Long 35-inch, 5-pound tool can be wielded two-handed for maximum leverage against hard soils and rocks. Head made of forged steel for durability. Comes with head pre-attached and epoxied to handle. Handle grip turns tacky when wet for extra hold.
Cutting edge may be narrower than desired for its size. Can be heavy for some.
Large 35-inch tool provides ample leverage for breaking up soil or rocks. Edge can cut through small roots. Rubberized fiberglass handle is both lightweight and strong. Brightly colored for visibility. Head easily attaches for assembly.
The head can come off during vigorous work.
One-handed tool weighs just 1.4 pounds. Drop-forged head also combines pick, adze, and hoe functions. Cutting edge of 1.5 inches for breaking up compacted soil. Rubberized fiberglass handle. Head attaches and detaches with simple eye pattern design.
Small and light tool isn't great for heavy-duty tasks.
Rubber handle grip encases the double-inject fiberglass handle. Notable for its great action, which makes it easy to work with for long periods with a great balance. Comes with a guard for protection against overstriking.
Users report the head can slip from the handle after long periods of use.
Construction-grade tool with generous length and leverage. Rustproof head boasts wide cutting edge for breaking up earth. Durable fiberglass handle resists temperature changes. Offers great action and good balance.
The head and handle arrive separately and need to be assembled.
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There’s more to gardening than planting a few vegetables and flowers and watering them occasionally. While you'll also need to weed and turn the soil, gardening often requires even further work. 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 on the other. Switching back and forth between the two ends allows you to loosen large rocks and roots in the soil and pry them out. If you’re planning to start or expand a garden, you’ll almost certainly run into buried obstacles when you dig. A mattock will help you get them out of the ground and out of your way.
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.
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.
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.
For many years the handles of all mattocks, pickaxes, and sledgehammers were made from hardwood, usually hickory.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 up 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.
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.
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.