of hard clay soil because it will be stronger and break up more significant amounts of ground at once. A border fork is better if you’re short or working with a small space where a digging fork would be too big.

Here are the instances where a digging fork is the better choice:

  • You have enough body strength. Digging forks are big and heavy, so you must have enough body strength to use them. 
  • You’re tall enough. Digging forks can be pretty tall, which makes them difficult to use if you’re short. In this case, a border fork would be easier to maneuver and operate.
  • You need to dig up a lot of soil. A digging fork will be the best option if you need to dig up a lot of earth in an ample, open space. Digging forks can get through more soil in a shorter time (compared to border forks).
  • You want to break through rocks or deep root systems. Although border forks can dig through rocks and other rigid materials, digging forks are more robust and get the job done easier.

Here are the instances where a border fork is the better choice:

  • You’re short. If you’re short and find using (and controlling) a digging fork challenging, the better option would be a border fork.
  • You don’t have a lot of body strength. While you still need some upper body strength to use a border fork, you don’t need as much as you would need if using a digging fork.
  • You’re working in a small space. If you’re only dealing with small spaces (i.e., raised beds), a border fork is ideal because a digging fork would be too big and awkward to use. A digging fork could even cause damage in a space that’s too small!
  • The soil is light and sandy. You can use border forks on hard clay soil, but they work best with lighter and sandy soil—mainly because the tines are thinner and shorter, so they aren’t as strong as the ones on other forks.

FAQs About Digging Forks and Border Forks

Are Digging Forks Good for Removing Weeds?

Digging forks are good for removing weeds because the tines are long, robust, and pointy. So they can effectively break through the soil and weeds. It would be best if you used a digging fork to remove weeds with deep root systems.

The process of removing weeds using a digging fork is easy. All you need to do is push the tool into the soil and break up the soil and weed roots. Then, you can go in with a garden spade or your hands to remove the weeds from the ground. Using a digging fork for weed removal in large spaces is best.

Are Border Forks Good for Removing Weeds?

Border forks are good for removing weeds, especially if the area is small. However, they won’t work as well as digging forks if the weed roots are buried deep within the soil or are exceptionally hardy. In that case, a digging fork may be better.

It’s important to remember that border forks are smaller, thinner, and weaker than digging forks. So naturally, they won’t be as good at removing problematic weeds. Still, border forks will always be your best option if the area is small and compact. 

The process of removing weeds with a border fork is the same as removing weeds with a digging fork. All you need to do is dig into the ground with the tool and break up the weed roots. You can then use your hands to pull out the weeds easily.

Can You Mix Compost Into the Soil With a Border Fork?

You can mix compost into the soil with a border fork. For example, if you’re preparing a raised garden bed, a border fork will help immensely with adding and mixing compost. However, you should use a digging fork to mix compost into a large section of soil.

Using a border fork to mix compost in with the soil is an excellent way to amend the ground without causing much hassle. To do so, add the compost to the earth and dig in with the border fork to mix everything evenly. 

Not only does this evenly distribute the compost in the soil, but it also helps aerate the soil and improve drainage.

Can You Use Border Forks in Large Spaces?

You can use border forks in large spaces, but they aren’t ideal. Since they’re small and weaker than digging forks, they will take longer to complete tasks in large areas. They won’t work well if you need to get deep into the soil. Instead, it would be best if you considered a general digging fork.

If you have large spaces and tight spaces in your garden, you might need both a border and digging forks. You can use the border fork for the smaller spaces (where the digging fork can’t reach) and the digging fork for the more open, larger spaces.

Using a border fork in an ample space will only make sense if you’re too weak or short to use a digging fork. 

Can You Use Digging Forks in Small Spaces?

You can use digging forks in small spaces, but sometimes, they’re too big to fit correctly. If there isn’t enough space for the digging fork, it will be impossible to dig into the soil adequately. Instead, you should use a smaller digging tool, like a border fork.

If you need to dig up a small section of soil, a digging fork might dig too much dirt at once. Plus, if there are plants nearby, the digging fork can cut the roots and cause severe damage. 

So, while it’s generally safe and okay to use a border fork in large spaces, it’s not a good idea to use a digging fork in small areas.


Digging forks are big and have larger tines than border forks. They work best in areas that are vast and open. On the other hand, border forks work best in tight and compact regions because they’re thinner and more lightweight. Shorter people may also find border forks easier to use.

You can use a digging fork to break up deep root systems and mix things like compost into the soil. Use a border fork to break up shallow root systems in small spaces and mix compost into the soil.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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