Spade vs Shovel: What’s Best For You

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For any beginner at gardening, figuring out the right tools and equipment is tough. Especially when two tools look exceptionally similar, it can be a real struggle. Likewise, a spade and a shovel are both essentially used to dig soil, but they are quite different in functionality and the scope of usage.

Spade vs Shovel
Image: practicalprimate.com

Despite the fact that both of them serve the same purpose of digging and moving soil, they are fundamentally different. On the basic standards of composition, weight, blade shapes, sizes, etc. both these products vary greatly. 

Even though the final choice will boil down to your main purpose and a few factors, this detailed comparison will enable you to determine the right tool. 

Spade vs Shovel: Key features and Specifications

Here is a comparison table summarising all you need to know to make a quick decision:

Shape of the bladeStraight and flat, in various shapesLike a scoop, with upturned edges
Shaft LengthShorter shaftsLonger in size
Handle SizeUsually in ‘D’ or ‘T’ shapeShorter but in various shapes
Primary useDigging holes, straight-edged furrowsMoving materials, relocating plants

Continue reading for a more in-depth analysis of both these pieces of gardening equipment.


A spade is a gardening tool that is used mainly to dig through the soil. It has a rectangular blade, one that is slightly stunted and flat as compared to that of a shovel. Keep in mind, the edges of the blade are sharp and straight. 


The handle is shorter and mostly has a ‘T’ or ‘D’ shape. A key difference from a shovel would be that a spade’s blade is roughly parallel to its handle. Also, the tip of a spade can be square, pointed, or rounded.

Unlike a shovel that is chiefly designed to move soil and other loose materials, a spade’s design is more fitting for digging.

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Types of Spades 

Some common types of spades include:

1. Garden Spade

A garden spade is probably the most basic digging tool. You can easily find it in any backyard or garden. These generally have a short ‘D’ type handle with a flat blade.

Garden Spade

This is mainly used for turning soil or for removing weeds. Some other uses may include laying a flower bed or evening out the edges of a sidewalk or a soil bed. 

A garden spade will also have treads, which are rests or steps for the feet to easily drive it into the ground.

2. Transplanting Spade

As the name suggests, a transplanting spade is used to move seedlings or plants. For this reason, they have a specially designed narrow blade. 

Transplanting Spade
Image: leevalley.com

Sometimes called the drain spade, its handle is usually shorter but the blade is long and curved to allow easy handling of plants. It is also ideal for digging narrow holes and troughs.

3. Irish Spade

An Irish Spade is known to be hard-wearing. It has a solid carbon steel composition and a treaded design. 

Known for their long handles, Irish spades are sturdy and best for use in clay-ey soils. They have long wooden shafts and stainless steel blades.

4. Sharpshooter Spade

Also called a tile spade, a sharpshooter spade has a narrow blade used specifically for digging precise holes. Mostly, these have a rounded tip and are highly durable.

Sharpshooter Spade

These are also used to transplant shrubs, rose bushes, and smaller trees. Along with that, these are lightweight and have reinforced metal collars.

5. Turfing Iron

Of all spades, a turfing iron is unique and has a unique heart-shaped blade. It is a specialist tool designed for lifting and paring turf. Further, this tool has a long handle at an angle to the blade to facilitate the relocation of turf.

Turfing Iron
Image: faithfulltools.com

This spade has an ergonomically comfortable handle that reduces back strain and fatigue. It is usually made of carbon steel and hence, is weather-resistant and durable.

6. Loy Spade

A Loy Spade is a kind of Irish Spade, but with some unique details. It has a handle that’s long and heavy, a narrow steel plate for the blade, and a single footrest. 

Loy Spade
Image: motherearthgardener.com

Although it is not widely used now, its main uses included plowing land manually and digging neat furrows.

7. Skimming Spade

A skimming spade, also known as a weed spade, is particularly effective at weed removal. It can be used to plow hard ground too.

Skimming Spade
Image: gardeningproductsreview.com

It has a special ‘V’ shaped blade and a strong resin-coated handle. The sleek design allows for smooth sliding into the ground and efficient uprooting of weeds.

Where to Use a Spade?

Choose a spade if you need to:

  • Loosen the ground
  • Dig a trench
  • Dig a straight-edged hole or soil bed
  • Slice and lift sod
  • Break down the lumps in the soil
  • Manually plow soil


A shovel is another gardening hand tool used to dig, lift, and move loose materials. A shovel generally consists of a grip (or a handle), a shaft, a collar, a kick plate, a blade, and the tip. One thumb rule is that a shovel has a concave blade that has a scoop shape. The ends may be sharp, rounded, or pointed.


Unlike spades, shovels have a broader blade and a moderately long handle. Due to its scoop-shaped blade and upturned sides, a shovel is mainly used to move materials in bulk from one place to another. Other uses include excavation of materials, turning of the soil, or breaking up lumps of soil. 

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Types of Shovels

Here are a few common types of shovels:

1. Edging Shovel

Similar to a regular spade, an edging shovel helps to create straight and defined edges around soil beds or borders. These have a long shaft that terminates into a metal semi-circle-like blade. 

Edging Shovel

The footrest is straight and facilitates the digging process. Whereas, the blade is smaller and hence, does not damage the nearby plants.

2. Pointed Digger Shovel

With a distinct pointed blade, this shovel is useful for digging through compact and tough soils. The edges are curved upwards, while the shaft is long and may be made up of wood or metal.

Pointed Digger Shovel
Image: trees.com

Further, the blade can help in carrying the dug-up material. Additionally, one can use the footrest to add pressure and dig deeper.

3. Snow Shovel

With long shafts and large rectangular blades, these snow shovels will help you to effectively get rid of snow from the roads, the patio, or the sidewalk. 

Snow Shovel

These are available in a variety of materials like wood, plastic, or metal. Some even feature grooves or treads along the blade tip to help scoop the ice. Also, the blade is vertically curved to aid the collection of snow.

4. Scoop Shovel

Since this type is obviously to scoop up or collect material, its blade is significantly larger than most shovels. On the other side, the shaft is shorter and the tip is flat. 

Other than that, the edges are rigid and upwards to hold and move loose materials like debris, soil, gravel, etc. in large quantities. You’ll find scoop shovels made out of aluminum, wood, and similar metals in the market.

Scoop Shovel
image: harborfreight.com

To choose the right scoop shovel, remember that metal shovels are firmly built and will do better than aluminum at arduous tasks.

5. Handheld Shovel

A handheld shovel is just another name for a regular garden trowel. These may come in a variety of shapes and designs. However, these are most often seen to have short shafts and pointed blades. Remember, the blades might be concave with rigid upturned edges.

Handheld Shovel

These are miniature, lightweight, and perfect for carrying around the garden. These are also useful for sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings, and moving soil.

6. Post Hole Shovel

A post-hole shovel basically consists of two shovels that are attached face-to-face. It is particularly efficient at digging deep holes to set up poles and fence posts. The resulting holes are neat and don’t require much time to be worked upon.

Post Hole Shovel
Image: faithfulltools.com

The right way to use this is to dig the soil, followed by pinching, twisting, and lifting the soil. In one movement, a rectangular-shaped hole can be dug in the soil.

7. Power Shovel

This is essentially an electronic alternative to the traditional manually operated shovel. Usually powered by electricity, the shovel consists of blades that may rotate and scoop up the materials. These are efficient and convenient but unsurprisingly expensive.

Power shovels are primarily used to dig up precise holes or trenches in hard soil.

8. Tree-Planting Shovel

Aptly named tree-planting shovels, this type makes planting trees way easier and simpler. The blades are narrow with curved or pointed tips. The best feature is these shovels are multipurpose and can dig up holes of varying sizes.

Since they are similar in shape to digging shovels, these can be used to dig up trenches as well.

Where to Use a Shovel?

Choose a shovel if you need to: 

  • Move soil
  • Move loose materials in bulk
  • Slice through soil or roots
  • Dig deeper and larger holes 

Spade vs Shovel: Grounds of Comparison

Now that you are aware of the two tools, their characteristics, types, and common uses, let’s compare them based on certain criteria. 


Any typical gardening tool is made up of just a few materials. Similarly, a spade or shovel is largely made of either wood, aluminum, fiberglass, or steel. Each of these materials has its pros and cons.

A spade or shovel made primarily of wood will of course be strong and sturdy but it will not age well. The wood may splinter and it will be difficult to use as time passes.

Fiberglass equipment will be long-lasting. Its composition will not wear out. However, it will be a larger investment as it is a costlier option.

A steel spade or shovel might be the sturdiest to work with. It will not bend under pressure but will definitely be heavy to work with. 

Another alternative will be aluminum. It will be a relatively cheap option. But be aware that it may bend or in some cases, even break easily.

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Size & Weight 

In the spade vs shovel discussion, the size and weight should be decisive factors as well. Although a regular garden spade is longer than a shovel, it is important to remember that the weight depends largely on the type of constituent material. A metal or wooden tool will be heavier than its aluminum counterpart. 

This weight and size factor highly influence the ease of use of the tool as well. For instance, a heavier tool will be difficult to carry around and less feasible to work with. The length of the shaft is also significant. Mainly because a shorter tool will require the user to bend often, causing back strain. 


Spades and shovels are most likely to have similar prices. The only variations will be due to the tool’s size and the corresponding materials used. 

Tools made out of carbon fiberglass or reinforced metals are more likely to be expensive as they ensure strength and durability. Likewise, those of wood or aluminum may be cheaper.

The prices may range from 10 to 50 dollars, but remember that making a choice based entirely on the cost is not a good idea. Rather, look at all other factors before making the purchase.

Blade Size, Shape, and Length

The blade of a gardening tool helps one to dig through the soil, move materials, or make trenches. Both spades and shovels can have increasingly similar blades and tips.

However, don’t forget that a spade has a flat, straight, and rectangular blade and that of a shovel is more like a scoop. Also, a shovel has curved and shorter blades. 

Blade Size, Shape, and Length
Image: wonkeedonkeetools.co.uk

To facilitate their chief functions, a spade has a sharp blade for digging and a shovel has a blade with upturned edges for moving materials.

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Handle & Shaft

While this doesn’t seem like a considerable factor at first glance, choosing the right handle is essential. Not just because it will decide the grip, but also because the right handle will also determine the function of the tool to some extent.

The shorter handle of a spade will have a ‘D’ or ‘T’ shape. This will provide extra leverage and enable the user to apply maximum force with convenience.

A shovel, on the contrary, will have a longer handle. Mostly, the handle is angled forward to help with the scooping. 

Primary Uses

A spade is perfect if you are simply trying to dig through the soil. With its sharp edges, it will help to lay soil beds, flower beds, and evening out the sidewalks. It can also level the ground and dig up smaller holes.

A shovel can perform any task but works best when employed to move materials, excavate hard soil, slice through the ground, and dig up trenches. It can be extremely helpful while planting trees too.

Spades and shovels are both indispensable tools in any garden. They may seem identical but they cannot be used interchangeably. Hence, choose wisely!

Spade vs Shovel: The Final Review

Let’s summarize:

Where to Use Spade

  • Digging precise holes, troughs, or trenches
  • Digging straight-edged furrows
  • Edging sidewalks
  • Plowing manually
  • Getting rid of weeds
  • Loosening hard ground

Where to Use Shovel

  • Digging deeper holes
  • Relocation of soil 
  • Moving materials in bulk
  • Transplanting seedlings
  • Planting trees or moving them


To conclude, the spade vs shovel discussion ends differently for everyone. The final choice depends on an individual’s gardening goals and other crucial factors. Hence, it is important to be aware of the specifications of both tools. 

We hope that this article helped you realize the major points of difference between both the tools and that you will make the right decision.

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