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Shovel & Digging Tips

Digging Tips to Save You and Your Back

I have dug my share of dirt, moved countless tons of gravel by hand, and backfilled way too many room addition foundations. Over the years I have learned some tricks that make moving solid materials a little easier.

Match the Tool to the Job

I have seen many homeowners try to dig a hole with a square point shovel. This type of tool has a blunt front edge and slightly up-turned sides. It simply doesn't work. This type of shovel is used to handle loose materials like sand, dried loose dirt and small pea sized gravel.

If you want to cut into a dense soil, you need to use a round point shovel. If you are working in a rich topsoil, you might be able to use certain square point shovels or spades.

Squaring Up Holes and Trenches

If you are trying to dig a nice uniform trench, you use a combination of tools. I would rough the trench in with a round point shovel. Then switch to a flat spade to trim, carve and slice the sides of the trench so they are crisp. The spade can also be used to create a smooth trench bottom. The final loose dirt debris can be removed from the bottom of the trench with a square point shovel. Don't forget that spud bars - a long iron rod with a pointed or flat tip - can be used to crack rocks in holes or trenches.

Specialty Shovels

Perhaps my favorite digging tool is my duckbill or trenching shovel. This tool is great. It has a narrow blade often only 5 or 6 inches wide. The point is slightly rounded - halfway between a round point and square point shovel. Because the snout is not too wide, it cuts deeply into the soil as you step on the blade. The force of your step is concentrated.

Look for shovels that have small lips or flat areas where you place your shoe or boot. This will eliminate the sore foot syndrome. You can also save your foot arches by wearing solid work boots to dig. Gym or athletic shoes are not made for digging.

Clean Tools Work Best

When you are finished digging, always clean your tools. Cutting blades clogged with clay create enormous friction as you try to dig. Oil them lightly to prevent rust during winter storage. Oil will also help you dig through sticky clay soils. A coat of urethane on wooden handles is also a good idea.

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