Is a Hand Fork Considered a Digging Tool?

For gardeners across the world, a hand fork is an irreplaceable tool. Sometimes called a hand rake or garden fork, it’s used to weed plants and break up dirt that’s crusted after rainfall. But can a hand fork also be considered a digging tool?

A hand fork is considered a digging tool. Its main purposes are breaking up crusted dirt, digging, moving soil, and weeding, and it almost always comes in contact with the ground in some way during use.

In this article, I’ll explain what a hand fork is and what it’s used for, as well as whether you can rake leaves with it and how to use it if you have back or knee pain. I’ll elucidate on whether dutch hoes are better for weeding and I’ll tell you how to care for a hand fork.

What Is a Hand Fork?

A hand fork is a handheld tool that has fork-shaped tines. Typically, it has a handle, and its tines may be hooked in order to rake the ground better. It’s usually only a little bigger than a grown man’s hand and may or may not be heavy depending on the materials used to make it.

Often, a hand fork’s tines are made of steel. But sometimes, they’re made of other metals or even tough plastic. Its handle may be plastic or wood, and it may have ergonomic shaping that helps it sit more comfortably in your hand. If you have arthritis, paying a little extra for an ergonomic handle might help decrease pain during and after your daily gardening.

Hand forks are sometimes referred to as hand rakes, garden rakes, or garden forks. Each area of the world has a different name for the same set of tools. In certain areas of the world, they also might be made of different materials.

What Is a Hand Fork Used for?

A hand fork is used to break up dirt that’s crusted after a rainfall, to dig in your garden, to move or distribute small amounts of soil, and to weed around the base of your plants. While it may have other uses too, these are the main ones.

  • While sometimes tillers are used to break up crust instead, a hand fork is more precise and can help you protect your plants if the soil at their base is crusted over.
  • A hand fork is more precise than a shovel when you need to dig or move soil. If you’re not careful, a shovel’s sharp edge can shear your plants off at the root, and using a hand fork instead helps you prevent that.
  • Lastly, getting up close and personal with your plants while using a hand fork allows you to notice any signs of damage or disease more easily. If you notice these ailments early, you may be able to do something about them before they get too bad, preventing any diseases you find from spreading through your garden via your tools.

Do You Need to Break Up Crusted Dirt in Your Garden?

You don’t absolutely need to break up crusted dirt in your garden, and whether regular, everyday gardeners should exert effort to do so is contested, but it’s a good idea. The extra resistance in the soil can make it difficult for sprouts to break through and for water to reach the roots of your plants.

There are three ways soil crusts up: chemical, biological, and physical.

  • Chemical crusting happens due to salt content in water.
  • Biological crusting is caused by flooding when algae and other biological contaminants are left behind and dry up.
  • Physical crusting is what you’ll likely find in your garden, and it’s caused by the top layer of its soil degrading after rainfall. 

There are two more ways to keep your soil from crusting that doesn’t involve breaking the crust up by hand.

  1. Keep your garden covered so rainfall can’t reach it. However, if your garden is large, this can be tricky. No one wants to cover their entire back or front yard with a huge hanging tarp.
  2. Increase the amount of organic matter in the top layers of your soil. You can do the latter by folding deceased plant matter back into your soil, adding manure or compost, and introducing earthworms into your garden. Earthworms leave casts on the surface of the soil, which helps prevent it from disintegrating.

If you want to learn more about soil crust, this in-depth article by PennState Extension has you covered.

Can You Use a Hand Fork to Rake Leaves?

You can use a hand fork to rake leaves, as long as you’re not trying to rake your entire lawn. If you’re just raking leaves from the base of your plants, a hand fork is a good tool for the job. But trying to rake large areas using only a hand fork would be difficult, tiring, and time-consuming.

The best way to rake leaves over large areas is to use a leaf rake. A leaf rake has a broad head and more tines. It’s also more flexible than a hand fork, whose thick steel tines are often completely rigid. All of these traits make raking easier, and the tool is inexpensive, often coming in plastic varieties as well as steel. 

You can find leaf rakes at any home hardware or improvement store or anywhere that sells yard care equipment. In addition, you can buy them on online stores and have them delivered to you.

Are Dutch Hoes Better for Weeding Than Hand Forks?

Dutch hoes are hoes that use a pushing or pulling motion instead of a chopping motion. They have blades on their head that chop weeds below the soil. 

However, whether a dutch hoe is better for you depends on whether you’re willing or comfortable spending time on your hands and knees. If doing so is tedious or painful, a dutch hoe may be the better choice for weeding.

In addition, if you have difficulties with mobility and can’t bend over, a dutch hoe can make weeding more accessible for you. They come with long handles, so you don’t need to bend over or get down on your hands and knees.

If you still don’t understand how a dutch hoe could be useful, check out my article on the subject: Hoe vs. Dutch Hoe: The Differences Explained

How to Use a Hand Fork if You Have Knee or Back Pain

If you’re using a hand fork and have knee or back pain, there are several things you could try. You could wear knee pads or back support, use a dutch hoe or gently use a long-handled rake, or you could use topical ointments and pain relief medication to try and decrease your pain.

Knee pads can be found at any home hardware or improvement store. Wearing them will distribute the pressure of your body more evenly across your knees, preventing injuries and pain. 

Back support, on the other hand, comes in many forms, and you’re probably better off asking your doctor for a recommendation. They’ll know which form of support is best for your particular needs.

Meanwhile, topical ointments like Rub-A535 contain topical pain relievers, and the heat they produce can help locked-up muscles relax. This helps any mild injuries you receive from the act of gardening heal faster. NSAIDs like Advil or Tylenol can help with pain during gardening and after—you just need to take them some time before you start.

However, if you choose to take NSAIDs, always be careful. Never take more than the recommended dose per day, and watch out for any bruising or signs of bleeding. In some people, these medications thin their blood. In the worst case, this can cause bleeding in their stomach or intestines.

How to Care for a Hand Fork

Caring for a hand fork is relatively easy. You should oil it regularly and hang it up in a cool, dry place when you’re not using it. Other than that, not much else needs to be done.

While it may not seem like it, washing your tools after using them is a good practice. Plant diseases spread easily via tools, especially if you’re cutting their stems or leaves, and washing your tools off provides a bit more protection to your garden.

After you’ve washed off your tools, you can oil your hand fork by hand with a rag, but an easier way to do so is to keep a bucket filled with sand and oil in your garage or shed. When you’re finished using your hand fork, you can stick it in the bucket of sand and turn it around a bit, then brush it off and hang it up.

Finally, hanging your hand fork in a cool, dry place such as your garage helps prevent rust and other forms of wear and tear. If you can’t or choose not to oil your hand fork, this becomes even more important. 

Removing rust from metal tools can be difficult, requiring the use of grinders and rust-removal chemicals. Sometimes, rust can grow so thick that it can’t be properly removed at all. It’s always better to pre-emptively take care of your tools instead of trying to fix them after they’ve been damaged.

If you want to know more about removing rust from tools, this article by BobVila goes over the different methods that can be used to do so.


A hand fork is a hand-held tool with fork-shaped tines. It’s considered a digging tool, and it’s used to break crusts, dig, move soil, and weed. Dutch hoes can be a more accessible alternative for the elderly and disabled. To care for your hand fork, hang it in a dry place and oil it regularly.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, 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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