Shovel Vs Spade – They’re Not The Same

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Are you wondering which tool to pick for your gardening prep activities? Check out this foolproof shovel vs spade comparison. Whether a landscaper or amateur gardener, picking the right tool for your gardening tasks goes a long way. It’s important to distinguish and pick the right option, even tools as similar as a shovel and spade.

After all, each tool is specially built to facilitate the best results for a specific task. Before you throw on that wide-brimmed garden hat and gardening gloves, check out this detailed shovel vs spade comparison to know what to take with you outdoors.

What is the Main Difference between a Shovel and a Spade?

The main difference between a shovel and a spade is their designated functions. A shovel is built for digging shallow holes, moving dirt, and other similar light tasks. On the other hand, a spade is better suited for digging through compacted soil and creating fine-tuned holes. In short, a shovel better handles loose and lighter soil while a spade is ideal for more complicated and compact soil.

Parts of a Shovel and Spade

Many people confuse shovels and spades due to their physical appearances, leading to using their names interchangeably. Both spades and shovels feature a blade, step, and handle.  But, with the right knowledge of what to look for, you can instantly distinguish between a shovel and a spade.

Blade

Shovel blade
Shovel blade

The blade is the main bottom part of the shovel or spade made of metal. This is what you use to dig into the ground or scoop up the soil. The blade also features a front edge, known as the cutting edge, which actually cuts through the soil or roots. A spade blade is usually flat with a square-shaped cutting edge while a shovel is more curved or bowl-shaped with a rounded edge. You can, however, come across a few square-shaped (pointed) shovels.

Step

Shovel step
Shovel step

Also known as the kick plate, the step refers to the flat piece located at the upper blade edge near the shovel or spade’s shaft. As the name suggests, the step is where you would usually place or press your feet when digging into the ground. Depending on the capacity and design of the shovel or spade, some models feature a step while others don’t.

A spade has a smaller step at the blade top or either handle side. Generally, some shovels have steps while others don’t. This is due to the design and functionality of the particular shovel. Typically, shovels don’t require as much force (especially from your foot) to dig into the ground.

Similarly, putting a step on the shovel adds bulky weight to it, making it a little cumbersome when scooping or lifting the lighter material it usually handles. Shovels with steps are typically larger and built to handle more material.

Socket

Shovel Socket
Shovel Socket

The Socket or collar connects the shaft and blade; it is typically made of metal and screws onto the shaft.

Shaft and Handle

Shovel shaft and handle
Shovel shaft and handle

The shaft, as its name suggests, is a long piece made of wood or fiberglass. It can be found between the socket and handle. Meanwhile, the handle is the topmost part of the shovel or spade shaft, where you actually hold the tool.

Whether you opt for a spade or shovel, the handle features three main designs, i.e. D-shaped, T-shaped, and straight handle. The D-shape handle is the most common of the three. Also known as a U-shaped handle, this handle grip design offers the best support and comfort, though it can be a little uncomfortable for smaller hands.

A T-shaped handle offers similar comfort and leverage as a D-shape, but it is comfortable for all hand sizes. A Straight handle, on the other hand, offers a rounded end that runs to the shaft with no handle attachment. This means you have minimal grip and leverage.

When it comes to the handle, spades offer a short and straight shaft with a D or T-shaped handle.  A shovel offers a longer shaft with an upward angle handle (with no grip at the top) or a D-shaped handle. Shovels with no grip handle are usually held at the shaft at an angle, eliminating this need. But, you may also find models with padding to allow for more operating comfort.

Main Differences: Shovel Vs Spade

Here’s a detailed comparison of a shovel and a spade;

Shovel

Applications/Uses

A shovel is known as a multi-purpose tool due to its versatility. The lightweight gardening tool is generally built for loose soil, sand, snow, or gravel. You can use it to scoop and move the materials. Depending on the design and size, you will find shovels ideal for handling various volumes of these materials, simultaneously.

As mentioned earlier, shovels feature various cutting-edge styles. These include round, square, and scoop shovel cutting blade edges.

Rounded or scoop shovel

A rounded-edge shovel is the most common variety due to its versatility and all-around use. This rounded cutting-edge design makes it easier to dig various types of holes in the ground without causing damage to the surrounding area. Its wider blade area also means you can move more material in a shorter period. Scoop shovels feature a deeper or more defined rounded edge that makes them great for moving loose materials, such as mulch and snow.

Square shovel

The square-shaped shovel is another popular option. But, unlike the rounded option’s versatility, it is better suited for digging.  For instance, a square-edged blade can be used for filling and leveling the surface when paving a garden path. You can also use it to dig a trench for irrigation or drainage systems, dig holes for planting trees and other plants, or access a tight garden area. But, just like a rounded shovel, it offers a wider blade area to scoop more material.

In general, shovels aren’t built for precision. Instead, they simply help you get what you need to prepare in your garden when it comes to digging, scooping, and moving. Even their various body parts make these processes efficient. Their curved off-shaft tips give their blade tips a forward position to make sliding off easier for materials.

So, when you are scooping and moving, the job is effortless, unlike when you use a spade. Similarly, their curved blades make digging wide easy but, it doesn’t produce the most precise holes or trenches. This design, however, accommodates more material for faster and easier moving.

Types of shovels

Shovels come in a long list of different types and styles. So, when you are shovel shopping, don’t just pick the first one you see. You need to equip yourself with the right features to look out for so you choose the ideal option.

Digging shovel

The most common garden shovel, a digging shovel has a wide and flat blade with a rounded edge. As its name suggests, it is best for digging and moving soil and other loose materials. Some digging shovels feature a step or foot pad for adding more force using your feet in case of obstacles on the ground. These shovels are usually built for heavier-duty purposes and for digging deeper holes or trenches. Larger shovels can even be used for transplanting trees, digging large weed roots, and removing rocks, among others.

Snow shovel

while snow qualifies as loose material, you want to invest in a snow shovel rather than use a digging shovel. A snow shovel is fitted with a shorter handle (the shortest of most shovels) to make maneuvering around tight spaces, driveways, and walkways easier. They also have a wider and curved blade to easily scoop, push, or lift more snow.

Scoop shovel

Commonly used in farms, scoop shovels are great for handling compost, animal feed, and other loose farm materials. They have deeper and curved blades, like dustpans, for easier scooping.

Trenching shovel

Built for digging narrow trenches, trenching shovels do a good job of removing small roots and rocks from the ground or soil. They have a narrow and pointed blade that makes them effective in digging the narrow trenches.

Post Hole Shovel

A post hole shovel or digger features a unique design These shovels are usually built for digging shallow holes, typically from a few inches to a foot in diameter. You can use them to dig holes for transplanting trees and other large plants, fence posts, or other general structures. They are fitted with dual narrow and pointed blades, working in unison to create circular holes.

Design & Shape

A shovel features a forward-angled body, less straight than a spade, to easily execute its functions. With a more angled rather than straight body, it’s easier to dig using a shovel. In fact, before you examine the blades and other parts, the overall shape is an excellent tool for differentiating a shovel from a spade.

The same can be said about their blades since the blade affects the overall functionality, including digging, scooping, moving, and shaping abilities. Since their blades are flat, curved, and wider, shovels can also comfortably lift and move loose materials.

On the other hand, their blade’s curvature allows for easier material scooping and collection, providing more space. You can also use shovels to spread and level loose materials, thanks to their uniform shape and smoother edge designs.

While differentiating shovels from spades, you also want to note the differences between shovel sizes and styles. For instance, lighter shovels offer less power but are great for general gardening tasks. On the other hand, professional-grade shovels offer more power. But, they tend to be heavier and with a higher learning curve.

Construction: Blade, Handle & Shaft

A shovel blade is usually larger with an inward curve from left to right and a rounded or squared (pointed) tip. Shovel blades are also sharp and angled. However, the actual blade sizes vary, based on the shovel’s intended abilities and functionality. You can even find uniquely shaped shovel blades with extra length, dual-sided ledges, and saw tooth edges.

You don’t need to memorize the functions or standards of all shovel blade shades. Instead, remember the basics that a larger blade means you can remove more material. Nevertheless, naturally, a large blade means you will have a heavier shovel than one with a smaller blade. Moreover, a larger blade leads to more struggle to support and lift a full load than a smaller one.

When it comes to uses, a round-tip shovel blade is versatile while a square one is great for digging. On the other hand, a flat blade is great for lifting loose materials or edging while a sharply pointed one is effective at cutting into the ground and roots.

A shovel is usually fitted with a longer shaft and straight or D-shaped handle, measuring about 42 to 48 inches long. This allows for better handling, leverage, and easier lifting, even with two hands. Your choice of the shovel’s shaft length highly depends on your needs.

 A longer shaft allows for better leverage when handling heavier materials or cutting through the ground and plant roots. A shorter handle offers better digging control. Similarly, a straight or upward-angled handle removes as much bulkiness as possible to make handling easier. But, if you absolutely need more grip for your shovel, the D-shaped handle option is better.

Cost

The actual cost of a shovel varies based on numerous factors, including the brand, material, size, and building quality, among others. Compared to spades, however, shovels tend to cost less. The lower price tag compared to spades is usually associated with their lighter applications and uses.

For example, shovels commonly dig, scoop, and move loose materials while spades deal with harder ground and compacted soil. This means that the material used for shovels will not be as reinforced as that in spades. Furthermore, spades work with more precision and detailed work, resulting in more attention given to their crafting. This doesn’t mean that you won’t find a shovel that costs more than spades.

You still have to consider other factors, like the brand and material choices, in addition to the overall properties. For example, an aluminum shovel may cost more than a steel spade. But, a steel spade will cost more than a steel shovel.  Nonetheless, a luxury brand XXX shovel may cost more than a regular or budget-friendly brand YYY spade, no matter the material used.

Spade

Applications/Uses

A spade is considered a precision garden tool due to its more precise and detailed functionality.  These specialized garden tools offer a variety of functions in the garden, in addition to digging through harder ground and compacted soil. You can also use a spade if you want to dig straight into the ground for a more precise hole.

Further, a spade features a flat and rectangular blade design that makes it even easier to cut through turf and grass without damaging or affecting the surrounding grass. This makes a spade great for removing turf grass from small garden or yard areas, planting bulbs, seedlings, and smaller plants. 

Thanks to its precision functionality, a garden spade can also be used to establish holes or trenches for installing garden equipment, such as sprinkler heads, edging garden beds, or even creating garden bed borders. You can also use a garden spade for digging or creating clean and precise lines between parts of your garden or yard. This all-purpose garden spade is ideal for more standard garden work.

But, among the different types of spades, you will find a trenching spade used by landscapers. This spade is better for more complex tasks, like digging narrow trenches for irrigation pipes and water lines. The reason why a trenching spade is the best tool for these activities is that it doesn’t disturb the surrounding soil or grass.

It’s worth noting that a spade excels at its functions due to its specialized design. The standard slat and shallow-faced blade of a spade makes cutting, piercing, and digging easier. This blade design also makes the garden precision tool ideal for edging. Even as a precision tool, a spade still offers much versatility and is an essential tool for gardeners and landscapers alike. Again, to pick the right spade, you have to choose the right type.

Types of spad

Standard spade

A standard or garden spade is built for all-around general-purpose gardening use. It features a rectangular and flat blade and can handle most spade-related gardening tasks.

Garden spade

A garden spade offers an all-around functionality, just like a standard blade. But, the scope of its functionality significantly varies based on its style.  It has a medium and large size and is fitted with a slightly curved blade. This type of spade is the only one that offers some kind of curvature on its blade. However, you can find garden spades of different styles, including curved or rounded blades, and long or short shaft options. Similarly, you can find a narrow, wide, pointed, or rectangular garden spade design.

Digging spade

A digging spade is similar to a standard one in many ways. Their main difference is that a digging spade comes with a wider blade design. The digging spade also has a flat blade with a pointed tip. This makes it more convenient at moving more soil and other materials. The wider blade design also makes it better for edging. But, digging spades can sometimes feature rounded cutting edges instead of rectangular ones. Like the standard and garden spades, the digging spade is another common type of spade.

Border spade

A spade is commonly used for bordering tasks in the garden or yard. So, it’s no surprise that you can find a specially-built border spade. While it looks like a standard or digging spade, a border spade tends to be lighter and smaller to allow for better maneuverability. The small and light blade design also makes it easier to create holes for small plants. A border spade is ideal for working on raised garden beds or narrow flower borders.

Transplanting spade

A transplanting spade functions just as its name suggests. Built for transplanting small plants, seedlings, and bulbs, it has an elongated and narrow blade design. This blade design allows for easier and more precise digging into the ground for safer root management, ensuring minimal to zero damage.

Trenching spade

The trenching spade is built for digging narrow and long trenches for laying irrigation system pipes or for planting bulbs or other small plants. These spades consist of a long and narrow blade with a sharp and pointed cutting edge. This blade design makes it super easy to cut through tough soil.

Edging spade

An edging spade is an excellent spade option to use for garden beds or lawn edges. This precision tool is built to facilitate edge trimming on your lawns or to dig shallow trenches for tools like watering and irrigation systems. An edging spade features a rounded blade with a smooth and rounded cutting edge.

Drain spade

Also known as a bullet shovel, this type of blade is ideal for digging accuracy, particularly for small holes in tough ground. They can also be used for digging drainage line trenches a couple of feet deep and no more than 9 inches wide. Drain spades are typically small with narrow and thin blades.

Further, their blades have a V-shape at the end, explaining their bullet shovel nickname.  This V-shaped blade edge makes it easy to insert the blade into the ground at an angle to create a hole or trench with a sloping bottom.

Now, this is ideal for transplanting plants without causing damage to the surroundings or plants themselves. On the other hand, small design makes them incredible garden spades for accurate digging. This same small profile also makes them suitable for digging small, accurate holes for transplanting flowers and shrubs and digging straight rows for planting vegetables.

Root spade

A root spade is designed to help you thoroughly cut out unwanted roots.  This special spade is built with a shorter handle for easier working and a tapered straight-edge blade with a notch that cuts the roots from the center.

The center, inverted V-pattern cutting is achieved by the notch cutting through the roots on either side. So, while you may struggle to do this with another garden tool, a special root spade makes the task less tedious.

You can even find a serrated blade root spade that offers even more root-cutting effectiveness. This type of root spade handles thicker toots with its edges grabbing on, twisting, and pulling out thick root chunks. But, due to its more advanced functionality, a root spade costs more. If you struggle with high amounts of invasive plants, weeds, or tall grass, a root spade can help take care of the problem.

Pointed spade

This spade is great for digging deep into tough terrain, compacted or clay soil, rocky soil, or tangled roots. A pointed spade features a pointed blade cutting edge instead of a flat one. This boosts its cutting ability and makes for a tougher environment and materials.

Flat-bladed spade

A flat-bladed spade makes it easier to work in a tight line, allowing for more precision and mess-free functioning.

Serrated blade spade

This type of spade is fitted with an ultra sharp and serrated blade. The blade design makes the spade easier and more effective at skimming turf, hard soil, and other materials to establish a smoother surface or top.  You can also use this type of spade to cut through the hard snow or ice on sidewalks and driveways when you are trying to shovel snow.

Design & Shape

A spade is usually fitted with a blade sharper and smoother than a shovel. The sharp and smooth blade design makes it easier to cut through the hard ground, compacted soil, or tangled roots. The spade blade is also flat because, unlike the curved shovel blade, a spade’s blade focuses more on cutting and digging.

In contrast, a shovel cuts through looser material and does a lot of lifting and moving. A spade’s flat and straighter profile doesn’t just accommodate digging. It also optimizes slicing through different hard materials in the garden.  The flat blade shape of a spade makes cutting easier, more effective, and more precise.

Due to this blade design, a spade is better suited for when you want to work on your lawn or garden beds, borders, edging, and even transplanting plants, bulbs, or seedlings. Additionally, you can use a spade to skim tough weeds.

 You will also notice that most spade blades feature a straight or pointed cutting edge to further reinforce their cutting power and precision. In particular, a pointed tip facilitates deep hole and trench digging, especially in hard and compacted soil.

 It is worth noting that spades have different shapes, such as round or square, which can affect the purpose of the tool. For example, a square-end spade is designed for cutting tough roots, while a round-end spade is useful for creating smooth, rounded edges.

Construction: Blade, Handle & Shaft

A spade blade tends to be straight, flat, and narrow with no curvature or concavity. In contrast to a shovel, the blade is typically in line with the shaft rather than angling forward. This blade design allows spades to deliver optimal results, whether digging through tough grounds, compacted soils, or slicing through turf. Spades also come in various designs, styles, and sizes.

A bigger blade allows you to cut or slice through more stuff in a shorter period than a smaller spade blade. However, you don’t want your spade to be too large because you will struggle to lift it, push it into the soil, or maneuver around smaller spaces.

When choosing a spade to invest in, ask yourself what you intend to use it for. If you want to use it around a small garden bed, you want a smaller spade for easier maneuvering. On the other hand, if you want a more general-purpose option for a large lawn, a bigger option isn’t too bad.

Moreover, spades come with a step or foot ledge. Contrary to the functions of a shovel, a spade requires more power to perform some of its tasks. These include digging through tough grounds or compacted soil, particularly when you want to dig deep trenches or holes. A foot ledge or a step lets you apply extra pressure to the spade using your foot to easily cut through the tough ground, compacted soil, or tangled roots.

Spades are fitted with much shorter shafts compared to shovels, measuring between 28 and 32 inches long. A shorter handle shaft allows for better control and precision. It is also ideal for maneuvering small spaces and digging smaller or shallower holes and trenches with more precision. A longer handle shaft offers better leverage, especially when dealing with heavier tasks or cutting through tougher ground or roots.

Unlike shovels, spades offer several handle types – with the D-shaped or D-handle being the most common. D-handles offer the most flexibility and comfort, allowing for easy digging and moving dirt over long periods without premature hand fatigue. In fact, most spades are fitted with heavy-duty D-handles to get the most out of their functionality.

A heavy-duty D-handle guarantees better grip and digging power.  Moreover, a D-handle is comfortable for any hand size. A T-shaped or T-handle is another common spade handle grip type. This type of handle is great for use with both hands on either side and lets you apply more force, especially when digging into tougher, compacted, or heavy soil.

 However, a T-grip handle is better suited for very small or very large hands, depending on the style and size you pick. So, it may not cater to all hand sizes. When it comes to the spade shafts, shorter shafts are most common although you can find long ones too.

Cost

In general, a spade will cost more than a shovel. This is because a spade features a more demanding and precise functionality. It handles heavier and tougher soils while providing more accurate results. So, more work is put into designing and fabricating a spade.

Moreover, a good quality spade requires better material with more integrity to accommodate its functions and last longer. But, you have to consider other factors too, including the brand, design, material, construction quality, application, and size.

Shovels vs Spades: Table Summary of Primary Differences

CharacteristicsShovelSpade
Applications/uses– Scooping and moving loose soil, sand, and gravel
– Digging holes and trenches that require much precision
– Transplanting trees and larger plants
– Removing snow
– Moving animal feed, compost, and similar farming material
– Digging precise holes
– Digging through hard ground and compacted soil
– Edging and creating a garden bed or borders
– Removing turf grass from small areas
– Planting smaller plants, seedlings, or bulbs
Blade shape and sizeLarger blade
– Concave shape with rounded, pointed, or square cutting edge
– Narrow and smaller blade face
– Flat and straight with no concavity or curvature
Handle and shaft– Longer shaft
– Straight or D-shaped handle
– Short or long shaft
– D-shaped r T-shaped  handle
CostCheaper than spades(might find more expensive options depending on materials, sizes, brand, etc)Costly than shovels

Main Similarities: Shovel Vs Spade

Shovel and spades do have a few similarities that don’t impact their functions as much.

Basic Parts

Shovels and spades share similar basic parts. Both consist of a blade, shaft, and handle – although the designs vary. Furthermore, some shovels will come with a footstep or ledge while most won’t since it’s not necessary for the functions of a shovel. Similarly, most if not all spades are fitted with handles/handle grips while some shovels don’t feature handle grips (they have straight handles, instead).

Materials

Spades and shovels are both made from similar materials. Both tools can be made from a vast range of materials with varying weights to impact their performance, comfort levels, quality, and longevity.

Here are the common shovel and spade blade materials;

Steel

Steel is the most popular material, favored for its durability and strength. These properties make steel an excellent option to use for heavy-duty shovels and spades. However, you don’t want to use large steel shovels or spades. Steel is naturally very heavy, so using tools made out of it can lead to premature fatigue and tiredness.

Aluminum

Aluminum is the opposite of steel, offering a much lighter alternative. This makes it easier to handle and maneuver, over prolonged without causing fatigue. Its ruggedness makes it great for shovels and spades of any size. The only downside to using aluminum shovels and spades is that they are not as durable as steel ones. This leaves them to be susceptible to bending, snapping, and breaking.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is another excellent lightweight material, much lighter than aluminum. This material offers an impressive mix of strength and longevity. Moreover, fiberglass shovels and spades are ideal for hot climates as they don’t conduct heat. If you are working around electric cables and wires, fiberglass is a better option than metals. This is because it is neither conductive to electricity. Nonetheless, fiberglass is a good investment if your pockets allow it as it is among the most expensive shovel and spade materials.

Here are the common handle shaft materials for shovels and spades;

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is a popular and common handle material for both spades and shovels. It is among the lightest materials, which comes in handy for this part of the tool. However, they also offer an excellent weight-to-strength ratio. But, you should expect to pay a premium price for these durable fiberglass handle shovels and spades.

Wood

Wood is another light material for shovel and spade handles. It also provides reasonable comfort due to its natural flex. However, unlike fiberglass, wood is cheaper. Yet, it doesn’t offer the water and sun resistance that fiberglass offers. Especially when left outside, wood gradually loses its quality and deteriorates. You will start to notice splinters and other damages over time.

Steel

Steel is the ultimate handle material for heavy-duty shovels and spades as it offers incredible force and power. At the same time, it can cause fatigue, especially if you do a lot of lifting. Further, steel is susceptible to rust especially when placed outdoors, in wet or humid environments.

Again, you have to factor in the intended functions when choosing the shovel or spade material. Proper weight distribution is also vital to ensuring optimal performance and comfort.  A heavy tool offers more power and leverage. Unfortunately, it can also cause premature fatigue. Larger tools are also impossible to maneuver and come with a steep learning curve. A lighter tool is easier to maneuver and handle. But, it offers less power or leverage.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can a Shovel Be Used as a Spade?

A shovel and a spade have very different functions so they cannot be used interchangeably. While a shovel is intended for digging, lifting, and moving loose materials, a spade is better suited for digging and cutting through tough ground, compacted soil, or tangled roots. You can also use it for edging and skimming. Nonetheless, in very rare cases, some shovel models may be used as spades. But, for the best results, use a shovel or a spade where necessary.

Do I Use a Shovel or Spade on Loose Soil?

You should use a shovel for loose soil and similar materials, such as sand, gravel, and snow. A shovel typically features a rounded and curved blade better suited for digging loose soil and materials.  On the other hand, a spade is better suited for tough, compacted, and heavy soils.

Do I Use a Shovel or Spade on Compacted Soil?

Use a spade for compacted soil as it is built for this. This is because a spade has a sharper and smooth blade edge better suited for targeting tough, compacted, and heavy soils. A shovel is better suited for loose soil.

How is a Shovel and Spade Different From a Trowel?

The main difference between a shovel and a spade and a trowel is their size. A trowel is a mini version of the two, designed for planting young plants on a small border, garden bed, or pot. A trowel has a much shorter handle and can also be used for removing weeds, shallow digging, and moving small amounts of soil, mulch, or gravel.

Conclusion

Understanding the shovel vs spade comparison makes it much easier to choose the right tool for your garden or lawn activities. With the right tool, you are guaranteed to enjoy the best results. So, if you need to handle loose soil or other loose materials, a shovel is better. A spade is ideal for tough, heavy, or compacted soil or similar. From here on, you can then go for a particular spade or shovel by further narrowing your needs.

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