A shovel is a shovel is a shovel. Unless we’re talking about the best shovel. Then there are all sorts of shovels. Short-handled, long-handled, rounded, round-point, square-point, serrated, trenching shovels, ditching shovels, digging spade, garden spade, perennial spade, and scoops. They’re made from steel, stainless steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and plastic. They range in price from under $10 to over $100.
Clearly, I’ve taken on an impossible task in writing about choosing the best shovel for whatever garden tasks you may have planned. Sure, if money were no object, I could go out and buy a specialized shovel for each garden task. And maybe if I was a garden guru, like the gardening version of Bob Vila, I might have an entire supply of shovels and other cool gardening tools.
My aesthetic is more along the lines of getting as much as I can out of as few tools as possible. I mean, sure, I do love garden tools, but I also have to be realistic. Anyway… on to the shovels.
Picking the best shovel to help you create the garden of your dreams
Alright, let’s break down all these different shovels. Ultimately, we’re pretty much just trying to dig a hole or maybe move some dirt. How complicated can that be? So take all those specialty shovels off the list. In almost every case, there’s a general-purpose tool that will do the same job. I know. I love the serrated-edge shovel, too. And while it may be the best shovel for dealing with thick root systems, a few good jabs with a regular shovel will usually do the trick.
While we’re at it, take out the short-handled shovels, too. Long-handled shovels are easier on your back. And if you’re getting into that close-up digging, switch to a hand-held spade or something similar. See! We’ve already cut that big list down to a workable size!
Of course, that was the easy part. Now we get into things like materials, money, quality, and so on. Some of it also has to do with preference. The more steel or wood a shovel has, the more it will weigh. There are a few things that make shovels very different, however.
There are two common types of blades on shovels: round (or round point) and flat (or square point). Round-blade shovels are referred to as digging shovels, while square-point shovels are called transfer shovels. Why? The rounded blade makes it a little easier to get that digging shovel into the dirt. And the flat, broad surface of the square-point shovel makes it easier to hold more dirt so you can “transfer” it elsewhere.
Almost all your shovel blades will be made of steel. The best shovel blades are forged from a single piece of steel and hammered into shape. Of course, you’ll pay extra for that, but between you and me, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I want a shovel that I can use to dig with and to fight off zombies.
Steel, wood, or fiberglass are your options here. Fiberglass is growing in popularity because it’s lighter and is supposed to last longer. Wood is the more traditional handle material, although it is possible for it to splinter under heavy use. Steel handles aren’t as common, but you can find them. These could probably last forever, but they can get heavy. But they won’t splinter like wood, and they don’t have the flex of fiberglass. (So now I’m thinking all-steel for the zombie fight.)
Always the best tool, or in the case the best shovel, for any job is one that’s suited to the job. And, also, we don’t want to buy a billion tools. Still, if you can think about what you need to do with your shovel (digging? mostly moving dirt?), you can narrow down your options a bit more.
Which shovel is the winner?
So which is the best shovel? If I had to pick one, I’d go with a traditional digging shovel, and probably with a steel handle. I’d also be inclined to spend a little more to get a higher-quality shovel. After all, as long as you take care of your equipment, many garden tools will last pretty much forever. And by the time you buy four or five cheaper shovels in a couple of years, you’re already spending as much as you would on a well-made shovel.
In truth, though, I think it’s entirely reasonable to have one good digging shovel and one good transfer shovel. And despite what I said earlier, I’m not opposed to a few specialty garden tools if the need is truly there. But if you want to save some money, try using one of your all-purpose shovels for the job first. You may find that forged steel, round-point, steel-handled shovel is all you need for most garden tasks. And for fending off zombies.
Do you have a favorite shovel? I’d love to read about it in the comments.