Seriously powerful w/a unique, patented spade-like design that provides the strength and leverage to tackle tough, rocky soil and clay. Spear-shaped head also does a good job with various planting tasks.
The handle may seem a bit short for taller consumers, but a long-handled model is also available.
The traditional square-head design is ideal for scooping and removing a wide range of materials. Solid build.
It's on the heavy side, and the handle's finish doesn't prevent splinters.
A basic yet well-made digging shovel that tackles most tasks in the garden and yard. Mid-range weight makes it stable and easy to use.
Wooden handle feels sturdy for most jobs but not heavy-duty enough for professional-level work or digging heavy materials.
Offers a smaller size that's lightweight and easy for most users to maneuver. Wide D-shaped grip provides good leverage. A suitable choice for gardening. Backed by a 5-year guarantee and available at a low price point.
Not ideal for heavy-duty jobs, such as digging in rocky soil or frozen ground. Awkward for taller individuals to use.
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A good shovel is an indispensable tool when you need to move a large amount of material around with minimal effort. With the right size and shape, you can get a lot done with a single shovel. Best of all, different designs make some shovels more specialized for tasks like removing snow, digging camp fires, or gardening.
Shovels vary by their heads, shafts, and handles. At the top, the head digs and carries materials like dirt, snow, or plant debris away. Some are large and pointed for digging into hard dirt; others have a flat, broad shape for lighter materials like snow. The shaft and handle determine how much comfort and leverage you can get with the shovel. Typical gardening shovels, for example, have a padded shaft three or four feet in length with a U-shaped handle on top for gripping and hanging the tool.
If you are looking for a new shovel, this guide will help you out. There is plenty of information on important features and considerations to think about and a few of our own recommendations to get you started on your search.
More than anything else, a shovel’s intended use influences its overall design. While nearly all shovels excel at basic digging, the amount of material one can lift and how much effort it requires depends on the overall shape of the blade and shaft. Therefore, it’s smart to know ahead of time how you want to use the shovel to find the best design.
The traditional garden shovel is the most common design people buy for their home or garage. Using a long shaft and a rounded or pointed head, this design can handle digging into different types of dirt or soil, plants, rocks, light snow, and more. It is also a common tool used in home construction projects.
Snow shovels are another common design found in most garages. Compared to a traditional garden shovel, a snow shovel has a broader and flatter head to scoop up more snow in a single motion. Some snow shovels also have grooves or a wedge to handle ice and to plow through large sections of snow to clear paths.
Finally, specialized shovels vary in design depending on their intended use. Survival shovels are one of the most prominent designs in this category since many people take a shovel along while camping. These shovels are small, pointed, often collapsible, and sometimes work as a multitool for other tasks.
Despite the common task of digging, shovels come in different shapes, which affects the overall size, weight, and effectiveness of the tool. Despite the differences, there are a few similar features or specifications you can check out to determine if a particular shovel’s design will serve your needs.
A shovel’s construction materials are one good indication of its strength, durability, and weight. On the front end, nearly all shovel heads use some kind of metal like steel or aluminum for strength and impact resistance. Snow shovels, on the other hand, may use a hard plastic instead to avoid damaging the concrete and asphalt underneath the snow.
The shaft on a shovel can be made of wood, metal, or hard plastic/composite materials like carbon fiber. Wooden shafts tend to be durable and heavy. Some lighter metals like aluminum can lighten the overall feel of the shovel but may feel too top heavy if the head has a lot of weight. Once again, plastic is common on some snow shovels since the snow itself isn’t as heavy or dense as dirt.
Finally, the shovel’s “lift” is a good measure of its ergonomics as well. The lift is determined by the angle between the head and shaft. High-lift shovels have a greater angle, allowing you to stand more upright when digging. Low-lift tools are straighter so more power is transferred into the ground as you dig.
Just like any other tool, shovels need some place to go when you aren’t using them. Most shovels are small or slender enough to fit in a corner or on the wall in a garage or shed, but its overall storability and portability are important to keep in mind. The two largest factors that affect storability are the head size and shaft length.
Most traditional garden shovels, for example, are the perfect size for storing in a small space. The head and shaft are usually small enough to free up space for other tools and equipment. Larger shovel heads, such as snow shovels, take up more room at the base. If possible, it can be convenient to find a shovel with a built-in hook or hole to mount it on a wall off of the floor.
Smaller shovels are easier to store and carry around away from home. Survival and hand shovels are small enough to fit in a car if you need to take one camping or to a worksite. Some shovels even break apart or fold at the shaft so you can carry it around in a small pack without much issue.
The all-around gardening shovel
The Spear Head Spade Reinforced Fiberglass Gardening Shovel uses a unique head design that puts more force into a single point than most garden shovels. As a result, the head acts like a spade, digging into compacted dirt, thick brush, and even loose rocks more effectively than a traditional rounded head.
The blade is where the main action of any shovel happens. The size and shape of the blade will determine how much material you can carry each time you dig into the ground. Some head designs, however, are meant for pushing or plowing more than digging. Therefore, it’s important to consider the different design options for the head before buying a shovel.
Shovel blades come in three basic designs: open back, closed back, and forged.
Open-back shovels use a single piece of metal or plastic. The design makes it lighter in weight and often more affordable.
Closed-back shovels have a second sheet of metal welded to the head to form a back barrier, making it stronger and more rigid.
Forged shovels are a single-piece design that has a solid back for the most durability.
In addition to the blade type, you will also find a couple of different options for the point. The tip of the head helps drive the shovel into the ground or collect material when scooping.
Square-point tips are more angular so the shovel head can collect more material.
Rounded-point tips have a sharper head to dig into harder surfaces.
Beyond the actual materials of the shaft, the length and padding along its surface can affect how the shovel feels in the hands, especially when you have to use the shovel for long periods of time.
Most shafts are straight in shape. This design offers the most leverage and durability when you are digging into challenging terrain. Unfortunately, this style isn’t the most ergonomic since you have to bend down more to get the shovel into the ground. Bent shafts, common on snow shovels, allow you to stay more upright at the expense of some leverage.
If present, a handle at the top of the shaft creates a solid point to grab onto the shovel for better control. Most often, the handle has a U-shape your hand can grab perpendicular to the shaft. Some smaller shovels, especially one-handed gardening tools, have a molded, plastic grip with ridges for better ergonomics. If the shovel lacks a proper handle, there may be some padding along the shaft to grip.
Some shovels have a composite shaft made of multiple materials. An inner metal core is common in some wood and plastic shafts for better rigidity.
Many snow shovels are designed to push snow instead of the usual “dig and toss.” These make it easier to clear large spaces if the snow is loose enough.
Confused between shovels and spades? Spades are flat with a straight edge that’s better for digging into sod or edging/trenching lawns.
The price of a shovel depends a lot on its size, construction materials, and intended use or design.
Starting at around $25, it’s easy to find a basic, durable gardening or snow shovel that will last for many years of consistent use. These shovels tend to use wood, steel, and/or plastic to keep costs down at the expense of extra weight.
More specialized shovels sit in the $25-to-$100 range. Here, larger snow shovels, lightweight garden shovels, and some survival shovels are common. These options may have better materials like aluminum or composites, a large head, or a more ergonomic grip along the shaft/handle.
Shovels above $100 are mainly extra-large snow shovels or premium garden shovels with a hybrid head for digging trenches.
The True Temper Forged Round Point Digging Shovel is about as basic as it gets, which is a good thing when you want a reliable shovel that’s easy to use. With a pointed head and long, cushioned end grip, the shovel offers a lot of comfort for all-day projects where your hands are likely to get tired.
To extend the life of a shovel, clean it after each use. This will prevent mud and water from rusting the metal or damaging plastic.
You can use a simple grill brush to get dirt and mud off of the head of a shovel.
Some sand can help prevent rust on steel shovels. A dry, protected environment like a garage can also help block excess moisture.
Use a garden shovel or spade with some hard shoes. This will keep the back edge of the blade from digging into your foot.
A standard shovel is around 48 inches in length. If you are taller or shorter than average, find something above or below this number to fit your size.
While a typical gardening shovel can go a long way, there are some tasks where specialized shovels fair better. Out in the wild, for example, something like the SOG Folding Shovel Survival Shovel is specially designed to tackle common survival tasks. The collapsible design and serrated edge also make it a good portable cutting tool. The Lifeline 4004 Aluminum Sport Utility shovel is another unique multipurpose tool that excels in winter conditions. Small and adjustable, the shovel takes up little space in a garage or car and can handle dirt or snow.
Q. Do shovels require any maintenance or upkeep?
A. It’s important to keep a shovel out of the weather when not in use. Steel shovels, for example, can start to rust if left in the rain for too long. Otherwise, a shovel shouldn’t require much maintenance or repair unless you start to notice paint chipping off or any damage along the head or shaft.
Q. What is the most durable type of shovel?
A. An all-metal shovel is the best way to go for durability. While many shovels with a wooden handle will hold up just fine under normal use, something made of steel will offer better rigidity and impact resistance.
Q. Do shovels require any assembly?
A. Normally, no. Most shovels arrive completely assembled. You can disassemble shovels if necessary since the head and shaft are likely connected together with bolts. Some smaller shovels, like survival shovels, may come disassembled if they are designed to collapse or break down for better storage.
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