If you’ve got a yard to take care of, then a good shovel is a must-have. But, with so many out there of all shapes and sizes, which kind of shovel is best?
A spade shovel is a mid-sized shovel that’s versatile enough for many backyard jobs. They typically have long, narrow blades, are about four feet long, and are great for gardening, in particular, because they're designed specifically to dig holes to plant established saplings and bushes. Spade shovels are also great for digging trenches and edging along garden beds.
We spent several weeks putting top-selling garden spades through a series of challenges designed to test their durability, performance, and above all, versatility in performing various tasks.
The best spade shovel we tested is the Fiskars Steel D-handle Garden Spade(available at Amazon), because it is durable yet lightweight with a blade that can handle numerous different projects, from edging to dirt moving to digging. For something more portable, try the Gerber E-tool Folding Spade(available at Amazon).
Ultimately, during our testing weeks in a real-life yard, we discovered that there are plenty of other great spade shovels on the market to pick from.
Here are the best garden spades we tested, ranked in order.
Fiskars Steel D-handle Square Garden Spade
Gerber E-tool Folding Spade
Kobalt Steel D-handle Garden Spade
Root Assassin One Shot Garden Shovel
Radius Garden 201 Pro Ergonomic Stainless Steel Spade
When it comes to overall performance, the Fiskars D-handle garden spade is the best spade shovel you can buy right now. The shovel has a slight ergonomic bend in the handle near the blade that’s more comfortable to hold than other garden spades in our guide. It’s a subtle curve, but makes shoveling from various angles much easier than the straight-shafted spades.
The Fiskars spade is also relatively low weight. Despite the shaft being made of durable metal, the Fiskar is noticeably lighter than the comparably-sized shovels. The shaft is solid even when prying against rocks and roots, and the tip of the blade remains unharmed.
The Fiskar garden spade shovel makes it easy to dig holes fast and quickly, with a sharp blade that cuts right through the top layer of dirt and deep into the roots. The long handle gives it enough leverage to work around rocks in the way. The extra-wide D-handle is comfortable to hold and control the shovel with, and the treads on the boot step on the blade helps to keep your foot in place while you’re pushing.
It edges well, digs great, and can move a lot of dirt for a garden spade. As one of the lower cost shovels that we tested, it’s going to be hard to find something better for less.
The Gerber E-tool folding spade is in a bit of a class of its own when it comes to the other shovels on this list. This is a foldable, transportable spade designed to fit easily into luggage on a camping trip or in a pack while hiking. It opens to roughly 2-feet long for digging and collapses down to just under 10-inches long for storage.
We were concerned the folding shovel wouldn’t be strong enough to crack into packed dirt, but that concern is completely unfounded. This is a super-strong, durable shovel, able to dig holes through soil full of roots and rocks with little problem. At only 2-feet long, the size of those holes is limited, and you do have to bend over quite far to dig, which can be tough on the back. For camping or beach trips, however, this garden spade is a solid option.
One of the other useful features of the shovel is the serrated edge. This helps to cut through roots while digging, but can also be used in a pinch as a more traditional saw. We were able to cut through inch-thick branches with the serrated side, so the shovel can double as a tool to help clear an area for a campsite or collect kindling.
If you’re looking for a versatile tool to take camping, the Gerber E-tool folding spade is a solid choice.
Hi, I’m Jean Levasseur. I’m a former conveyor mechanic, current property manager, hobbyist woodworker, and writer. I come from a family of tool-users—my grandfather was a carpenter, my father owned an excavation company, and my mother was a mechanic. Between growing up working for my family’s businesses and then moving onto my own projects, I’ve used most tools you’ve heard of and quite a few that you haven’t.
Testing garden spades is a relatively straightforward process. Because garden spades are primarily used for planting, transplanting, and edging, we focused our testing on their ability to cut through the earth with precision and ease. In order to fully put the spades to the test, we did this behind our tester’s house in the woods, where we would have to deal with all kinds of rocks, roots, and debris in the soil. Throughout all of the tests, we paid attention to comfort and ease of use, making note of any difficulties in digging or features that made the work easier.
The first test was to dig a hole simulating transplanting a small sapling to the depth of the shovel blade. We tested the spade for how well it cuts cleanly through the dirt, leaving a crisp edge and not disturbing too much dirt around it. We also paid attention to how easy it is to remove the dirt from the hole. Finally, we used the same spade to fill the hole back in.
We tested the edging abilities, too, edging five to eight feet of my mulched beds. With this test, we focused on control of the space and how crisp and straight the created edge is. We also used the spade to remove the edged material and toss it into the woods.
We took each spade to a garden and dug planting holes in the well-tilled soil there. Because the soil is soft and loose, making it easy to dig through, in this test we primarily focused on control and ease of use, rather than how well it actually digs.
The final test was to clean the spade, looking for how difficult it is to remove all of the dirt from the blade. While doing this, we also focused on the build quality, looking at how well the blade stood up to the testing, how the handle is constructed, and whether there are any red flags in construction that readers should be aware of.
What You Should Know About Spade Shovels
What Is a Spade Shovel?
Spade shovels are a type of shovel designed specifically for precision digging in gardening applications rather than moving a lot of dirt like a traditional shovel. Spades tend to have long, thin blades that are relatively flat to create smoother, precise holes and edging lines.
While they should be able to move the dirt that they take out of a hole, this isn’t the kind of shovel that you want to shovel a yard of dirt from here to theirs with. Instead, if you’re edging your garden beds, digging a trough for planting, or transplanting small trees, shrubs, flowers, and bushes, then a garden spade is the tool that you probably want to use.
When Should I Use a Spade Shovel?
A garden spade is a generic term for a variety of shovels with various applications. Some are made specifically to dig small holes for planting. Some are better suited to edging. Others are shaped to clean out drainage areas in your yard. When researching garden spades, make sure that you know what application you specifically need it for, and buy the spade that matches that need. For the purposes of our testing, we favored spades that had the most versatility across a wide range of tasks.
What To Look For In a Garden Spade
Once you’ve narrowed down the application that you need a garden spade for, there are a few features to consider. Spades come in a variety of lengths. Longer spades will give more leverage when digging holes, particularly when trying to work around obstructions like rocks and roots. However, shorter spades might give more control and allow you to work on more constrained areas.
The other consideration is strength and durability. You need something that can stand up to the rigors of the work you’re going to be doing. Spades with metal shafts should be the strongest, but that strength often comes with a price premium. Wood-shafted spades tend to be cheaper, but the wood is more prone to cracking and moisture damage.
Consider the weight of the spade, too. Like any shovel, you need to be able to lift it, fully loaded, over and over for an extended period of time. Finding the right balance of lightweight and durability can be a key to success in any spade.
Other Spade Shovels We Tested
Kobalt 20.5-in Steel D-Handle Garden Spade
The Kobalt garden spade is one of the top performers in our testing. With a flat, versatile blade that is equally good at edging and moving dirt, this garden spade can handle just about any task in the yard. The 20.5-inch D-handle gives plenty of grip options, and the rubber at the second hand spot on the shaft makes this one of the more comfortable shovels we used.
This spade also shines in terms of durability and strength. There was no visible damage at all after our testing, even after intentionally banging the tip on some rocks. And the shaft has all the strength needed to pry rocks and roots out of the holes. The steps on the blade have raised treads to keep your feet stable while pushing. This is one of the best shovels that we tested, as well as being one of the most affordable.
The Root Assassin garden spade is a high quality shovel that performed very well in all of our tests. The D-handle is comfortable to use from numerous positions, which helps to give the shovel a great deal of leverage despite the slightly shorter shaft length compared to some of the other spades we tested. Overall, this shovel was easy to dig with, cutting through the dirt and edging along the garden bed cleanly.
The real differentiators for this shovel are the serrated edges along the sides of the blade. These cut through roots just like a saw would, making working around plants easy enough. We were able to cut through one root that was over 1-inch in diameter in less than a dozen saw strokes. That said, the tip of the shovel isn't as sharp as others in our guide, especially given the enhancements to the side of the blade specific for cutting roots. What’s more, those serrations did lower the performance of the shovel somewhat when it came to moving dirt.
If you plan to work in an area with a lot of roots, such as in a heavily wooded spot, then this is a great shovel. However, if you’re not anticipating fighting those roots, then the sawtooth blade probably isn’t necessary.
The Radius Garden 201 Pro ergonomic stainless steel spade has one of the best handles of any shovel we tested, an important feature when shopping for a garden spade. The handle is approximately circular with a rubber coating, making it both flexible in terms of where to grab and supremely comfortable even without gloves. The shovel’s rubber grip near the bottom of the shaft makes it easy to rest your second hand equally as comfortably.
The other great feature of this shovel is just how much dirt it can move. Rather than a flat blade like many of the other shovels in this category, this has a curved blade, which enables much larger scoops than some of the others. That concave shape does come with one drawback, however. It’s very hard to cut a straight line with this shovel, such as what would be needed with edging. The edges inevitably wind up scalloped.
Now, if you have no intention of edging with your garden spade, then this isn’t a problem at all, but it does limit the versatility of the tool, and is ultimately what kept this shovel out of our top spot.
Strength and durability meet in what must be an unstoppable package with the King of Spades straight blade garden spade. This shovel, made of all metal, is a sturdily-built beast that feels like it will withstand any kind of abuse that you can think of throwing at it. It performed very well in all of our tests, performing each task without any problems. It also features a detachable rubber foot step, which was the most solid of any that we tested.
The only drawback of this shovel is the weight. It’s very heavy, to the point of being uncomfortable to use, so it’s not for everyone. That weight also comes with a hefty price tag. If you’re in a commercial environment where heavy-duty equipment is a must have, then this might be a great shovel.
However, for most people using a garden spade in their own backyard, this tool is simply going to be too strenuous to use. While it might be technically stronger than some of the other shovels on this list, that strength doesn’t translate into tangible benefits for most users.
The Bully Tools 12-Gauge Edging and Planting Spade is a very simple, straightforward tool at a mid-range price. The straight fiberglass handle keeps the weight relatively light and the shovel easy to manipulate. It’s long enough to get solid leverage on obstruction in the hole, and has a nice flat blade to accommodate edging. It’s not a tool meant for moving a lot of dirt from here to there, but it’ll do a good enough job relocating the dirt in your immediate work area.
The drawback of this shovel is the question about durability. This is one of the very few shovels where the blade took actual damage in our testing. It chipped and rolled in several places. This wasn’t enough to impede performance during our testing window, but it does make me question how long it will remain viable for. And as one of the tools in the mid-range of price, it doesn’t seem worth the risk to find out.
The 28-inch Husky drain spade is a good quality spade for the price and function. Like all drain spades, it has a very narrow, curved blade, and is really designed for two things: transplanting and cleaning out drains. And as far as we can tell, this spade will excel in both roles. It cuts through the dirt easily enough, and is able to dig deep, narrow holes perfect for re-homing a small tree or shrub. The curve of the blade fits easily into a drain to clear debris.
That said, it’s fairly limited in other applications. The blade is too small to dig large holes, and it’s not going to be much help in moving even small piles of dirt from place to place. The curve of the blade also means it’s not going to be good for edging. Which in and of itself isn’t a knock against the shovel—after all, it’s not designed to do any of those tasks.
However, when it comes to versatility for an average homeowner, this isn’t going to be a great option for most people. If you have a specific need for a drain spade, this is a great option at a low price. However, if you’re looking for a more versatile garden spade, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.
The Razor-Back drain spade is almost identical to the Husky, and has all of the same limitations in terms of versatility. It’s not going to do much for earth moving or edging—this is a tool specifically designed for digging small, deep transplanting holes, and cleaning out drains. The Razor-Back is also a bit pricier than the Husky, as well as shorter.
While it’s a good quality shovel and does a great job at the specific tasks it’s designed for, most people will want a more versatile tool.
The Anvil D-handle garden spade is unfortunately the only shovel that we tested where we had real durability concerns. While it completed all of our tests without any kind of breakage, we could feel the shaft flexing every time we pried against a root or rock in the ground. When we checked into it further, we could flex the shaft by hand pretty easily at the point where it connects to the blade. This gives us pause as to whether the spade can hold up to prolonged use.
A quick search of the public reviews of the shovel on a few big box store websites show that a number of users have found the same issue with strength and durability. While it’s the lowest cost shovel that we tested, a low cost can sometimes come with a decrease in quality, and that seems to be the case here.
Jean Levasseur became a professional writer over a decade-long career in marketing, public relations, and technical writing. After leaving that career to stay home to care for his twin boys, Jean has continued to write in a variety of freelance roles, as well as teaching academic writing at a local university. When he's not reviewing tools or chasing toddlers around the house, he's also an avid fiction writer and a growing woodworker.
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