Choosing A Shovel

©: Jeff Ball
Transplant shovel, Digging shovel, and Transfer shovel

The shovel is the basic tool for digging holes, moving dirt and other stuff, and generally allowing you to make structural changes in your landscape.

The shovel can be long handled or short handled. Long handled shovels almost always have a straight piece of wood or other material for a handle, though some European models have a “T” at the top of the handle for a better grip. The short handle can have either a T shaped end or more commonly what is called a D-Grip end.

It can have a rounded blade or a round blade with a point on it. The back of the blade usually is bent over to give your foot a resting place when helping the shovel move down into the soil; the bend is best when it is bent towards the back of the shovel blade.

Most shovels will have blades that are either “stamped” or “forged” steel. Forged is better than stamped. Some shovel 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. The better shovels have longer sockets where the handle is attached to the blade. Stainless steel looks nice and resists rust, but in the end is just a fancy shovel that is very expensive.
© Jeff Ball
Four Handle Designs

Shovels 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.

Comfort and Technique
Most folks will start off with a long handled shovel. It gives you better leverage as you dig and is definitely more comfortable when you are moving a pile of stuff from here to there. Experts advise whenever using a shovel to move something heavy like dirt or sand, the long handled shovel is best for the task. They recommend shifting sides so you vary the effect of repetitive motion which leads to muscle aches and pulls.

Safety Tip
When lifting soil or other heavy material it is very important to keep you back straight and bend you knees as you lift; thereby doing the work with you leg muscles and sparing your back.
The short handled shovels tend to have special jobs such as digging in spaces where there is little extra room. Some yardeners like the feel of the “D” handle on the short handled shovels. It is a matter of personal preference.
© Jeff Ball
Look For Ergonomic Handles Note the handle is on an angle

There are an increasing number of shovels coming on to the market with what are called “ergonomic” handle designs. There is good evidence that these features have value and should be considered.

Maintaining Shovels and Spades

A good shovel deserves some maintenance to preserve its value over a long period of time. 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.

©: Jeff Ball
Linseed Oil Protects Wood Handles

The blade 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 shovel, 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.

The serious gardener will sharpen the edge of the shovel each spring with a coarse file; a sharp shovel takes less human energy to break down into the soil. Yardener's are certainly allowed to perform this valuable task as well (grin). See examples in the Garden Tool Sharpening Tools

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