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What is a Beach Shovel?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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A beach shovel is a digging tool made for sand. Its scooping section is typically square in shape and mostly flat except for a more rounded portion near the lower part of the handle. This area helps hold the sand in the shovel blade until the user is ready to toss it out. The handle on a beach shovel may be long, short or collapsing.

Collapsing, or folding, beach shovels are made to be compact, yet also extend into a long-handled digging device when needed. This type of beach shovel is made to be lightweight as well as take up minimal room in a tote bag or backpack. It may be used by backpackers to dig holes for tent stakes or to create a trench around the camp area for rainwater to drain off. Folding backpacking beach shovels often have a metal blade that is stronger than a plastic shovel.

Plastic beach shovel varieties are extremely common. Typically, they're made for casual use and are available in fun, bright colors. Children's plastic beach shovels are short-handled with an open section at the top of the handle made for little hands to grip. They're often sold in sets with a plastic pail that features a carrying handle. Larger packages of kids' pail and shovel sets are available for sale to give out as favors at a children's beach birthday party or for use at a child care center's sandbox.

Kids can scoop sand with the shovel into the pail. If the sand is damp and packed down enough, it will form a molded shape when the pail is tipped upside down. The shapes can then be used to create sand castles or other forms on the beach; plastic shovels work well to dig moats, or trenches, around a castle. Adults making sand sculptures for competitions may use several different sizes of beach shovel as well as varied techniques. For instance, the back of the shovel blade is often used to smooth a sand sculpture's surface.

Although some beach shovels have metal blades, most also have some plastic parts. All-metal shovels are typically too heavy to carry around on the beach unless they're made from lightweight aluminum. Besides creating sand castles or holes for tent stakes near the beach, shovels are also used for digging clams when shellfish are in season. Brightly colored, rather than neutral toned, shovels are easier to find on the beach when it's time to pack up and go home.

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Discussion Comments
By Eviemae — On Aug 15, 2011

My kids love their sand shovels, and they use them all of the time. I will have to warn you, though, that if you turn your kids lose with them at home there’s no telling what they might dig up.

One day, I gave both my kids their shovels so that they could play in a little mound of dirt my husband had left out of some landscaping dirt. We had used to fill holes around the yard. (You know how dogs like to dig those holes that people like me are prone to falling in.)

I turned my back for maybe two minutes, turned back around from my flowers only to find my little ones digging all of my pebbles out of my walkway!

They were making some great headway, too. They had a mini-mountain of my pebbles (which are not inexpensive) about three feet from the walkway.

I must admit, though, that they were being so good that I was tempted to let them just shovel away. After all, a few pebbles are a small price to pay for some peace and quiet on occasion!

By Domido — On Aug 14, 2011

@OeKc05-Wow, I had never thought of that happening. Although I am always careful with my kids when we go to the beach (about once a week, I’d say), this has really grabbed my attention.

You see, we always dig a hole for my little man to play in, who is only two. He’s afraid of the noisiness of the ocean, but loves to play in the water.

I’ve never thought twice about the smaller waves washing up to his little hole, which is always right by me.

Now, I will take a little more precaution. Jelly fish and sting rays are nothing to play with, and can actually really hurt and injure badly occasionally.

By shell4life — On Aug 14, 2011

My friends and I decided to camp out at Gulf State Park during summer break from college. We brought along a collapsing beach shovel.

We settled on a high sandy spot far enough back from the ocean that if a storm came along, the waves could not reach us. We could see and hear the waves very well.

We had originally brought the shovel to dig a trench around our tent so we wouldn’t wash away during the daily showers this area gets, but we ended up needing it for another purpose. Several big dead fish washed up on the beach, and they were starting to really stink in the hot sun. We used the shovel to dig deep holes and bury the fish. That shovel saved our vacation!

By OeKc05 — On Aug 13, 2011

Toy beach shovels can invite danger. The holes they are used to dig can harbor harmful creatures.

My brother’s three kids all had plastic beach shovels. They decided to dig a wide hole to catch whatever the waves might wash up on shore. When they finished digging, they went back to the hotel.

Hours later, they returned to the beach to see what the waves had brought them. Two jellyfish and a big stingray were caught in the hole.

The kids were only four, five, and six years old, so they did not know not to touch these creatures. The six-year-old, wanting to rescue the stingray, placed his hands underneath it to lift it up and carry it back to the water. It pierced his hand with its barb, and he was in pain for days afterward.

The other two kids had waded into the hole and gotten stung by the jellyfish. Though their pain did not last as long as that of the first kid, it caused them plenty of suffering.

By cloudel — On Aug 12, 2011

I make a sand turtle every time I go to the beach. I find that using the back of a beach shovel helps create a more rounded, smooth surface.

I first got the idea when I saw a person buried under a rounded mound of sand on the beach. The mound looked like a turtle shell, especially with the person’s head poking out of it.

I dug sand with the shovel and piled it up. Then, I smoothed it out using the back. I made smaller mounds for the head, feet, and tail, and I used the shovel to smooth all of them as well.

For the final touches, I used the sharp edge of the shovel to carve a pattern into the shell. I dug him out some eyes and nostrils, and I indented the feet where the toes would be.

By Perdido — On Aug 12, 2011

As teenagers, my friend and I worked in a grocery store part-time. It served as the inspiration for our award-winning sand sculpture.

Before we left for the Gulf coast on vacation, we purchased plastic beach shovels from the small selection of toys that our grocery store carried. We decided that we would make a sculpture of stacked cans, like those found in store displays.

Using a large cylindrical plastic cup, we formed the sand molds by shoveling damp sand into the cup, packing it tightly, and dumping it out. We placed the sand cups very close together for support, and we were able to build a stack of them seven cups high! The judge picked our sculpture as the most creative.

By alianor — On Aug 11, 2011

@amysamp - That's a really cute gift idea! I'm sure it would be equally nice as a doggie-bag gift at kids' summer parties too.

What other types of items might be nice to include with a beach shovel and bucket set for kids?

By fingered — On Aug 10, 2011

@manykitties2 - Normally if you have the shovel in your checked baggage, there shouldn't be a problem since it will go into the underbody of the aircraft. Alternatively, how about purchasing a metal shovel when you arrive at your destination? If you go for the first suggestion, I'd highly recommend contacting the airline to check with them first. Anyone know if gardening-type tools are usually allowed in checked luggage?

By amysamp — On Aug 10, 2011

I agree with the comments here, I spent the weekend at the beach with my two young nephews (ages two and four) and the beach shovels we had for them was a must.

I could not believe how much time passed while they were simply digging a gigantic hole (with a lot of adult help of course) and then trying to fill it with water!

A simple gift I like to bring for my little nephews and cousins is what I call a dollar store beachy beachy fun fun package.

Go to the dollar store find the biggest bucket and shovel set they have and fill it with dollar store finds. They usually have beach balls, flip flops, sunglasses, little towels, or other fun tools for the sand such as a little plastic rake.

Kids love them and it gives you a few minutes to read your beach novel as they go through the bucket.

By manykitties2 — On Aug 10, 2011

Has anyone had any experience with using both regular plastic beach shovels and the folding kind made for traveling?

I am planning a big beach vacation for my next break and really want to make sure I bring the right tools with me so I can make some nice sand sculptures. My friends and I have recently got into local contests and are having fun being really creative with the art we make.

I need a shovel that is sturdy and won't break easily. I would love metal, but I think that would be tough to pack in luggage. I would also worry that the airline I am traveling on might confiscate my beach shovel thinking I am going to take over a plane with it.

By Sara007 — On Aug 09, 2011

Nothing is better than bringing along a bunch of beach tools when you head to the beach. For my kids I always make sure we have lots of beach shovels and containers of various sizes so they can make sand sculptures and castles to their heart's content.

My favorite thing to make with my children is an actual sand fort. Because of the size this kind of project can take an entire afternoon of work. It is a good idea for at least one person, usually the adult, to use a larger metal beach shovel, because they are much better for digging.

By sunshine31 — On Aug 09, 2011

I live on the beach and I have to say the beach shovels are must when you have kids. I usually have a variety of beach toys like this because it does keep my kids busy and they really enjoy creating a lot of sand castles and moats with the shovels.

My son’s favorite thing is to turn my daughter into a mermaid by shoveling sand over to cover her legs and create a tail that way. It is really a lot of fun to watch.

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