Choosing Digging Forks
Most yardeners will not need a digging fork. It is used for loosening up soil in a garden bed. However, if your property has soil with lots of rocks then sometimes the digging fork is easier to get things started than is the shovel or spade. A fork is also preferable in working and loosening soil that has lots of clods or compacted lumps.
Design – The spading fork usually has four flat or slightly rounded tines that range from 9 to 11 inches long. The wider and longer the head, the deeper you can dig. But the deeper you dig, the more likely you are to turn up a backbreaking amount of soil at a time. It has a short handle with a ‘D” shape at the top.
Durability - Like shovels, most spading forks will have tines that are either “stamped” or “forged” steel. Forged is better than stamped. Some spading fork ads will talk about “tempered” and that is better than those with no tempering. If they talk about “gauge” in the advertisement, the lower number 14 is better than the higher number 16. Pulling a fork back to loosen the soil strains the tines, so the stronger they are, the less they will bend; however, tines do bend occasionally (so not to worry).
The better spading forks have longer sockets where the handle is attached to the blade. Spading forks come with either a wooden (ash or hickory) handle or a fiberglass handle. Some handles are thicker than others. The wood is heavier but has a nice “feel” to some folks. The fiberglass is lighter and definitely stronger than the wood but doesn’t look as nice to some folks.
Tip For Using A Garden Fork Safely
Jeff Taylor, in Fine Gardening Magazine, advises - While holding the D-handle of the garden fork in the dominant hand, and chokcing up close on the collar (or socket) with the other hand, lift the weight with your legs -- not your back muscles.
Maintenance - The wooden handle can be oiled with linseed oil (used to care for baseball mitts) and should not be left out in the rain; ever. The tines should be cleaned off when dirt accumulates. Some yardeners keep an old pail filled with sand and about a quart of used automobile oil. As they come into the house, after using the spading fork, they dip the blade into the sand a few times to clean it off and give it a thin coat of oil to protect it from rust.