Some gardening tools are so important and so heavily used that it just doesn’t make sense to try to save money by skimping on cost. Few tools are more crucial to gardening than a durable, sturdy garden spade.
Choosing a gardening spade that lasts and works the way it should, instead of a spade that looks like a spade but breaks in half or bends the first time it is used, is vital to the health of your garden and to your own sanity.
Garden spades are available at any major home improvement store, but they are definitely not all the same. First, make sure a spade is the tool you are shopping for. While many people use the words ’spade’ and ’shovel’ interchangeably, a garden spade is not the same as a shovel.
A shovel is a heart-shaped tool with a pointed blade and a scooped business end. Shovels are used for all kinds of earthwork and digging, but the most practical tool for garden use is a spade. The business end of a spade is shaped like a rectangle, with a straight flat blade and a square shallow pan for lifting, rather than scooping dirt. The old phrase, “call a spade a spade,” refers to the little known fact that spades are specialized garden tools and shovels are general digging implements.
A spade and a shovel are two different tools.
Look for a garden spade with an 8 x 12-inch blade for general digging and a smaller, lighter edging spade for more detailed work. The top edge of the garden spade should have a heavy, corrugated ridge on it to set your foot upon so you can push down. While you may not think of this detail in the store, if you forget to look for it you will definitely notice when you start to use the spade. Without the corrugated ledge, your foot quickly tires and you cannot get the push you really need.
A carbon steel blade is the best and longest-lasting all-around spade edge, but tempered steel is lighter and won’t rust. If you are buying only one spade, choose the most expensive one you afford and look for a major name brand label and a warranty if possible.
The handle on the spade should fit your own height comfortably. Spade handles come in different lengths to fit different people. If the handle is too short, it will be hard for you to handle the spade without hurting your back. If the handle is too long, you will end up snapping the handle instead of applying the full weight of your effort to the blade. The handle should be long enough so that you don’t have to stoop unnaturally to dig, but short enough so that you can use the metal hilt on the end for leverage.
Spade hilt handles come in ‘D’ and ‘Y’ shapes and are made of steel. The ‘D’ shape is more durable and easier to use than the ‘Y’. The ‘Y’ shape is also much more likely to crack under pressure. If the end of your spade handle is not fitted with a ‘D’ or a ‘Y’ shaped steel hilt, then you probably are looking at a shovel, not a spade.
Garden spade vs shovel: What is better?
The main reason for choosing a garden spade over a shovel is that spades are suitable for more of the tasks specific to gardening and landscaping than shovels are. A sharp flat spade edge can cut and lift sod, cut through tree roots when digging holes for planting, and create more defined shapes in turf or soil than a shovel can.
Shopping for a spade online is a good way to get an idea of current prices, brands, and availability, but a spade by its very nature is one tool you really should purchase in person. Pick your garden spade upright in the store, feel it, and handle it as much as you need to in order to get a good feel for its fit in your hand and with your body. Then, make your purchase with confidence knowing that you have chosen a tool that will serve you well for many years.