George Killgore, of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Service, has the scoop on shovels. Here are some tips for choosing and using this essential gardening tool.
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Two grades of shovels are commercially available: homeowner-grade shovels for light work and contractor-grade for heavy-duty work and serious gardeners. It's easy to tell the difference by the thickness of the steel.
There are two types of pointed-end shovels: open-backed and closed-backed. Open-backed shovels are cheaper and less durable and have a hollow depression in the back of the blade where the shaft fits.
More durable closed-back shovels are made of a single forged and tempered piece of steel. Forging allows the smith to taper the blade for better soil penetration and to thicken the metal where bending stresses are high.
A tool called a shrake is for scooping, not digging. Its head is made up of holes that separate larger items such as rocks from smaller particles such as dirt or sand.
Scoops are good for mulching and light digging tasks.
Trenching shovels have long, deep blades and are used at nurseries and in landscaping projects.