Timely Tip: Avoid working garden soil when it’s wet, but if you have to move wet dirt, coating your shovel with W-40 will help to keep the mud from sticking to the blade.
Of all the tools in your garage, none is probably used more but gets less respect than the shovel. Even Martha Stewart over-looked this all-important tool in recent column featuring her favorite gardening tools.
If I had to choose between a trowel and a shovel, I’d pick the shovel any day. I have lots of tools I substitute for a trowel, but my trusty round-point long handled shovel is the garden and grounds workhorse I use for the tough stuff from planting shrubs, to digging ditches. In fact, my long handled shovel is the first tool I take out in spring and the last to be stowed away in fall.
So when a friend called to ask if I thought shovels might make a good housewarming gift my answer was – That’s a great idea. Using the right tool for the job means less stress and strain on the body and gets the job done faster and when it comes to buying shovels, many folks, especially new homeowners don’t have a clue.
A quality long handled round point shovel is a must for every homeowner. A good rule of thumb to remember is, the longer the handle, the less the strain on the back.
Next I’d choose a flat edged D-handled spade. They’re used for transplanting, edging, turning soil and narrow bed work. The shorter D-handle gives the user more control.
A favorite of mine for digging perennials is a modified version with a slightly tapered blade and a rounded edge. Old timers call it a poacher’s spade, but today it’s called a transplanting spade.
A D-handled round-point shovel is used for heavy digging in tighter areas where you want more control. The shorter handle also makes it easier to haul around in smaller garden carts.
Often overlooked, but handy to have, is a square-point shovel with a flat edge and upturned sides. They’re also called transfer shovels because they are designed specifically to move loose material, such as topsoil, mulch or pea gravel, from one area to another. Transfer shovels come with both long handles or D handles.
When shopping for quality shovels there are several things to look for. Strong tight-grained white ash has long been the wood of choice for shovel handles regardless of the price range. Painted handles may appeal to the eye but often hide softer wood that splits with age and cracks under pressure.
In a top quality shovel choose either a wood or fiberglass handle. Traditionalists usually opt for wood. With a yearly coating of linseed soil and protection from the elements, a premium grade ash handle will last a lifetime. And it will flex under pressure, which helps to lessen fatigue.
A top quality fiberglass handle is waterproof, lighter in weight, 40 percent stronger and brightly colored, so you won’t loose it in the tall grass.
Heavy gauge heat tempered carbon steel blades add to a shovel’s strength and durability. The forward-turned steps on the blade top provide safe firm footing when digging. On standard-sized shovels, a strong 9-inch blade socket is also an indicator of quality. On some models a steel-reinforcing collar is added to strengthen the handle/socket connection.
Other features may include ergonomically designed D-handles constructed of strong but light weight space age polymers that have an extra-wide opening and an angled shape to provide a firm, comfortable grip.
Weight can work both ways. A heavier blade when planted into the soil will cut deeper than a lightweight model. And a heavy gauge, forged steel blade is less likely to break under stress. However, many gardeners, find light weight shovels easier to use and for that reason Union Tools had designed an entire line of quality garden tools fitted with slimmer handles and smaller blades, that are lighter in weight than their full sized cousins, and they carry a life-time guarantee. Sold under the brand name Scott’s Landscape Gardener, these quality tools are available at Sears and independent nurseries.
In my father’s day, picking out a shovel was a no-brainer. My Dad relied on Sears Craftsman brand tools because they were known for their quality and guaranteed for life. Today Sears continues that no-hassle return policy on all their Craftsman shovels and the blades are still hand-forged. That’s one reason Tim Travis, president of Goldner Walsh Nursery in Pontiac, supplies his landscapers with Craftsman shovels. Travis says along with the guarantee, the strength and durability are critical, broken shovels cause downtime that’s very costly. The Craftsman long handled round-point fiberglass handled shovel retails for $19.99 and the ash-handled model is priced at $17.99.
While talking quality tools with the experts at Union Tools, Steve Forgy, national accounts manager, stressed that most shovels are broken when folks misuse them to pry rocks and roots out of the ground. So he recommends homeowners as well as contractors get a long handled wedge point bar to do the prying. I recommended my friend include one in her housewarming gift set.
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