Shovels and Spades for Women
DEAR TIM: I have numerous outdoor digging chores scheduled for this spring. I am a fairly petite woman and struggle with regular shovels. Are there shovels and spades available that are made more for women than men? What shovels are best for digging certain holes? Are there specific shovels and other digging tools that will minimize the work required for digging jobs? Pauline B., Spicewood, TX
DEAR PAULINE: Your back, leg and arm muscles are going to thank you this spring once you purchase some of the awesome new shovels, spades and post hole diggers that I have recently seen and tested. Some of these tools are so beautiful, it is a shame to get them dirty. I believe the explosive growth of gardening as a hobby is responsible for the abundance of new, excellent digging tools that are now available.
Why struggle with regular sized shovels!
I know why you struggle with regular sized shovels. Most are designed for use by construction workers that probably weigh 100 pounds more than you and have considerable upper body strength. A standard sized shovel has more surface area than a smaller tool. This increased area produces lots of extra friction when you try to cut through soil. For example, the blade of a flat spade I commonly use measures 7.25 inches wide by 12 inches long (87 square inches). It weighs in at a hefty 5 lbs. I recently purchased a beautiful border spade for my wife, Kathy. Its blade is only 5.5 inches wide by 9 inches long (49.5 square inches). It weighs in at slightly less than 4 pounds. Kathy looks like a well oiled machine when she digs effortlessly in the garden with this tool!
You can also buy small round point shovels that will allow you to quickly slice into moist soil. In fact, I had to recently purchase a new one for Kathy since I ruined her original one. The smaller round point shovels are excellent tools for mixing concrete and mortar in wheelbarrows.
What finishes are available on smaller shovels?
The smaller shovels are available in all sorts of finishes. You can get super durable high carbon steel, epoxy coated steel, and even rustproof stainless steel! The wooden handles are works of art. You can purchase gold stained Maine ash wood handles or ones made from beech. If you care for these tools by cleaning and drying them after each use, they will last for generations.
Get the right shovel for the right job!
I have seen people struggle when they dig holes for plants or dig drainage trenches. The trick is to use different tools for different parts of the job. If you want to dig a square or rectangular hole with straight sides and a flat bottom, then you will need a round point shovel and a flat spade. A round point shovel has a semi-circular blade that comes to a pointed tip. It requires the least amount of force when slicing into soil.
A flat spade tends to have a blunt tip. If you use this type of tool to make initial cuts into the ground, you may struggle. A flat spade works best to shape the sides of a hole once the majority of dirt has been removed with a round point shovel. Flat border spades work great for cutting and removing sod, especially if you sharpen the tip with a metal file.
What is a post hole digger?
If you need to dig post holes this spring, you may want to consider using a revolutionary post hole digger. Traditional post hole digging tools have two long cutting blades that resemble round point shovels. You drive the tool into the ground and then operate the handles much like a scissors to gather and remove the loosened soil. Because of the tool design, the top of the hole gets bigger as you dig deeper. These diggers also have a hard time capturing dry or sandy soil.
You can now buy a new post hole digger that works much like a mechanical backhoe. The tool has a single cutting blade. Once it is driven into the soil you operate a wooden handle that rotates the cutting blade 90 degrees. The cutting blade scoops and cradles the soil as you pull it from the hole. This new post hole digger allows you to maintain a consistent hole diameter from top to bottom.
Mentioned in the July 30, 2008 Newsletter.