Shovels are some of the most common garden tools there are. While it is a simple tool, shovels come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Which begs the question, what type of shovel is best for you and your garden?
Pointed shovels are better for gardening when it comes to all-around utility but aren’t as good with cutting through roots. Though less versatile, square shovels are good for scooping and breaking up roots.
This article will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of pointed and square shovels and a few specialty shovels. It will also cover the other attributes you should consider when choosing a shovel.
Types of Gardening Shovels
If you have one shovel for your garden, a pointed shovel is your best option. It is suitable for digging and scooping and is very versatile. However, there are many different types of shovels to fulfill various specific needs. If you are looking for a tool for a particular task, a specialty shovel can help.
Pointed Shovels Are the Most Versatile
Pointed shovels, or digging shovels, are the best all-around option and the best choice for digging. The pointed edge of the blade provides the least resistance possible when penetrating the ground.
The pointed tip that makes this shovel so good for digging means it is not as good with roots. When it hits a large root, the pointed blade gets diverted to the side instead of slicing through. However, if you are trying to avoid rocks and roots, a pointed blade will help slide around them.
Square Shovels Can Move More Dirt
Square shovels have a larger surface area, so they can carry more loose dirt and material than their pointed counterpart. However, it is more difficult to dig with because the flat edge provides much more resistance. Therefore, it takes more pressure and energy to dig with a square shovel.
One area where a square shovel outperforms a pointed shovel is breaking through roots. A square shovel can put pressure on both sides of the root and slice through it. The square bottom of the blade also makes the shovel good for leveling dirt or mulch.
Specialty Shovels Are Helpful for Specific Projects
The versatility of pointed shovels means they can handle almost any project in the garden. However, if you often do a particular project, it may be easier to get a shovel made specifically for your task.
Trenching shovels are long, narrow, and come to a sharp point to make digging trenches easy. These shovels are good for creating clean walls in trenches or irrigation channels.
Edging shovels have a flat edge but have very short blades. These shovels are great for keeping your garden perfectly manicured.
Post-hole shovels are narrow but flatter and wider than trenching shovels. These are great for most functions that you use shovels for, and particularly good for digging deep and narrow holes in the ground.
The serrated shovels have spikes around the blade’s edge and help cut through roots. These shovels are good for removing and moving trees and other plants to different locations if necessary.
What to Look For in a Shovel
Once you have decided on the type of shovel blade that is right for you, there are several other things to consider. Both pointed and square shovels come in a variety of materials, handle lengths, lifts, and kickplates.
There is not one shovel that is superior to another; it simply comes down to your needs. Evaluating your options will allow you to get the best life out of your shovel and reduce the risk of injury.
Shovel Handle Options
When it comes to the handle of a shovel, there are many different options. Choosing the right type of shovel will help reduce the strain on your back and prevent pain. You should consider the material, length, and lift of a shovel handle to find your best fit.
The handle’s material will affect the weight of the shovel and will also determine the durability of your shovel. Shovel handles come in wood, fiberglass, composite, and steel.
The simplest material for shovel handles is wood. It is lightweight and affordable. However, wood expands in the heat and condenses in the cold. So a wooden shovel can split if you live in a climate with distinct temperature changes with seasons.
Wood also has the potential to rot, especially if it is stored in an area unprotected by rain. If your climate has a stable temperature year-round, a wooden handle is an option for you.
Fiberglass and composite handles are sturdier than wood handles, not impacted by weather, and fairly lightweight. They are good for both digging and shoveling. Fiberglass is much more common than composite, a mixture of fiberglass and other materials like wood. However, the two options are comparable in terms of strength and weight.
Although they are sturdy, steel handles are the heaviest of your options. The only advantage of having a steel handle on your shovel is if you are doing heavy digging. In this case, the extra weight is used to your advantage. However, shoveling is more difficult with a steel handle because these handles are heavy.
Handle length is important don’t want to be bent over too much to reduce strain on your back. However, if the handle is too long, it will be difficult to work in tight spaces.
A short shovel will be your best option if you use the shovel to dig down into the soil. Shovels with short handles are also useful for smaller spaces if you are planting in corners or next to fences.
The very end of a shovel handle can be bare or have a T-shaped or D-shaped grip. Shorter shovels usually have a grip to make it easier to apply pressure on the end of the handle.
If you are standing to the side of a shovel and using it to lift material, a longer handle will give you more leverage, making it easier to lift heavier materials.
Lift refers to the angle between the blade and the handle of your shovel. Shovels with a low lift are flatter than high lift shovels, which have a more drastic bend. Determining the right lift for your shovel is all about what you need to use the shovel for – digging or shoveling.
Low-lift shovels are appropriate for digging. You want to be above the shovel blade to apply pressure when you dig. On the other hand, if you are shoveling, especially lifting materials, you will need a high lift shovel, which will give you better leverage.
Shovel Blade Materials
Shovel blades are typically available in plastic, aluminum, and steel. Plastic is the weakest of these materials, and steel is the strongest. There is a trade-off with shovel blades between strength and weight. The stronger your shovel is, the more it will weigh.
You should make the decision about blade material based on the type of soil in your garden. If you have loose, sandy soil, you do not need as strong of a shovel, so plastic or aluminum would be more than enough.
However, a steel blade might be your best option if your soil is dense, rocky, or high in clay content. Steel will not easily break or chip, so hitting a large rock will not damage it like it might a plastic blade. The added weight of the blade will also help break through hard soil.
If you want more power to get through more compact soil but don’t want the added weight of steel, an aluminum blade with a kickplate would be a good alternative.
Kickplates Help With Digging
A kickplate, sometimes called a footplate, is an extra piece on the back of the shovel blade. The kickplate allows you to put your foot on the back of the shovel to use your bodyweight to dig. When done properly, it can reduce the weight on your lower back, reducing injuries.
Kickplates are only useful for digging, where your body is above the blade of the shovel. You will not need to use a kickplate when shoveling or moving materials. Additionally, plastic blades rarely come with kickplates since it is a weaker material.
The addition of a kickplate on a shovel blade is a personal preference. However, a kickplate would be a very helpful feature if you have hard, dense soil (generally clay soil).
A pointed shovel is a better all-around pick for your garden. It is good for both digging and shoveling. Square shovels are good at shoveling but are difficult to dig with. A specialty shovel is a good option if you are using your shovel for a specific task, such as edging.
In addition to blade shape, shovels have a variety of handles and blades. The type of soil you have and whether you are digging or scooping helps you decide the best option for you!