Most people, myself included, buy a $10 shovel at a big home improvement store. Six months later, the shove is dull, rusted and digging becomes a chore. Selecting the right shovel can make your Garden Chores almost fun. Weather you are a home improvement expert, handyman, master gardener, or professional, take some time, do some research, buy the best and buy once.
First some Definitions- this is serous business after all.
Shovel: Tool used for digging in medium to soft ground. or soil, sand, gravel, clay or small rock moving.
Spade: Tool used for digging in harder ground. Because it is narrower best shovel for digging up shrubs it is not as good at moving or transferring materials as a shovel.
Blade: This is the metal end of the tool. Does the cutting or moving. Narrower the blade the tougher digging conditions the shovel can handle, but the more “trips” you will have to make. Cheap shovels are stamped out of sheet metal. Good shovels are welded steel.
Step: Your foot goes here. A great shovel has a large step, as most of us are gardening in crocs, clogs, flip flops or even barefoot.
Shaft: This is the bar that connects the handle (if there is one) to the blade and step.
Handle: There are two kinds of handles on most shovels. The first is as simple as a rubber or plastic grip around the shaft. The second is a bar perpendicular to the shaft. Some are T shaped but the best shovels and spades have the handle on a wishbone (D-Handle) that connects them to the shovel or spade shaft.
Coating: This is what keeps the shovel from rusting and keeps your shovel or spade looking great. Remember that digging is a very abrasive activity and coatings will not last forever. Paint and clear coat temporary, Powder coating last as long long time.
Warranty: This is one of the most important parts. Will the manufacturer stand behind their product? If not, go elsewhere.
There are only about 4 shovel types that you are likely to need:
Long Handle Digging Shovel All around shovel, go anywhere, do anything. Every one needs this type of shovel in their Garden Shed. The pointed tip cuts into medium hard to soft ground and makes quick work of even the most stubborn roots. If you only buy one shovel- get this one. The straight shaft and handle are great for digging without having to uses your feet. The important things to look for in this shovel is a strong all metal shaft welded to the step and the blade. A large step is a must have in this type of shovel. As will all shovels- unless is stainless($$$) it must be powder coated. Paint or clear coatings are not enough! While it seems counter intuitive, the heaver a shovel, the easier it is to use if you are digging.
D-Handle Digging Shovel Similar to the Long Handle Digging Shovel, This shovels D- Handle is best when you have to dig a hole then transfer or throw it. Digging, preparing plant holes, and removing sod and soil for a walkway or garden bed makes this kind of shove shine. As with Long Handle Digging shovel, durable coating, metal shaft, strong welds and a large step are crucial.
D-Handle Transfer Style Garden Shovel This is the square bladed transfer shove that has probably frustrated you in the past. It has a very specific task and is not a digging shove in most soils. Use it to move already loosened soil, dirt, compost, sand or pea gravel and you will fall in love with the the Transfer Garden Shovel. Because this type of shovel is not really a digging shovel, you will likely want a D-Handle and not a Straight shaft handle. A long, square-edge, flat blade makes this shovel ideal for fine, straight edging, cutting through soil and grass. A large step is not really important here but a durable coating and metal shafts are always a good idea. This is the only shovel where a lot of weight is not a really good thing.
D-Handle Transplanting Spade Often referred to as a sharpshooter shovel, this work horse of a is ideal for deep, precise digging, transplanting, and loosening very hard soil and packed or crushed rock. Big step, strong welds, metal shaft and a thick blade are very important with this shovel. When the going gets tough, the tough get this shovel. Strangely, this shovel only comes in a D-Handle but it seems to work.