Best Mattocks

Updated December 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

21 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
145 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best mattocks

Last Updated December 2019

There’s more to gardening than planting a few vegetables and flowers and watering them occasionally until they’re grown. There’s also more to it than just weeding and turning the soil. When it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of digging up rocks and cutting through roots, you need a specialized tool to help do your dirty work. You need a mattock.

Similar to a pickaxe, a mattock has a curved, horizontal digging blade on one end and a pick or axe blade the other. By switching back and forth between the two ends, you can loosen large rocks and roots in the soil and pry them out.

If you’re planning to start or expand a garden, you’re almost certain to run into buried obstacles when you dig. You’ll need a mattock to get them out of the ground and out of your way. But what factors go into making a good mattock? Fear not. We’ve done the research to discover the characteristics of the best mattocks, so you can buy the right one to suit your needs.

Mattocks are useful for loosening the soil when you’re digging a deep hole. Once the soil is loose, use a shovel to get it out.

Key considerations

Mattock vs. pickaxe

Although many people use the terms “mattock” and “pickaxe” interchangeably, they are actually two different tools. A mattock has a broad blade on one end of the head and a pick or axe on the other. A pickaxe has a pick on one side and a narrow chisel, usually one inch wide or less, on the other. Due to the larger blade on a mattock, the head will be heavier than a similar sized pickaxe.

A mattock has the advantage of being two tools in one, whereas the pickaxe is only one tool. One blade on a mattock will be curved while the pick will be straight. On a pickaxe, both blades or picks are slightly curved.

Weight

Mattocks are usually advertised according to their weight. This is the weight of the head, not the tool as a whole. Therefore, a 5-pound mattock means the weight of the head is five pounds. The weight of the entire tool, handle, and head, will be a couple of pounds heavier.

The heavier the head, the greater the force it will generate when it strikes your target. A heavier head will be harder to swing, of course, but the momentum it creates will be greater. Mattocks are typically sold in 5-pound and 2-pound weights.

Handle length

The length of the handle will determine how the mattock will be used and what it will be used for.

  • Two-handed: A two-handed mattock is used standing up. The handle is 34 to 36 inches long. The longer the handle, the greater the momentum that can be achieved when you swing it. You’ll have to hold it and swing it overhead with both hands. This tool is used for heavy work such as breaking up dry clay, hard soil, or rocks. There is a definite hazard of flying rock chips and other debris when using a two-sided mattock, so eye protection is highly recommended.

  • One-handed: A one-handed mattock, sometimes known as a micro-mattock, usually has a handle that is about 16 inches long. It is typically used when you’re on your hands and knees in the garden turning over the ground or digging out small rocks and pebbles. You use it one-handed in a chopping motion to cut through small roots and break up clumps of dirt.

Handle material

Hardwood

For many years the handles of all mattocks, pickaxes, and sledgehammers were made from hardwood, usually hickory.

  • Pros

    • They can be sanded down to give you a more comfortable grip.

    • They don’t degrade under UV light if they’re left out in the sun.
       

  • Cons

    • Wooden handles expand and contract due to temperature and humidity changes. This causes the age-old problem of the head coming loose.

    • They can also suffer from damp rot or splinter in dry heat, so they must be regularly maintained with linseed oil to protect them from the elements.
       

Fiberglass

  • Pros

    • Modern fiberglass handles don’t suffer the expansion and contraction problems of traditional wooden handles. Therefore, the head is less likely to work itself loose.

    • They have rubberized surfaces to give you a better grip, which means less slippage in hot weather when your hands are sweaty.

    • They are often brightly colored so they’re less likely to be lost.

    • Finally, there’s little or no maintenance required.
       

  • Cons

    • If the handle and head aren’t a perfect fit, the handle can’t be sanded down as a wooden handle can be. In that case, you would have to file down the metal tool head to make it fit — a much harder task than sanding wood.

    • These types of handles can become brittle from exposure to UV light if they’re left out in the sun.

DID YOU KNOW?

The center hole in the head of a mattock, where the handle fits, is called the eye.

DID YOU KNOW?

Termite technicians use mattocks to dig trenches around building foundation. The trenches are then filled with termiticide to kill termites.

Mattock head variations

The head of a mattock has two different sides, each with a different blade or pick depending on what you’re using it for.

  • Digging head: The horizontal blade on the head of a mattock is called the adze. It is used to dig into the ground or hoe the earth. The blade is always curved to help it penetrate the ground. A digging head blade should be kept moderately sharp.

  • Axe head: The other side of the mattock is straight instead of curved. If it is a horizontal axe blade similar to that of a regular axe, it is meant to be used for chopping through large roots in the ground. For best results, the axe blade of a mattock should be kept as sharp as an axe.

  • Pick head: The straight part of the mattock head could also be a pick — basically just a long metal spike. It is meant to break up rocks and hard ground with more concentrated force.

  • Tiller head: A tiller head, with three or four separate tines, is normally only found on one-handed mattocks. It is used for tilling up the ground or weeding in a gentle, controlled fashion.

Mattock prices

Inexpensive: Any mattock that is priced around $20 is usually a one-handed micro-mattock. There are some lightweight 2.5-pound mattocks with 34 to 36 inch wooden handles in this price range as well.

Mid-range: The vast majority of full-size 5-pound mattocks are priced between $30 and $45. Some in this price range will have wooden handles, but most will be fiberglass with cushioned handles.

Expensive: Anything $50 and above will be a full-size mattock with a 5-pound head that is riveted or permanently fastened in place to eliminate any kind of slipping. Fiberglass handles on mattocks at this price point will have extra shock absorbing properties.

CAUTION

Five pounds of flying steel can do a lot of damage. Always check the head to make sure it is securely in place before using a mattock.

Tips

  • Soft, wet dirt will stick to your mattock’s adze blade and make it extremely heavy and difficult to use. Wait two or three days after rain for the ground to dry before using a mattock.

  • Use both hands, one in front of the other, when swinging a full-size mattock. Keep your eyes focused on your target all the way through your swing.

  • A mattock blade will often dig deep into the ground. Wiggle it side to side to loosen it before attempting to pull it back out.

  • Wear safety glasses when using a mattock, especially in rocky soil, to avoid potentially dangerous flying debris.

Other products we considered

In addition to our favorite mattock picks, there are other good options out there. We like this Collins Pick by Truper Sa De Cv. It's a lightweight 2.5-pound mattock with a 36-inch yellow and black fiberglass handle. It's perfect for lighter work that needs more precision than a heavy 5-pound mattock. It's durable, and the handle won't slip in your hands.

We also like the True Temper Cutter Mattock from The AMES Companies. It has a wooden 36-inch handle and a rubberized molding to keep the head from slipping or coming loose. It has an axe-blade cutter on the reverse end for chopping through heavy roots.

Mattocks are useful for removing deeply rooted invasive plants, like wild fennel.

FAQ

Q. What are the most common uses for mattocks?

A. Digging out tree roots, breaking up rocks, and loosening up hard ground are three common uses. Mattocks are especially useful for working soils that have a high clay content.

Q. What is the front horizontal blade used for?

A. It’s mainly intended to dig trenches or to move dirt from one place to another for short distances. It is not intended for cutting roots. Use the axe blade end for that.

Q. How should mattocks be cleaned?

A. Use a stiff brush to clean all dirt and mud off the mattock before you put it away. Dry the head, and oil it lightly to prevent rust.

The team that worked on this review
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Lauren
    Lauren
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Michael
    Michael
    Writer

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