Updated October 2021
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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 all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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Buying guide for Best spading forks

If you do much gardening, you know there’s a tool for every task. Sometimes these tasks are so specialized that you need a particular type of tool to accomplish it most efficiently. A spading fork, or digging fork, is one such tool.

There is a wide range of different types of gardening forks, but a spading fork is specifically designed to work loose soil or compost. It can be used to dig, lift, turn, and aerate the soil. With its flat tines, a spading fork is also a great choice for harvesting root vegetables such as potatoes or digging up flower bulbs for winter storage.

In this buying guide, we examine everything you need to know to purchase a spading fork that meets your needs. In addition to weight and length, we also dig into features like handles, shafts, and tines, and we discuss the various prices you might encounter as you shop. Finally, we share a few of our favorites, those spading forks that are among the highest-quality and most buyer-recommended options on the market.

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North American ash is a popular hardwood used to craft the handles of various garden forks.

Key considerations

Weight

The weight of a spading fork should be one of your first considerations. While you don’t want a spading fork that’s so light that it lacks durability, you also don’t want one that’s so heavy that you cannot use it for long without straining your hands and wrists. For moderate use, a balance between the two ― heavy enough to hold up over time, light enough that you can use it for several hours in the garden  ― will probably be your best bet. Think about how you will use the spading fork, for how long, and your overall strength before purchasing one. Forks of this type weigh between 3 and 5 pounds.

Length

In addition to weight, you want to consider the spading fork’s overall length. This is particularly important if you’re either taller or shorter than average. While you can use some tools, like rakes or some shovels, regardless of their length, spading forks have either a D- or O-shaped handle, so you want to buy a tool that’s the right length for you.

In a nutshell, taller people will have a difficult time using a short spading fork, and shorter people will find it hard to use a long spading fork, particularly for hours at a time. Spading forks generally run between 40 and 47 inches from the tip of the tines to the end of the handle.

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Did You Know?
Coatings on the steel heads and shafts of spading forks not only protect the steel but also create a surface that’s easier to clean.
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Features

Handle

The signature D-shaped handle on a spading fork may appear to be the same on all models, but there are differences in the handles to consider when making a buying choice.

Material: Spading fork handles can be made of a variety of materials, including lightweight fiberglass or plastic and heavier wood or steel. Spading forks with plastic handles are cheaper than other options, but they’re also considerably less durable. The more traditional wooden handle feels more comfortable in the hand, while steel surpasses all other options in terms of durability.

Position: The handle’s position relative to the shaft also varies depending on the particular spading fork you buy. While most handles are straight, some are angled, which can help improve leverage and reduce wrist pain.

Ergonomics: Handles can also be cushioned for a more ergonomic, comfortable feel or coated with a nonslip material for better control and to improve overall safety while using it.

Shaft

Much like the handles on spading forks, the shafts that run from handle to head can also be made of a variety of materials. 

Fiberglass: One of the lightest materials is fiberglass, which results in a spading fork that’s easier to use for extended periods but lacks durability.

Wood: This is a more traditional material for spading fork shafts. It functions as a better shock absorber than steel. While wood is an attractive option and stronger than fiberglass, it can still break. If you do choose wood, make sure that it’s hardwood-like ash.

Steel: Usually stainless steel or high-carbon steel, this is the most durable of any of the other materials you’ll find in spading fork shafts. While steel is nearly impossible to break, it also adds to the overall weight of the tool. 

Aluminum: Avoid spading forks with aluminum shafts. While lightweight, aluminum bends easily if used with hard soil or heavy compost.

Head

The business end of a spading fork is the head and its tines. Both the head and tines should be rugged enough that they won’t bend with use.

The head can be connected to the fork shaft by several different methods, with rivets, welding, or bands, and is usually crafted from either high-carbon steel or stainless steel. 

The tips of the four tines of a spading fork are usually triangular-shaped and flat, not round in cross-section, so the fork acts much like a shovel when you’re digging into something like compost.

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Did You Know?
Lacquer or other coating protects wooden spading fork handles (and other wooden elements) to help safeguard the wood from moisture and general wear and tear.
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Pricing

Inexpensive: Spading forks start at around $35 to $40. In this range, you can find shorter forks of around 40 inches, often made of less durable materials such as plastic or aluminum. Spading forks in this range are best for limited use in small gardens.

Mid-range: Spading forks in the $40 to $60 range are much more durable and tend to be a bit longer, averaging around 43 inches. Wooden hands and shafts are common here, but you can also find some steel shafts. These spading forks are good for regular use in midsize gardens.

Expensive: If you practically live in the garden, you want to focus on spading forks in the $60 to $70 and up range. These spading forks are about 48 inches long and usually made of high-carbon steel for maximum strength.

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Did You Know?
Garden tools came into existence around 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the domestication of plants.
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Tips

  • Try an O-shaped handle. While D-shaped handles are common on spading forks, larger round handles can be held with two hands to improve leverage.
  • Rinse your spading fork after each use. Be sure to rinse your spading fork after use. If the dirt is cake on, you can remove it with a wire brush. Also, make sure the tool is completely dry before storing it on an organizer.
  • Only use plant-based oil on your garden tools. While oil can help to protect the surface of spading forks and other gardening tools, be sure that the oil is a plant-based option, such as linseed oil. Never use petroleum-based oil, such as motor oil, because it will contaminate your garden when you use the tools.
  • Avoid T-shaped handles. These handles break more easily than D-shaped ones, which is the biggest reason why D-shaped handles are commonly used on spading forks.
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One sign of a spading fork’s quality is the length of its warranty. Some spading forks are guaranteed for life.

FAQ

Q. What gardening jobs is a spading fork used for?

A. While specifically designed to dig into and turn loose soil and compost, a spading fork is similar to a multipurpose garden fork but lighter. You can use it for a wide range of gardening tasks, including spading mulch, picking up weeds, and mucking out horse stalls.

Q. What other types of gardening forks are there?

A. There are several different types of gardening forks, each designed for a specific use. Some of the more common include the following:

  • Garden fork: Used for digging in hard soil and clay, the heavy garden fork has strong, narrow tines with pointed tips.
  • Compost fork: Larger than a garden fork, a compost fork has bent tines in a “scoop” shape to make it easier to turn to compost.
  • Border fork: This is similar in design to a garden fork but smaller. The more compact size is perfect for digging in raised beds and tight spaces like between rows.
  • Broadfork: A broadfork, or U-fork is a large, two-handed fork, usually with four tines, used for digging up large areas. 

Q. What is the best way to attach the head of a spading fork to the shaft?

A. The area where the head meets the shaft can be a weak point in a spading fork, particularly if you’re using the fork in hard or rocky soil. There are three primary methods for joining these two pieces of the tool, with varying durability.

  • Riveted: In this method, the shaft is sunk into the head of the fork and then riveted, creating a strong connection point.
  • Welded: Another sturdy way to combine the two is welding. Note that this only works if both the shaft and the head are made of metal, such as steel.
  • Banded: Of the three methods, banding is the weakest. While sturdy enough at the start, bands can slip or loosen over time as you use the spading fork.
     
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