Organic gardeners likely know a great deal about the benefits and challenges of going organic. Sometimes, however, gardeners aren’t as knowledgeable about some of the tools of the trade. For example, some gardeners use the terms “shovel” and “spade” interchangeably, when in fact, they are two different tools. So what’s the difference? While we’re examining tools with a long handle that we use to dig, let’s also examine an edger.
What’s the difference between a garden shovel, a spade, and an edger? Technically, all three tools are a type of shovel. However, the design and intended use are different for each one. Shovels are concave and used for working loose soil. Most spades are flat and used for cutting and digging into roots and dense dirt. Cleaning up borders requires the use of a half-moon shaped edger.
In this article, we are going to discuss the design and intended uses for garden shovels, spades, and edgers. We will also discuss our selections for this year’s best garden tools for each category.
Anatomy of a Shovel
Shovels are fairly basic tools in regards to design. However, certain terminology should be learned before selecting which ones to purchase for a garden:
- Tip: The tip is the cutting edge of a shovel’s blade. The tip of a shovel can be pointed, rounded or flat. The tip can determine what kind of job a shovel is best suited for performing. For example, pointed and rounded tips are best for cutting into hard soil, clay and roots. Inversely, a flat tip is best for scooping up loose dirt and other gardening materials.
- Blade: Typically made from aluminum, carbon, or stainless steel, the blade performs all the digging and lifting of soil, clay, gravel, sand, and other gardening materials. Curved blades are used for digging into soft soil, and for lifting and moving gardening materials. Flat blades are used for cutting into hard soil, clay and roots, and for digging out straight-edged trenches.
- Step: Otherwise known as the footplate, the step is where gardeners place their foot on the top of the blade to help drive it into the ground or gardening material.
- Collar: The collar is the upper part of the extended portion of the blade that connects to the shovel’s collar. It is usually attached using a screw or a rivet depending on the shaft’s material. The collar is also the point at which a broken shaft can be replaced.
- Shaft: The shaft or handle of the shovel is typically made of either wood or fiberglass. Shafts come in a variety of sizes depending on the available space for a particular task and the amount of necessary force. For example, longer shafts are great for providing the required leverage for moving large amounts of gardening material. On the other hand, shorter shafts offer greater maneuverability and increased torque for digging into hard materials like dense soil, clay, and roots.
- Grip: Some shovels use a grip at the top of the shaft for hand placement. Wooden handled shovels typically have grips, but fiberglass shafts often come equipped with a “T” or “D” shaped handle. The grip helps prevent one’s hand from sliding down the shaft when performing digging tasks requiring greater force. Grips also help gardeners avoid getting splinters.
What’s the Difference Between Garden Shovels, Spades and Edgers?
Although edgers are in a class by themselves, many people use the terms shovel and spade interchangeably. However, all three have distinct differences.
Many gardeners do not understand the differences between shovels and spades, and the result can be a total disaster. For example, gardeners might use a spade with a narrow flat blade for most digging or transferring jobs. That is great if the gardener wanted to dig a hole or a trench. However, it would be next to impossible to use for carrying and spreading mulch, compost, and manure. A shovel with its wide curved blade was designed specifically for carrying and spreading gardening materials.
Likewise, many gardeners end up bending – and sometimes breaking – both the blades and shafts of shovels attempting to use them to cut through dense roots and thick clay.
It’s important to have access to an article like this one explaining the difference between garden shovels and spades. To assist gardeners with gardening needs, we will discuss those differences using a quick graph followed by a section explaining each garden tool in detail. We will also include our top selections for each item.
The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.DEUTERONOMY 28:12
Garden Shovels, Spades, and Edgers at a Glance
|Blade Shape||Wide, flat, concave with a rounded or straight cutting edge||Narrow, flat (or nearly flat) with a slightly rounded or straight cutting edge||Narrow parallel half-moon shaped with the curved side pointing down|
|Handle Design||Long shaft set at an angle to the blade, typically doesn’t have a handle||Short shaft set straight with the blade, often has a “T'” or “D” shaped handle||Short shaft set straight with the blades, typically has a “T” or “D” shaped handle|
|Uses||Scooping soil and other gardening materials||Cutting into dense soil, clay, and plant roots||Cleaning up borders around gardens and curbs|
Shovels have a wide blade or scoop used to cut through looser soil or sod and to move earth, gravel, sand, and other gardening materials. Additionally, garden shovels have concave blades or blades with raised edges to enable them to hold soil and other gardening material.
The defining feature of shovel blades compared to spades is their width. Shovels are designed with broad blades that are ideal for moving, removing, and spreading soil, compost, mulch, and other gardening materials. Likewise, shovels have curved or concave blades to provide the perfect surface for carrying loose soil and other materials.
Shovels usually have an angled blade, which allows the scoop to lay flat on the ground while the handle angles upwards for ease of use. Allowing the blade to lie flat on the ground gives users the ability to push the blade under the soil and other material more easily than attempting to push the blade directly into the gardening material itself. (Source: University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science)
Shovels typically have long straight handles that provide excellent leverage for lifting large amounts of soil. Usually, shovels have wooden or fiberglass handles and scoops made from carbon or stainless steel.
Various Designs for Shovels
Before we discuss this year’s selections for the best garden shovels, we want to discuss the different designs briefly and uses for shovels. For example, shovels come with three main types of blades: pointed, round and square.
- Pointed: Pointed blade shovels have blades that come to a sharp point on the cutting edge. These shovel blades are great for digging in loose soil and are typically deeper than other blades making them ideal for scooping up soil and other loose material.
- Round: Shovels with round blades are perfect for transplanting flowers and shrubs because they don’t damage root systems and otherwise damage plants as easily as pointed blade shovels. However, these shovels do work best in loose soil, and gardeners might need a pointed blade shovel or a spade for dense soil or clay.
- Square: Square bladed shovels are great for transplanting bushes and small shrubs. Likewise, they are useful for some edging tasks and digging trenches in loose soil. Shovels with square blades are better than curved or pointed shovels for digging into dense soil and are perfect for people who live in the desert and other dry climates.
The Different Uses for Shovels
Shovels are also designed with a variety of different uses in mind. Too many different uses exist to cover here, but some of the primary purposes for shovels include digging, scooping, planting trees, digging post holes and trenching.
- Digging: A variety of shovels are designed specifically for cutting through the soil, clay and other materials. These shovels typically have reinforced collars and either steel or carbon shafts. Additionally, they come with a variety of blade shapes to include pointed, rounded, and square. Shovels designed for cutting into thick soil, hard clay and root systems are usually classified as spades and have flat blades and handles that are in line with the blades.
- Scooping: As the name implies, scoop shovels are used for shoveling show and for scooping up and spreading loose soil, compost, sand, and other materials. Scoop shovels have a wide blade, typically at least 12-inches, and a curved blade for quickly holding and transporting material.
- Planting Trees: Some shovels are specially designed for planting trees. Depending on the density of the soil, these shovels are typically classified as spade and have longer and narrower blades than other digging shovels, which allow gardeners to dig deep into the ground. Additionally, these shovels tend to have long shafts, although shorter shafts can come in handy when planting trees on sloped landscapes and hillsides.
- Digging Post Holes: Post hole diggers, as they are often called, are ideal for tree seedlings as well as fence posts, signposts, and mailboxes. Shovels designed for digging post holes have dual blades and handles for making round cuts and for easy removal of the soil. They are often found in gardening shops and hardware stores. The simple process involves pulling the handles apart to grip and remove the dirt.
- Trenching: Trenching shovels have long, narrow blades with a sharp cutting edge and a curved or concave design. Like other digging shovels, the handle is typically at an angle to the blade, allowing you to easily scoop up and remove the dirt while digging a trench. However, some spades are designed with straight handles for digging deeper trenches with straight-angled sides.
The Best Garden Shovels
We chose this year’s list of the best garden shovel options by researching all of the best-selling models online. Specifically, we chose shovels based on their price, design, durability, and ease of use. Additionally, we considered the reputation of each brand.
We selected this year’s list of the best by researching all of the top-selling models. Additionally, we considered the reputation of each garden shovel, its features, price, and consumer reviews.
Likewise, we researched available data regarding selecting garden tools using high authority industry websites such as the University of Georgia Extension and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Lastly, we included a broad range of prices to accommodate a variety of budgets.
AMES #12 Aluminum Scoop Shovel
The AMES #12 Aluminum Scoop Shovel (Amazon Link) is an ideal selection for lifting and moving loose soil, compost, manure, sand, and other gardening material. With its wide blade and lightweight construction, this shovel is also suitable for snow removal.
The AMES shovel’s thick aluminum alloy is built for maximum strength and is rustproof and lightweight. Its 15-inch width and 19-inch length are ideal for moving large amounts of gardening material at one time. Additionally, it features a sturdy, durable, 26-inch hardwood handle and an ergonomic D-Grip adding comfort and control.
Customers liked the Ames Aluminum Scoop Shovel praising its durable, lightweight construction. They also praised its massive load capacity and versatility. For example, customers talked about using this shovel for gardening, for shoveling show, and for cleaning out horse corrals and barns.
Fiskars Long Handled Digging Shovel
The Fiskars Long Handled Digging Shovel (Amazon Link) is an excellent choice for gardeners needing to dig into tough soil or clay with its all-steel construction and sharpened blade. This shovel features a welded 14-gauge hardened steel blade and an 18-gauge steel shaft that provides long-lasting construction that outlasts wooden handled shovels. Additionally, the steel shaft doesn’t flex like shovels using fiberglass construction.
With an overall length of 57.5 inches, the Fiskars Long Handled Digging Shovel also features an extra-large foot platform that is ideal for maximizing force when driving the blade into tough soil or clay. This feature comes in handy when cutting through the existing root structure.
Additionally, Fiskars is a well-respected brand that was founded in Finland in 1649, and all its products carry a manufacturer’s full lifetime guarantee.
Customers praised this shovel’s sturdy construction and ease of use. They also liked its oversized platform saying it made difficult tasks like cutting roots easy.
Bully Tools 12-Gauge Round Point Shovel
The Bully Tools 12-Gauge Round Point Shovel (Amazon Link) is a commercial-grade shovel that is great for amateur and professional gardeners alike. This high-quality, 100-percent American made shovel features an extra-thick 12-gauge steel blade that can hold up to even the harshest digging conditions.
The Bully Tools Round Point Shovel also features triple wall fiberglass and wood reinforced handle design, and a no-break polypropylene co-polymer D-Grip handle with an extra-wide design and no-slip texture. This shovel also includes an extended ferrule and welded I-beam construction, which helps prevent the handle from bending and splitting.
All Bully Tools shovels have a closed-back design that prevents debris from getting stuck on the blade while digging. Additionally, Bully Tools shovels carry a manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty.
Customers praised this shovel’s durable, heavy-duty construction and sturdy handle. Customers also liked the weight of this shovel, saying it helped drive it into the soil easier than other shovels.
Last, but not least, you can look below to view a YouTube video showing a tractor running over a fiberglass handled Bully Tools shovel to demonstrate its durability.
Spades are used primarily for digging out straight-sided holes and trenches, and for that reason, they typically have flat, or relatively flat, blades along with straight edges to help them cut through hard ground, clay and roots. Their blades generally are smaller than those on shovels. This design feature is necessary to give users the ability to generate a greater cutting force to dig out dirt and other material. (Source: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach)
Like shovels, the blades for garden spades come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some spades include wider blades for cutting roots, digging and driving the blade into tough soil or clay. On the other hand, narrower blades are used for digging and defining trenches, doing detailed edging, and for prying up roots, rocks and other dense materials.
Additionally, spades typically have incredibly durable blades that are designed to handle heavy-duty jobs like cutting through dense roots, cutting through thick wet clay, chipping at rocks and working around boulders.
Spades typically have short straight handles giving users more torque for digging into hard materials than long-handled shovels. They also usually have a “T” or “D” handle, and the shaft is in line with the blade. Along with the narrower blade, this design gives users more exceptional cutting ability when it comes to digging through hard soil, clay, or plant roots.
The Best Garden Spades
Choosing the best garden spade can be confusing, with so many models available to choose from these days. It comes down to each particular budget and the features desired.
Bully Tools 12-Gauge Edging and Planting Spade
The Bully Tools 12-Gauge Edging and Planting Spade (Amazon Link) is an excellent option for gardeners looking for a durable, commercial-grade spade. Great for both amateur and professional gardeners, the Bully Tools spade features an extra-thick 12-gauge steel blade ideal for even the most challenging digging and cutting projects.
This high-quality 100-percent American made spade also features triple wall fiberglass, and wood reinforced shaft design that is just a strong and hefty as wooden handled spades. Additionally, Bully Tools spades include an extended ferrule that increases strength under the harshest digging conditions to include prying.
All Bully Tools shovels utilize a closed-back design that prevents debris from getting stuck on the blade while in use. Additionally, Bully Tools shovels carry a manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty.
Customers praised this spade’s balance and heavy-duty construction. Customers also like its lightweight fiberglass handle.
Radius Garden Root Slayer Shovel
The Radius Garden Root Slayer Shovel (Amazon Link) is an ideal option for gardeners needing to cut through roots. This heavy-duty spade features a powder-coated carbon steel blade and a resin-encased carbon steel shaft. Its inverted v-shaped cutting tip and specially designed teeth cut through dirt and roots, eliminating the need for additional tools like a hatchet or pry bar or saw.
The Radius Root Slayer also features a Natural Radius O-Handle Grip made from a comfortable non-latex, thermoplastic elastomer that is over-molded onto polypropylene. This spade’s O-Handle design provides four-times the gripping surface of traditional D-Grip handles. For that reason, this spade offers increased leverage for digging and cutting while reducing hand and wrist stress.
This spade selection is certified to be more than 150-percent stronger than comparable spades by Intertek, an independent quality assurance testing laboratory. And the purchase of any Radius Garden tool includes a manufacturer’s limited lifetime guarantee (the Continental United States only).
Customers praised this spade’s durable construction and unique design. They ranted and raved about its O-Handle Grip designing, with many of them writing that all garden tools should include this feature.
Fiskars 46-Inch Steel D-handle Square Garden Spade
The Fiskars 46-Inch Steel D-handle Square Garden Spade is a superb choice for gardeners looking for a durable multi-function spade. This garden spade features a welded 14-gauge hardened steel blade. It also utilizes an 18-gauge steel shaft the provides outstanding durability that far outlasts and performs wooden-handled spades. Additionally, the stainless steel shaft doesn’t flex like other spades using fiberglass shafts.
The Fiskars spade also features an extra-large D-HandleGrip that offers secure two-handed control when digging, even if you are wearing gloves. Its sharpened cutting edge is ideal for penetrating tough soil or clay, cutting a trench, edging, or slicing through tough turf and roots.
Fiskars is a well-established tool manufacturing company founded in Finland in 1649, and all its products carry a manufacturer’s full lifetime guarantee. Customers praised this shovel’s solid all-steel construction. They also liked its extra-wide grip and overall ease of use.
Edgers are a specialized type of shovel used for creating a clean edge around garden beds, next to curbs, and anywhere else one might want to clean up borders in the garden or yard. Additionally, these garden tools are excellent for separating perennials.
Edgers have a half-moon shaped flat blades and usually have long straight handles that are in line with the blade so they can be driven into the ground where necessary to make precise clean cuts. Edgers are designed to get into tight spaces without causing damage to other plants or the surrounding root systems that exist in gardens. (Source: Gizmodo)
The Best Garden Edgers
We round out our review of gardening tools, discussing our selections for the best garden edgers. While there are a variety of models available for purchase online these days, we decided to limit our choices to the classic half-moon shaped models.
AMES Landscape Border Edger
The AMES Landscape Border Edger (Amazon Link) is an ideal selection for gardeners looking for an all-steel saw-toothed edger. The AMES Landscape Border Edger features an arched sawtooth blade, steel handle, and a steel T-Grip.
This border edger’s serrated blade smoothly slices through grass and other material in one step. Additionally, its unique footplate helps gardeners maintain a consistent cutting depth with ease. Its durable steel handle is topped by a comfortable T-Grip handle, providing ease of use and comfort.
Customers liked the Ames T-Trip Edger praising its saw-toothed edge and ease of use. They also liked its wide footplate, writing that it cut through sod with ease.
Radius Garden Pro-Lite Ergonomic Carbon Steel Edger
The Radius Garden Pro-Lite Ergonomic Carbon Steel Edger (Amazon Link) is an excellent option for individuals interested in the ergonomic comfort and ease of use of a lightweight edger. This garden edger features an extra-wide elevated footplate for optimal performance and safety.
The Radius Garden Pro-Lite Edger also features a fiberglass shaft, ideal for heavy-duty chores. Additionally, it utilizes a patented Natural Radius O-Handle Grip constructed using a comfortable non-latex, thermoplastic elastomer that is over-molded onto polypropylene. Best of all, this O-Handle features four-times the surface of conventional edger grips and has room for both hands, providing additional comfort and leverage.
Last, but not least, the purchase of any Radius Garden tool includes a manufacturer’s limited lifetime guarantee (the Continental United States only).
Customers praised this Radius Garden edger for its durable design, comfort, and ease of use. Customers praised its O-Handle Grip in particular.
Bully Tools Round Lawn Edger
The Bully Tools Round Lawn Edger (Amazon Link) is a superb choice for gardeners looking for a commercial-grade edger. Great for amateur and professional gardeners alike, this Bully Tools edger features an extra-thick curved 12-gauge steel blade that is ideal for challenging edging projects.
Additionally, this garden edger features all-steel construction for extra durability. It also includes a wide footplate and a T-Style handle to give users the leverage to easily penetrate the soil. Additionally, the purchase of any Bully Tools edgers includes a manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty.
Customers liked the Bully Tools edger’s ease of use, particularly its wide footplate. They also praised its all-steel construction and durability.
We hope our article discussing the varying designs and uses of garden shovels, spades and edgers was helpful. Anyone who has ever set up a garden, worked the soil, planted seeds, and watched them grow understands that a spiritual side to gardening is also present. A deep-seated communion that we have with God occurs when we help nature flourish and thrive.
By planting a garden, we help bring that connection between our own lives, nature and God’s design together.
Check out Our Favorite Products page to find everything you might need to help make your garden a success!
Technically, all three tools are a type of shovel. However, the design and intended use are different for each one. Shovels are concave and used for working loose soil. Most spades are flat and used for cutting and digging into roots and dense dirt. Cleaning up borders requires the use of a half-moon shaped edger.