Spade vs Shovel: Which Should You Choose?

Spade vs shovel? Wait, aren’t those the same thing? The English language would have you believe so, but we’re here to set the record straight.

The names spade and shovel are often used interchangeably, even in stores, so it’s no wonder people are confused! There is a difference between these two, and it’s a pretty big one. We’re here to share which is which and when to use them, saving you time and effort in your garden.

Our Favorite Spades and Shovels:

Product Features
Fiskars Long Handle Digging ShovelBest ShovelFiskars Long Handle Digging ShovelBest Shovel
  • 14-Gauge Steel Blade
  • 57.5" Long
  • Sharpened Blade
Check Current Price
Heavy DutyBully Tools 12-Gauge Round Point ShovelHeavy Duty
  • 12-Gauge Steel Blade
  • 59.2" Long
  • Fiberglass Handle
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Best SpadeFiskars 46 Inch Square Garden SpadeBest Spade
  • 14-Gauge Steel Balde
  • Large D-Handle
  • Powder-Coated
Check Current Price

What’s the Difference?

The big difference is that shovels and spades are made for different tasks. One really cannot replace the other in terms of use, which is why most gardeners have both types. These tasks may seem somewhat similar in theory, but having the right tool for each makes a tremendous difference.

To put it simply, shovels dig and a spade will scoop and slice. If you want to dig a hole, choose a shovel. If you need to move a pile of loose material, choose a spade. Of course, there are plenty of other jobs shovels and spades are designed for. To address that, let’s take an in-depth look at shovels and spades.

Shovels

Shovel
A shovel is made for digging purposes. Source: Domiriel

Shovels typically have a scooped, rounded blade with a point on the end. This is the classic shape that usually comes to mind when you think ‘shovel’. They also have a long handle that’s offset from the spoon-like blade.

Uses

Shovels aren’t only for digging, but that’s their main job. The curve of the blade edge combined with that angled sharp point is just perfect for breaking into the ground and scooping up dirt. You’ll also find that the blade shape makes this tool exceptional at breaking up the earth. Once you’ve dug a hole, the concave blade makes it easy to refill.

Looking to break ground on a new garden bed? The sharper tip of a shovel also allows it to cut through weeds or grass smoothly. The angle of the blade curvature can be used to help break up the soil as well.

The handle is sometimes angled where it meets the blade shaft so the user has good leverage with the load. Shovel handles are usually at least 48″ in length or more, which gives access to deep holes.

Spades

Spade
Spades are meant for moving soil or making clean trench edges. Source: Andrew_Writer

Unlike shovels, a spade has a flat, rectangular blade, depending on the brand and its specialized uses. The tip is flat and sharp instead of curved with a point. When comparing blade shapes, a shovel actually resembles the spade in a deck of cards more than an actual spade does!

Spades often have shorter handles than shovels, which gives you more control while using it. The handles may have a D-shaped grip at the end to provide a good grip and a hand pivot point. The blade is typically smaller and less concave.

Interestingly enough, snow shovels are often large spades with sides, much like a compost scoop. Because of their specific uses, we’ve got a separate piece to address picking a snow shovel.

Uses

A shovel’s weakness is a spade’s strength. Having a more precise shape than the clunky shovel, spades are great for more specialized purposes.

The sharpened, flat edge of a spade’s blade is designed for cutting through dirt and debris. It can break up the earth and cut through roots like a knife through butter. This tool is also ideal for edging where you need a precise angle and clean lines, such as a trench or garden bed. You can even use a spade to scrape soft weeds off the surface of the soil.

It doesn’t look like it, but a spade is a proficient scooper. The straight edge is perfect for lifting loose material. Also, the size and shape of this tool makes it easy to move loads quickly and efficiently. It may seem strange to choose a potentially smaller blade to scoop with… after all, wouldn’t that pick up less material?

But remember the weight of the material you’ll be moving. Unless you’re an athlete or like to work out at the gym, chances are you’ll be grateful for the lighter loads. Also, what you lose in volume you pick up in speed. The job will get done faster with this tool.

Choosing Your Spade or Shovel

Shovel vs spade
Shovel vs spade? We’ll sort out what you need today! Source: Garrett Wade

It might not seem like a big decision, but handle shovel/spade shopping like your other garden tools. There are many different materials and qualities that have a huge impact on usability. Most blades are made out of steel, but the handle material varies. Here are the most common handle materials.

MaterialProsCons
WoodStrong, classicSplinters with age
FiberglassDoesn’t wear downPricey and irreplaceable
SteelBasically bulletproofHeavy
AluminumCheapBends easily

For more information on factors to consider when buying a shovel or spade, check out our article on choosing the best shovel.

Recommended Products

To get your tool search started off right, here are a few shovels/spades that we recommend.

Fiskars Long Handle Digging Shovel

Sale
Fiskars 96685935J LNG Hndl Digging Shovel
  • Ideal for digging in tough soil
  • Welded 14-gauge hardened steel blade and 18-gauge...
  • Sharpened blade makes it easy to penetrate tough...

This tough shovel is all steel, so durability is ensured. The sturdy blade has an extra-large footrest for breaking into the ground. It also features a sharp point and unbeatable price. The strength of this shovel, plus a lifetime warranty, makes it a great choice for your garden.


Bully Tools 12-Gauge Round Point Shovel with Fiberglass Long Handle

If you’re planning to really put your shovel to work, this one is for you. This shovel is prized for its strong, unbreakable handle made with three walls of fiberglass, reinforced with wood. The steel blade is extra thick for durability. The price is fair for the quality you’ll get here.


Fiskars 46 Inch Steel D-handle Square Garden Spade

Sale
Fiskars 46 Inch Steel D-handle Square Garden Spade
  • Ideal for edging, cutting a trench, slicing...
  • Extra-large D-handle design offers secure...
  • Welded 14-gauge hardened steel blade and 18-gauge...

Fiskars made it on the list again, and for good reason. This spade is completely steel from handle to blade. At the end of the handle is an extra-large D grip that will fit gloved hands with ease. Reviewers are raving about this spade’s durability and versatility. If you’ve decided you need a spade, this is a fantastic option.


In the end, it’s not quite fair to compare spade vs shovel since they’re designed for different uses. If you want the job done right, one really can’t replace the other. In a pinch, you could use your spade for digging or shovel for moving, but it won’t be anywhere near as efficient. So, when making your choice, consider the task ahead of you and determine if you need the digging power of a shovel, a sharp slicing spade, or both.


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Last update on 2020-11-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API