Having the best shovel for digging is one of the biggest secrets to having a successful garden. As gardeners, we take a lot of pride in our work. We do love to show off our successes, don’t we?
Get two gardeners together for a conversation and you will invariably witness a contest to see who knows more, and who has the most experience. Yet we all know the truth is that about 90% of keeping a successful garden is as simple as getting out in the yard and digging in the dirt.
The most beautiful specimen tree you’ve ever seen got its start when someone dug a big hole with a shovel. The most intricately planted flower bed in your neighborhood got that way because someone spent a lot of time digging holes with a shovel. Even the most finely tuned and efficient irrigation systems started out with someone digging a simple trench with a shovel.
The shovel is the unsung hero of the garden. It is the quintessential piece of gardening equipment, but it is also the most frequently overlooked. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best shovels that are available on the market today.
While the shovel may seem like the simplest of all tools, there are actually quite a few bells and whistles that are available today. And, believe it or not, there are several different tools that all get lumped in together under the name “shovel.”
Here’s a quick overview of the different types of shovels, and come of the common features you’ll see when you’re shopping for a new shovel.Here is a short video from Mr. Hardware, where he discusses many different types of shovels, and some of the common features you’ll see when you’re shopping for a new shovel.
Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Hey, hand me that square shovel?” If so, there is a pretty good chance that the tool they were referring to was actually a spade.
Many people use the terms “spade” and “shovel” interchangeably. In the UK, people are more likely to call both tools a spade. In the US, people are more likely to call both tools a shovel. But spades and shovels are technically two different tools.
The defining characteristic is the curvature of the blade – spade blades are relatively flat and shovel blades are concave. Most spades do have square blades, and most shovels are rounded at the bottom tip. But if you look around you can find both square shovels and rounded spades.
A spade is great for edging garden beds and working in loose soil, but a shovel is the preferred tool for digging.
The concave shape of the blade is what defines a shovel. This characteristic gives the blade the structural integrity to power through compacted soils, rocky soils, tree roots, and more.
The shovel is also great for moving materials, as the curved blade makes it capable of lifting large loads. Because it breaks up tough soil and makes it easy to move dug soil out of the way – the shovel is the ideal tool for digging holes and trenches.
For moving large volumes of material, the scoop is the tool of choice. Scoops have larger blades that are designed to move loose materials quickly.
Make sure that the material you are scooping is not too heavy to lift when the scoop is full. Moving rocks or gravel with a scoop is much faster than moving the same material with a shovel. But a scoop full of gravel can be extremely heavy and thus quite strenuous on your back.
Finally, don’t use a scoop to break ground – the blade is not engineered for that task and it is likely that you will break it.
Shovels, spades, and scoops are all available with a variety of handles. The key differences among handles are length and grip type.
Long-handled tools are meant to be used while standing up. Short-handled tools are better when working from your knees. That is the key difference between handle lengths.
Please do not think of handle length as being related to leverage. You should never use any of these tools as a lever. A digging bar is the correct tool to use for levering rocks, roots, and stubborn soil. The most common way to break spades and shovels is certainly to use them as a lever.
The most common grip types are straight handles and D-grips. Which handle works best for you is largely a matter of preference. Personally, I prefer to use a straight-handled tool when standing and a D-grip handle when kneeling.
What to Look for When Choosing a New Shovel for Digging
Now that we’ve discussed the different types of tools that are available, we will take a closer look at shovels for digging. There are several different options you can choose between when you are shopping, and we will examine each of these below.
Shovel blades that are used for digging holes and trenches are regularly subjected to intense work. Expect your shovel to handle heavy rocks, tree roots, deadpan soil, and more.
As such, they are quite prone to breaking and bending. For a tool that lasts, you need to select a blade made from a sturdy, strong material. Steel is the material of choice for a strong shovel blade.
You will find a variety of handle materials on the market – primarily wood, fiberglass, and steel.
Fiberglass is the lightest material, but it has a limited lifespan. After several seasons of hard work, fiberglass handles are prone to cracking and eventually splitting. Never use a fiberglass-handled tool as a lever.
Wood is also lightweight, but its longevity is unpredictable. If you get lucky, a wooden-handled shovel will last for many years. If you get unlucky, the wood can split after only a few uses. If you select a wooden-handled shovel, select one that comes with a strong warranty.
Steel handles are tough, but heavy. If you’re comfortable with the weight and price, steel is a great choice. When the longevity of the tool is your primary concern, you just can’t beat a steel handle.
There are two main factors you should know about regarding a shovel’s construction.
As you would expect, this is an inferior method and you shouldn’t expect a long lifespan from a shovel that uses this technique. At the other end of the spectrum are steel shovels where the blade and the handle are one piece – and hence can never be separated.
Next, you have an option between a closed-back design or open-backed, or hollow, blade. Closed-backed blades are preferable for extreme working conditions. Open-backed blades are generally less expensive. These are harder to clean and harder to operate in muddy soil.
Several special features are optional on shovel blades, including saw-toothed blades, sharpened blades, perforated blades, and even metal-detecting blades. While some of these features may be nice to have in special circumstances, they each introduce an added element of maintenance to the tool’s upkeep.
Choose special blades for special applications. For you default, “go-to,” digging device, a standard round point shovel is the best tool for the job.
5 of the Best Shovels for Digging
I waded through the daunting spectrum of shovels that are available today, and developed this list of the best options out there.
To build this list, I took into consideration the materials used, the construction method, the manufacturer’s warranties, and the marketplace reputation for each of these shovels. These are all strong choices, and I’m sure you will find an option here that fits your needs and your budget.
The Seymour Structron S600 features heavy-duty construction and advanced engineering to create a shovel that will last for a long time performing a tough job. For this reason, Seymour tools are popular with high-end commercial landscapers and gardeners around the world.
The blade features a heavy-duty 14-gauge steel which is finished with a protective coating. This blade is engineered with “spring steel” that will flex with extreme pressure – thereby reducing breakage. The blade is 9 inches wide.
The 48-inch handle on this shovel is made from strong but light Structron fiberglass. A solid fiberglass reinforcing rod extends from the blade up through the first 12.5 inches of the handle to provide maximum strength in the location where the handle receives the most stress during use.
The Seymour Structron S600 weighs in at 5.1 pounds – fairly light for a product made of such durable materials.
Spring steel blade construction greatly reduces the chance of blade breakage
Spring steel blade construction greatly reduces the chance of blade breakage
The Bully Tools 82515 is a great middle-of-the-road option in terms of price. This tool offers the closed-back design and the warranty at just under half the cost of the all-steel models.
This shovel uses a wood-reinforced triple-wall fiberglass handle that is 48.5 inches in length. The closed-back blade is made of heat-treated 14-guage steel, measuring 11 inches long and 9.25 inches wide. The shovel weighs in at 4.4 pounds.
Bully Tools uses an extended-length ferrule and a welded I-beam style support to prevent bending in the blade. They claim that their fiberglass handle is strong enough to endure prying and leverage – and they offer a limited lifetime warranty to back that claim up.
Limited lifetime warranty
Stronger-than-average fiberglass handle keeps the weight relatively light
Heavy-duty 14-guage steel blade with closed-back construction
Fiberglass handle – lighter but less durable than steel
The Truper Tru Pro 31198 is a reliable tool featuring sturdy construction that allows it to handle extreme working conditions. The handle in this shovel can withstand 400 pounds of pressure at its flex point. Truper stands behind their entire Tru Pro series of tools with a lifetime warranty.
The 48-inch handle is made of a professional grade fiberglass with a 10-inch cushioned grip. A reinforced resin rod at the base of the handle provides extra strength for breaking through tough soils and rocky terrain.
The blade is made of heavy-duty 14-gauge steel for contractor-grade performance in tough applications. A rivet-less crimped steel collar ring joins the blade to the handle, ensuring that you won’t have any problems with the blade coming loose over time.
All of these features only are squeezed into a tool that weighs only 4 pounds, making this a very light shovel with the toughness of a much heavier tool.
Solid value – featuring all of the materials and engineering of a more expensive shovel
Reinforced resin rod for 400-pound strength from a lightweight fiberglass handle
Heavy-duty 14-guage steel blade
Cushioned grips are prone to tearing apart after hours of work and exposure
Fiskars offers industrial-quality strength at a bargain price with this sturdy, steel-handled offering.
The 9668 model features a 14-gauge steel blade with a closed-back design. The blade is pre-sharpened for maximum penetration potential.
The handle on this shovel is constructed of 18-gauge steel for maximum toughness and reliability without any chance of flexing or breaking. The handle is formed in a teardrop shape for easy ergonomic control with minimum muscle fatigue. The blade is welded directly onto the handle for rock-solid performance.
As you would expect, you do have to compromise a bit on the overall weight of the tool in order to pick up the additional strength of the steel handle. This shovel comes in at 6.3 pounds, which is about average for a steel-handled shovel.
18-gauge steel handle with teardrop design is the toughest handle on this list
Welded join means no worries about the blade separating from the handle
If you want a tool that is built to last a lifetime, consider the Fiskars model. This tool is a little bit harder to lug around the yard – but it may very well be the last digging shovel you ever purchase.
Hello, I’m Laura Bennett. I love nature especially when it comes to flowers and different kinds of plants. I started a very small garden behind my house and I named it Humid Garden. So, I created this blog to provide aspiring and inspiring thoughts about gardening for gardeners and anyone who has the intention of keeping a garden.