How to Choose the Right Shovel

How to Choose the Right Shovel


The Most Used Landscaping Tool

For most homeowners there are only a few landscaping tools you’ll ever need. First and foremost is a dependable shovel. Not all shovels are created equal, though. Choosing the right shovel, of good quality, can mean the difference between a good day’s work and a day of inefficient misery.

How to Choose the Right Shovel

The Types

There are lots of shovels out there, but only three are commonly needed by all DIY’er homeowners: the round-point digging shovel, the square point transfer shovel, and the garden spade. (I’m excluding snow shovels. They are just as unnecessary in Florida as they are necessary in Maine, and deserve their own attention in another post). Another important factor is the choice between a long handle and a shorter D-handle; which can also make a huge difference in the convenience factory.

How to Choose the Right Shovel

The All Purpose Shovel

The long handled round point shovel is the most widely used, and most adaptable shovel. It is the go-to shovel for general purpose digging, in compacted and loose soils alike. It does it’s own work, and in a pinch can satisfactorily perform the duties of the other two on this list. The round point shovel should, in most cases, be the first shovel you ever buy; and the one you bring along for all landscaping work.

The Cleaner Upper

The square point shovel has two specific jobs that it performs very well. It is the perfect tool for moving a pile of loose material, giving it the name “transfer shovel.” The square tip allows it to hold significantly more material than a round point shovel. Because of the flat tip, this is also the shovel of choice for scraping soil spills from paved surfaces.

The Groomer

The garden spade is a great digger, but the narrow blade makes it particularly useful in tight spots where it’s sharp edge can cut through tough roots. Use it to transplant perennials, trees and shrubs from one area to another. Also, it is especially well adapted to maintaining clean bed edges, hence the alternate name “border spade.”


Long handles are the norm for round point and transfer shovels, and the D-handle is most common for garden spades. The benefit of the long handle is that the user stays in a more upright position, which is more comfortable and conducive for working in the open. D-handles are very helpful in tight spots and for precision work. All of these three shovel types may be purchased with either a long handle or a D-handle.

How to Choose the Right Shovel

Quality Counts

Serious DIY’ers should shop for quality when buying shovels. Heavy-gauge (thicker), tempered metal is very strong and durable. Synthetic and wood handles are both good, but look closely at wood handles if that is your preference. For long-term strength, the growth rings should face the sides, not the working plane.

Take Good Care

After paying $30, $40, or more for a good shovel, you’ll want to make it last. The simplest way to extend it’s life is to keep it clean and dry when not in use: hose it down and store it out of the weather (including direct sunlight). For excellent longevity, give it an annual care treatment: use a file to sharpen the working edge. Lightly sand wood handles and rub them down with tung oil to condition the wood. With a little care, and by using the right tool for the job, you will experience the contentment of well done work and minimize the frustration of inefficiency.

How to Choose the Right Shovel

Interview with  Jeff Koenig, Director of Channel Management of Ames Tools

Tell us Ames’s story regarding shovel making and selling.
Captain John Ames started making America’s first metal shovels in 1774. With this long time heritage, The Ames Co. manufactures tools that were literally used to build America. Located in Central Pennsylvania, most of our tools are manufactured in America, with American workers and supported by domestic suppliers of steel, resin, wood, corrugate and many other components. Our brands of Razor-Back, Jackson, True Temper and Ames are the leading brands in both the professional and consumer markets. The Ames Co. has developed an innovative new product process called “World’s First”. This process is research supported to ensure we have the right brands and new products to keep the category current and exciting for generations to come. Lastly, The Ames Co. is supported by highly trained customer service professionals. They are able to solve problems, make recommendations, and drive delivers to be on time and in full.

 How many different shovel types does Ames make?
The Ames Co. manufacture many different shovel types and subcategories for each type of shovel. These are among the most common types. Digging shovels, Transfer shovels, Garden Spades, Drain Spades, Irrigation shovels, Roofing shovels, Aluminum scoops, Steel Scoops, ABS Poly Scoops, Snow shovels and Snow pushers.

Granted there are lots of different types of shovels for general use and all kinds of specialty purposes. Across the board, what makes a great shovel?
It all starts with superior grade steel which is heat treated, shaped and tempered to the perfect hardness. Quality shovel blades will have a blend between flexibility and hardness for durability and long life. Depending on the type of shovel, blade lift, shape and head to handle connection is very important. Blade steps, type of handle and grips are also very important features to consider.

Could you please describe the shovel making process?
The blade starts as a flat blank of steel in the outline of the type being manufactured. The blank is heated, shaped, tempered, cleaned and coated. The head is then assembled onto a handle and connected by a rivet or collar for a strong head to handle connection. Other features like grips can be added, they are packaged together and ready to ship.

From a quality/durability standpoint, what are some of the differences that consumers should consider when shopping for a new shovel?
Gauge or thickness of the blade. Professional grade blades are 14 gauge and consumer grade are 16 gauge. Handle type. Wood is preferred to fiberglass about 3 to 1. Wood has a nice shape and more flexibility than fiberglass, where fiberglass is strong, lightweight and weather resistant. Additional features to look for are steps for secure footing, grips for comfort and control and a strong head to handle connection.

Shovels have been around for a long time. How do you research and design updates?Our Marketing Dept. at The Ames Co. has a group dedicated to research 24 / 7. We have two people in the field every day on job sites. They are belly to belly with the end users looking to solve problems and understand frustrations. There are also 3 people at corporate who conduct other types of research. They conduct focus groups, online surveys, competitor evaluations, in store habits, and additional belly to belly research working in the field with professionals and consumers.

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