types of shovel in front of a shed

Spade vs Shovel: Which Should You Use?

Are you wondering which tool is the right fit for your gardening needs? Look no further than the spade vs shovel debate. Understanding the difference between a shovel and a spade is essential for any gardener who wants to achieve the best results. While the two tools may seem similar, they are pretty distinct in their uses, materials, weight, blade shape, handle, and cost. In this article, we’ll explore the difference between a spade and a shovel and help you decide which tool is best for you. We’ll also take a closer look at the various types of spades and shovels available on the market today, so you can make an informed choice based on your specific gardening needs. So, whether you’re just starting to garden or want to revamp an established space, drawing your conclusion to the spade vs shovel debate can make all the difference in achieving the perfect garden.

What Is A Shovel?

Before we dive in to the argument between spade vs shovel, you’ll have to know what each of them are for! A shovel is a gardening tool with a broad, flat blade with a curved edge on one side and a handle attached to the other. Usually, the blade is metal and the handle of wood or plastic. Although gardeners primarily use shovels for digging and moving soil, gravel, sand, or other loose materials, you can also use shovels for edging and cutting through roots, sod, and thick vegetation.

Shovels come in various shapes and sizes, each designed for a specific task. For example, a square-point shovel with a flat blade is best suited for moving loose materials like soil, while a round-point shovel with a pointed tip is better suited for digging through hard and compacted soil. On the other hand, a trenching shovel with a long, narrow blade is ideal for digging narrow and deep trenches. Additionally, shovels with longer handles provide more leverage for digging and moving heavier materials.

What Is A Spade?

A spade is a gardening tool designed for cutting and slicing through tough and compacted soil. The tool features a flat, rectangular blade with a straight edge on one side and a handle attached to the other. The blade is typically metal, while the handle can be wood, plastic, or metal. Unlike shovels, which gardeners primarily use for moving loose materials, spades are best for cutting through tough soil.

Like shovels, spades come in various sizes and shapes, each good for specific tasks. For instance, a border spade with a smaller blade is ideal for working in tight spaces, while a digging spade with a larger blade is better suited for larger digging projects. 

Spades are helpful for various gardening tasks, including digging planting holes, dividing perennials, removing weeds, and shaping garden beds. Gardeners can also use spades to create clean edges around garden beds and to cut through sod when creating new garden beds or paths. However, spades are not ideal for moving loose materials such as soil, gravel, or sand, unlike shovels.

What’s The Difference Between A Shovel and A Spade?

spade vs shovel beside wheelbarrow

Naturally, whether you choose a shovel or spade depends on your preferences and the necessary tasks you have to complete in your garden. Several things can influence which tool would be best for you, such as the types of jobs you have to do and the design of your garden. However, some key differences can make this decision easier. For example, visually, shovels and spades may look similar, but they have some critical differences in their design and intended use. So, here’s a brief overview of differences when it comes to spade vs shovel – read on for more detail.

  • Blade Shape – The blade of a shovel is typically rounded or pointed, with a concave shape that is ideal for scooping and lifting loose materials such as soil, gravel, or sand. On the other hand, the blade of a spade is flat and rectangular, with a straight edge designed for cutting and slicing through tough and compacted soil.
  • Blade Size – Shovels typically have larger blades compared to spades. This larger blade allows for greater capacity when scooping and lifting materials. In contrast, spades have smaller, narrow blades that enable greater precision and control when cutting through the soil.
  • Blade Angle – The blade of a shovel is typically angled or curved, which allows for easier lifting and scooping of materials. In contrast, the blade of a spade is straight, which provides more effective cutting and slicing through the soil.
  • Handle Length – Shovels generally have longer handles compared to spades. This longer handle provides more leverage for lifting and moving heavy materials. In contrast, spades typically have shorter handles, which allow for more precision and control when cutting through the soil.
  • Weight – Shovels are generally heavier than spades due to their larger size and thicker blade. This added weight can be an advantage when lifting heavy materials, but it can also make the tool more tiring to use over extended periods. Spades, with their smaller, lighter blades, are generally easier to handle and require less effort.
  • Intended Use – Shovels are primarily used for moving loose materials, such as digging and lifting soil, gravel, or sand. They are ideal for garden chores, including digging planting holes, moving mulch, and transferring materials from one place to another. On the other hand, gardeners commonly use spades for cutting and slicing through tough and compacted soil. As such, it would be best to use spades for tasks such as digging in hard-packed ground, dividing perennials, removing weeds, and creating clean edges in garden beds.
  • Price – In general, shovels are less expensive than spades. This is because shovels are more versatile and can be used for a broader range of tasks, whereas spades are specialised for cutting and slicing through the soil.

Spade vs Shovel: Materials and Weight

Both spades and shovels are available in a range of materials and weights. These factors can significantly impact the tool’s performance, durability, and comfort.

The differences between materials and weight when it comes to spade vs shovel include:

  • Steel – Steel is a popular choice due to its strength and durability, making it ideal for heavy-duty tasks. However, steel can be heavier than other materials, making the tool more tiring to use over time. 
  • Aluminium – Aluminium is a lightweight alternative to steel, making it easier to handle and manoeuvre for extended periods. However, aluminium may not be as durable as steel and can be more prone to bending or breaking. 
  • Fibreglass – Fibreglass is another lightweight option that balances strength and durability. Also, fibreglass is less likely to conduct heat or electricity, making it a safer option when working around electrical wires or in hot temperatures.

However, the material that your spade or shovel is made of affects the weight of the tool. And the weight of a spade or shovel can greatly impact its performance and comfort when in use. Heavier tools can provide more leverage and power for digging and lifting but can also cause fatigue over extended periods. On the other hand, lighter devices can be easier to handle and manoeuvre but may not provide as much power or leverage. Additionally, the weight distribution of the tool can also impact its comfort and balance when in use. Tools with a balanced weight distribution can provide greater control and precision, while tools with uneven weight distribution can cause strain on the arms and wrists.

What’s The Cost Difference Between A Spade and A Shovel?

person planting tree with shovel

The actual cost difference when it comes down to spade vs shovel can vary greatly depending on the tool’s brand, material, and size.

Generally, shovels tend to be less expensive than spades. This is because gardeners typically use shovels for heavier, more straightforward tasks like digging and moving large amounts of soil, whereas they’ll use spades for more precise and detailed work, such as digging small holes or cutting through roots.

In terms of materials, steel shovels tend to be the least expensive option, while aluminium and fibreglass shovels can be more costly due to their lightweight and durable properties. Spades can also vary in price depending on the materials used. For example, steel spades are often the least expensive option, while more high-end spades made from lightweight materials such as fibreglass or carbon fibre can be more costly.

The size of the tool can also impact the cost. For example, larger shovels and spades are more expensive due to the material required to manufacture them. Additionally, the brand of the tool can also impact its cost, with well-known brands often charging a premium for their products.

The Difference Between Shovel and Spade Blades

The blades of shovels and spades differ significantly in shape, size, and function.

A shovel blade is flat and slightly curved, with a scoop-like shape ideal for moving larger amounts of loose materials such as soil, sand, or gravel. It is slightly concave, allowing the blade to hold and transport materials without spilling. Also, the leading edge of a shovel blade is usually relatively sharp, making it easier to break through compacted soil or other tough materials.

On the other hand, a spade’s blade is typically flatter and straighter than a shovel. It is more precise, allowing gardeners to accurately dig smaller, deeper holes or trenches. Often, spade blades are narrower than shovel blades, which helps them penetrate the soil more easily. Additionally, spade blades may be pointed or squared off, depending on their intended use. A pointed spade blade is ideal for cutting through tough soil or digging small holes, while a squared-off blade is better suited for edging or cutting through roots.

Shovel and Spade Handle Differences

Shovel handles are longer than spade handles, ranging from 42 to 48 inches long, so you can use them with two hands. The extra length of a shovel handle provides more leverage for lifting and moving heavy materials, which makes shovels ideal for tasks such as digging deep holes, removing large rocks, or shovelling snow.

On the other hand, spade handles are generally shorter than shovel handles, measuring between 28 and 32 inches in length. This shorter handle is designed to provide more control and precision, allowing gardeners to dig small holes or trenches with greater accuracy. The handle of a spade is often slightly curved or angled, which provides a comfortable grip and reduces strain on the wrist and hand during prolonged use.

The materials used to make shovel and spade handles can also vary. Wooden handles are commonly found on both shovels and spades, although some models may use fibreglass or metal handles for added durability. Wooden handles are lightweight and comfortable to use but may not be as sturdy as other materials. Fibreglass handles are more durable than wooden handles and are resistant to weathering and splitting, but they can be more expensive. Typically made of steel or aluminium, metal handles are the most durable and are often found on heavy-duty shovels and spades.

Shovel vs Spade: Shape

man clearing snow with snow shovel

The shape of a shovel or spade is one of the most noticeable differences between these gardening tools. The blade’s shape affects the tool’s ability to dig, move and shape soil, gravel, sand, snow and other materials. 

Shovel blades are wide, flat and curved, and their thrust makes them suitable for lifting and moving loose materials. In addition, the curvature of the blade allows for easy material collection and provides a larger surface area for scooping. Shovels are also useful for spreading and levelling material because of their uniform shape and smooth edges. 

In contrast, spade blades are sharper and smoother, and their sharp edge is ideal for cutting hard soil or grass. The flat shape of the blade allows for precise grass cutting, making the spade an ideal tool for creating garden beds, edging or planting plants. The pointed tip also makes digging deep holes or trenches in hard, compacted soil easy.  

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.

Different Types of Spade

So, spade vs shovel – which one should you use? Just to make the decision harder, there are several different types of spade that you can use. Spades come in a range of designs, each made to handle specific gardening tasks. Below are some of the most common types of spades:

  • Digging Spade – This is the most common type of spade, featuring a flat blade with a pointed tip. It is ideal for digging and cutting through hard or compacted soil, making it an excellent tool for gardeners when preparing garden beds or planting shrubs and trees.
  • Border Spade – Border spades are smaller and more compact than digging spades, making them ideal for working in tight spaces such as around flower beds or along the edges of pathways. They usually have a shorter handle, which makes them easier to handle in tight spaces.
  • Trenching Spade – This type of spade has a long, narrow blade that is ideal for creating long, narrow trenches for planting bulbs or laying irrigation pipes. Trenching spades have a sharp, pointed tip that makes it easy to cut through tough soil.
  • Drain Spade – This type of spade has a narrow blade with a V-shape at the end, which makes it ideal for digging trenches to install drain pipes. The V-shape allows the blade to be inserted into the soil at an angle, making it easy to create a trench with a sloping bottom.
  • Edging Spade – Edging spades have a rounded blade that is ideal for creating smooth, rounded edges along garden beds or lawns. They are also useful for trimming the edges of lawns or creating shallow trenches for laying cables or wires.

Different Types of Shovel

If your answer to spade vs shovel is the latter, there are also several types of shovel that you can choose from. Each type of shovel is made to handle separate tasks in the garden. Below are some of the different types of shovels:

  • Digging Shovel – This is the most common type of shovel, featuring a wide, flat blade with a rounded edge. It is ideal for digging and moving soil and other loose materials.
  • Snow Shovel – Snow shovels have a wide, curved blade designed to push or lift snow. They usually have a shorter handle than other shovels, which makes them easier to manoeuvre in tight spaces such as walkways and driveways.
  • Scoop Shovel – Scoop shovels have a deep, curved blade designed to scoop and move loose materials such as grain, compost, or animal feed. As such, scoop shovels are common on farms.
  • Trenching Shovel – Trenching shovels have a narrow, pointed blade that is ideal for digging narrow trenches or holes. They are also useful for removing small roots or rocks from soil.
  • Post Hole Digger – This type of shovel has two blades designed to dig holes for fence posts or other structures. Usually, these blades are narrow and pointed, and they work together to create a circular hole in the ground.

The Final Word: Spade vs Shovel – Which One is Right for You?

man and child planting a tree with two types of spade

The spade vs shovel debate is an important consideration for any gardener looking to get the most out of their gardening tools. While a shovel and spade may look similar at first glance, they have unique features and are better suited to certain tasks. Understanding the difference between a shovel and a spade can help you work more efficiently and effectively in your garden, allowing you to achieve better results. Remember, the difference between a spade and a shovel extends beyond just their physical appearance; it also includes materials, weight, blade shape, handle, and cost. By understanding the various types of shovels and spades available on the market, you can make a more informed choice that suits your specific gardening needs. So whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, take the time to learn more about the spade vs shovel discussion, and make the most out of your time in the garden.

As you embark on your gardening journey, don’t forget to also consider ways to make your garden more environmentally friendly. Check out this article on Starting an Environmentally Friendly Garden for tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint while growing your green thumb.


Why Is A Shovel Called A Spade?

We often use the terms shovel and spade interchangeably, but these words actually refer to two different tools. While the origin of the term “shovel” is uncertain, the term “spade” comes from the Old English word “spadu,” which means a digging tool. Historians believe that the word shovel may have originated as a variation of the word “scoffle,” an old English word for a hoe or rake. 

What Is Another Name For A Shovel?

Other common names for a shovel include a scoop or a spade shovel. However, some people also refer to shovels as snow shovels, garden shovels, coal shovels, or grain shovels, depending on the specific task for which the tool is used. 

Is It Illegal To Carry A Shovel In Public In The UK?

No, it is not illegal to carry a shovel in public in the UK. However, any bladed item carried with the intention of causing harm or alarm to others could be seen as an offensive weapon, and possession of such an item could lead to prosecution under UK law. Therefore, it is important to use and carry shovels and other tools responsibly and with a legitimate purpose.


Seasonal Gardening. (n.d.). Spades and Forks. Retrieved from https://www.seasonalgardening.co.uk/garden_tools/spades-forks.asp [accessed 16/05/23]

Gardening Know How. (n.d.). Using Long Handled Shovels. Retrieved from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/tools/using-long-handled-shovels.htm [accessed 16/05/23]

The Government of the United Kingdom. (1988). Criminal Justice Act 1988. Section 139. Retrieved from https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/33/section/139 [accessed 16/05/23]

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