How do you know whether to use a shovel or a spade when you garden? What is the difference between these tools, and which is better?
There are differences between shovels and spades. Even if you're an experienced gardener, you might get overwhelmed by the number of tools on the market. But choosing the right option is the best way to make your landscaping and gardening projects easier.
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The Difference Between Shovels and Spades
There is a difference between the tools, but it's not as complicated as you might think.
Spades are short tools that have flat blades. Shovels have longer and angled handles, and the blade is shaped like a scoop instead of a flat surface.
A shovel is good for breaking up the soil, lifting it, and digging it up. They're also ideal if you want to move piles of loose material other than soil.
A spade is good if you want to dig a trench, edge a garden bed, or cut into sod. If the project requires you to use a straight and sharp edge, a spade will work better than a shovel.
Using the Tools Properly
There are proper ways to use the tools.
As with any gardening project, make sure that you're wearing appropriate shoes. They should be close-toed shoes with strong soles. You shouldn't wear sandals, flip flops, or flimsy shoes.
Whether you use a spade or a shovel, the technique is the same:
When you use a shovel, it's important to push the tool down at an angle. Push it forward so that it digs through more of the dirt.
With a spade, you want to insert the blade vertically. This makes a straight edge that is good for edging and trenching.
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The Parts of the Tools
At first glance, shovels and spades may look like they're made of the same materials. Since they each use the same basic technique, they both have a blade, handle, and step. But there are some important differences in how these components are constructed.
The handle of a spade is short and straight. It's designed to let you push the blade vertically into the ground. The grip of the handle will usually be in a T shape or D shape, which makes it easier to hold with your hands.
It's less common to see a grip on a shovel. That's because shovels are often held at an angle by the shaft, rather than being gripped at the top.
You might see rubber or non-slip padding around the upper part of the shovel's handle. This allows you to grip it more easily. If a shovel doesn't have rubber reinforcements, you might want to use gardening gloves to keep your hands from being injured.
The shovel handle is also typically longer than a spade handle. This allows you to maneuver the tool more easily and get more leverage as you lift dirt from a hole.
The step, as the name implies, is the portion of the tool that you step on. It is typically a flattened piece of metal at the edge of the blade. The exact design varies, and it tends to be different with shovels and spades.
Spades have small ledges built into the blade on both sides of the handle. This allows you to rest your foot on the flat surface. You can use your entire leg and body to push the blade deeper into the dirt.
Shovels tend to have a small ledge, or sometimes no ledge at all. This is because a shovel does not usually need to be pressed into the ground using your full weight. If the step was bulkier, it would interfere with your ability to remove dirt.
This is part of why spades are so much better for edging. It is much easier to drive them into the ground and create clearly defined markers.
It's also why shovels are so much better for digging. Without a big ledge in the way, you can much more easily remove dirt from a hole at an angle.
The blade is where you'll find the most obvious difference between a shovel and a spade at first glance.
With a spade, the blade is flat. The end is shaped like a square, with sharp corners and edges. It is built to dig into the ground and create clearly-defined lines around the borders of places.
A shovel is built to remove materials and dirt. As such, it has a curved blade that acts like a bowl. This makes it much easier to remove large piles of soil. Some shovels can be bought with a square blade, but they're not as commonly found on the market.
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Types of Shovel
Now you know how to differentiate a shovel from a spade. But there are many different kinds of shovel on the market. By learning about the different types, you can decide on the best one for your future projects.
Trench shovels, also known as cleaning shovels, are narrow and long blades that have a sharply curved end. They are built to help you define trenches and remove dirt from them. As such, they're like a hybrid between a traditional shovel and a spade.
These are shovels that are typically used when you're looking for shallow lines. You can use them to remove the dirt from a trench that you just defined with a spade.
One of the potential drawbacks of these tools is that they're shallow. Since the blade is so narrow, it's difficult to place your foot on the edge. You'll need to use your arms to push it into the ground.
Most of the time, this type of shovel is used by professional gardeners and landscapers. It's not often used for projects that involve moving a lot of material from one area to another.
These shovels look very much like a spade. However, the blade is concave enough to scoop out dirt and soil. The head has a square edge with sharply defined corners.
This shovel is built to lift and move material. It works best with piles of loose soil, mulch, and other components. While it can be used to dig, there isn't a rounded or pointed tip. This makes it more difficult to push the blade into the ground.
The wide and flat blade makes it much easier to scoop large amounts of debris. You can also use the blade to clean trenches and to define edges, especially if you don't have a spade.
If you need to spread soft soil or mulch, the flatter blade makes this a good choice. You can easily scoop the materials and then smooth them over a large expanse of ground.
This is also a good option if you're going to be filling a wheelbarrow. It's a quick and efficient blade that easily picks up piles of mulch and soil.
Edging shovels are designed to serve just one purpose. They edge your garden beds and grass. If you have a spade, you probably won't need an edging shovel. They're flatter than the average shovel, built to be driven precisely into the ground.
You can use this shovel to separate different plants. You can also cut through the roots of small trees and large shrubs. Since they are so precise, they're unlikely to damage larger tree and shrub roots.
When you think about shovels, chances are that you're imagining a digging shovel. These shovels are built to dig into the dirt, lift material, transfer material, and efficiently move soil from place to place.
A digging shovel has curved edges that allow it to hold the materials. If the blade is completely flat, it's a spade.
Scoop shovels are made to be broad and capable of hauling a lot of debris. The tip might be rounded or squared. You'll see these types of shovels most often when shoveling snow. However, they have uses in gardening as well.
You can use this type of shovel to move mulch, gravel, grain, coal, and loose soil. Many of these shovels are built with aluminum. A stronger metal will last longer, but it might be heavier.
These are miniaturized shovels that have a short grip with a small blade. They can be maneuvered very easily because you have total control over the angle and depth. Most gardeners use these shovels when they get down in the dirt for precise work.
Mini shovels usually have a blade that's around half a foot long. It might be four inches wide. You can use this shovel for tasks including:
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Types of Spade
There are fewer types of spade than shovel. However, understanding the differences is equally important when you're selecting the tool for your next project.
Garden spades are simple tools that are built for the garden and yard. A garden spade will have a short handle and a D grip. The blade is flat.
Some garden spades might have a flat and square tip. Others might have a pointed tip that looks more similar to a traditional shovel. The pointed tips are best when you're working with hard dirt, while the flat edges are more efficient with softer earth.
This is a tool that allows you to turn over the soil so your plants get better nutrients. You can also use it to break through different roots. The blade creates even edges around a garden bed. You can even use it to edge the sides of your walkways and driveways.
A transplanting spade has a shorter handle than a typical garden spade. Instead of being built for landscaping and edging, this type of spade is built to help you move plants to different locations.
The blade is longer and more narrow than that of a typical edging spade. This allows it to dig underneath the entire root system of a plant. Shorter spades and shovels may accidentally break and damage the root system.
Once you maneuver the edge underneath the roots, you can lift the plant and transfer it to a wheelbarrow. Then it's easy to bring it to its new home.
Spades and shovels are both helpful, versatile tools that allow you to make the most of your garden.
A spade will be most helpful if you're creating edges and trenches. It's also the best tool if you want to transplant flowers.
Shovels are best for moving dense materials from one place to another. They're also the best at digging deep holes.