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A Shovel, a Spade, and an Edger – What’s the Difference

Last Updated on June 13, 2022 by Real Men Sow

Gardeners mistakenly use the terms “shovel” or “spade”  or “edger” interchangeably when they’re actually three different tools. Organic gardeners, though, are likely to be knowledgeable about these tools, and their advantages and disadvantages to gardening. But honestly, they all look the same to people who may not be as well-versed in certain gardening tools as home gardeners. So, what is the difference really? We’ll be looking at tools that have a long handle and are used to dig. 

What is the difference between a garden spade, a garden shovel, and an edger? Technically, all three tools can be considered a type of shovel. Each one has a different purpose and design. Shovels can be used to work loose soil. The majority of spades are flat and can be used to cut and dig into roots or dense dirt. A half-moon-shaped edger is needed to clean up borders.

Anatomy of a Shovel

Shovels have a simplistic design. Before you decide which shovels to buy for your garden, it is important that you understand the terminology.

Anatomy of a shovel

Tip

A shovel’s tip is the cutting edge. A shovel’s tip can be flat, pointed, or rounded. The tip of a shovel can decide what type of job it is best suited to perform. Pointed and rounded tips work best when cutting through clay, roots, and hard soil. A flat tip, on the other hand, is better for scooping up dirt and other gardening materials.

Blade

Made of aluminum, carbon, or stainless, the blade is used for digging and lifting soil, clay, and gravel as well as other gardening materials. For digging in soft soil and lifting and moving garden materials, curved blades can be used. Flat blades can be used to cut into clay, roots, hard soil, and roots as well as for digging straight-edged trenches.

Step

Also known as the footplate or the step, the step is the place where gardeners place their feet on the top of a blade to drive it into the ground.

Collar

The collar connects the blade and the shaft of the shovel. It can be attached with a screw or rivet, depending on the material of the shaft. A collar can also be used to replace a damaged shaft.

Shaft

The handle or shaft of the shovel is usually made from either fiberglass or wood. There are many sizes of shafts available depending on how much force is required and how much space you have. Long shafts can be used to provide the necessary leverage to move large quantities of gardening material. However, shorter shafts provide greater maneuverability and more torque when digging into hard materials such as clay, roots, or dense soil.

Grip

Some shovels have a grip on the top of their shaft that allows for hand placement. Wooden shovels have grips. Fiberglass shafts come with a “T”, or “D”-shaped handle. When digging with greater force, the grip prevents one’s hand from sliding down the shaft. Gardeners also benefit from grips to avoid splinters.

What’s the Difference Between Garden Shovel, Spade, and Edger?

Edgers can be considered a separate class, but many people interchangeably use the terms shovel or spade. All three terms have their own distinct characteristics.

Gardeners often don’t know the difference between spades and shovels, which can lead to a disaster. Gardeners may use a spade with an extremely narrow blade to do most of the digging and transferring tasks. This is great for digging a trench or hole. It would not be practical for spreading compost, manure, or mulch. The shovel’s wide, curved blade is designed for spreading garden materials.

Many gardeners also end up breaking the shafts and blades of their shovels when trying to remove dense roots or clay.

Garden Shovels

A shovel has a broad blade or scoop that is used to remove soil, loosen soil, or sod, as well as to move dirt, gravel, sand, and other gardening materials. Garden shovels can also have concave or raised blades to help hold soil or other gardening materials.

Their width is the most important characteristic of shovel blades as compared to spades. The broad blades of shovels make it easy to move, remove, spread, and mulch soil, compost, mulch, or other gardening materials. To transport soil and other materials, shovels can also be used with concave or curved blades.

The handle of shovels is usually angled, so the scoop can be laid flat on the ground. The blade can be laid flat on the ground, allowing users to push it under soil or other materials more easily than trying to push it into the garden material. 

The handles of shovels are usually long and straight, which provide great leverage to lift large quantities of soil. Most shovels are made of fiberglass or wood handles, and have scoops made of carbon or stainless steel.

Various Designs for Shovels

There are three types of shovel blades available: square pointed, and round.

  • Pointed: These shovels are made with sharp blades. These blades are ideal for digging in the soil, and they are usually deeper than other blades. This makes them great for scooping up soil or other loose material.
  • Round: Shovels with round-shaped blades are great for transplanting shrubs and flowers. They don’t cause root damage or other damage as easily as pointed-blade shovels. These shovels work best in loose soil. Gardeners may need a spade or a pointed-blade shovel for clay or dense soil.
  • Square: These square-bladed shovels can be used to transplant small shrubs and bushes. They are also useful for edging and digging holes in loose soil. For digging into dense soil, square-bladed shovels work better than pointed or curved shovels. They are ideal for desert dwellers and those who live in dry climates.

The Different Uses for Shovels

Shovels can be used for many purposes. However, the main purposes of shovels include digging and scooping, planting trees, digging post holes, trenching, and digging post holes.

Digging

There are many shovels that can be used to dig through the soil, clay, and other materials. These shovels are typically equipped with reinforced collars and steel or carbon shafts. They also come in a range of blade shapes, including square, pointed, and rounded. Shovels that can be used to cut through hard clay, thick soil, and root systems are often classified as spades. They have flat blades and handle that align with the blades.

Scooping

These shovels can be used to shovel soil and spread compost, sand, and other materials. Scoop shovels are usually 12-inches wide and have a curved blade that allows for quick transporting and holding of material.

Tree Planting

These shovels can be classified as spades depending on the soil’s density. They have shorter and narrower blades than other digging shovels which allows gardeners to get deeper into the ground. These shovels have longer shafts than other types, but shorter shafts are useful for planting trees in sloped areas and on hillsides.

Post Hole Digging

These diggers are great for planting tree seedlings and digging fence posts, signposts, mailboxes, and other types of material. Dual-bladed shovels for digging post holes come with handles and dual blades. This allows for round cuts and easy soil removal. These tools are commonly found in hardware and gardening stores. To remove dirt and grip the handles, simply pull them apart.

Trenching

Trenching tools have long, narrow blades that are sharp and can be used to cut through dirt. The handle of a digging shovel is usually at an angle to its blade. This allows you to scoop up dirt and dig a trench. Some spades have straight handles that can be used to dig deeper trenches.

Garden Spades

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. 

Spades are used to dig straight-sided trenches and holes. They have straight edges and flat blades that can be used to cut through clay, roots, hard ground, and clay. They have smaller blades than shovels. This feature allows users to produce a greater cutting force when digging out dirt or other materials. 

Garden spades’ blades come in many sizes and shapes, just like shovels. For cutting roots and digging into clay or hard soil, some spades have wider blades. For digging, defining, and trimming trenches, for precise edging and to pry up roots and other dense material, the blades on the other hand are narrower.

Spades are also known for having extremely durable blades, which can be used to do heavy-duty tasks like cutting through roots and clay or chipping at rocks.

Short-handled spades have straight handles that provide more torque to dig into hard materials than long-handled ones. The shaft of spades is usually in line with the blade and they often have a “T”, or “D” handle. This design provides users with a wider blade and more cutting power when digging through clay, hard soil, or plant roots.

Garden Edgers

An edger is a special type of shovel that can be used to create a clean edge around garden beds and next to curbs. It can also be used to clean up any border in the yard or garden. These garden tools are great for separating perennials.

Half-moon-shaped flat blades are used in edgers. They also have long straight handles that can be driven into ground to make clean cuts. Edgers can be used to reach tight areas without damaging other plants or the root systems in gardens. 

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