Thursday, March 24, 2022

More About Shovels & Spades

After seeing David's post about shovels, I thought I'd add my two cents worth of shovel knowledge. I've done a fair amount of dirt work over the years, and I agree that spades are for digging and shovels are for moving material. For most jobs, the types of spades and shovels David listed are sufficient, but I've known some of them by different names.

For Moving Things
What David calls a spading fork is a tool we've always called a potato fork. These are very handy when harvesting potatoes or other root crops since the tines do less damage to the tubers and allow dirt to fall through them as you lift the roots out of the soil. Larger versions with round tines and more of a shovel shape are called manure forks, and you can guess what their function is from the name. 

a manure fork

The most common type of shovel around here is the grain scoop. Made of aluminum or plastic to eliminate the possibility of sparks, every farmer will have at least a few around. Sparks and grain storage are a bad combination; look up dust explosions if you need some nightmare fuel. These are often used as snow shovels in the winter, since most snow weighs less than an equivalent volume of corn or beans and you're likely to have one already. They are sturdy, light, and easy to find in most farm supply stores.

a grain scoop

When picking a shovel for a job, try to size it for the material you're moving. Grain weighs around 45 pounds per cubic foot, water weighs around 62, dirt is around 75-80, and concrete/rock is about 140-150. Trying to lift a grain scoop full of gravel is no fun, so get a smaller shovel to save wear and tear on your back. If you're moving lighter material like grass seed or ashes, grab a bigger shovel to make it move faster.

For Digging
The round-nose spade is more commonly used to break soil or start digging. The point helps you push it into the soil just like a knife point helps you puncture a box or animal hide. The curved edge also slices through roots better than a straight edge, something to consider when working around woody plants and trees.

Flat-nosed spades are helpful for smoothing off or squaring up a hole. Working around any structure under the soil is easier when you use a flat-nose spade to keep the vertical surfaces clean and neat. They're also useful for making temporary steps or stairs to climb out of a hole.

Tile spades are another common type of spade, used to dig post holes and narrow trenches to bury pipes or cables. The round tip and deep blade let you make small, deep holes while the rounded profile keeps the hole roughly the same shape as the post you're trying to set. Keeping the hole close to the same size as the post makes the post sturdier and cuts down on the amount of work you have to do. 

a tile spade

There is a variant of the tile spade used for digging really deep holes. It has a handle measured in feet instead of inches, and it's used with a separate tool called a spoon which removes the dirt from the hole after the spade has loosened it. The spoon has a blade turned at an angle to let you scoop up loose dirt from the bottom of a hole.

a spoon shovel

Post hole diggers and augers have replaced these tools, except at extremely remote locations where you can't get power equipment to the job site. When setting posts and poles, you need to have at least 1/3 of the post in the ground for proper support, so a twenty-foot flag pole is going to need a seven-foot deep hole. 

Special jobs require special tools, so you may run into shovels with odd shapes or sizes. I know a lot of farmers keep shovels with broken handles around for use when cleaning the mud out of equipment, because they're easier to use in tight spaces such as between or behind tires on large tractors. 

Having the knowledge of what the right tool is for a job is almost as important as having that tool available. Have both, and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble. 

1 comment:

  1. What they taught us in the Navy at CE A-school was 10% plus two for pole depth. (minimum 5')


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