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What is a Dirt Shovel?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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A dirt shovel is used for digging and scooping earth such as in gardening or creating holes for fence posts. Dirt shovels are also called garden or scooping shovels. A spade isn't the same as a shovel since spades are flat and shovels have a bit of a curve to them to hold scoops of dirt. Spades don't scoop soil, but rather loosen it and this is why a spade has a straight blade. A dirt shovel may have a short or long handle and may feature a blade that is square or more rounded in its overall shape.

Rounded dirt shovel blades are considered multipurpose and work well for sandy or dry soil, while square-bladed shovels may be better for rocky or coarse soil as well as breaking up grass and loose earth. Smooth backs on both types of shovel blades help dirt slide off rather than cake onto the blade. Short handles allow the digger to get closer to the area to be dug or scooped and have greater control when digging or scooping. Long handles work best for digging large or deep holes as they are usually easier to hold.

D-shaped metal parts on short-handled dirt shovels allow the fingers to deeply grip the handle and this can help control the direction of the shovel when digging small or shallow holes. A short-handled dirt shovel can also help prevent gardeners from digging into the roots of plants near the ones being dug. No matter the shovel handle's length, a bigger blade can get the job done twice as fast.

It's important to fill dirt shovel blades only half full because otherwise the weight of the soil can place too much pressure on body joints and back muscles. When scooping up dirt with a shovel, the knees rather than the back should be used to bear the soil's weight. It's also a good idea to pile the scooped up dirt close by to avoid wasting extra energy or straining the arms by stretching them out to toss the soil off the shovel blade across a large distance. When digging a hole in the soil, the edge of a shovel's blade should touch the ground. The digger's foot can then press down the blade from its shoulder or top to loosen the earth before digging the hole.

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