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What is a Spade?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated May 16, 2024
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Spades are gardening tools, which are typically confused with shovels. Shovels are considered general digging tools for moving dirt from one place to another, while spades are smaller and specialized for use in the garden. They have a narrow head, which is ideal for digging in between plants and around borders that shouldn't be disturbed. The earliest spades were made from wood, but after metalworking became common, most spades were constructed of metal.

The spade is made up of two primary parts, the head and the shaft. The head has a sharpened end with a slight curve for scooping. It is usually heart-shaped, around 5½ to 7½ inches (14 to 19 centimeters) wide and between 9 and 11½ inches (23 and 29 centimeters) long. The head connects directly to the shaft, which can be between 28 and 48 inches (71 and 121 centimeters) long. The shaft can be made from wood, fiberglass or plastic-coated steel.

Most spades come with corrugated treads on the edge of the head closest to the shaft. These treads are used for support when extra force is needed. The user places a foot on the tread and pushes down, helping to cut through thick roots or other objects. Spade shafts may have either D or T handles on the top, or no handles at all. D handles have a small loop in the shape of a D, while T handles have a small bar perpendicular to the shaft.

The most common type of spade is the garden spade. It is used for the digging and tilling of soil in a small area, especially garden beds. Border spades are considerably smaller than garden spades, and are typically used in confined areas, such as between rows of plants. Shrubbery spades are smaller than border spades, and have a more narrow head. They are often used as an alternative to border spades, when precision is more important.

A turfing iron is another variety of spade, with a short, round head. It is primarily used to cut and par turf at certain lengths, and has few other practical uses. Digging forks are also spades, and closely resemble smaller versions of pitchforks. They have three sharp tines that are used to loosen dirt before digging with a different spade.

Spades are used to dig planting holes and trenches, and for removing small plants and refilling holes. The sharpened end is ideal for cutting roots and penetrating tightly packed soil. The smaller spades are commonly used to remove weeds around vegetables and flowers. Spades are also used for removing fenceposts, as they can easily dig out the soil holding the posts taut.

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