Last summer I did a LOT of digging with my 6 and 2 year old boys. Our backyard suffers from a chafer beetle outbreak and while this wreaks havoc on lawns and is difficult to remedy, it’s a blessing in disguise for use.
Instead of trying to fix the problem, we took advantage of it by creating a massive dirt area where my boys can dig and make tunnels and mountains of dirt as much as they want.
And dig they do. They rope me in on the fun too. In order to have all this fun, I went out and bought us all new shovels; full size one for me and kid-sized shovels for them (but their real shovels with steel blade and all). While shopping for shovels, I learned that there are many different types of shovels.
I did more research and got my custom graphics team to create a fantastic graphic setting out shovel options below.
Shovel Buying Guide
You can use shovels for a variety of tasks around the home, from planting a new garden to digging trenches for irrigation and piping to shovelling snow from your sidewalks and driveways.
But, what type of shovel do you need for the job? Our shovel buying guide can help point you in the right direction to understanding the different types of shovels and choosing the one that best fits your project.
Also, you can check out the main parts of a shovel here.
A. Types of Shovels Diagram (Overview)
B. Types of Shovels Explained in Detail
Now, we’ll move onto the many types of shovels you can find, how they differ, and what jobs they usually work best for.
Shovels meant for digging have a somewhat sharp blade that can cut through soil and other materials. This type of shovel usually has a reinforced collar and a non-slip grip to help you apply force into the ground and remove heavy loads of soil.
They can have a range of blade shapes, with the most common being square, pointed, and round.
Square diggers have a blade with a flat end, rather than pointed. This shovel can come in handy for edging and trenching tasks or moving small shrubs and bushes.
The square edge of the digger is perfect for digging into hard soil, so it can be ideal for people who live in dry areas with compact grounds.
Pointed diggers have blades that come to a point at the end. This type of blade can work well in loosely-packed soils that may have dense root systems or rocks.
Pointed shovels have a more curved blade than square diggers, so you might be able to scoop soil more efficiently with this digger.
Rounded diggers have curved blades with a domed end, rather than pointed. This shovel is ideal for transplanting shrubs or flowers in the garden since its curved end doesn’t penetrate through root systems easily and can prevent damage to the plants.
Round diggers work best in loose soil.
An edging shovel is specific for creating edges in the garden. The blade is a half-moon shape that looks significantly different than those of other shovels, so it’s easy to tell them apart.
The blade of an edging shovel is also flat and thin so that you can maneuver it along sidewalks, fences, driveways, garden borders, and anywhere else you need to create a perfect edge.
6. Mini or Handheld
Mini shovels are small enough to hold in your hand, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as handheld shovels. They’re ideal for small gardening projects, like planting herbs and flowers or digging for small garden fencing.
A mini shovel can range in shapes and sizes, but most are no longer than a foot and have pointed blades that dig into the soil. Most minis also have grips for comfort while you work and to prevent the tool from slipping in your hands.
7. Post Hole
Post hole shovels sometimes referred to as post hole diggers, are ideal for digging narrow holes that you’d need for signposts or fence posts. Some people use them for planting tree seedlings too.
The post hole shovel has two shovels combined into one, with two blades, shafts, and handles. You use force to move the digger into the ground, and then pull apart the handles to close the blades, which will then pull up the dirt with them.
This video demonstrates how to use a post hole digger:
Power shovels are somewhat of a cross between a snow blower and a shovel. People tend to use these handy little machines for snow removal when a snow blower isn’t necessary. Power shovels usually cost less than $100 and are lightweight and portable.
The body of this tool resembles a weed wacker body, while the bottom consists of a motor and blades that spin to move snow. Some power shovels can dig into the dirt, making them especially useful for moving hard-packed ground.
To get an idea of how this shovel works, you can check out this video:
9. Scoop or Snow
People usually refer to a scoop shovel as a snow shovel, as that’s what they often use them for. Scoop shovels have a curved blade that can be at least a foot wide and are ideal for scooping materials to place somewhere else, rather than digging into the dirt.
Gardeners or landscapers can use scoop shovels for moving things like mulch, gravel, stones, and soil to other places in the garden. Wide scoops are ideal for clearing snow off sidewalks and driveways because the wide width allows you to clear more snow in less time.
10. Tree Planting
Believe it or not, there’s even a specific shovel for planting trees. The blade of these shovels is longer and narrower than others, allowing you to dig deep into the ground with the blade.
The shaft length of these shovels varies a lot, depending on where you’re digging. Long-shafted tree shovels are ideal for planting large saplings on flat surfaces, while a short shaft can give you the proper leverage for planting on hills and slopes with smaller saplings.
A trenching shovel has a unique shape that makes it easy to distinguish from others. The blade is long and narrow, much like a tree planting shovel, but with a pointed end and a concave design that forms a triangle shape in the blade.
The blade usually sits on the shaft at an angle, which you can sometimes adjust to meet the needs of your trench. This design puts the blade at an angle under the ground to help scoop and move dirt to create a trench.
You can create trenches with this tool by digging it into the ground and moving it along the desired path as it scrapes through the ground.
C. More Details
Finding the perfect shovel for your job is your first task. Below are a few pointers that can help you narrow your options further to find the best tool for the job.
We’ll also talk about ways you can clean and maintain your shovel to make it last for years to come and how to shovel correctly to prevent strain and injury to yourself.
1. Spade versus Shovel
Although a spade and shovel are two terms that many people use interchangeably, they are two different tools. It’s important to note their differences in looks and usage before you go on the hunt for the best tool.
A spade is what most people consider a flat shovel. It has a flat tip, rather than pointed, and a somewhat concave design that helps it perform as both a digger and a scooper. The edge of a spade is sharp, which helps it cut through tough materials, like heavily-packed soil or rocks.
Like shovels, spades often have a step to let you use some force from your legs to break through the ground for heavy-duty jobs. They also come in a variety of sizes, materials, and blade shapes, some narrow and some wide, to complete different tasks, like trenching.
A spade’s main purpose is to dig and transfer dug materials, but you use a shovel for scooping and moving materials mostly. However, as you can see from our descriptions above, many shovels have morphed into a combination of shovel and spade, creating versatile tools that you can use for several landscaping and gardening tasks.
2. Shovel Materials
Almost any type of shovel blade can consist of different materials, from plastic to hard metals. The shaft, too, can range from plastic or aluminum to wood or fiberglass. What material is best for you?
Plastic and aluminum parts tend to make a shovel less expensive. But, these materials are also subject to quicker breakdown over time from rust, weather, and usage.
Steel blades are incredibly durable and treated versions can resist rust and other damage from wet conditions, but these blades will hike the price up more than plastic or aluminum blades.
A wooden shaft is one of the more common types you’ll see because it’s durable and has a pleasant appearance. A fiberglass shaft can also be a good option, though, since it’s lighter weight than wood and is more resistant to weathering.
3. Intended Weight
The shovel you purchase should have a proposed weight capacity marked on it, usually on its label. This number is critical to adhere to, as lifting anything more than the intended weight can break the shovel or even cause you injury.
Snow, for example, can weigh about 20 lbs. per cubic foot. If you have an inexpensive plastic shovel whose manufacturer only intended for it to hold about ten pounds at a time, you won’t be able to get much snow shoveling done.
On the other hand, a heavy-duty shovel with a steel blade and shaft that can hold up to 100 lbs. can help you move more snow at a quicker pace.
The intended weight also refers to the shovel’s ability to prevent injury. Shovels have specific designs that can help position you to avoid strain on your back, arms, legs, and neck. Those without an ergonomic design may have a warning not to lift over a specific weight so that you can keep yourself safe.
4. Priming, Cleaning and Maintaining Your Shovel
Your purchase should last as long as you need it to, but you can help extend the life of your shovel by priming it before you use it, cleaning it after, and maintaining it during and after the season.
Priming your shovel helps it glide through materials easily and is a technique people use most often for snow shovels. Priming prevents things like dirt and snow from sticking to the shovel, which makes for easy cleanup later. Use a coating agent, like WD40, on steel blades before using them.
Every time you’re done using your shovel, regardless of the task, be sure to clean it before storing it. You’ll help prevent materials from sticking to the blade and rusting it over time.
Before storing the shovel during the off-season, you can use a wood oil on wooden shafts and a file to sharpen dull blades.
5. Safety First: Digging the Correct Way
Using a shovel the right way can be the difference between straining your back and feeling fine when you’re done.
When you dig or scoop, you should remember to bend at your knees and use the power of your legs as much as possible, rather than your arms and back. In fact, this is the reason that many shovels have steps to rest your feet on and use for more force!
When you’re ready to lift dirt or other materials with your shovel, bend at the knees and lift rather than bending at your waist, which can put excessive strain on your back muscles and spine.
Remember, too, that if you’re going to be digging and transporting heavy materials with your shovel, you should use safety boots with steel toes to protect your feet. A pair of gripping gloves can also come in handy if you use a shovel without a grip.
D. Where to Buy Shovels Online
We hope that this guide helped you learn about the numerous types of shovels on the market and how you can use them to your benefit. If you’d like to purchase one from an online retailer, we suggest browsing the options on the following websites, which have a wide range of shovels to choose from: